As it is nearly the end of February and I am just now posting my hopes and goals for 2017, perhaps I should really consider adding updating my blog on a more regular basis or daresay even on a schedule to my list? If the past two months are any indication, it will be a very busy year for me.
I recently applied for a spot at the Association of Documentary Editing’s summer institute. If I get in, it will be a great opportunity for me. Historical document editing is one area I am committing to learning more about this year. Cross your fingers for me!
Next week, I will present a paper at the Missouri Valley History Conference. This is the third year I have done so. I will be discussing the life of John Christie Barr. He was a friend of our dear Captain McGarry. I have been pulling records on John hoping to find references to Captain McGarry (applying a genealogy research practice) for about a year now. Along the way I figured out that John, or Johnny as he liked to be called, also has a great story to share.
At the beginning of January I created a research plan for the entire year for my Captain McGarry project. However, I have already made so many breakthroughs that I have to completely redo that research plan. At the moment, my focus is on transcribing dozens of letters from my research trip to Montana. Once I am done with those I will draw up a new research plan. That plan will include several mini research trips throughout eastern Nebraska, to Sioux City, Iowa, possibly South Dakota, and perhaps even in Missouri. My goal is to have my Captain McGarry research wrapped up by the end of the year if not by October.
I have a couple writing projects that I am going to stay mum about for the time being. Just know writing is one of my top goals for the year.
I recently updated my bio to reflect that I am once again a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and available as a genealogist for hire. This is something I have been contemplating for a while and the timing just feels right. Two of my other genealogy goals for this year are devoting more time to the Rogue Genealogist and my own family tree. I have somewhat neglected my family tree. Sometimes I am just plain research burned out by the time I can get to working on my family tree! I am looking forward to spending more time on genealogy and coming up with ideas to combat research burn out.
Well, I have avoided transcribing this painfully difficult to read letter for long enough- back to work!
As both a historian and a genealogist, I sometimes find myself caught between what feels like two very different worlds. I find myself defending historian’s views and methods to genealogists, defending genealogist’s methods and views to historians, and shaking my head at the misplaced bias that can be found on either side. It is a shame there is a divide because in my opinion each side has much to learn from one another…more on that later. For now, I have a few basic tips for genealogists who are conducting research in order to add historical context to their ancestors’ lives.
1) Do not limit yourself to just one book about your topic of inquiry. Each book is written by an individual with their unique interpretation of the facts who may approach the topic from say an economic perspective whereas another historian may counter the author’s arguments or focus on the social or political aspects. The more books and articles you read, the better informed you will be. There is a temptation to focus on social histories because it is felt that is what most impacted our ancestors’ lives. However, if you leave out other histories such as political and economic ones, then you are leaving out a part of the bigger picture. If you are really up for learning something new and expanding your horizons, try attending a history conference.
2) Be weary of book sale deals. I love a good deal. My local library frequently sells their old books for just a couple bucks or for as little as 50 cents. I’m not saying do not buy books from sales like these. Just keep in mind that these are old books after all. That book you are reading may contain outdated interpretations and information. It may still be worth your time in that it can help you understand the development of the way history looks at a particular topic. Make sure to read it with a grain of salt and keep in mind how the cultural attitudes of the time in which it was written may have affected the content.
3) Question where the information came from. Check the notes and bibliography section of the book you are interested in. If there is no bibliography or notes, be highly skeptical. When it comes to dealing with people….whether you are talking to someone who is a self-proclaimed expert or someone who has M.A. or Ph.D. behind their name, ask them about what they’ve studied. Historians are a lot like genealogists- we like to talk about our research and where we find our information. At the MVHC last week, many fellow historians approached me about my steamboat captain research wanting to know what records I used and for recommended books/articles. Just don’t be impetuous when you asking your questions. I realize this may seem like an odd tip to some, but, I just hate it when I see someone unwittingly being fed misinformation either by a less than reputable book or person.