Genealogy Technologies and Refinement of Skills
|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
Certain instructional publications focus on the mechanics or technologies of genealogy, or the refinement of skills of practicing researchers. This category includes discussions of manual and computerized record-keeping systems, the use of computers to meet the database or word processing demands of genealogy, and the enhancing of skills, such as recording oral or video histories or writing and publishing. Some materials in this category are devoted to helping researchers become professional genealogists.
One popular self-contained instructional unit is Managing a Genealogical Project, by William Dollarhide. A practical discussion and illustrations of forms for guiding research is supplemented by techniques for presenting research to non-genealogists. One useful feature of this book is a comparison of some of the numbering systems used in genealogy, namely, the Register System, the Record System, and the Henry Numbering System. Explanations of each system are followed by an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses. This work is well organized (as befits a manual on organization) and easy to read.
A work that emphasizes technology but also does a credible job of defining research processes and sources is Turbo Genealogy: An Introduction to Family History Research in the Information Age, by John and Carolyn Cosgriff. Turbo Genealogy leads readers from a traditional organizational scheme (forms, documentation, family interviewing, and note-keeping and filing) to the benefits and selection of computer hardware and software.
Throughout this book, the authors encourage readers to formulate a research plan and to evaluate and resolve conflicts of evidence. This is a good how-to guide with an appendix and glossary of selected technical terms. Each chapter is supplemented by a strong bibliography. This book may change the future of how-to guides because texts that lack detailed information on computer-genealogy technology will be incomplete.
Oral and Video History
Guides to oral and video history are important for a generation of youthful newcomers to genealogical research whose parents, grandparents, and perhaps great-grandparents are still living. Once the province of highly trained interviewers preserving the words of the famous or infamous, oral history has overflowed these narrow confines and flooded the grasslands of local and personal history.
In the early 1980s, works from related fields were being adapted for use by family historians. Among these was An Oral History Primer, edited by Gary L. Shumway and W. G. Hartley. This book provides suggestions for choosing a tape recorder; interview questions and evaluations; and archival procedures for copying, handling, and storing the resulting documents. Within a few years, tape recorders were being supplemented with motion pictures in Derek Reimer’s Voices: A Guide to Oral History. However, the most current edition of Willa Baum’s Oral History for the Local Historical Society focuses on the use of tape recorders rather than film or video. Video has received attention through such works as Mary Lou Peterman’s Gift of Heritage, a 60-minute videocassette on how to create a family history on videotape.
Writing and Publishing
A recent trend of certain instructional manuals is the encouragement of a tangible outcome. Obtaining and recording the information become preliminaries to the creation of a permanent record, whether it is a complete family history or vignettes of incidents in the lives of individuals.
Family historians can now learn how to write, publish, and market their family histories. Seldom does this type of work offer methodology or source instruction. Nor do these books, such as Joan Neubauer’s From Memories to Manuscript: The Five-Step Method of Writing Your Life Story, purport to be genealogy texts or encourage even contemporary family history. But their encouragement of self-knowledge and their emphasis on viewing personal experiences and decisions in a broader context certainly lay the groundwork for their readers’ eventual pursuit of ancestors.
One publishing guide that does stress genealogy is Patricia Hatcher’s Producing a Quality Family History. Hatcher’s background as a genealogist enables her to authoritatively stress that quality production begins with quality material. Her instructions for accuracy, completeness, and proper citation of researched information makes this book a must for family historians planning to compose a publishable, quality history.
Advanced Skills and Professional Development
Basic how-to guides lose their charm for researchers whose interest and fascination with family history becomes a compulsion. At this point, researchers need advanced training through works that focus on a particular skill or function.
How researchers refine evaluation skills is one predictor of the level at which they will function. Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian, by Elizabeth Shown Mills is a great work on primary sources versus secondary sources and preponderance of evidence, as is her Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.
Three works that share the vast experience of prominent genealogists are Donald Lines Jacobus’s Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, Milton Rubincam’s Pitfalls in Genealogical Research, and Willard Heiss’s Working in the Vineyards of Genealogy, a collection of essays edited by Ruth Dorel.
Researchers considering a career in genealogy, meaning those who wish to establish an independent practice with the associated legal and financial responsibilities, have few sources to consult. Although little has been published on this topic, How to Become a Professional Genealogist, by Carolyn Billingsley and Desmond Walls Allen, provides a fine beginning. How to Become a Professional Genealogist answers questions that plague most candidates: Am I capable of becoming a professional genealogist? If so, how do I start and what can I expect from the occupation? Readers learn, for example, that grammar and spelling skills are critical for report writing; that attending national conferences and institutes are musts for skill-building and networking; and that trial clients provide a training period for prospective genealogists to evaluate the merits and shortcomings of genealogy as employment.