Archive for August, 2007

Organizing Photos

Owning more than 4,000 photos, I wanted to digitize and organize them on my pc. At the same time I needed to think about the future of those prints. Who would get them after I am gone? How can I encourage my beneficiaries to see the value of keeping them? This article discusses how I met that challenge.


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First Person Narratives

Writing the results of genealogical research follows a rhetorical style modeled after academic research. Except for knowledge that is generally known, such as “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by William Boothe on April 15, 1865,” assertions, made by the author, are supported by citations to sources. The body of the writing, itself, often follows a general pattern of the basic syllogism: premises lead to claims; accumulation of claims result in conclusions. Writer/genealogist must provide conclusions supported by reliable sources and well reasoned analysis. This rhetorical strategy works well when the audience is, like the author, a scholar in the discipline. However, many of us want to share our work with living family who find no interest in how we arrived at our conclusions. In many respects, how can we “popularize” our research for the benefit of family?

John W. Pritchett has developed a writing strategy that seems to work well if your intended audience is general audience. He calls this strategy, “first person narratives.” Drawing from the facts uncovered by research, Pritchett writes a short biographical sketch as if the individual was telling their own life story. The mechanics of “proof argument” are omitted for the general reader. Importantly, he does not fictionalize these narratives. John stated that every statement can be supported by source evidence. In John’s work, if the reader wishes, see the citations, it is a “mouse-click away.” Pritchett has published his research, along with the narratives, on cd. Anyone with “Southern Virginia” ancestors may find his research informative and the narratives insightful. Pritchett has a website: http://www.virginians.com

John spoke to our little writer’s interest group yesterday to field questions about his writing. A couple of items were discussed that I want to ponder upon, so I document them here. In fictional literature, use of the first person, the story is told through the point of view of a character in the story. If the story belongs, say, to my 4th great grandfather, the facts revealed within the story are essentially related as he would have likely known those facts. John argued that using this point of view as contrasted with the more typical 3rd person stance, yields a more interesting tale.

In fiction writing, the “I” as narrator has limited knowledge. We can know (or be told) how the narrator privately feels or thinks about the surrounding circumstances, but have no access to the minds of other characters in the story. John gave us numerous examples during his talk. None of the examples included the “inner life” of the narrator. In effect, we have very limited view of the narrator’s inner experience. Without documentation to support those inner experiences, John would be unable to render them into the narrative. Let me use an example from my own research. My maternal grandmother, aka “Mammaw,” stood 4’11 ¼ ” tall. That fraction of height must have been important to her because she did not allow anyone to “round” to the nearest inch. I witnessed that fact when I took her to an ER for treatment. In another setting, a great grandson, then aged 11, announced proudly at a family gathering that he was as tall as she was. She briefly growled that everyone of her descendents had announced that “rite of passage” during their pre-adolescence. So when her daughter, my mother, became “Mammaw” to her grandchildren, the family had to adopt a variation of “Mammaw” to avoid confusion. My mother, at 5’3″, became “Big Mammaw.” My grandmother became “Little Mammaw.” If she ever expressed any resentment over attaching that adjective to her name, no one now living can say. So conclusions arrived at through indirect sources may be something to address for genealogical writing such as the first person narrative.

John suggested keeping the narratives “short.” But he did not offer a definition for “short.” He is convinced that short narratives hold the reader’s attention better. But I believe that a story, well told, may be of longer length. Based upon the examples given in our meeting, most of John’s narratives appeared to be about a half page of typed text.

John has created about 400 narratives, to-date, far fewer ancestors than he has researched. Some of these narratives, frankly are quite short because few sources exist for these ancestors. So the narrative might read something like, “I cannot tell you my actual birthday, but I was born around 1763. I married my husband on May 23, 1782….”

It would be nice if the narratives were still available on Pritchett’s website, but copyright agreement with the publisher of his cd prevent us from looking at John’s work more closely.

In any case, our little writer’s group plans to experiment with this idea of the first person narrative. I’ll keep you posted as to what we learn.

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Hammering Cracks into Brick Walls: Numident Records

SSA-5 applications are wonderful sources for birth information and parents’ names. A related source is the database that is maintained by the Social Security Administration. While not an “original source,” it offers details not evident on the application. In some cases, it is the only remaining record available from the Social Security Administration.

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Right in Our Own Backyard

Genealogical libraries and state archives are not the only store houses of genealogical treasures. This article takes a look at a local university’s library and finds it worth the visit. Even if you don’t live in this particular region, think about libraries close to home and what they may offer the genealogist.

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Estimates for Pendleton Population 1784

This is a companion article to “Dominion Over the Earth.” It describes the methodology used to estimate the population of white settlers in the upper part of Pendleton District 1784-1786, based upon the land grants issued during that period.

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Dominion Over the Earth

The article examines the historical background for the land grant settlement of northwestern South Carolina, USA. There has been confusion over when Cherokee relinquished their control over this region. Genealogists researching ancestors in this region might want to take special note. Map included.

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Living by the Signs: Almanacs and the Early American Farmer

Almanacs played an important role in the daily management of livestock and agriculture for the 18th and 19th century farmers. Social research such as this helps provide a clearer understanding of our ancestors day-to-day lives.

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