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Remembering Mammaw

While many of us earnestly research and write of ancestors long buried, the family history writer can leave a legacy of stories to future generations through memoirs and oral history woven among the dry facts of name, place and time. Years ago, I began my work as a genealogist. However, it was soon apparent that I desired more depth of my family’s history from my efforts. So my research evolved into the work of a family historian.

My experience at ancestral family research has been a challenge. My remote ancestors left few records detailing their lives. Only those born in the 20th century obtained literacy. One of my ancestral lines eschewed the broader community of city or town. They preferred, it seems to remain isolated along the Blue Ridge Mountains of the western Carolinas, where the outside world rarely ventured. I can use generalities from circumstantial evidence and social histories of the region in order to imagine the content of the daily lives of these ancestors, but I cannot know it. Thus, their stories are imbued with uncertainty and disclaimers.

However, from my long interest in oral history and its methodologies, I recognize that I can leave to my descendants a first person account of their ancestors as told in the ancestor’s own voice or the voice of an eyewitness. So over the past several years, I have collected narratives from my living generations. Slowly, I hope to compile these accounts into a family’s journey through generations. I do this because I discovered during the process of family oral history research what it means for me to be the person that I am. I would like to teach my children how to understand themselves through their origins.

Not all such accounts, whether biographies or memoirs, are easy for me to write. Facts are easy enough to collect, but the interpretation that weaves these facts coherently into an understanding of events are difficult and sometimes painful. The story about my maternal grandmother is one example. So much of her life was so closely connected with the latter part of my mother’s life. It was difficult to write about my mom as a major character in Mammaw’s story. Each time I would write “Mother” or “Mom” in the draft, I could feel grief surface and my objectivity as an historian dissolve into tears. When I began using my mom’s given name, however, the one that my grandmother gave her, I was able to distance myself enough to allow Mammaw’s voice to more clearly come through. It helped enormously to examine that period from someone else’s perspective. It added dimension to my knowledge and understanding of two women who were so prominent in my life.

An earlier version of Mammaw’s story was originally published in The Dallas Journal (2007).

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 This book fulfills a long needed addition to Mills’ 1997 effort Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. Genealogy, as a discipline, has practioners that range from the casual gedcom collector to professional and academic researchers. For the last several decades, there has been a strong movement toward standards in genealogical research, in an effort to gain credibility on par with historians and other social sciences. At 816 pages (884 total pages), reading it from cover to cover is a bit like reading a dictionary, which few of us rarely do.

Judging from the buzz on various mailing lists before the book was released, you might expect that Mills was providing merely a citation style manual  for genealogists. However, the title, Evidence Explained, hints at more. Throughout the text, Mills uses the term “historian” over the use of the term, “genealogist.” This shift in terminology is perhaps in keeping with the direction that the discipline is moving. Additionally, Mills devoted the first chapter to the subject of evaluating sources and evidence contained within them, a subject that still causes confusion for many experienced family historians (i.e., genealogists).

Book Organization 

For those of us who would rather read a novel than a style manual, I recommend reading the first two chapters in their entireity. Both chapters cover general concepts that are prominent in genealogical research and citation writing. The remaining twelve chapters deal with the various types of historical records or artifacts encountered while researching family history.

Starting with Chapter 3, Mills provides the historian with a section, entitled “QuickCheck Models.” These models provide a simple, “view-at-a-glance” template for the various types of records referenced by that chapter. The “QuickCheck” models are easy to locate, appearing on pages with a greyed background to help them standout while looking at the the edge of the book. 

Navigation 

To aid navigation, each chapter’s title page contains a table of contents to the QuickCheck Models. However, supplying a TOC for these brief sections seems unnecessary. The models, themselves, appear one to a page with the desciption (or title) of the model at the top of the page. Rather, the user of the style manual would have been better served if a TOC had been created for the main text of each chapter, which is much more detailed and offers information not provided by the models. (BTW, Chapter 6 does have the desired TOC for the main text.)

Paragraphs within each chapter are identified by a two level numbering system (chapter, paragraph). Mills mentioned that she modeled her manual after the Chicago Style Manual (CSM), which also uses this numbering schema for navigation purposes. Like CSM, Evidence Explained opens each paragraph with a run-in subhead identifying the subject matter of the paragraph. However, nowhere is there a reference or cross-index to the paragraph numbers, themselves, making them somewhat superfluous.

Each chapter contains a section called, “Guidelines and Examples.” This is the major text explaining issues related to each category of sources. Don’t forego reading this part of the text in favor of just using the models. Here, I recommend that the researcher employ the JIT approach to reading. JIT (meaning “just in time”) is a term borrowed from manufacturing whereby parts to make a product are ordered and shipped to the factory “just in time” to assemble the product, saving time and the expense of warehousing a large inventory of parts.

When searching for the most appropriate style template to use—and once you have identified the source type—,read the sub-section labeled “Basic Issues” within the “Guidelines and Examples” section. Then, proceed to the paragraph that describes the specific type of source. (This is where a chapter TOC would have helped.) Reading the “Basic Issues” section will help the researcher see how concepts in citations relate to that specific source.  

Icons

Another feature that Mills employed in the text was the use of icons to indicate explanations of citations related to microfilm, computer databases, etc. Mills did not explain this feature in her preface, perhaps thinking that no explanation was necessary. For an example of how these icons are used, refer to page 347. As a matter of fact, the lack of an introduction and orientation to the book seems to be its greatest weakness. Any reference manual—and this book certainly fits that description—should offer the reader an orientation to the conventions used within.

Finally, Mills provided two indexes to the manual. The first is the general index. It offers the best way to apply the JIT principle, sometimes directing you to multiple examples on separate pages. In absence of a chapter table of contents, the index is your only resource for navigating the book. The second index is to the QuickCheck Models only. It is redundant of the general index, which also includes references to the QuickCheck Models. When searching the index(es), be certain that you know which index you are purusing. The two indexes do not have separate page headers.

Despite the above-mentioned weaknesses, it is a monumental and welcomed improvement over earlier works and, no doubt, will help us all become better writers of our family research. I can still recommend it for your bookshelf.

© 2007, Sharon Gayle, all rights reserved.

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Bygones Review

Read what I think about this software for organizing your research.

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Well, the exigencies of life conspired to take me from blogging and research. But I promised to keep folks updated on the writers group project of writing first person narratives. Everyone in the group selected an ancestor and using facts gleaned from our research write a narrative about that ancestor as if he/she were telling their own story. This is my contribution to the group.

Curiously, I found writing the first person narrative a bit easier. I am always engaged in my writing, but this was different. You writers and readers out there: Let me know what you think about the idea. It certainly seems to read more interestingly than the normal dry narrative.

First Person Narrative – Burt Moore (1756-1836)

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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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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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