Friday, October 23, 2009

A bit of Method for our Madness

I’m giving a lecture this weekend entitled “Genealogical Detours: Using Indirect Evidence to Solve Genealogical Problems.” I’ve given the lecture several times, but have been doing some thinking and a little revising as I always do before a repeat performance.

First, I’ve been thinking about my audience. I’m speaking at the Southern Minnesota Genealogy Expo in Mankato. I’m giving a plenary session talk, so I need to be mindful of the wide range of experience that people bring to such an event. Some will be real beginners, others will be very experienced and sophisticated researchers. Some will enjoy discussion of methodology, others will say listening to someone blab about methodology is like taking a sleeping pill.

Is methodology too heavy a topic for beginners? I don’t think so. The “ology” part of the word makes it sound pretty pedantic – like biology or sociology. But, just as biology is about life and sociology is about society, methodology is about method. And, we all actually do know something about life, society, and yes, method. We don’t have to be academics to appreciate the subjects. And, we don’t have to do genealogy very long to realize that a bit of method can make our madness more productive.

The other thing I’ve thought about is the phrase “indirect evidence.” We talk about indirect evidence being different than direct evidence. In Elizabeth Shown Mills’ words, “direct evidence is that which addresses a particular matter and points to a conclusion without the addition of other supporting evidence.” A marriage registration, with no other information at hand, directly answers the question of when a couple was married. “Indirect evidence is circumstantial information that requires us to supply a thought process (and perhaps other evidence) to convert its detail into a reliable conclusion” (Evidence: Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian, p. 45).

For me, the key words here are “information” and “convert.” Sources provide information – names, dates, relationships, etc.. We think about the relationship of this information to our research question, and in the process convert it into evidence. We create evidence from information found in sources.

I have actually come to find myself a little uncomfortable with the phrase “indirect evidence.” I prefer to think of information, which when analyzed and correlated with other information from other sources, leads to an indirect answer to the research question.

I like to think of Three C’s for converting information from sources into evidence that can support a conclusion: corroborate, correlate and conclude. For an example of what I mean, see my article in Family Chronicle magazine (“The Three C’s of Genealogical Research,” February 2009, p. 54).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

J. H. Fonkert Publications

Writing is essential in genealogy. At different times, it is a device for preserving memory, organizing our thoughts and sharing findings and insights. I provide writing and editing assistance for genealogists and family historians that want a little help creating their family history book or report. Here is a resume of my genealogy writing.

Journal Articles

"Clara V. Moore and Carrie Peterson: Proving a Double Enumeration in the 1910 Census,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 96 (March 2008), 5-12.
“The GEO in Genealogy: Using Geographic Information and Maps in Family History,” The Septs, 28:2 (July 2007).
“In Search of Early Dutch Settlers in Minnesota,” Minnesota Genealogist, 39:1 (Spring 2008), 16-21.
“John Welhaven: the Case of a Borrowed Name,” Minnesota Genealogist, 38:1 (Spring 2007), 22-28.
“The Search for George S. Fawkner,” Minnesota Genealogist, 40:2 (Summer 2009), 22-26.
“Two A. P. Overlands in Fergus Falls: Sorting Out Identities,” Minnesota Genealogist, 39:2 (Summer 2008), 15-20.

Genealogical Education Columns in The Septs (journal of the Irish Genealogical Society, International)

“The Genealogist’s Best Friend: the Census,” 29:1 (January 2008), 20-22.
“Filling the Gaps in Your Family History Timeline: State Censuses,” 29:2 (April 2008).
“Tracking Ancestors to America: Records Marking Five Stages of Migration,” 29:3 (July 2008), 146-149.
“All Genealogists were Once Beginners,” 29:4 (October 2008) 188-190.
“Set the Table for Success: A Simple Technique for Making Sense of Your Evidence,” 30:1 (January 2009), 26-30.
“Beginning Genealogy: What to do When all the Pieces Don’t Come in the Same Box,” forthcoming 30:2 (April 2009).
“Following Clues Across the Water: The John Lee Family of England and Ireland.” 30:4 (October 2009), 170-73.

Magazine articles

“The Three C’s of Genealogical Research,” Family Chronicle (February 2009), p. 54.
“Six Morstad Siblings from Gran, Hadeland, Norway: Immigration to Wisconsin and Minnesota,” The Brua, quarterly of the Hadeland Lag, May 2006.

Review articles

“Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself: Review and Commentary,” The Septs, 29:2 (April 2008), 98-102.
“Book Review: Joseph A. Amato, Coal Cousins,” Minnesota Genealogist, 40:2), Summer 2009, p. 30.
“Review: Genline Family Finder,” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, 24:3 (September 2009), 119-20.

Self-published research reports

Investigation into the Origins of James C. Fawkner, 22 pp., October 2004. Self-published; copy in collection of Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne (IN), and Danville (IN) Public Library.
Ancestors of Carrie Ehlenbach: a Three Generation Kinship Determination Project, 56 pp., January 2007. Self-published; copy in collection of Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Root-digging at a "Cluster Reunion"

If you want to break through a genealogical brick wall, follow the associates -- that is, the extended family, friends, neighbors or business associates of your ancestor. This "big picture" approach to family history research is sometimes called "cluster genealogy." In her book, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists, Emily Anne Croom devotes an entire chapter to cluster genealogy.

I just returned from what might be called a "cluster reunion." This is a family reunion on a grand scale. In this case, it was the Dutch Cousins Reunion bringing together a diverse group of families associated with the Low Dutch Colony of Kentucky in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Led by Carolyn Leonard of Oklahoma, the Low Dutch descendants converged on Harrodsburg, Kentucky the last weekend in September.

Mind you, although I'm Dutch, I'm completely unrelated to the Low Dutch. But I'm researching an intrepid Methodist minister -- my wife's third great-grandfather -- who married a Low Dutch meisje. The marriage did not go well, but the resulting divorce case has given me new leads for my research. But, it was the people I met at the reunion that led to two unexpected leads.

First, I encountered the hero of the restoration of the Low Dutch church built in 1800. I'm not sure how he is connected to the Low Dutch, but it looks like he is a distant cousin of my wife. He is willing to do a DNA test that might prove my theory about the origin of John Fawkner.

Second, quite by accident, I heard another reunion attendee mention that she was from Montrose, Iowa. Did my ears perk up! I knew that two of John Fawkner's sons had lived in Montrose in the 1850s. I had never realized that their next door neighbors were Low Dutch from Kentucky. This discovery helps solidfy my working theory about family relationships.

The key to this reunion for me was the cluster part of it. This was more than a family reunion, it was a gathering of a community. I highly recommend the experience.