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NGS Day One

Even for veterans of several national genealogical conferences, the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference — underway now in Cincinnati — can be overwhelming. And with dozens of official bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers and more covering this year’s conference, even those who stayed home may feel overwhelmed soon.

So I’m going to keep this short and sweet and offer just three points that were driven home for me today.

Record accuracy

Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, spoke today on Strategies for Finding “Unfindable” Ancestors. And during the course of his hour-long presentation, he offered one fact that jumped out and absolutely blew my mind.

In his experience, he said, when there was an inaccuracy in a record (and particularly in a vital record like birth, marriage and death), half the time the inaccuracy was intentional.

That started me thinking about all the reasons why somebody would lie in one of those situations, and the mental laundry list is stunning. A bride or groom lying about age to be able to marry without parental consent. The identity of the father of a child born out of wedlock or as the result of rape or incest. (I think of my father’s cousin, born out of wedlock in Germany, who listed her grandparents as her parents in her application for a Social Security number so she wouldn’t have to admit she didn’t know who her father was.) Or, perhaps, the place where somebody came from when the law in that original place might still be looking for that person. The list goes on and on.

Sure gives you a different perspective on just how much trust to put in that one public record, doesn’t it? And underscores, big time, the reasons why the Genealogical Proof Standard puts so much emphasis on not relying on one public document but requires instead a reasonably exhaustive search.

The changing world of genealogy

Curt B. Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, spoke at the luncheon of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and painted a picture of the genealogical community that, I think, caused many of us to stop and think.

Change, he said, was overtaking us. A whole new generation of genealogists — who came to the field in this 21st century — had different expectations than those whose interest and activities began when microfilm was on the technological cutting edge.

And, as he spoke, I realized that I myself am one of what he described as the 21sters. I didn’t get into genealogy seriously until after the ball dropped on 31 December 1999. I am a technology geek, want all the latest toys, and would want instant digital access to all genealogical information if it weren’t for the fact that instant access takes too long.

And yet I’m also old school in many ways: I want my journals printed on paper. I belong to a bunch of state and local genealogical societies and value the work they do. I love brick-and-mortar repositories and would happily spend my days poking through old records on paper were it not for that minor little problem of paying the mortgage and keeping the cats in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.

It’s going to be up to all of us to find the common ground between the old school and 21sters in genealogy. We all have much to learn from each other.

You don’t have to miss out

Even if you’re here in Cincinnati, you can’t do it all. How do you choose between sessions when there are three of them at the same time that you absolutely want to attend? The answer is, you don’t have to be there, and you don’t have to miss out.

Most sessions at the national conferences — both NGS and FGS — are tape-recorded. The audio CDs are available on site and afterwards through JAMB Tapes, Inc. Check JAMB’s website after the conference for the list of lectures available on CD — and check it out now for lectures from earlier conferences of NGS, FGS and other genealogical societies.

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