The whirlwind that is the National Genealogical Society conference is blowing strong in Las Vegas this week and it’s left many of us — The Legal Genealogist included — breathless.
The sheer number of sessions, the variety of speakers, the excitement of the vendor hall, the opportunity to spend time with old friends and meet new ones is exhilarating but wow… no time to even think!!!I had the chance on Wednesday to hear the keynote address from the very entertaining and very knowledgeable Marian L. Smith.
Marian is Chief of the USCIS Historical Research Branch and directs the agency’s History Office, Historical Reference Library, and Genealogy Program. She’s been the nation’s immigration historian for nearly 25 years and if there’s anything about U.S. immigration and naturalization that she doesn’t know, it probably isn’t knowable.
She is also one of the best speakers out there on genealogical topics.
Using the mystery behind the authorship of the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals as the story, she wove for the hundreds and hundreds of attendees a story with these lessons:
• “Some questions take time — much more than you might have expected.”
• “No time is ever wasted doing research: we all need that background, that historical understanding of the time and place.”
• “You are never going to understand your ancestors if you don’t understand the world they lived in — it was a different place from our world today.”
• “Be prepared to be surprised by what you find.”
• “Question your sources: don’t believe what you read.”
She also emphasized that every researcher will find things that weren’t expected along the research path. Her advice: “when you find a piece that may not fit into your puzzle, pick it up and put it in your pocket because you may not come back this way again.”
And what may have been her most cogent point: “Your ancestors didn’t create the records for you. Documents have their own stories.”
I’ve had a blast so far telling some of those stories in my own presentations Wednesday on The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions and yesterday in Blackguards and Black Sheep: The Lighter Side of the Law. One more to go on Saturday, with How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists.
And oh… it is such fun to be here with all these folks whose eyes don’t glaze over when we start talking about a tough genealogical problem…