Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"You don't choose genealogy; it chooses you."

So said Tony Burroughs, the keynote speaker at the genealogy conference I attended Saturday March 15. And when he said it, something just clicked. Because that's exactly how it feels. Genealogy can be a long, hard, frustrating process, but it has fallen onto our shoulders to remember our ancestors and to preserve the knowledge we gain for future generations.

The conference, "Family Roots III: Where to Begin, How to Continue and Share" was sponsored by the Genealogy Federation of Long Island and was an all-day affair at Stony Brook University. My cousin April was the one who heard about it and suggested we go. Besides the keynote address, we were able to attend four lectures, given by various professional genealogists.

We attended one on tracing German ancestry and one on tracing Irish ancestry, both of which were somewhat helpful - learned some quirks about German names, places and records, and several Web sites to check out for Irish ancestry records.

After lunch we attended a lecture, "Odd(ities) and (Dead) Ends: Details and Quirks of New York Vital Records," which was a bit helpful but basically just made April and me lament the sorry state of early record keeping, at least on the state and federal levels. The last lecture of the day was entitled "Prove It! Evidence Analysis for Genealogists" which was interesting from the perspective of someone trying to do genealogy the right way, by gathering as much information and "proof" as possible about the people in my family tree. April and I also commisserated about how much it might cost to hire the presenter to give this same "prove it!" talk to the many people researching our family tree who frustratingly don't go this route.

All in all, I can't say I learned a great deal about genealogy that I didn't already know, but it backed up and supported a lot of what I already do, which was nice. And April and I were the youngest ones there by at least 15 years, so I kept getting mistaken for a student at Stony Brook, which was a nice ego boost.

Other notes from the day:
1. Our ancestors are not just names and dates, they existed in a place and time, and it's important to get as full a picture as we can, and in order to figure out the next step in our search, we have to understand that place and time in which they existed. Genealogy, sociology, history...it all ties together!
2. One of the presenters gave personal examples of people in her family that she has traced and to see how she went from clue to clue to clue was an echo of how I work and it was just nice to see someone else who not only is also working hard to piece together the puzzle but who enjoys the challenge as much as I do.
3. Indirect evidence can be proof!
4. Siblings are key! I become more and more convinced of that as time goes on...if your direct ancestor's records don't give you what you need to get to the next step, always go to the siblings!!
5. The Internet has opened access to so many genealogical records to so many people who otherwise would never be able to use them, but it is not the be all and end all of genealogy research...get offline!!
6. Everyone extolled the virtues of the Family History Centre in Plainview, so I will have to make a stop there at some point, just to see what it's all about.

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