Oct 132011

Wikipedia defines stewardship as “an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources.”  In one of my earliest posts I wrote: “Some have suggested that we human beings inhabit the universe’s capacity for self-awareness.  to be self-aware is to know something about where and how we fit into the big picture.  To be self-aware is to be on a quest toward meaning.,  One metaphor for that quest for meaning is genealogy.”  A Genealogy Steward, therefore, is one who carefully tends to, not just the facts, but the meaning conveyed by the facts.

In my car I have a GPS device that shouts out directions for me, especially when I take a wrong turn or choose to go by an alternate route.  As I review my genealogical journey, I have come to realize that I have gradually come to follow a different GPS (the Genealogical Proof Standard).  Genealogy’s GPS is the culmination of 74 standards by which the Board for Certification of Genealogists determines qualifications for professional genealogists.   This can all seem rather scary and intimidating for those of us who do not aspire to become “professonal” genealogists but are content to do the best we can as stewards of our family’s history and lineage.  So, here’s my advice to Newbies and others who desire to be faithful  Genealogy Stewards but have not yet integrated the GPS into their genealogical work:
  1. Find Facts.   Find as many facts as you can.  When you think you have found all the facts about one ancestor or family, search some more.  You can never have enough information.  (GPS: a reasonably exhaustive search)
  2. Make Sense of the Facts.  ‘Making sense’ means knowing where, when, and how you discovered the facts so that you can always go back and check them.  This also allows others to check out that the facts actually do make sense.  Of course, this means identifying the sources where you found the facts, including how and when you found them.  In genealogy speak this is citing your sources.  There are wonderful models for citing sources (Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence! and Evidence Explained; Richard S. Lackey’s Cite Your Sources; Progenealogists’ Citation Guide contains cut and paste templates; EasyBib’s Citation Guide; and more).  From a previous post:  “What I have come to realize is that I have chosen to take the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ option when approaching the GPS and source citations – that is, they are not so much ‘laws’ (to be slavishly followed) as they are ‘guidelines’ (to assist us).”   Our genealogy software is increasingly capable of assisting us in presenting quality citations.   (GPS: complete and accurate citation of sources)
  3. Mine the Facts for Meaning.  Facts, by themselves, are just facts.  Their value for you is in their meaning.  When you begin to extract meaning from the facts, they shift from being ‘information’ and become ‘evidence’ — evidence that your ancestor immigrated in 1854 and arrived in New York on the William Tell; or that she bore 15 children, 9 of whom lived past their 22nd birthdays; or that your grandmother was actually your grandfather’s second wife.  (GPS: analysis and correlation of the collected information)
  4. Make Connections.  Make sure that you have explored all the data, including those data which conflict with each other.  Make sure you resolve those conflicts, based on the evidence not on a pre-determined assumption of what “must” be true.  You can be quite certain that you great-grandmother was not born on two different dates or in 2 different years (even if different sources suggest differing dates).  If you can’t resolve the differences, keep on searching for more facts that can lend credibility to one date over the other.   (GPS:  resolve conflicting evidence)
  5. Tell the Story.  Here is the crux of the matter for Genealogy Stewards, telling the story of your ancestors — based upon the quality of the sources you searched, the validity of the facts you discovered, the meanings you extracted and the connections you made.  Genealogy without stories is a bland technical activity that does not inspire. No one in my family wants a Joe Friday (Dragnet) genealogy — “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  They love when the facts tease out stories.  They most often remember the stories; occasionally they may remember the facts.  They will re-tell the stories, even after they have forgotten the facts.  (GPS:  present soundly reasoned and coherent conclusions)
  6. Do the Genealogy ‘Happy Dance!’   No, this step is not outlined in the GPS…  and I think that is a mistake.    Rejoice…   celebrate…   delight…    enjoy…   revel…   stand a little taller…   and be glad!  You and your ancestors have earned it!    

Genealogy stewardship is about (re-)discovering and preserving the meaning of your family’s lineage.  This quest for meaning is what distinguishes us as human being.  Genealogy engages us in the dance of life — no wallflowers here.    From another previous post:  “For me, genealogy is a dance in which ‘proven’ and ‘undocumented’ whirl around the dance floor together — occasionally stepping on each others toes, sometimes ‘wow-ing’ the on-lookers with the grace of their steps, and mostly just keeping time with the music.”  GPS is simply a tool — the metronome, if you will, that helps us stay in rhythm and on tempo as we dance with our ancestors.

This post is part of my participation in Tonia’s #31WBGB (31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog).  This weeks task is “to write a post that solves a problem that your readers (or potential readers) have. ”  Another great challenge!

  2 Responses to “How to be a Genealogy Steward — Following GPS”

  1. Great post and I like your Pirates of the Carribean approach to citing your sources!

  2. Wonderful post! I've often thought about the correlation between a GPS device and the GPS method. but never tried to express it. I like your interpretation. And I agree that the happy dance makes a good last step!

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