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Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like …… genealogy!
If you were around in the 1970′s, you might remember a comedy troupe, The Firesign Theater.  One of their skits was titled “I Think We Are All Bozos On This Bus”.  I think of this title often as I work in genealogy in order to keep myself humble, something we all need to remember in this work.  Our work is based on the work of others, not just ourselves.
We may be working on the family genealogy now, but what are we really doing?  We are recalling the lives, the work, the effort, the successes, and the failures of those who came before us.  Their blood.  Their sweat.  Their tears.  As someone far wiser than me said ‘We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors’.  And indeed we do!  We may be trying our best to document things, but we will — in all likelihood — not know exactly what ever happened.  Think about it!  We may see where an ancestor was in the 1880 census and rejoice at finding them again in 1900.  BUT wait …. what about he intervening 20 years?  Lots happened!  Some we might be able to find (legal records, land purchases, law suits, marriages, births, deaths).  Most of what went on for those approximately 7,300 days — day in — day out — we may never know unless we have a daily journal.  Unfortunately in my family, no one I can find seems to have kept a journal.  Drat!
This issue of staying humble in our work, of being servants of history, was brought to my mind again earlier today.  
Two things happened:
First, I was reading a copy of a new issue of a genealogy magazine.  Right there in the third paragraph was this statement “Genealogies are considered secondary sources — they were written long after the events described and actually occurred, by an author who was using other resources to gather the information”.  I don’t know anything about the rest of the article, I quit there.  How does this author know that every “genealogy” was written as he claims?  He does not say ‘some’ or ‘many’.  Not even ‘most’.  Nope, he says he knows all.  A classic case of overstatement.  My Philosophy 101 professor’s words of warning rang in my ears from years ago.  She said “Keep your ego to yourself and the use of overstatement to the politicians”.  Has this author read EVERY ‘genealogy’ ever published?  
Second was that my dad was a recovering alcoholic when he passed away.  He fought the disease and for the last 20 years of his life was sober.  I praise God and AA for that!  When my sisters and I went through family treatment with him, we were asked to recount some very specific events in our lives.  We all lived the same event.  We were even in the same room, at the same time, with the same people, BUT we each recalled it totally differently.  We each attributed motivations, actions, etc. differently ….and we were all there all the time all together, but you would not have thought so listening to us! That taught me a lesson in humble that I will never forget.  None of us have a corner on perfection!  
So let’s be humble in our work.  Accept those who care like we do.  Accept that we do our best, but there is much we simply will never, ever know since we, ourselves, did not live it!  Stay away from overstatement.  Leave the ‘always’, ‘every’, ‘all’ words for other pursuits.
I suggest we need to keep ‘humble’ in the forefront of our work efforts — not our egos!
Onward To Our Past.
Scott

  1. Carol Reply
    I am enjoying your blog so much and especially the Real Tips, that I featured you today over at Reflections on Follow Friday.

    http://www.reflectionsfromthefence.com/2011/08/follow-friday-onward-to-our-past.html

    Keep em up, they are well done!!
  2. Scott Phillips Reply
    Thanks, Carol! I appreciate your very kind words!

    Scott
  3. Michelle Goodrum Reply
    Carol of Reflections From The Fence sent me over here. I love your blog!
  4. Greta Koehl Reply
    Good advice. And I love that you mentioned Firesign Theater! I think we have all of their albums somewhere.
  5. michaelhait Reply
    Interesting quote about genealogies. Not only was this author inaccurate philosophically, they did not even use correct genealogical terminology to describe the thought that they were trying to convey. I just wrote about the most misused words and phrases in genealogy at my blog, "Planting the Seeds": http://michaelhait.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/5-misused-words/
  6. Scott Phillips Reply
    Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your perspective. Love your articles too!

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