Renee Steinig and Judy Baston - "It's All in How You Ask: Getting the Most From Discussion Group Queries"I was particularly interested Renee Steinig's and Judy Baston's talk because I, too, am a discussion group moderator for JewishGen. About 6-8 days each month I check the moderators' inbox for messages sent for posting on the main discussion forum: the "JewishGen Discussion Group."
Renee's and Judy's goals in this presentation were to help writers formulate inquiries that not only navigate the rules of all JewishGen mailing lists (thereby avoiding having one's messages rejected by moderators), but also generate the kinds of responses desired.
Moderated forums such as JewishGen's assure that no abusive, defamatory or indecent language is posted and that no one is subject to personal attacks. In addition, moderators review messages to ensure that copyrights are not violated in posted messages. All one has to do is read content in a non-moderated comment list these days to see why this is so important.
Moderators may change a subject line for a message or address capitalization issues, but they may not change the body of the message text. Therefore, if a message must be rejected for content, a moderator sends it back to the author and may suggest changes.
Additional reasons why a message might be rejected are the message:
- was sent in plain text (the Lyris program will reject it);
- was not related to Jewish genealogy;
- included long quotations without permission (it is best to paraphrase long quotes and/or just provide a web link);
- debates Jewish law or custom (Halakha);
- discusses opinions on contemporary anti-semitism;
- should have been answered privately (usually for providing individual's contact information or for providing information that may only be of interest to one family researcher); and
- (for SIG lists) is not related to SIG area of coverage
One thing I don't recall Renee and Judy mentioning is that moderators check all web links (URLs) provided in a message (including those for ViewMate messages). If one or more URLs do not work, that is grounds for rejection.
Renee and Judy provided guidelines for crafting quality messages/inquiries:
- Make subject lines specific;
- Do not include diacritical marks (accents) in your text - they are not supported by Lyris;
- Use upper case letters only for surnames;
- Full addresses/phone numbers of living people will not be posted;
- Do not use abbreviations;
- Provide enough information so readers know what sources you have already checked, but not so much information that readers will not read your message;
- There is such a thing as too much information; and
- When asking for help with a document posted on ViewMate, nclude surname, town, year (or approximate date).
- Your full name and location;
- Correctly spelled surnames and towns;and
- A research (surname/town list) - limited to six lines.
get [listname] (yyyymmdd]Examples: get jewishgen 20160815
get galicia 20160608
Send the message to firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also check message archives for the main discussion group or SIG groups.
Ron Arons - "Critical and Creative Thinking for Genealogy"
Ron Arons is a creative guy. He always seems to come up with new ways look at and analyze genealogical information.
He is also fearless. He knew full-well that he and I likely would have a difference of opinion about his topic, but he asked me to introduce him, nonetheless.
In this talk, Ron discussed two modes of thinking: critical and creative. Critical thinking is defined as deductive and focused. Creative thinking is inductive, divergent, diffused. Both are necessary and complementary when dealing with problem solving. Both are associated with skill sets that can be improved.
|The Genealogical Proof Standard (© 2014-2016, E.H. Garber)|
The Genealogical Proof Standard was developed by members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and outlines best practices for the discipline. Meeting the standard requires five elements:
- conducting a reasonably exhaustive research,
- citing sources,
- analyzing information and assessing the quality of evidence,
- resolving conflicts, and
- developing a soundly-reasoned, written conclusion
As I mentioned in my comments toward the end of Ron's presentation, I was pleased that Ron has been studying and presenting about thinking creatively in genealogical research. Our thorniest genealogical problems are best addressed with a marriage of creative and critical thinking approaches. But, I do not agree with him that the GPS does not allow for creativity. Quite the contrary, I believe the GPS provides a framework within which creative thinking flourishes.
While Thomas W. Jones, one of the main proponents of the GPS, argues in his seminal work, Mastering Genealogical Proof, that we must start our research process with focused questions to "...frame our research scope, lead us to relevant information and help identify evidence...," his identification, evaluation and analysis of sources that may provide information that bears on our research questions is nothing but creative. In fact some of the most outstanding articles published in the National Genealogical Quarterly, undeniably the flagship of GPS, blow me away with how creatively they solve problems posed.
Now, one of Ron's issues seems to be that the research questions that Thomas W. Jones identifies do not include why questions. Jones states that genealogical questions have two characteristics:
- They concern a documented person, and
- They seek information about the defining characteristics of that person (relationship, identity or activity).
Thus, while the purely genealogical questions posed by Thomas W. Jones, may seem stifling, they are, in fact liberating. As we pursue some basic questions, we are required to ask, "why?" Genealogical proof as defined in the GPS requires understanding of context.
Ron offered an interesting case for asking why. He tells the story of his grandfather who was married to several women at the same time.
He asked how common was bigamy in the 1800s and early 1900s? By the end of 1800s, bigamy was an increasing problem in New York - probably due to immigrant men making new lives for themselves in New York when their first wives and families were still in the old country.
He also wanted to know if his grandfather's sentence for bigamy was consistent
with those obtained by others. It was.
I agree that perhaps historical context and social science tools may not be applied as often as they should in genealogical analyses and provided in written genealogical proofs. But I would blame that more on the background of researchers than the limitations of the GPS. In fact, GPS requires that these types of context studies be integral, when appropriate, to our understanding of the genealogical record.
There's my soapbox and I think I will stand on it!
1. Ron Aron has pointed out that I misrepresented his opinion on where creativity fits in the GPS. I agree my initial recollection was incorrect. I have, therefore, changed the text to more closely reflect his point of view.
2. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 7.