13 February 2015

FGS/RootsTech conference 2015, Day 3 - my conference in context

Past First Lady Laura Bush was the big draw for the Opening Session today, but I decided to spend my time in the Family History Library finishing work I intended to complete during this trip. From about 8:15 am to 9:45, I located and scanned images of ten vital record documents from New York City. My work done, I headed back to the Salt Palace for more genealogy.

The Salt Palace venue is large. I believe that three years ago when I attended the second RootsTech, the entire conference was tucked into the Upper Concourse (Plaza Hotel side of the conference center). Now, RootsTech takes over the other side of the building and FGS fills the Upper Concourse. 

Logistics made for a difficult decision on attending Crista Cowan's (Ancestry.com) 10:20 am Expo Hall Demo Theater presentation of "How to Search Ancestry.com like a Pro." I had hoped to take in the first few minutes of her presentation which overlapped with the 10:30 am start of the next session. But, walking the bazillion (!) miles (OK, several minutes walk - even at my usually quick pace) to the next session I wanted to attend likely would mean missing parts of both talks. So, I chose to see the entire Cluster Genealogy presentation and forgo what I expect was Crista's fine presentation.

Dr. Deborah A. Abbott's talk on "Cluster Genealogy: Finding Your Lost Ancestors" was, indeed, worthwhile. I have been using cluster (or FAN - family, associates and neighbors) principles for some time in my research. And I am already a convert. Dr. Abbott explain the concept: let no clue lie, research everyone (cousins, aunts, siblings, in-laws, out-laws, neighbors, etc.) to answer who, what, when, where and how for each target ancestor. She also made some recommendations for tools to help work through what can become complex analyses.

She provided some nice case studies and enjoined us to use cluster techniques and the context they may provide when we get stuck in our research.

While I'd heard Curt B. Witcher (Allen County Library) on some podcasts before, I don't think I'd heard this engaging speaker in person. Witcher spoke on "Doing the History Eliminates the Mystery." He suggested focusing on an individual or family and exploring the history surrounding this target individual in terms of geography, ethnicity, religion, occupation and historic era. 

Witcher suggested we:
  1. focus on all details of a single ancestor
  2. analyze all documents related to that ancestor 
  3. evaluate specific contexts of the target ancestor 
  4. study all geographic histories of the target individual's area 
  5. study all ethnic histories in the area, and
  6. use FANs to grow one's knowledge
Witcher's talk was actually a fine complement to Abbott's. Abbott's talk was at the micro level; Witcher's a bit more macro. Both covered aspects of developing and using the context of our ancestor's lives as an aid in problem solving. And, of course, understanding context is sure to breathe life into one's family history.

I have been toying with some ideas for articles on various aspects of my research and I have been dreaming that these articles might be accepted in some of the major refereed genealogy journals. Thomas W. Jones ("Writing a Prize-Winning FamilyHistory") provided just what I needed to guide me through the development, writing and self-editing process. 

Dr. Jones acknowledged that good writing hard work. He suggested techniques to overcome the fear of getting started: start with an idea; don't worry if one's first effort is rough; work in chunks; revise, revise, revise. 

The goal is clear writing. Avoid repetition. Eliminate needless words. Every word should have a purpose.

Good genealogy articles have similar overall structures. Dr, Jones identified structural elements. The best teacher may be the content of major journals. The more one writes and reads, the better one's writing will become.

I listened to Elissa Scalise Powell's Demo Theater talk, "Measure Yourself Against the Standards." Her talk was short and provided only the basics - likely because the Board for Certification of Genealogists had already conducted a two-hour workshop on the topic earlier in the conference.

The problem with the Demo Theater, which is located within the Expo Hall, is that audience seating is in large cushy couches and chairs. At the end of the day sitting in one of those is an invitation for napping. Perhaps that is why most Demo Theater presentations are only 20 minutes.

I ended the day on a high note, taking dinner with a new friend in a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant away from FGS/RootsTech, Temple Square and the Salt Palace. A few months ago Donna, a Salt Lake City researcher with interests in Eastern Europe, had contacted me on the recommendation of someone who had heard me speak this past summer at the IAJGS conference in Salt Lake City. Donna has done some excellent research and determined that her grandfather, who was quite closed-mouth about his immigrant origins, was from the same village as my father's family, Labun (today in Ukraine). The difference in our target individuals is that mine were Jewish and hers were not. 

Donna and her mother were quite taken with the photographs of Labun posted on my blog during my 2013 visit to Ukraine. Donna's grandfather arrived in the USA in 1910 (as did several of my relatives) and settled in Philadelphia (mine were in New York City). The differences and similarities in what Donna may ultimately find to be her grandfather's story and what I find as my grandfather's story - stories of members of different ethnic populations from the same community - is sure to be fascinating. After all, as both Dr. Deborah Abbott and Curt Witcher have noted, context will breathe life into our family histories.

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