Genealogists are not normally a wild bunch.
Our "happy dances" tend to accompany the discovery of new records for elusive ancestors.
Our "wild and crazy" moments happen as we help others find answers to their family history questions or help them locate hard-to-find records. We enjoy discovering the clues and pointers in both unusual and ordinary places.
This week produced two interesting developments.
I'm in northern California - Silicon Valley - at the home of friends, as I rest from one conference and rest up for three more in quick succession with only a day between each, beginning this coming weekend.
So, along with continuing prep work for my presentations - and blogging - it's nice to get in some fun. Fun, to those of us who pursue our roots, can mean many things.
My friend Rosanne is a semi-retired reference librarian - and an accomplished genealogist. I went with her to her library one day last week. As we parked, I noticed this great license plate on the adjacent car. We agreed that the vehicle MUST belong to a genealogist.
Not sure what these are? Read on for quick descriptions and video links to provide more information. I'm focusing on TimeLine in this post.
Timeline is an interactive feature demonstrating the relationship of history's main events to your family's important dates.
This is an important feature because each person's unique family history has always been impacted by worldwide historical events that caused very local effects.
One example might be an early 19th-century cholera epidemic, quite common at the time around the world and frequently fatal for young children and the elderly. Such epidemics may be responsible for many deaths noticed in historical vital records.
And, while regional and world wars covered a wide swath of territory, local events may have "encouraged" your ancestors to move somewhere less chaotic and more safe.
To truly understand the lives of our ancestors, we need to learn about historical events that may have effected them.
I'm in Hong Kong this week presenting genealogy talks and workshops. Tomorrow I travel to Melbourne, Australia for a genealogy conference and will return here for two more programs in a few weeks.
Chinese traditional genealogy features a document known as Jia Pu or Zu Pu - genealogy record. It is a record of the history and lineage of a clan, as it documents the surname origins, migration patterns, family lines, biography and much more.
PHOTO: Jia Pu genealogical record
Jia Pu have been dated as early as 1523-1028 BC.
Before writing was invented, early clan family trees were written on turtle shells, cow bones and bronze, or as a system of knots interlaced with miniature objects signifying generations, numbers, gender and more. The elders also transmitted this information orally to the younger generations.
The record begins with the first ancestor who settled in a place and ends with the descendant drawing up the genealogical record. One one form, the original ancestor's sons and descendants are the first six generations. That line is listed vertically on the right side with the sons and grandsons of the first son. The first born son's brothers are listed horizontally on the left. Information may include an individual's name, alias, birth and death dates and rank.
Women are not featured prominently as they become part of their husband's family after marriage, although their names are mentioned in the Jia Pu of their family and their husband's family.
Researchers now study these genealogies to learn about social and economic history, geography, law, demographics, religion and culture.
A now-defunct site called ChineseRoots.com, which was based in Singapore, claimed a database featuring 12,000 volumes of Jia Pu and a list of more than 1,300 surnames. It was working on English language immigration records to help researchers. Unfortunately, the site is no longer in existence.
Have you thought about the fact that while genealogists are historians - it is an integral element of our quest for knowledge - historians may not be genealogists?
How do genealogists gain understanding and perspective when dealing with history? History to a genealogist is not the dry historical happenings of a distant past, but is often very personal history - events that our ancestors either lived through or died from as a result.
As I have written previously, I was usually bored by high school and college history classes, except for some very specific topics, such as Sephardic history. Who cared about all those other dates and places? What did those events have to do with me?
My interest in history changed dramatically once I began working on my family's history, and began following my ancestors back over the centuries in Iran, Spain, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Israel and the US.
Suddenly, those dry boring dates and dusty forgotten places became very important as I learned that my ancestors lived there or were eyewitnesses to or participants in those same historical events.
Genealogy is more than just lists of names and dates - it is about our ancestors as people. How did they live? Where did they go and why? How did circumstances and historical events impact their lives? History becames very personal if there is a tie to specific times and places where where our ancestors lived.
It was somewhat of a shock when I realized that if one of my direct ancestors had died - before producing children - as a result of an epidemic, a war or a sinking boat, then I would not be alive today. This realization hits every genealogist at some point, and it brings everything back to a very personal reality. When I taught genealogy to elementary and junior high students, I would discuss this very point and student reactions were interesting as they came to the same realization.
While researching an article on genealogy in New Mexico, I came across an article by Karen Stein Daniel, editor of the New Mexico Genealogist, published by the New Mexico Genealogical Society ADD URL.
Note that, if you have roots in New Mexico going back to the 16th century or at any time, this journal is filled with fascinating articles. Published for some 40 years, a CD is for sale containing all the issues. It is well worth it and I strongly recommend acquiring it. The society's website offers some articles and resources online.
In Stein Daniel's article, "Historiography for Genealogists: A Perspective in Understanding," she offers the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966 edition) definition of historiography:
"the body of literature dealing with historical matters; the body of techniques, theories, and principles of historical research and presentation, and methods of historical scholarship; the narrative presentation of history based on a critical examination, evaluation, and selection of material from primary and secondary sources and subject to scholarly criteria."
Stein Daniel writes that this sounds like the application and methods that genealogists should be adhering to in research and writing, regardless of whether or not it is for publication.
In 1934, famous historian Charles A. Beard wrote: "...historians recognize ... the obvious, long known ... that any written history inevitably reflects the thought of the author in his time and cultural setting .... Has it not been said for a century or more that each historian who writes a history is a product of his age."