Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Filling in the Dash"

At the graduation ceremony of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies <www.GenealogicalStudies.com> on Friday afternoon, Todd Poertner gave an entertaining speech to the 40 graduates and their invited guests in which he said his wife, Rebecca, was prone to taking genealogical vacations.

When he asked her why she was doing this, she said she was gathering information to "fill in the dash". That is that “-” sign we have all come across in our research that denotes a lifetime spent between birth and death. What type of life did this person live?

And the way to this type of research — filling in the dash — was exactly what Kory Meyerink spoke about in his speech that evening.

Keynote speaker Kory L. Meyerink — during the opening ceremonies of this year's Ontario Genealogical Society's Conference '09 — gave the J. Richard Houston Memorial Lecture on Friday evening.

"It's time for genealogists to become family 'biographers' and get beyond just names, dates, and places," was how he started in his lecture, "Beyond the Begats: Developing Biographies from Paper and Digital Sources."

He said we call it family history for a reason, and the reason is - because it is not JUST genealogy!

We just don't copy down a series of dates and say, "That's it, I am finished with it now!", or at least he hopes we don't. He encourages us to write a "Family Biography", and he gave us a list of sources to check as we start our biographies.

Continue to use the traditional sources, as we all do, like census records, BMDs, etc, but go beyond them, gathering the "extra" information like local histories, military files, court and civil records, and newspapers.

He said we have to train ourselves to focus on the "what" rather than ask "why". For example, why a person migrated can be somewhat easy to find, but what did they migrate from, and what did they migrate to, can be more difficult to determine.

He also advise us to become "miners" of databases.

This term these days is becoming rather dated in Internet times, but it still applies if you are doing genealogical research.

Some of the databases he suggests in "mining" are <www.Ancestry.com> (they have over 1,400 databases of Canadian records), <www.WorldVitalRecords.com>, <www.Footnote.com>, <www.FamilySearch.org>, and <www.CollectionsCanada.gc.ca>, which includes the Canadian Genealogy Centre.

He left us with a two page bibliography, which I intend to research. I am sure that I will come across some books that will pique my interest, and I will read them - especially the books about immigration histories.

John Becker, the editor of the OGS journal, Families, tells me that this lecture will be reprinted in a future issue. Be sure to watch for it!