Recent Posts

09 October 2014

Extending your genealogical knowledge: thinking about interpretation

Where are you in terms of your genealogy and family history? What's your next step in better understanding the documents you've collected? Do you have a specific goal? 

Searching for clues in other resources. Lisa Gorrell at the SF Maritime Museum Library. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
For many people, defining the answers to these questions can take several routes, from hiring our Research team, consulting the CGS Library or attending classes in person. There are many virtual options, a tendency that has increased with the changes in technology. Determining an area of focus for skill set or geographic area can lead you to new resources for taking your work further. 

While documents are central to genealogical practice, understanding the context for how those documents were created and used is also important.  I asked CGS member, lecturer and instructor Susan Goss Johnston, what should people keep in mind about how this context relates to their own family history? 

Susan agreed that while documents are central to genealogical research, she stressed that
"understanding the historic, legal and inherent context of those documents is not just important, it's essential. If a researcher doesn't understand the history behind a document's creation, he or she might not understand important events in an ancestor's life. If a researcher doesn't understand a document's legal context, they might misinterpret the true meaning of that document. If a researcher doesn't study that document in the context of other similar documents, they will miss important patterns and inferences not explicitly stated anywhere."

So, it's simply not enough to just have the documentation, but to also learn about these different facets, which can add so much more to your family history. Look at history written at different scales, the larger picture of events in the past, down to legal and social histories, or even material culture studies that can tell you more about life at that time. 

Some excellent approaches can include using the lists at H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) a nonprofit organization housed at the Wisconsin State University.  H-Net sponsors over 100 interactive newsletters (discussion boards) in order to advance teaching and research.  Its H-Net Reviews section is devoted to in depth reviews of publications that can be searched for specific topics relevant to doing genealogical research. For example, you can find recent reviews of books and exhibitions that you might have missed otherwise. 

Explore archival websites once you've charted a portion of your tree- you'll probably come away with some insights into the era your people were living in. DNA offers other routes to connect with relatives, now that testing has dramatically changed over the last five years. 

Consider a small study group, that meets in person or virtually, such as reading groups such as the NSGQ Study Groups [National Genealogical Society Quarterly] that meet online, or webinars. Tour local historical sites of interest with your genealogy society.  At CGS, we have SIGs (Special Interest Groups), so that people can systematically explore a topic together. Visit our Facebook page, blog and homepage and check for events of interest. 

Do you have an area of interest in genealogy or family history that you'd like to attend a discussion on? Contact us-- we're always looking for members and volunteers to delve into new areas of interest!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.