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Dance of the Sources

By Daniel Hubbard | April 7, 2013

Checking sources can be an oddly enjoyable pastime. At least I think so. That is, I both enjoy it and admit that it might be somewhat odd to enjoy it. I think what lies behind a statement is often even more fascinating than the statement itself. Every conclusion has a story behind it, a sort of “metagenealogy,” that is expressed in the sources themselves and what they have to say on their own and in the way the sources were fit together to support the conclusion.

Hopefully everyone who spends any time doing research learns the value of keeping track of sources. There are a whole host of practical reasons to keep track of your sources¬†and cite them. There is also this almost artistic reason, this metagenealogy. There are many things that can make genealogy more interesting. Filling in the details of the lives you’ve uncovered is probably the first thing that comes to mind. The ballet the sources need to perform to reach a conclusion is another. The genealogist that explains their reasoning and cites their sources is a sort of choreographer that lets the rest of us see that ballet.

Sometimes the curtain never goes up and we never get to see what lies behind. There is no logic to follow. There are no sources to check. We simply learn of the final result and are left to stare at the unopened curtain.

Too often, I find that the curtain goes up and the scenery is nice but the performers never take the stage. The audience members are left scratching their heads.¬† A claim is made and sources are given and yet checking the sources shows that they do not actually support the claim. Are you missing something? Maybe not. Somewhere in between a full discussion of the sources and making unsupported statements is a middle ground. Sources are cited but don’t and in fact, given their type almost never could, support the claim. They might be good things to check. It might be good to know that they don’t contradict the claim but they don’t actually support the claim either. Those sources simply pertain to the claim. They aren’t irrelevant, but they don’t perform the implied dance either. They are the stage hands busy doing their jobs for a performance that never begins.

To truly grasp a genealogy, to get the most out of it and find the interesting things that lie behind it, one needs to take a seat and watch the dance. Seeing the open curtain and glancing at the scenery then concluding that a ballet had been performed there doesn’t work and it isn’t very interesting either. After all, you buy a ticket to watch the dance.

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Topics: Genealogy, Research Mindset | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Dance of the Sources”

  1. Jill Groce Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Too true. My family lines have been written about and “documented” by so many people over the last 150 years or so that threads of sources have practically strangled my research.

    This isn’t bragging. I wish there was a middle ground between mildly interesting family (or publicity hogs) and brick walls.

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