Monday, 3 March 2014

Elitism and the paramount role of archival documents

Yesterday in the post about the four waves of genealogical interest I mentioned it was prompted by Friday's talk by Dr Scout Calvert, of UCLA Irvine, Technologies of Kinship: Genetic Genealogists and Origin Stories, at Carleton University.

Dr Calvert quoted sources which see genealogy as a pastime loaded with pedigree meanings, which relies on records from centuries past with overtones of race and class (prestige).  "The assemblage of skills and activities involved in genealogy and supported by genealogical organizations encourage ideologically loaded images of our ancestors which in turn reflect on interpretations of history and social consensus."

Seen through the lens of lineage society activity genealogy can seem to be aiding and abetting "elitism." It is the basis for acceptance of some to membership and exclusion of others.
In her blog post about this talk Elizabeth Kipp wrote:

I queried whether DNA, as the "new kid on the block" or traditional paper trail genealogy would ultimately be the "decider" on family genealogy. I sort of knew her answer would be, as is mine, that the archival documents will always be more important that the genetic genealogy of a family. It really comes down to what determines family - is it the genetic composition that passes from father and mother to child or is it the logical flow of events that precede and follow that event where they can be documented. You can not change wills that have named children or the baptismal registers that have named parents. In the long run, family is determined by these paper documents and not by the DNA that runs through our veins. 
I didn't hear Dr Calvert coming down conclusively on side with Elizabeth's point of view.

According to my Oxford Dictionary genealogy is:
Account of descent from ancestor by enumeration of intermediate persons, pedigree; investigation of pedigrees. 
The definition of pedigree uses the term "pure breeding".  Genealogy is a narrowly defined term about biological descent and relationships.

The first of several definitions of family is:
Members of household, parents, children, servants, etc.
So what is "family genealogy"? How does it differ from genealogy?

DNA, paper records and oral history all provide evidence which needs to be evaluated. You can use these sources to probe your blood relationships (genealogy) or other aspects of your family history.

The way I see it we're free to be our own "decider" based on our own idea of what's more important. But your credibility will suffer if the standards of reasonable people, of which increasingly DNA evidence is becoming part, don't agree with your standards.


Elizabeth Kipp said...

Thank you John for this post. Since I did miss the discussion, I am pleased that you have posted your thoughts in this regard. My ancient British Isles ancestry on both the yDNA and the mtDNA lines does quite fascinate me and as far as I can tell all of my lines go back for a considerable distance, with only one real exception where I do not know the parents of my 3x great grandfather living in London, as British Isles lines but the DNA is telling me that we have a Germanic component which is still unknown to me. The paper trail will not reveal it to me yet but the genes certainly do at both FT DNA, BritainsDNA and Sorenson where I have complete agreement with the results - no differences. Not using DNA results is a mistake I think when looking at your ancestry but I still think that the definition of family is determined more by the archival documents than by the DNA results. Does research suffer by this opinion? I do not think so if you are also willing to look at where the DNA takes you. One can legally have two sets of parents or two fathers (one biological, one adopted). That was my point in actuality as I look back in the discussion. Excellent lecture as it brought forth a lot of interesting discussion.

Elizabeth Kipp said...

I have slightly altered the text of my blog to reflect my own opinion since I was not present for very long after my question was queried.