Sunday, 29 March 2015

Genealogy in the Sunshine 2015 Wrap-up

Genealogy was in plentiful supply at the "Genealogy in the Sunshine" event organized by Peter Calver of Lost Cousins at Rocha Brava, Algarve, Portugal - 16-20 March 2015. Several people have asked about my experience saying they would consider going if offered again.

It goes without saying that when you have well-known knowledgeable speakers of the quality of Chris Paton and Else Churchill, who have both been BIFHSGO conference speakers, and John Hanson, the content will be first rate.

It was, and not just because of them. In fact my top pick from the speakers, perhaps because her material was new to me and presented in such an appealing manner, was British legal historian Rebecca Probert, author of Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide...what everyone tracing their family history needs to know about where, when, who and how their English and Welsh ancestors married. She spoke on Sex, Illegitimacy and Cohabitation; Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved - interpreting you ancestors' second marriages; and the Life and Times of an Army Wife in the Peninsula War as well as giving a morning presentation on the topic of her marriage law book.

The major presentations took place in the afternoon, the mornings being reserved for introductory or specialist topics. However, on Monday morning there was a panel on the Genealogical Proof Standard. Else Churchill started off with an overview of the GPS and the additional material the Society of Genealogists have on their website. That was pretty factual. The discussion, which involved a lot of questions and interventions from the audience, was at a fairly basic level. There remains a lot of scepticism over "reasonably exhaustive", the overly prescriptive nature of citation and just when conflicts can be said to be resolved. One opinion was that the GPS was nothing more than common sense. There was some discussion of DNA evidence allowing me to point out how it is becoming increasingly accepted by the US  profession, and required in some circumstances.
While I think the GPS can be improved upon after nearly 20 years, after all genealogy has come a long way in that time, still we should not be making the perfect the enemy of the good. I remain optimistic that one of these days, although perhaps not soon, the genealogical professionals will embrace a quantitative probabilistic approach.

The second (Tuesday) morning was dedicated to presentations by Debbie Kennett providing an introduction to genetic genealogy. It was a session I didn't attend, Debbie was a speakers at the last BIFHSGO conference. I did enjoy her more in-depth presentations on interpreting DNA results. Genetic genealogy continues rapid development and Debbie is right on top of these as well as being well tuned in to the genetic genealogy community internationally. The challenge with these presentations is providing enough basic material for the newbie and enough of what's new to satisfy the more advanced genetic genealogist.

There wasn't a dud presentation during the whole week - although I'll let others pass judgement on mine.

I wasn't the only Canadian on the program. Dr Donald Davis from BC gave an exceptional presentation comparing the 1841 English census with a small collection of the original householder schedules found in a county archive, and, together with his cousin Donna Fraser, spoke on their case study Finding Amelia.

Peter Calver also arranged a social program including an opening reception with wine, afternoon tea/coffee breaks each day, optional Safari Suppers on Tuesday and Thursday, and an optional closing dinner.

Was everything perfect? No, but it was good. The presentation rooms weren't ideal; WiFi was only occasionally, mostly not, available in my suite so I had to walk to reception for access. While that's something that could be fixed the parsimonious allocation of sunshine was not. Portugal is known as a cold (relative term) country with a hot sun. I have a sunburn that testifies to sunny days of sightseeing before the conference, and Algarve has lots of that to offer. The sun only reluctantly appeared during the conference, although did make enough of an appearance on the Friday morning to enable witnessing the partial eclipse of the sun.

The accommodation at Rocha Brava was perfectly satisfactory, we took advantage of a reasonably well equipped kitchen to save on meals out, international TV, and there were good electric heaters to take the chill off leaving us toasty-warm on the colder days.

I expect Peter will have more to report in his next Lost Cousins newsletter. Chris Paton has included interviews with Peter Calver and Else Churchill recorded at Genealogy in the Sunshine in a recent podcast.  Comments from anyone else at the event welcome.

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