Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Genealogy Narrative

One of my main goals in publishing this blog is to transform dry genealogy data into a more meaningful narrative story of my ancestors, their times and their journeys to America. This approach lacks the academic rigor of a drier, more straightforward cataloging of historical records, but is far more readable. I try to strike a balance between these two approaches by including direct links to as many original documents as possible. This allows the reader to see the basis for my stories and come to their own conclusions if they so choose.

I'm pleased to see others taking this narrative approach to genealogy in order to appeal to a wider audience. Today the New York times has published a very interesting story on the family of Michele Obama. The article focuses on the discovery of a white ancestor in Mrs. Obama's tree. However, the trail of records is sparse and lacking for detailed information, as was quite common for black families after the Civil War. To fill these gaps the author includes stories of those who knew Mrs. Obama's ancestors. The article also includes a multimedia presentation with an interactive family tree and images of all the original documents on which the story is based. Cheers to the Times for taking this narrative approach to a genealogy story and especially for publishing the original documents. Too often newspapers publish stories on famous genealogies that only cherry pick interesting and often misleading details from a serious genealogist's work (i.e., headlines like "Obama and Bush and Cheney are all Cousins -- imagine the family reuinions!"). To see genealogy presented in the press in this professional and moving way benefits both the reader and the view of genealogy in general.