Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who's Your Daddy

I have just been introduced to Carolyn Billingsley's book: Communities of Kinship Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier. For the general historian she introduces some new and exciting ideas about kinship becoming a new category of analysis alongside the trinity of race, gender, and class. This, in itself, is an exciting promotion of genealogy as a substantial topic for consideration by historians and social scientists.
Even more exciting, for genealogists, she has introduced an interesting consideration. According to her research "a significant percentage of children who were not fathered by the man who thinks himself the father, the most often cited figure is about 10 percent of births." I will forgo the standard footnote here, but this quote can be found on page 11 of her book. She goes on to suggest that in some areas, the numbers can reach as high as 25 percent of children have a father that is not the biological father.
Consider this concept. If ten percent of us do not really know our biological father, what is the implication for genealogy? Do we utilize DNA practices to open wide the doors of knowledge and information? Or, do we accept the idea that parentage is more of who raised us rather than who was involved in conception? Legal definitions further reinforce the idea that parentage is more social construct and less a biological concern.
Imagine the possiblities and confusion that can be generated if her information is correct. Lineage and parentage, in the future, may take on a completely different meaning as DNA tests begin to challenge or reinforce the statistics proposed by Dr. Billingsley and other researchers. If Dr. Billingsley is correct, genealogy is going to become a whole lot more interesting.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How They Treat Paupers

The burial of paupers and the records this creates is an interesting resource for local and family history. These records, if they can be located, can provide an abundance of information regarding the less fortunate members of society. Because these records concerned the finances of the city, some accounting was maintained. By examining cemetery records and city records, some details can be uncovered about the impoverished and destitute in our communities. In addition, these records tell us a great deal about the communties in which our ancestors lived.
As an example, in the the City of Atlanta, Georgia, paupers were buried in the city cemetery, Oakland. For a time the cemetery kept a careful listing on the paupers' graves. A list of burials from 1870 to 1876 is contained in the manuscript collection of Oakland Cemetery. The collection is held at the James G. Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. It is manuscript number 618. In that time,the 1870s, annual negotiations between the city and coffin makers of Atlanta determined the treatment of paupers' remains. In 1875 the city paid $1 for each paupers' coffin. In 1880, the contract for paupers' coffins was awarded to Y. B. Cragilo, who would produce coffins at a cost of 88 cents per coffin. In 1884, the city moved the paupers' cemetery to West View Cemetery.
Close scrutiny of city and cemetery records may provide genealogists, family historians, and local historians with new information and new resources about our ancestors and the communties that they lived in. Exploring these resources can be enlightening and aid our research in a variety of ways.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Some Comments on Conniff

Just some brief comments of Richard Conniff's article in the July issue of Smithsonian magazine: "The Family Tree, Pruned" has stirred some passionate comments. I think we all need to step back and take a deep breath. Although his attempt at humor has generally insulted genealogists throughout the contry, Conniff brings up some intesting thoughts concerning the basic discussion of "nature vs. nurture". The true offense, though, is that he has suggested that genealogy is an inexact science that has no real purpose beyond entertainment value. Here is where he offends.

Genealogy, like any other craft, has the potential for shoddy work. But, with attention to detail a family history can provide the most insightful, and accurate, tidbits into the lives of our ancestors. He sites the uses of DNA to suggest that all of Genealogy is flawed. But he fails to acknowledge the built in limitations of DNA studies that are commonly recognized.

DNA is a new tool for genealogists. We are using it to provide new evidence, new leads, to direct our research. Most genealogists would recognize that the paper trail, the records we have used in the past, are still the best sources for documentation.

In short, Richard Conniff's article, although entertaining, is very flawed in his research and understanding of genealogy and family history. He needs to revisit his sources to better understand the topic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

This week in Atlanta History 30 June to 6 July

This is an important week in Atlanta History. In 1868, on 30 June Atlanta was named the capital of Georgia. It is the fifth site of state government, behind: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville and Milledgeville. Macon was also a seat of government during the Civil War, but official legislation was never passed naming the site.
In addition, this is also the week Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone with the Wind was published in 1936 and led to her winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
Clearly an important week for the city.
Happy Fourth of July.