One way I’m furthering my genealogy education in 2020 is participating in Cari Taplin’s NGSQ/MGP Study Group. This group reads selected articles from National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) and studies the authors’ research and writing methodologies by referencing key chapters from Tom Jones’s book Mastering Genealogical Proof. We then meet online monthly to discuss.
I’m in the Tuesday noon group, so our February meeting is in a few hours. But I wanted to blog about this experience to (1) keep me accountable in preparing and attending, and (2) help me sort out my thoughts before each meeting. We have questions and worksheets for each article, but I won’t share those here. Instead, these blog posts are a way to explore my other observations and questions.
Our selected article for February is “Reexamining the Parentage of Anderson Boon of Lincoln, Marshall, and Obion Counties, Tennessee” by Darcie Hind Posz. It appears in National Genealogical Society Quarterly 107 (September 2019), pages 201–217.
I’ve read a few NGSQ articles, so I was somewhat prepared for the content and style. But when trying to digest this one, I quickly realized I’ve always selected articles that appealed to me based on location. Reading something about Tennessee — a locale I rarely research — made my eyes glaze over on the first scan. Honestly, if this article wasn’t assigned reading, I’d have abandoned ship.
But I persevered. My first read through was to get familiar with the names and locations. My second read helped me understand the structure of the author’s argument. I made a timeline of all evidence on my third pass. My final reading was for all the details and to answer the assigned questions.
What I valued about this case was how much land research went into tracing Anderson’s parents. In an era and location before vital records were kept, land — as well as probate/court research — is key. I encounter that often in my own research. Most of my family are from the Southern US, and vital records are only available for the last 100 years, approximately. Most of my family were Primitive or Southern Baptist and worshiped in small, remote congregations, so preservation of church records is spotty. But my family were almost exclusively farmers, and land meant everything to them. It was their livelihood and their largest asset, so land records are usually available for my family. (Well, unless the courthouse burned — and that seems to have happened more often than this genealogist likes.)
Thinking of this article from the perspective of editing, one of our study group questions, also showed me that “real estate” on the NGSQ page is very valuable. What could be better reflected in a chart or graph often gets relegated to blocks of text to save space. That’s unfortunate. I would like to read Posz’s original manuscript, because I suspect it had more visual explanations of the data. As it appears in NSGQ, I had to hunt through various sections and re-read often to follow the argument. But that could also be a given based on my unfamiliarity with this family. I’ll know better once I’ve read more NGSQ articles.
As someone unfamiliar with the area, I would have appreciated a map of the various moves made by the Boon family. But, again, space was probably a limiting factor. After the third major location change, I ended up following along on a Google map. That helped greatly, especially when the family moved to counties in Tennessee and Missouri that were separated by the Mississippi River, but were — in actuality — quite close.
A family tree of DNA testers appears near the end of the article. The references are to Ancestry family trees that the author maintains. The study group questions asked us to reflect on this choice by the author. I liked that I could see and manipulate the trees myself to get a better feel for the family structure. I’m considering using this approach for an article I’m writing about Mary Smart McMurry. But I do question if this approach is the best. NGSQ has been published for over 100 years. I doubt Ancestry.com or the author’s account will still be active next century. I fear the article may be preserved for history, but her source material as reflected in the online trees may not pass the test of time.
The article did a great job of outlining three — and in some places, four — generations of a family. But I do wonder why Benjamin and Catherine Boon, Anderson’s aunt and uncle, were included in the article. Was it to disprove Anderson was their son, strengthening the certainty of him as son of John #2? Was it to provide additional certainty of the family’s migration patterns? Or was it to help identify the patriarch John #1? I feel like the whole sections on Benjamin and Catherine could have been left out and not change the answer to the research question: Who were the parents of Anderson Boon? Maybe we’ll discuss this during the group today.
One final learning for me was the author using the purchase of items from an estate sale to prove likely residence of a person who did not generate tax, court, or census records in a locale. I did not catch that on any of my four readings. The study group questions prompted a closer look, and it made me realize how important that little scrap of evidence was for the author. I see those estate sale listings all the time, but I’ve never studied them to that level of minutiae. One such estate sale in my own research (William Silas Johnston) comes to mind. I’m going to dig it up and see if anything new jumps out at me.
This study group is going to be a lot of work, but probably very rewarding. One month down, ten to go…