Being the researcher, I settled down to discover the truth! And of course, anticipated that "the Truth" would support my version.
|NOT my grandfather! But 2 of his 4 children|
are pictured; Uncle Don is on the far left and
Aunt Martha is on the far right. This undated
picture was probably taken before Grandpa
went to jail. It would't have been funny after.
It was a very personal revelation for me into the nature of truth. How fluid it can be. How inconstant. I was reminded of this revelation this past Friday.
November 11th all of the branches of the Medina County District Library system closed for a staff development day. In the morning we attended different educational sessions depending on our department and in the afternoon we were allowed to choose from a large selection of topics. One of my afternoon sessions was on the nature of truth, titled "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives".
The speaker was an Associate Professor at Tri-C
As genealogists, we are on a quest to discover the “truths” of our ancestors lives. But the “truths” we discover can be tainted, and we need to be aware of this. Here are some of the factors that can skew the truth:
1.Time. Over time, our perception of an event can alter. Slavery was once an accepted fact over a large part of our country. As time passed, larger and larger parts of our population grew to believe it was incredibly, terribly wrong. We went to war over it. Today, many genealogists are horrified when they discover slave owning ancestors and will try to suppress that information (Ben Affleck and Finding Your Roots). We cannot view past events using our mores and standards. They have to be viewed and interpreted within the context of the beliefs and customs of that time period.
Also, as more time passes between the event and the recording of the event, the memory of the recorder can become faulty, or inaccurate.
2. Our own cultural heritage, preconceived ideas, and prejudices. Dr. Levin showed several photos where he had taken several images from different time periods and juxtaposed them to create a new image, or new “truth” that meant something to him personally, and that he hoped would elicit an emotional response from his viewers. As genealogists, we have to guard against doing the same thing. We can't ignore an avenue of research because we don't like where it is leading us or because it challenges family lore. We can't create new “facts” to support our version of the truth, or because it makes our history more interesting.
3.Objectivity. We love our ancestors and are excited to share information about them. But it is not our job to make either heroes or villains of them. For our work to stand the test of time, we must be objective in our recounting of the facts we have discovered.
4. Perspective. The police have a saying. “When you interview five different witnesses to an event, you will get five different stories.” Each of those witnesses are telling the truth, from their perspective. Perspective can be physical, as in their vision of the event from a certain angle. Or it can be more personal, as in their relationship to either the victim or the perpetrator. Or from personal prejudice, as in a long held believe that certain groups of people always act a certain way. As genealogists, we have to be aware of the perspective of our resources (as in, the US censues were never collected for genealogical researchers, but were tabulated as a way to calculate statistics on the population for the government). We also have to examine how our own perspective has impacted our research. For example, did I ignore Lucinda Tillman Sartain WILLIAMS in my First Family Of Ohio application because I was so focused on a single ancestor, her husband, that I was blind to everyone else, or because as a society we undervalue and under report the contributions of women? I prefer to believe it was the first reason, but was it? Really?
Dan Levin reminded us:
- That we have to use mulitple resources to find the truth, because so many resources are subjective.
- Too many people use too few resources to determine their truth.
- There is not always a single truth, or a single "right" answer.
|Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills|
*The Historian as Detective; Essays on Evidence, New York, Harper Colphone Books, 1968.
+Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964).
P.S. Just this morning when reading the news on NewsNet5, this article caught my eye. Check it out: https://shar.es/1IO6hd
Levin, Daniel, "What is Truth? How People Can Live Together Sharing Different Perspectives", 11 Nov. 2016, MCDL Staff Development Day.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.