Book Review: Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends

Sustainable GenealogySustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends by Richard Hite. Published by  Genealogical Publishing Company; Baltimore, 2013. Forward by Henry Z. Jones. 110 pages. Table of contents, no index, no reference list. 110 pages. $19.98.

Are you related to an Indian Princess?  Since your ancestors have the name Boone you must be related to Daniel, right?

Genealogists are faced with family legends, often times call myths, such as these almost on a daily basis. Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends by Richard Hite, State Records Coordinator of the Rhode Island State Archives and Public Records Administration, addresses these challenges.  Using a case study approach, Mr. Hite identifies, analyzes, and resolves a variety of familiar family myths and some common beginner errors that if not corrected would certainly become the myths of the future.

Once past the introduction, each chapter is a different myth type. Mr. Hite explains the  myth, the various forms  the myth takes and presents many examples mostly from his own family about how he addressed the myth and ultimately proved it true or false.  His examples are interesting and are germane to the type of myth being described. The examples provide guidance for the researcher who is trying to resolve a personal, but a similar type of myth.

This book raises the issue of what is a family myth.  Mr Hite includes the usual stories of the Indian Princess, relationship or association to famous persons and kinship with royalty.  Most genealogists would agree these are the classic “family myths.”  Mr. Hite enlarges the definition of “myth” to include:

  1. unproven findings which would become familial myths if left on their own
  2. common genealogical problems which are family specific.

This broader definition raises some questions. Does a story have to be universal in character before it can be considered a myth or can it be family specific? Does the story need to be passed from generation to generation before it is a myth or can it develop in the present or even in future time? How much complexity does a unproven story have to have to warrant being called a “myth” or can there be one premise myths? Mr. Hite defines the  word liberally and broadly.

Mr. Hite concludes his book with an outline of the “myths he avoided by thorough research” but the book stopped too soon. The book would have been improved and more helpful to the reader with the addition of principles by which to resolve their own family myths.  In addition, the use of the current genealogical vocabulary of sources (primary, secondary, authored works), information (primary, secondary, indeterminable) and evidence (direct, indirect and negative) would also have made the  solutions to the case studies clearer by offering greater granularity in the explanations.

While it does not affect the content, the book would have benefited also from the intercession of a layout artist.  The chapter headings are the same font size as the subheading within the chapter causing the reader confusion and clumsy chapter breaks which should have been avoided. Some reviewers have found the type size too small, but I did not see that as a problem.

In preparation for a presentation on “Solving Family Myths Using the Principles of Logic,” I conducted a literature search.  I found much about classic myths with supernatural creatures or individuals with supernatural powers; but I found little about family myths and even less about how to solve them.  This appears to be a large gap given that every family has genealogical myths. When I heard that Sustainable Genealogy was now available in my public library, I immediately checked it out hoping it filled this gap.

Sustainable Genealogy fills a portion of that gap but not completely. I recommend reading the book but would also recommend that you check it out of your library rather than purchasing.

Other resources:

Marian Pierre-Louis interviews Richard Hite on her radiocast Fieldstone Common at : http://www.fieldstonecommon.com/sustainable-genealogy-richard-hite/

Kentucky Ancestors online blog reviews the book: http://kentuckyancestors.org/book-notes-sustainable-genealogy-separating-fact-from-fiction-in-family-legends/

Happy Hunting!

Jill

What I have done since the last posting:  I attended and presented at the 2014 Family History Fair in Bellevue WA.  I presented three lectures but also was able to attend Janice Lovelace’s presentation on resources found in County Courthouses. Good job, Janice!  I also attended Mary Katharine Kozy’s presentation on autosomal DNA.  I passed out my marketing materials (lecturing) to a variety of organizations exhibiting at the Fair. Fun day! Thanks to Mark Hoover and the entire team in Bellevue for another great event.

 

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One comment on “Book Review: Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends

  1. a gray says:

    Thanks for the review. Very helpful suggestions.

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