Lisa Oberg, UW Librarian, and I had the chance to participate in the genealogy track series of lectures for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) 2016 annual conference held in Seattle a week ago. This was a special track for the conference and one they had not had before.
Over 250 speakers presented in a wide variety of tracks from Academics and American Culture to Women’s Studies. I was most interested in the Cemetery & Grave markers, Genealogy, and the Civil War tracks. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the Genealogy track and then only part of it. (although I did sit in on a series of short presentations on comics one of which was about one of my favorites, Calvin & Hobbes, and its youth sports parallels)
The genealogy track began with a documentary by Julia Creet, York University, on the business of genealogy, “Need to Know: Ancestry and the Business of Family.” While not an expert at genealogy she became interested in the business of family history when she started looking at her own heritage. She interviewed the developers of Ancestry and the CEO of Family Search. She journeyed to Iceland to learn how their one country database is unique and even more unique when combined with medical data and DNA studies. The ethics of privacy were discussed in the film.
Lisa Iversen, a private practice psycho-therapist from Bellingham (Center for Ancestral Blueprints), spoke on the role of clusters and family in her presentation, “Ancestral Blueprints and the American Soul.” Individuals who are mentally damaged by trauma are usually very disassociated from their family cluster, both the descendants and ancestors. These clusters, as they are re-created or re-revealed, are important to “ground” one in the reality of now. This is great confirmation of what we do as genealogists and the journey we take. Lisa I., Lisa O., and I had great conversation over lunch.
A look at the bias within the show “Finding Your Roots” was reviewed in the presentation by Christine Scoldari from Florida Atlantic University in her talk “Recuperating Ethnic Identity through Critical Genealogy.” She observed that there was an overt supporting of northern Italians over southern, where southern Italians were routinely described as “maybe mafia.” I hadn’t observed that but it was not something I was looking for either. I will watch for that.
Susan Hutchinson, presented a discussion in support of Coming to the Table, a group which supports using ancestral discoveries of slavery and slave ownership to serve as a catalyst for a discussion about slavery, guilt and racism. Susan was followed by Dionne Ford, independent scholar and present Board member of Coming to the Table, spoke about researching her African-American roots and finding and meeting her ancestor’s slave owner’s descendants. They also spoke of differing reactions of the “stars” of Finding your Roots to the discovery of ancestors as slaves and slave owners. At one extreme was Ben Affleck to some of the “stars who speak of their fear of “turning the page.” But, Dionne also spoke of lost opportunity by Gates to probe the reaction of the guests and a tendancy to attempt to find some “redemption” ancestor–some ancestor that campaigned for Civil Rights or illustrated exceptional sensitivity in life– to balance the slave or slave owner. This talk fit in very nicely with Lisa and my talk “Rootless: A Retrospective of America’s Fascination with Its Ancestry” and the differing levels of interest in genealogy by a variety of cultures and their motivations.
Lisa and I proposed “Rootless” as a way to look at the interest in genealogy over the centuries. It was very difficult to fit even a small portion of our findings into the 20 min limit per speaker that was imposed upon us. But, we also are aware of how much “hit the cutting room floor” and we will present the topic in all its longevity (about 90 min.) to the South King County Genealogical Society on 9 June 2016. We are discussing presenting it to Seattle Genealogical Society after the end of September.
Some basic themes did emerge in our research for “Rootless” —
- motivations have changed in three cycles since Medieval times to the 1860-1940 to now.
- fraud has been, unfortunately, a component of genealogy when the societal stakes were high (life/death or proving high society lineages)
- Professionalism of genealogy has been difficult to advance due to the small number of voices calling for scholarly rigor, although there have been notable exceptions beginning with the 19th century.
Segments I attended ranged from very interesting and even inspirational to simply boring where the author “made much of the molehill.” But we had a good time, met some terrific people and I learned about how to present at academic conferences.
What I have done since the last posting: conducted two classes in “How Swede it is! Beginning Swedish Genealogy” at the Swedish Club, firmed up a deal with the Nordic Heritage Museum for a class in October 2016, reached out to BYU to find out which presentations they wanted when, set up a time with a client to discuss her outcomes and did an interesting exercise of mapping the birth locations of my ancestors by color.