Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2005-01 > 1105115850

From: "Chris Dickinson" <>
Subject: Re: An encomium for genealogy
Date: Fri, 7 Jan 2005 16:37:30 +0000 (UTC)
References: <s1dc291f.036@CENTRAL_SVR2> <8l1Dd.105640$> <crjg6p$cll$> <yDjDd.107203$>

Peter Stewart wrote:

>the facts behind it were
>still specific & definite, not susceptible to nuances of interpretaion.If
>these facts can't be recovered from such a text, that reality becomes the
>deposit of knowledge to be gained from it. Problems arise mainly if the
>researcher insists on getting further through conjecture and presents this
>as fact, or uses unverifiable assumptions about the cultural background
>(e.g. onomastic theories) to lend authority to speculation.
>But research can be verified to some extent through trust in the original
>report - like any quotation or transcription that isn't checked against the
>original document - and doesn't necessarily have to be repeated as in
>scientific experiments.

I suspect that we are always going to disagree (:-)), but ....

The problem boils down to where we draw the line between what is 'fact' and
what is 'fuzzy'.

You touch on that by talking in terms of 'trust'. We are constantly making
evaluations of sources according to the trust we have in them - whether they
be human researchers, parish registers, indentures or whatever. And those
evaluations may change in time. Similarly, we look at even quite simple
facts with fresh eyes when new evidence emerges or we understand more about
how the 'fact' came about.

And then there are 'facts' which weren't even 'facts' when they were written
down. A term like 'Mr' can be a convention, a social statement, an act of
fraud, a politeness ... depending upon time, place, record and the
perceptions of the person making the record or a copy of that record.
Genealogists often have to construct hypotheses based on their understanding
of how a particular term is used in a particular context.

A further type of problem comes where the understanding of the facts is
related very closely to an understanding of the historical environment. You
comment on using 'unverifiable assumptions about the cultural background ...
to lend authority to speculation', but which particular assumption about the
cultural background should we accept as having been verified and at what
point does hypothesis become speculation? Do we, for instance, accept that
there was a lot of social movement within Britain or very little - what
marriages might we consider as within the bounds of possibility? Sometimes
the genealogist is building on the shifting sands of the social historian.


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