Jewish Genealogy – The Anti-Cult?

Not too long ago, Kerry Scott wrote a blog post about Source Citations: Church or Cult? Most genealogists who have ever attended a conference, or wished they had, belong to one of those, with their copies of Evidence Explained and citing their sources in small print at the bottom of every client report and in their own genealogy database. More recently, Joan Miller (Luxegen) put in her two cents on the subject with Good, Better, Best, as did a few other bloggers in between.

Does that mean the world of Jewish genealogy is the anti-cult? Go to an IAJGS conference (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has heard of Evidence Explained or knows what the Genealogical Proof Standard is. Sure, there are a few that do; those who have been in professional genealogy for a long time, the rare certified or accredited genealogist in the crowd, or someone from outside the Jewish genealogy world who’s “visiting” us that year. There might even be a vendor selling copies of EE. But the general population of attendees has no idea.

At the NGS conference I attended in 2010, it seemed like half the sessions were about one of those two subjects: citing sources or the GPS. At IAJGS, the sessions are about what records are available from New York, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, etc., how to translate them, how to order them, Jewish history, Sephardic research (Jews from Spain), Rabbinic genealogy — nothing about citing sources or the GPS. There are sessions on methodology, just not the same methods apply.

Clients don’t care about source citations. I have never had a client ask me where I found a record, or where I searched and didn’t find a record. Of course, this information is already in their client reports. With the exception of the one company that requested EE-type citations (and they completed them for me), other genealogists I’ve worked for also seem to be unconcerned with detailed source citations. The most I’ve been asked (only once) was, “On what film did you find the record?”, to which I replied, “It’s in the file name.” Ever since NGS, I have added that information to all my scanned file names and been a little more specific with my sources, but still not remotely up to EE standards.

I am obsessive about keeping track of my sources for my own research and my clients. If I add a person or an event to my own database, there is a source for it. Just like everyone else, some of my earlier work had no sources, but everything was eventually given a source in one of my revisions.

While some genealogists may freak out when they read that I don’t follow these rules, I hope they realize that I do have citations for everything, just not in their style. If it wasn’t important enough to mention at the IAJGS conferences, I didn’t much pay attention even if I saw it online, and I just haven’t switched over. That doesn’t make me a bad genealogist, it just means I don’t follow all the “rules”. I can check any information in my database to find the source, whether it was from a primary document, a census, or from a relative, to compare with any new information and determine what source should be more trusted.

Will I ever change my source citations to the EE-style? Possibly. But not today.

5 thoughts on “Jewish Genealogy – The Anti-Cult?”

  1. I agree with you Banai. As I mentioned in my blog post on Good, Better, Best, I don’t get into the nitty gritty of the citation format until we are ready to publish. I do have detailed records of the sources but they aren’t all in ‘perfect’ EE format.

    1. I see that line in your blog post now. It slipped my mind when I wrote this. But you still probably cite a little closer to EE than I do in your “everyday” research.

  2. Since turning pro three years ago, I have become much more aware of this issue. And as I get older and wonder about my own research heirs (I should be so fortunate!), I know it is important for my own research as well.

    But the fact is that none of my clients expect it, not even the attorneys. (They certainly wouldn’t want to pay for the additional time it would take!) In fact no one even wants the kind of orderly bound report that I have seen from some of the long-time pros. And I certainly have neither the time nor the patience to “cite up” my own old research.

    So I quite identify with what Banai writes here.

    As it happens, I intend to mention one aspect of this issue at the beginning of my presentation at the DC Conference “BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT – what you know vs what you can prove.” The EE people would probably throw me out of the room.

    1. I have worked for other researchers who are working for attorneys. The only time I’ve been asked to even try to cite sources EE-style was for that one genealogy company.

      That sounds like an interesting session for IAJGS. I know a few things that I’ve been trying to prove for years. Will you be explaining when it’s OK to add the data into your database even when you still can’t prove it?

      1. Yes, but as a recommendation, not as an authority.

        (Who am I to give permission.)

        I will weigh the pros and cons with examples. two of those examples appeared in print last year – one in The G and one in Avotaynu.

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