My Margarine Cousin from Idaho

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/1909, p. 13

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/1909, p. 13

Speaking about "The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk" at IAJGS 2014

Speaking about “The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk” at IAJGS 2014

This past Tuesday was the first time I presented the whole story of my margarine moonshining ancestors in public.  I laid out the whole timeline of how my great-grandfather Jacob Wesoky, his brother Louis, and two of their brothers-in-law were sent to Leavenworth for selling margarine as butter in violation of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.  (The last 10 minutes of this video, starting at 45:18, give the general outlines of the story, though few of the juicy details.)  

My talk appeared as part of the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, whose program was announced in the spring.  Naturally, it was primarily my fellow Jewish genealogists who saw the subsequent publicity, but through the power of Google, word of my talk made its way to a small town outside of Boise, Idaho to Zach, a great-grandson of Louis’, who was just beginning to get interested in learning more about the Jewish branch of his family.

With my newly-found cousin!

With my newly-found cousin a couple hours whom I met just minutes earlier!

Zach introduced himself to me just a few hours before I was scheduled to speak.  I was almost shaking when I realized who he was, and I had to keep from bursting into tears when it became clear that he drove five hours with his wife and kids just to meet me and hear my talk!!!  Throughout my presentation, I just couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to get to stand on a stage and recite to him this unbelievable chapter from our family’s past.  I kept looking at him to see his reactions to each crazy twist and turn in the story of our great-grandfathers’ butter partnership.  The talk would have been fun to give regardless, but having Zach there made the experience so much more meaningful.

wesokyindictment

Cover of the indictment for our great-grandfathers

Afterwards we discussed the whole affair at length.  I showed him all the records I had accumulated and explained all the smaller details that didn’t make it into the talk (three and a half years of research just can’t fit into an hour!).  I was thrilled that he was clearly as into the story as I and excited to get involved in the research himself.  And best of all, I got to meet his wife and kids the following morning to continue getting to know this part of the craziest branch in my tree.

I gave this talk because the story of the moonshiners is an entertaining case study in researching for color and context.  I never dreamed that it would serve as cousin bait, but wow, nothing could have made the whole research journey more gratifying.

Margarine Moonshiner Alert!

When once the scales of justice were tilted heavily in favor of the dairy lobby.

In February of this year I spoke publicly for the first time about my ancestors who were convicted in 1909 for selling margarine as butter and sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.  (If you didn’t catch my talk, start at 45:18 of this video to watch just the last 10 minutes.)  Though I gave only the highlights of their crazy story, the reaction I got was overwhelmingly positive.

I’m excited to share that next week I will be giving my first hour-long presentation on this branch of my family, “The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk:  Conducting Story-Driven Research,” at the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City.

In spring 2011 a routine search on my great-grandfather revealed the shocking surprise that he had been incarcerated in Leavenworth. What followed was a rollicking genealogical journey tracing a group of brothers and brothers-in-law recently immigrated from Minsk, who set out to sell margarine as butter in defiance of one the stranger pieces of legislation ever passed.

Learn how my desire to tell this story in its entirety led to uncovering the hijinks of my great-grandfather, who fled with his family repeatedly before the feds finally nabbed him, my great-grandmother, whose pleas to the warden still survive, the brother-in-law he fingered who was excommunicated for selling lard as butter, another brother-in-law who was arrested for threatening to kill a witness, the soon-to-be-famous inspector who was hot on their tail the entire time, and more.

Numerous historical and genealogical repositories will be discussed as I retrace my multi-year journey to get to the bottom of this long-concealed chapter in my family history and offer advice for how you can better pursue the fascinating leads in your own tree when you think like a storyteller.

And, of course, I’ll discuss in great detail why the heck margarine was legislated against in the first place.

If you don’t plan to attend the conference, one possibility is to watch the live-streamed talk on Tuesday at 5:15 PM eastern time.    Details for purchasing access are here.  If paying isn’t what you had in mind, don’t worry, this won’t be the last time I speak publicly about this branch of my family!  But for those of you who do hear the talk, whether in person or online, afterwards you’ll all agree:

I Can't Believe It's Not Fiction

 

What We Can Learn from Socrates About Oral History

seshatdetail1Two years and few days ago I published a blog post comparing the modern transformation wrought by e-readers to the ancient transformation by the codex (book).  I was fascinated by the ways in which the physical changes in how we interact with the printed word led to mental changes in how we process the recorded information itself.

While reading Moonwalking with Einstein, I discovered that there was an even earlier and more significant transformation in how we preserve information:  the very creation of writing itself!  Foer explains,

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates describes how the Egyptian god Theuth, inventor of writing, came to Thamus, the king of Egypt, and offered to bestow his wonderful invention upon the Egyptian people.  “Here is a branch of learning that will…improve their memories,” Theuth said to the Egyptian king. “My discovery provides a recipe for both memory and wisdom.” But Thamus was reluctant to accept the gift.  “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls,” he told the god.  “They will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.  What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminding.”

 

Of course, 2500 years later, we have been so inculcated in the ways of the written word that it’s hard to understand Socrates’ point of view.  Everything about how we remember is shaped by living in a culture of near-universal literacy.  Our ancestors, who relied upon oral traditions, might have had an easier time sympathizing.  Whether because they were illiterate or because their society’s definition of literature didn’t cover personal concerns, they took part in a long chain of oral storytelling by necessity.

It was the encounter with modernity that eliminated this chain in many cultures.  There was a sense that oral history was primitive and written history superior, but looking back we now know that not to be the case.  The irony that Socrates’ sentiments would have been forgotten had not his students “put his disdain for the written word into written words” points to the complicated relationship between the two.  Socrates lived during the many-generation flowering of Greek philosophy and knew his students would continue his teachings as had been happening since long before his time.   During such periods of continuity when people have the luxury of listening and repeating, oral history functions properly.  But written history is critical during the periods of discontinuity when the chain breaks down, as happened centuries after Socrates, when first Greek culture and then much of Western philosophy faded away.  For families like mine where the discontinuity of immigration came within the past century or two, we’re in the odd position of both ruing the loss of family storytelling as our grandparents or great-grandparents experienced it, and being in the midst of a new period of continuity in our families where this kind of storytelling could thrive once more… if only we knew the stories they did.

But in family history today, you might protest, we emphasize the important of both.  True, everyone agrees that recording one’s elders is critical, and technology abounds to make it easy to do so.  But this isn’t what Socrates meant.  To paraphrase his words, we still rely on what is recorded — now audio and video in place of text.  Yes, so much more comes alive when we can hear and see our loved ones reflect on the world they knew, but, as Socrates cautioned, these are crutches for memory, too.  His warning is still relevant millennia later:  Will the next generation use our writings and recordings as a substitute for doing the real work of remembering themselves?   How can we create a culture in our families where don’t just hand off our papers and tapes, but pass down traditions personally?

Moonwalking with our Ancestors

mooncraterIt took me a few years, but recently I finally got around to reading the bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein.  Long frustrated by my poor memory, I found a lot to learn from author Joshua Foer‘s story of his year-long preparation for a national memory competition.  His training centered around mastering the fifth-century BCE mnemonic device of memory palaces.  Whether he had to memorize a deck of cards or a sequence of numbers, he used the same technique of encoding the information using an arbitrary, pre-determined system (for example, in Foer’s personal system the number 34 is Frank Sinatra crooning into a microphone, and the five of clubs is Dom DeLuise hula-hooping) and then mentally placing those images around buildings he knew well (for example, his childhood home or his high school)  Remembering the cards or numbers became simply a matter of imagining himself walking around the buildings, noting each image he encountered along the way, and then translating it back to the card or number it represented.  At first I found it disappointing to discover that memory champions rely on such absurdity, but the science and history of memory Foer wove throughout his story showed this trick to be not only a key insight into the elusive workings of the human mind, but also a useful directive for how even family historians like us can make our discoveries more memorable for our relatives.

Why do memory champions encode straightforwards lists into complicated images?  The answer can be found in anthropology, namely, what it was our earliest ancestors had to remember:  “where to find food and resources, and the route home, and which plants were edible and which were poisonous.”  They “didn’t need to recall phone numbers, or word-for-word instructions from their bosses, or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum.”  We might not be hunter-gatherers anymore, but we still have their brains, and we still remember visual imagery best of all.  The memory champions’ trick makes the unmemorable memorable simply by giving it a visual component.

This imagery functions in another way, too.  The way in which the memory champions encode information makes the images into “information barbs,” to use the terminology of one expert Foer interviewed.  The image of, say, Dom DeLuise hula-hooping in the driveway of Foer’s childhood home acts as a sort of hook to the actual information Foer wants to remember, that the five of clubs is the first card in a particular deck.  For the average person not using the memory palace technique for trivial lists, “all you need to remember is a hook,” explains the expert.  Any small detail likely to be easily recalled can be enough to reel in the whole memory from the recesses of your mind.  And visual details have the greatest potential for memorability.

But visual imagery alone isn’t enough.  Remember, the memory champions’ trick places the visual images in a “memory palace” for the champions to walk through.  Why this extra layer?  “We don’t remember isolated facts; we remember things in context,” Foer writes partway through a discussion explaining why the best indicator of a chess player’s prowess is how well s/he can memorize chess boards.  His point about context is meant to be taken literally:  when presented with random boards — as in, boards that could not have arisen from game play – studies show that the experts’ memories perform as poorly as chess novices’.  “Experts [interpret] the present board in terms of their massive knowledge of past ones,” it turns out, and random boards can’t be broken down in this way.  Remarkably, even MRIs support this distinction, showing that the parts of the brain associated with long-term memory are engaged when experts look at real boards, but unfamiliar boards require the part of the brain that encodes new information.  In short, the chessboards that connect to what the experts already recognize are retained more quickly and completely.  The context of game-play is essential.

Moonwalking with Einstein is primarily concerned with how individuals can do a better job of retaining memories of their own lives as they live them.  As family historians, we focus instead on turning memories of the past into living memories that the next generation of our family will pass down.  Using visual imagery and historical context for our purposes will make the stories of our ancestors more memorable.  A well-chosen photograph, evocative description, or surprising historical detail can help what we share stand out in our relatives’ minds.  Perhaps reading Foer’s book with our agenda misses his point, but the moral of his story applies to us as well.

How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember…Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture:  All these essentially human acts depend on memory.  Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember.  Our memories make us who we are.  They are the seat of our values and source of our character.

I have no intention of competing in a memory championship as Foer did, but if the kids in my family grow up to know more about where they came from than their peers, then they (and all the generations of our family) will have won a far greater prize.  As Foer’s memory coach says, “If to remember is to be human, then remembering more means being more human.”

Treelines on the Move from Pittsburgh to Burbank

Jamboree 2014 Speaker
First things first, the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree starts today, and I’ll be speaking twice!

  • Today, 4 PM:  Story by Story, Preserve Your Family’s History.  Stop being daunted by the enormous task of writing your family’s whole story.  Learn how to break down your research into individual storylines, tell each one in a compelling way, and over time link these stories together.
  • Saturday, 3:30 PM:  Family Timelines with Treelines.com.  With just a few clicks, visualize a set of life events for a group of your ancestors. Learn how to choose the theme for your timeline, select the events, illustrate them, and share the results with family.

I hope those of you who are at Jamboree will stop by and say hi!

My arrival in Burbank caps a few weeks of travel that began with a week of research in Pittsburgh, partly to prepare for my Margarine Moonshiners talk at IAJGS in late July, but mostly to pursue my favorite line of research on my Hepps ancestors from Homestead.  This was the family that got me interested in family history as a child and turned me into a genealogist as an adult:

Allegheny County Courthouse

It took two visits to the courthouse to get the records, as it was unexpectedly closed on Tuesday for primaries!

I am very fortunate that for the family history that interests me most, amazing records survive in the Rauh Jewish Archives in Pittsburgh, and this trip was only my second time perusing them.  But my trip wasn’t just to go deeper into that material.  It was also to speak with archivists around the city to get expert advice on how to pursue all the different leads I have here. Lisa AlzoDavid Grinnell at the University of Pittsburgh, Susan Melnick at the Rauh Jewish Archives, and Martha Berg at Rodef Shalom were indispensable in helping me to structure my week.  I spent most of my time researching at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Carnegie Library, Heinz History Center, and Allegheny County Courthouse (which took two tries, and the second visit I found them about to pack up the records I was looking for to move them permanently to the Carnegie Library!).  But I also found time for a quick cemetery visit to see the grave of a great-great-grandmother whose location I discovered a couple years ago.

Even with a whole week, significantly longer than my first visit, I only scratched the surface of what I had hoped to accomplish.  Nevertheless, my investigation has exploded into a number of new directions, from tracking down possibly-lost records in the small towns around Pittsburgh to exploring fraternal organizations my ancestors belonged to.  I look forward to getting to know even more Pittsburgh-area researchers and archivists in the coming months to start tracking down all of these leads!

But first:  lots to do and learn here at Jamboree as I wrap up my two-week stay in California!

Treelines on the Move from Ellis Island to Richmond, VA

Ellis Island2

Although my great-grandma Fanny arrived at Philadelphia, not Ellis Island, telling her story a couple weeks ago to my fellow participants in Immigration Nation‘s launch event — with the Manhattan skyline behind me and the Statue of Liberty in front of me — enhanced its meaning for me in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  Fanny’s story came alive for me years ago when I put myself in her and her mother’s shoes and tried to experience how their separation in Liverpool, 1905 must have felt to them.  That exercise was half-imagination and half-empathetic reading of the scant historical record.  But that day on Ellis Island, I was surrounded by recent immigrants who shared their own, often difficult, and still ongoing stories to the group, and suddenly immigration no longer felt like this century-old disruption to rescue from history, but a very immediate challenge shaping the lives of those around me, people I would have passed on the street or sat next to on the subway without attempting a similar exercise in empathy.

Collapsing time and cultures in this way was precisely Immigrant Nation‘s goal in bringing together this diverse set of people.  Their mission is “to collect a vast range of unique immigrant narratives and experiences and share them with the world,” and even at this one event the range was, indeed, vast.  The introductory ice breaker compared how many different languages people at each table spoke (the tables of recent African immigrants won by a wide margin) and how many years spanned the first and last immigrants (a woman at my table with Palatine ancestors helped us to beat the second place table by three centuries).  Such incredible diversity!  But the mural drawn over the course of the day to illustrate our answers to the universal questions of, “What does home mean to you?”, “Where does your family’s story begin?”, and “What family tradition is meaningful to you?” brought us back to how much more we shared.

No historian needs to be taught the similarities between the past and the present, but rarely does the lesson come across with such immediacy.  I am grateful to have been a part of the day.

Five days later I was in Baltimore speaking to the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland about trees and stories on Treelines.com.  What an impressive group — though the society re-formed less than a year ago, they drew an engaged audience of more than fifty people.  I hope they learned something from me about the importance of putting as much effort into sharing our discoveries as we do making them, and I definitely learned a lot from them, as many of the attendees had invaluable research ideas and insight into the WWII family story I used as my main example in the class.  (Thanks, guys!)

ngsbadgeNow I’m gearing up to speak in a couple days at NGS in Richmond, VA.  My talk, “Tools to Help You Share Family Stories,” was selected as the featured talk for the Youth Camp!  I’ll be sharing some general storytelling advice, as well as reviewing specific applications that allow you tell stories in different multimedia formats.  The talk is targeted as genealogists of all ages, not just the kids, so if you’re looking for ideas and programs for sharing your research with your family, please join me!

And next week I am teaching at the New York Public Library!  My class is a computer lab about how to use Treelines to create a family history website for you and your family.  If you’re in the NYC area, I would love to see you there.

The Four Sons

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts tonight, centers around a highly ritualized dinner called a Seder (“Order”).  Most of the Seder is spent reading and discussing the story of the exodus from Egypt as recounted in a book called the Haggadah (“Telling”).  As it explains, “All who discuss the exodus from Egypt at length are to be praised.”  To that end, everyone is encouraged to ask questions, suggest interpretations, and offer historical or personal parallels to elaborate upon the Haggadah’s version, and indeed, at a lively seder it could be hours before the meal begins.  Last year, I introduced how the text of the Haggadah works to incorporate the whole family.  This year I want to discuss the section that precedes the recounting of the exodus story:  the story of the Four Sons.

Illustration of the Four Sons by Nota Koslowsky, U.S.A., 1944

Illustration of the Four Sons by Nota Koslowsky, U.S.A., 1944*

“The Bible speaks about four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who doesn’t even know how to ask,” begins the story.  Each child asks their version of a question seeking to understand the holiday.  The wise one requests the specific details of how the holiday must be observed.  The wicked one asks, “What does this observance mean to you?”**  The simple one pleads, “What is all of this?”  And I think you can all guess about the one who doesn’t know how to ask.  In each case the Haggadah instructs how to respond to the child.

This year it’s the wicked son’s question-and-answer that rattles around in my mind.  Does the Haggadah represent the intentions behind the wicked son’s question fairly?  It focuses on his words “to you,” hearing in them a desire to “[exclude] himself from his people.”  It instruct his parents, “Say to him:  ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’ — for me and not for him.” (Exodus 13:8) In other words, scare the wicked child from his ways with a vision of what it really means to be excluded.

My mind catches instead on first part, “What does this mean?”  I hear a bewildered child wondering, Here we all are sitting around this table.  We spent the past week preparing a holiday feast which we’re not yet allowed to eat because this discussion must happen first.  Parents, please tell me why it matters to you that we do this, so I can understand why it should matter to me. What does this observance mean to you?  Perhaps the wicked child’s intentions are honest:  to be shown a way to connect to this observance happening before him.

Illustration of the Four Sons from a 1695 Haggadah printed in Amsterdam

Illustration of the Four Sons from a 1695 Haggadah printed in Amsterdam*

In the wicked child’s not-so-wicked question I find myself thinking back to my own experiences when I first got into genealogy — trying, and initially failing, to convince my own family to care about the discoveries I was making about our ancestors.  Their muted reactions to the names, dates, and relationships I was sharing were their own, innocent version of, “What does this mean to you?”  Why does dredging up this forgotten family history matter?  The failing wasn’t theirs; it was mine.  I had to I stop presenting elaborate trees with historical records and start interpreting this raw material in a way that made it relevant to my family.  A census gives a snapshot of how our ancestors’ circumstances compared to our own.  An immigration record hints at what they endured so we would not.  Every detail can change the way a family sees itself if looked at in the larger context of history and society.  I had to do more research to learn what these discoveries were really conveying, not just about my ancestors’s lives, but also about their world.

If the wicked son is redeemed by my re-reading of his question, then praise for the wise son must be partially retracted.  The wise son asks for details without context where the wicked sons asks for context with no details.  Neither can stand without the other, especially not in family history.  I failed when I asked my relatives to draw their own conclusions from lists of names and dates and towns, and I failed, too, when I threw out historical tidbits without any orientation, but when I put the pieces together, it was like my family was reading their favorite historical fiction, except the story was true, and its thrust was how they came to be.

At the conclusion of the section about the Four Sons, when the Haggadah starts answering the questions it has posed through these children and in previous sections, it also balances (Biblical) history with the (theological) interpretations that explain its continued relevance.  Something in this formula must resonate deeply, since this text has been passed down from generation to generation for nearly two thousand years.  Your family history goals may not be quite so ambitious, but, as the Haggadah says, “go and learn” from what has endured.

Happy Passover to those who celebrate it.

* In the illustrations, the sons are in order from right to left (following the direction in which Hebrew is written).

** The literal translation of the Hebrew is, “What [is] this observance to you?” It’s complicated to translate since Hebrew grammar omits the verb in this construction, so the translator’s art must guide choosing words that best capture the intended sentiment. “Mean” is the verb I saw in all the translations I consulted.

Genealogy Industry Report Card on the Heartbleed Security Flaw

heartbleedHave you heard about Heartbleed?  It’s a recently-discovered security flaw in the encryption software two-thirds of all websites use to protect your data.  This problem isn’t one of those fake-outs where your crazy friend posts something alarmist on Facebook that Snopes easily proves is ridiculous.  This time it really is as bad as your crazy friend says it is.  “On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11,” wrote cryptography expert Bruce Schneier.

As users there’s not much that we can do except wait for our favorite websites to upgrade their software to the fixed version.  Once they do, the recommendation is to change your password on all the web sites that were affected (here is a list of popular ones here is a better list being updated regularly).  That’s annoying and tedious, of course, but it’s the only way to be sure.

After ensuring that Treelines is not vulnerable to the Heartbleed vulnerability, I’ve gone through the major genealogy sites that use encryption software using a publicly available tool to see how the rest are faring.  The good news is that the sites all pass!  This tool also assesses the overall quality of the security measures each site uses to protect your data.  Here there is a wide range of grades, including two F’s by popular sites!

Site Heartbleed
vulnerabilities?
Security grade (click on grade for full report)
Ancestry.com No A-
MyHeritage.com No   F     A-   **
FindMyPast.com No A
Archives.com No A-
FamilySearch.org No B
Geni.com No A-
WorldVitalRecords.com No B
Mocavo.com No A
GenealogyBank.com No   F     A-   **
Newspapers.com No B
Fold3.com No B
23andMe.com No B
FamilyTreeDNA.com No A-
Treelines.com No A
WikiTree.com No n/a*
FindAGrave.com No n/a*
BillionGraves.com No n/a*

* n/a means that the site does not use encryption software to protect the data you submit to it. It’s true that the sites marked n/a do not take credit card information, but it has been long accepted as the best practice that any time a user signs up or logs into a site, their information should be encrypted. If you use the same password on the sites marked n/a as you do on other websites, then a malicious person could lift your information from the one site and try it out on others where you do make purchases. It’s unlikely, but it is possible. (Sorry if I sound like your crazy friend on Facebook now!)

** Thank you to these companies, who improved their security after this post was published.

Timeline Creation Applications: Free Webinar Today

webinar_timeline

Dear friends, I sure hope third time’s the charm, because today is supposed to be my Timeline Creation Applications class, presented through the Southern California Genealogical Society’s webinar series.  The explanatory timeline above shows how bugs affected first the webinar service provider, then me, causing the delays.

Assuming humans and computers cooperate, the talk will take place this evening from 6-7:30 PM Pacific Time (9 PM Eastern Time, 8 PM Central Time, 7 PM Mountain Time).  You need to reserve your spot in advance by following the instructions at this link:

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/175324585

After all this time, I’m really looking forward to this one.  Hope to see you there!

In Defense of Genealogy as a Hobby

phunts22.1283336178Recently I read in Carla Peterson’s impressive Black Gotham:  A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City how pharmacists sought to standardize their profession to eliminate quacks, improve their effectiveness, provide better patient care, and advance their knowledge.  The relevance of this history to her narrative is how the gates pharmacists erected mostly hindered, but sometimes aided her ancestors’ professional advancement, but it also provides a useful parallel to our unique historical moment within genealogy:  now that standards have been drafted, today’s researchers are similarly battling for widespread adherence to them so genealogy will be practiced in a more reliable manner and thus taken more seriously by the establishment and practitioners alike.  In short, our field is belatedly undergoing the standardization that pharmacology and every other respected discipline has had to undergo to enter the ranks of academic fields of study.

This process of standardization took its biggest step forward in the late 1990s with the creation of the Genealogical Proof Standard, but at the same time the Internet came along to threaten decades of progress.  The professionals dedicated to defining the boundaries of what is and is not good genealogy now find themselves guarding gates long trammeled by the huddled masses yearning to type names into search engines and get free answers.  Public perception of our field has been forever changed, academic acceptance still hasn’t happened, and the result is a community inflamed over why amateurs do such poor work and how can we get them to improve (as though that is the problem preventing acceptance).  The latest outburst in the blogosphere, ably summarized by Randy Seaver, grew out of a solidly-argued, non-genealogical article about the present pervasiveness and perniciousness of the attitude that “everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.”  “I fear we are witnessing the ‘death of expertise,’” writes Tom Nichols, “a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”  It’s a thesis I couldn’t agree with more.  But as familiar as this description sounds to those of us sick of finding nonsensical trees on Ancestry, its application to our field is wrong. Continue reading