History? Genealogy? Why not both?

In August 2005, the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Genealogical Society sponsored the Midwestern Roots conference in Indianapolis. The evening before the conference officially began, IHS hosted a panel discussion titled “History? Genealogy? Why not both?” which featured Curt Witcher and Elizabeth Shown Mills (with the genealogy point of view) and James Madison and Marianne Wokeck (with the history point of view). M. Teresa Baer’s opening comments and papers by Curt Witcher and Elizabeth Mills are available at http://www.iub.edu/%7Eimaghist/online_content/online_June_2007.html.

I attended the session and found all four participants interesting. What I took away from the discussion was the lack of animosity between the two fields. Contrary to what is sometimes “popular notion,” academic historians do not necessarily automatically scoff at anything smacking of genealogy.

My recent experiences also bear this out. I recently returned to school to finish my history degree and was a bit nervous about “admitting” to my professors that I am a genealogist. So far, I am 2 for 2 in having professors who did not see anything wrong with that. In fact, both professors were quite receptive. In a discussion with one, he expressed gratitude to genealogists. “Without them, we likely wouldn’t have as many wonderful resources available online.” The first assignment in my class this quarter was to read and analyze Tamara Miller’s chapter from “Midwestern Women” (Indiana University Press, 1997) titled “Those with Whom I Feel Most Nearly Connected.” In it, Miller analyzes family structure of early settlers in Marietta, Ohio. She uses sources and methods common to genealogists — and makes no apologies for it.

There is certainly a lot that each field can learn and use from the other. Further, I think that each field is increasingly aware of that.

Posted: September 30, 2007.

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