Arriving at registration on the La Roche College campus in Pittsburgh was like arriving at a family reunion. If you weren’t hugging someone, you were introducing yourself and asking where they were from. Picking up our dorm keys, swipe cards, notebooks, ID cards, and GRIP shirts was a breeze. Elissa Scalise Powell and Deb Lichtner Deal did a superb job of organization. (Did you ever notice that female genealogists all have three names? Except me. I have four. But anyway.)
The dorm rooms don’t compare with BU or with Samford University, but they are perfectly fine. Noreen Alexander Manzella (See what I mean? Three names. I told ya.) settled in quickly. We had driven two days to get here, but were so excited to see everyone that we didn’t even notice we were tired. Speaking of driving, I have to confess something here. We are such genealogy geeks, and such Tom Jones nerds, that we actually listened to three hours of recorded Tom Jones lectures in the car on the way here. A whole week of listening to him lecture in person isn’t enough, don’t cha know. Sort of like listening to CDs of your favorite band on the way to hearing them in concert.
Well, Tom (should I say Dr. Jones? Nah, we’re all family now.) lived up to his rock star status today. He started the day covering evidence. Now I thought I understood evidence fairly well. I felt like I research with an evidence orientation rather than an information orientation. I thought I understood the difference between primary and secondary sources, original and derivative information, and direct and indirect evidence. “Thought” is the key word there. Tom has a way of taking what you think you know and then bringing you to a whole new level.
While he escorts you to that new level, he provides in-flight entertainment. For example, listen to this sound bite: “Sources are containers. They contain information and evidence. Changing the bowl doesn’t change the contents. The information in the bowl is either primary or secondary, regardless of whether it is in an original or derivative bowl.” After that picture is painted in your mind, are you ever going to forget the difference between those words again?
Tom doesn’t just lecture in this class. He stretches your brain with questions, and gives in-class exercises to make you practice each new concept as you learn it. He asked whether a compiled genealogy was an original or derivative source. My mind immediately jumped to derivative. “Derivative of what?” he asked. “Did it ever exist before? An original never existed before. If you are trying to figure out if something is original or derivative, ask yourself if it ever existed before. If a person wrote a genealogy, it is an original source.”
OK. So what about a digital image of an original document online? It existed before as a paper document. So derivative, right? Nope, still original. It’s a facsimile original and, if it hasn’t been altered, it has the same value as genealogical evidence as if you held it in your hand. I think Tom may have even coined a new word. If you can enhance a digital document by, say, increasing the contrast, lightening or darkening it, so that you can read something that you can’t read in the original, it’s an “uber-original.” The man has a sense of humor. So are there exceptions? Yes. If the image copy is such that you can’t tell the difference between the various revisions added in other colors of ink (e.g. a black and white scan), and it makes a difference, then it can be considered a derivative. A good example of this would be some of the microfilmed images of the revision books of the Irish Griffith’s Valuation.
I have one more quote from Tom to share. He said, “An advanced genealogist consults everything and trusts nothing. The answer to ‘How trustworthy is the IGI?’ is the same as the answer to ‘How trustworthy is a will book?’ Don’t overlook either one, and also don’t trust either one alone.”
Is your brain stretching just reading this handful of quotes? Now imagine six hours of that, and you can imagine the workout my brain got today. And this is just the first day of five!
All quotes are from Dr. Thomas W. Jones, “Developing an Evidence Orientation,” in Advanced Research Methods, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, 23 July 2012.