Sunday, February 16, 2014

Your Grandmother’s Beta Version

Once upon a time, there was consumer expectation that, when a new product was brought to market, it was error-free and all possible malfunctions had been worked out of the system.

Then there was software. Computer programmers discovered that, if they applied some cool-sounding term like “beta” to their product, they could get away with selling the general public on becoming unpaid guinea pigs for their newest release.

Somehow, in the world of genealogy, we haven’t yet reached the plateau of beta testing nirvana. When we receive a book or a printout on a family’s genealogy, we expect it to be expertly-researched, footnoted, duly documented in every which way to Sunday’s genealogical gospel truth.

In other words, no beta testing for us family historians.

And yet, we now have so many advanced opportunities to engage in genealogical crowd-sourcing. We could, feasibly, issue our family trees as proposals from the perspective of our research as it stands at this point in our process of discovery, and invite collegiate review of our work—a thought I’ll pursue in more detail tomorrow.

For the low-tech genealogical writer in 1960, however, things wouldn’t have gone quite the same. Take, for instance, a book revered in circles of those researching the widespread Broyles family in the United States. The Broyles family from Germany, having emigrated to the New World as early as the 1700s, happens to be one segment of my own roots. One of the first sources I became aware of for research into this line was the very book by Montague Boyd that I mentioned yesterday.

Apparently, at its publication in 1959, Genealogical Data: Broyles, Laffitte, and Boyd Families was not the authoritative and exhaustive work it may have been envisioned to be—at least, if we can read between the lines on a brief letter scrawled by the author on the back of a printed sheet we'll look at tomorrow, mailed to my grandmother in Columbus, Ohio, on March 12, 1960. “See if you can make any changes or additions in it for me,” requested Dr. Boyd from his location in Atlanta, Georgia.

I have no idea whether my grandmother ever got a copy of the book to “look it over carefully.” I never found a copy of Montague Boyd’s work in my grandmother’s property, though her Aunt Nellie recommended it enthusiastically. When I found her papers—saved among her daughter’s personal belongings at her passing—the letter below was still carefully tucked inside its envelope, along with the undated note I posted yesterday from her aunt, Nellie Broyles Jones of Johnson City, Tennessee.

For some people, the interest they take in genealogy may be keen, but often it is fleeting. It takes a lot of work to assemble a genealogical project of any sort—even if it was a “beta version” issued in 1959 seeking low-tech updates by snail mail in 1960.

                                                                                    Mar 11, 60
My dear Mrs. Davis
            Mrs. Nellie B. Jones gave me your address. I had the wrong street etc in Columbus, Ohio.
            I wish that you would get one of the books of genealogical data and look it over carefully and see if you can make any changes or additions in it for me.
                        Kind regards
                                    Montague Boyd


1 comment:

  1. I think I'm too much into "instant gratification" to have thought about researching by snail mail... I probably wouldn't be half as interested without the "at your fingertips" the Internet has brought the science/art.


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