Traditional Genealogical Sources #1

What is a traditional genealogical source?  To me that seemed to be a good question. So naturally, I Googled the term ‘Traditional genealogical source’ to see what I would find.

The first item I came up with was the topic of a January/February 2003 issue of Ancestry Magazine by Mark Howells:

Tombstone inscriptions have been a source of genealogical information for centuries.

I could see tombstone inscriptions as being considered normal and traditional.  Although with the way my brain works, I could also see that tombstones might rapidly be coming passe. As the article itself describes, today’s headstones are nothing like those of yesteryear.

Strangely, to me anyway, the next item I uncovered in Google was the ever popular “Ancestral Tablet”. Now I have a done a bunch of genealogical investigation and yet somehow I had never stumbled upon one of these. According to the article I uncovered:

These tablets were traditionally kept on household altars and in clan temples.

As we say in French “Quelle surprise!” Household altars? Clan temples? Neither household altars nor clan temples were familiar or traditional to me given my forebears and my background. Because of my surprise, I examined the page more closely only to discover the document’s title: Ethnic genealogy: a research guide By Jessie Carney Smith.

Then it occurred to me that traditional was not traditional unless and until you understood and were familiar with the cultural context within which you were conducting your genealogical research. This ‘truism’ applied equally to both examples I found through the courtesy of Google.  Although the first finding seemed natural and traditional to me; the second, well, was out of my ‘traditional’ frame of reference. But it certainly was not out of the frame of reference for folks with a traditional Chinese background and familiarity with traditional Chinese cultural norms.

So what is the take away from all of this rambling?

  • In a global sense, there are very few things that are truly traditional.
  • Each traditional source is traditional within a particular context: cultural, historical, regional, religious, etc.

You really need to understand where you are seeking and what you might find ‘traditionally’.  Just as happened to me, your normal cultural and personal filters could blind you to artifacts that ‘traditionally’ exist for those you seek.

I will explore other traditional sources in subsequent articles. Just in case…

copyright 2010 Mark F. Rabideau – ManyRoads
cross-published on ObituariesHelp