[APG Public List] Native American Research

LBoswell laboswell at rogers.com
Fri Feb 19 16:14:37 MST 2010

Up to the point where my limited command of Norwegian begins to become a 
problem.  I think we all have some point where acquiring deeper 
understanding and understanding is necessary.  I may have expertise in 
several areas, but even in those areas I will always be involved in 
expanding my knowledge and understanding.  There is no such thing as a point 
where you know everything there is to know.

I'm suspicious of the notion of passion as a driving motivation in doing 
client research.  Objective consideration of things seems as powerful, if 
not more so.

Maybe I've been at this too long, but more often my work doesn't satisfy a 
client.  Many times what I find isn't at all what is expected.  Just now 
I've had a client completely unhappy and refusing to accept clear evidence 
that their family story is wrong. Evidence that is almost irrefutable yet 
they point blank deny it.  In this case we part company, pay the bill, move 
on. My thought is that eventually they'll come to the same conclusion when 
they tire of hiring people to try to validate what is essentially a fiction 
regarding their direct ancestry (not a fiction for a another family line, 
where I think the story actually originates from).

So do I set out to satisfy a client as my prime motivation?  It's a search 
for an ancestral truth, as defined by the evidence. To arrive at the most 
accurate set of assertions, whatever the evidence backs.  That's what I set 
out to satisfy.  I've little interest in satisfying the client in the sense 
that I think you're suggesting.  I want a client to understand what is, not 
what is 'expected'.

Do I appreciate a happy client?  I just got a gift card for $125 bottle of 
Scotch.  That's an example of where happy client meets happy researcher! So 
yes, I certainly do (and not just generous ones like this individual).  It's 
a great feeling to have opened some doors into someone's previously unknown 
family history. I know how powerful that can be, even if just from an 
emotional point of view.  Helping someone connect to their past is a lovely 
thing to be able to do.  But the only way I can do that is to remain almost 
dispassionate, completely objective.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ray Beere Johnson II" <raybeere at yahoo.com>
To: "L. Boswell" <laboswell at rogers.com>; "APG Posting" 
<apgpubliclist at apgen.org>
Sent: Friday, February 19, 2010 5:33 PM
Subject: RE: [APG Public List] Native American Research


--- On Fri, 2/19/10, L. Boswell <laboswell at rogers.com> wrote:

> Good points, and I agree with what you're saying, except that I'm not
> sure that a passion for the subject is always necessarily going to give
> the researcher an edge over someone who has a less passionate interest.
> I'd defer to a competent, objective approach if given the choice.
> I'm not passionate about Norwegian research, but I'm reasonably
> competent up to a point which I have clearly defined. I think with
> pure passion there might be a danger of bias creeping in? Though I
> think you can be passionate and objective at the same time, if
> you're aware of the need to not to let the former direct the latter.

     Some interesting thoughts, and many of us may manage to be objective 
enough in most cases, but there is _always_ some inherent bias if we take 
paying clients. After all, we want to satisfy the client. Nothing wrong with 
that, but any researcher who denies some hope the result of their work will 
leave the client happy is fooling themselves.
     Although I don't and wouldn't question your competence in Norwegian 
research, I can't help noticing that you yourself qualify it by the phrase 
_up to a point_. And passion will only lead to questionable results if it is 
directed elsewhere than _the subject itself_. If I am interested in First 
Nations research, or Irish research, or any other specialty, as an end in 
itself, then my passion will urge me to learn that area well and to discover 
_the truth_. Without that passion, I'd have to qualify my competence as "up 
to a point". :-) And, although it won't matter in many areas, I won't have 
any special counterbalance to my inclination to keep the client happy.
     My specific concerns with First Nations research are, first, that "up 
to a point" does far less good here than in many areas, second, that the 
inherent bias to satisfy clients is worst when the client has specific 
expectations (see below), and third, that it is much more difficult to 
satisfy those expectations than in many other areas. All of those factors 
make it much more likely that only a researcher truly committed to the 
subject will do good work.
     As for the issue of specific expectations, this is what I mean: a 
client who wants to know who their ancestors are, or find out what happened 
to great-grandpa who disappeared out West, or whatever, want answers but are 
not expecting a specific result. Clients who are already convinced that they 
have First Nations ancestry, or royal or noble ancestry, or any other 
popular fantasy, expect one particular result and will not be happy with 
anything else. That, by definition, increases the pressure on the researcher 
to come up with the results they want. Even if a researcher is too honest to 
fabricate results - as most certainly are - that pressure can hardly avoid 
influencing your judgment. In an area where solid proof is difficult to come 
by, that is a real concern.
     In, say, Norwegian research, where clients who are determined to prove 
they are Norwegian no doubt exist but are not terribly common, it is not 
such a concern. If being Norwegian suddenly became both culturally 
prestigious and potentially financially rewarding, then I'd have the same 
concerns about Norwegian research. And notice that my own concerns didn't 
rule out research _up to a point_ - I objected to the idea of anyone 
_specialising_ in such research because they perceived a need for it. Had I 
realised the original poster operated in Oklahoma, my concern would have 
been even greater - that area is the focus of a huge number of historical 
frauds and forgeries (the Osage provide a horrific example of this), and is 
also the focus of most of the wildest fantasies (the Cherokee account for 
well over half of all First Nations ancestry in popular belief, if not in 
                         Ray Beere Johnson II

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