[APG Public List] Native American Research
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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