I’ve recently been musing about my personal need for creativity, and where creativity fits in the genealogy world. I’m still in the musing process and apologize in advance for mixed metaphors, but throw this out there:
At first glance, the Genealogical Proof Standard seems anything but creative:
1. A reasonably exhaustive search
2. Complete and accurate citation of sources
3. Analysis and correlation of the collected information
4. Resolution of conflicting evidence
5. Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion1
Exhaustive searches? Citations? Analysis and correlation? Conflict resolution and logical reasoning? That sounds like the sorts of things that would send the eyes of great creative minds rolling wildly in their heads. Or is it?
The docket books we struggle to lift, the manuscript pages we gingerly turn– even those websites we click through with wild abandon– are all physical, tangible things. The information we extract from those sources exists. We can put our finger directly on that information in the docket book, manuscript, or computer screen.
What doesn’t exist, though, is evidence. Evidence does not exist until we create it. We create it by applying that information in a way that answers or helps to answer a question, which we’ve also created. No matter how rigorously we collect, analyze, and correlate information, we have to create evidence. Have you ever watched the show “Chopped” on the Food Network? Three chefs are given identical baskets of ingredients, and judged on the dishes they create with them. Not all dishes are created equal. Some chefs have a better understanding of the ingredients and how to prepare them. Other chefs pull different items from the kitchen to combine with those ingredients to make a better final dish. Some chefs are simply more creative– successfully combining ingredients in a way that wouldn’t have occurred to other chefs. Sound familiar? Any product that never before existed requires creativity, and the level of creativity can have a direct impact on the final product, whether it’s a gourmet meal or a proof argument.
Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, affirms the need for the Genealogical Proof Standard (stay with me): “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but my lack of control over them.”2 Is there a genealogical researcher ever that didn’t experience that same passion and lack of control when we first jumped into family history? The GPS provides a means for us to control our passion, to make our work as accurate as possible. That controlled, logical approach doesn’t extinguish creativity, however. Flannery O’Conner best describes the relationship between creativity and the need for logical, methodical analysis: “The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees.”3
Of course, the final step of the GPS is where we actually create our art as genealogists– the soundly-reasoned, coherently-written conclusion. It’s Kerouac’s On the Road, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, a Mozart piano concerto, the perfect soufflé. Though speaking about fiction writing, Ms. O’Conner describes every well-written genealogical proof summary, proof argument, or journal article: “The novelist makes his statements by selection, and if he is any good, he selects every word for a reason, every detail for a reason, and every incident for a reason, and then arranges them in a certain time-sequence for a reason.”4 No matter what previous professional background you bring with you to genealogy, you have to be willing to create– indeed driven to create.
Since I’ve already leaned heavily on Flannery O’ Conner (one of my favorite writers, if you haven’t guessed by now), I will let her have the final word (well, almost final):
Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn’t require his attention.5
And there is nothing that doesn’t require the genealogist’s attention. Now go forth! Create!
- http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html [↩]
- Allen Ginsberg, Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952 (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2006),199;Google Books (http://www.books.google.com: accessed 3 Jan 2015). Quote is often attributed to Jack Kerouac. [↩]
- Flannery O’Conner, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Strause, and Giroux, 1970), 82; Google Books (http://www.books.google.com: accessed 3 Jan 2015) [↩]
- ibid., 75 [↩]
- ibid., 84. [↩]