Friday, February 7, 2014

Judy G. Russell Wows the Crowd - Friday Keynote #1

Friday is the second day of the RootsTech 2014 Conference in Salt Lake City. 

It started with the two keynote speakers - the first was Judy G. Russell (The Legal Genealogist).

Here is Judy just after coming onstage, and her first slide that set the tone for her presentation:

As Judy noted, Aaron Holt of the National Archives said that "Oral family history can be lost in three generations."  To demonstrate that, Judy asked questions of the audience about what they knew about their parents and grandparents - about 95% couldn't answer the first question, and nobody could answer all five questions.  The first question was "What was your mother's first illness?"

Here's a close up of Judy onstage:

Judy used three examples of how stories are obtained, analyzed and confirmed.  Her first example was the Revolutionary War service of Richard Baker and his loss at the Battle of Trenton in 1776.  The only record of his service and death with the 3rd Virginia regiment is a letter written home by his brother after the battle. 

Judy used this Baker family to demonstrate how family stories, and published genealogies can be wrong, and how to ensure that any story is correct.  She painted a grand picture of the earlier Baker ancestry in Virginia, including a marriage to a Winslow that gave the family a Mayflower ancestor.  Then she discussed how scholarly research disproved quite a bit of it.  That led to the discussion of the Genealogical Proof Standard and how applying the GPS can help prove oral or written history. 

Finally, Judy told the fanciful family story about her great-great-grandfather, Martin Gilbert Cottrell.  Family lore said that he'd been a cowboy in one part of Texas, a rancher in another part, a farmer, a sheriff, a traveling salesman and a preacher.  She was able to find records that document each of those occupations in the different places that demonstrated that it was the same person.

Judy noted that we must find the stories of ancestors, and document them well, so that we can pass those stories to our descendants.  That includes "my story" too.  If we don't, we will lose them in three generations or less.

This was a superb, masterful performance by Judy.  She always speaks clearly and forcefully, which I really appreciate and wish I could emulate. 

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