Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS-HSC Lesson 2

Sitting Bull (Library of Congress photo)
A couple of weeks ago I covered Lesson 1 of the NationalGenealogical Society’s Home Study Course.  While Lesson 1 was pretty basic, Lesson 2 added in a bit of fun.  At least, I thought the lesson was fun.

The lesson’s focus was family traditions, in particular, those genealogical stories that get passed down from generation to generation.  The first written assignment for the lesson was to recount a family legend, then write a research plan for either proving or disproving the legend.

In my case, the family story has always been that we were descendants of the great Sioux Chief Sitting Bull.  My cousins and I had all heard the story from our grandmother, though I don’t recall there being any details of exactly how we were related.  Growing up, I never had any reason not to believe the story.  At that time, my father’s line had already been traced back to Barnabas Davis of Charlestown, MA, so the link, I had always assumed, was on my grandmother’s side.

It’s sort of fun to think that you might be related to someone famous, but, as I started to become more serious about genealogy, I had my doubts about the story.  After all, every line that I traced in my family tree always led back to early settlers in Massachusetts.  Occasionally I would make a half-hearted attempt to prove or disprove the story, but mostly I stayed away from it.  It was a fun family tradition, and I didn’t want to be the one to end it.  That’s not to say that I stayed away from that line of my family tree, I just never definitely said yes or no to the question of Sitting Bull being an ancestor.

Lesson 2 of the HSC was a good excuse to finally state a conclusion.  Though it might be a disappointment to the living family, Item 1 of the Code of Ethics for the Association of Professional Genealogists, of which I’m a member, states “Promote a coherent, truthful approach to genealogy, family history and local history.”[1]

In other words, don’t state something as fact if you don’t have evidence to back up that fact.

Coming up with an argument for or against Sitting Bull being an ancestor was fairly easy.  A quick Internet search turns up that Sitting Bull has only one known living male descendant, Ernie La Pointe.[2]  This is strike one against the story being true.  The Internet being what it is, more evidence is needed though.

The most definitive way to prove or disprove the story is to trace all ancestral lines back to before Sitting Bull’s birth.  Sitting Bull lived between the years of 1831 and 1890.[3]  Some of my ancestral lines have been traced back that far already.  The first written assignment for Lesson 2 called for a research plan.  For this lesson, I included pedigree charts with the proper citations for my evidence sources, showing what information I had already gathered toward proving or disproving the story.  I then outlined my plan to trace the unknown lines back to before Sitting Bull’s birth.  My conclusion, based on evidence available so far, is that it is highly unlikely that I am descended from Chief Sitting Bull.  The grader for this lesson agreed with my research plan, and also agreed that it is unlikely that Sitting Bull is an ancestor of mine.

For the record, I still haven’t traced all the unknown lines back, so there is always a small chance something interesting might turn up.  I have one ancestor that one document claims was born out west, though other evidence points to him being born in New England like the rest of his family.  No other evidence has turned up to give me any reason to believe that the legend is true.

Assignment two of the lesson is to dig out some of those items in your collection that have been passed down through the family and document them.  In my case, this meant a few books, some hand-written notes, and bundles of pedigree charts.  Documentation of these items included writing a proper source citation for each item, and writing a brief description of how you came by the item.  This assignment is a good time to practice those citations.  Inaccurate citations seem to be the number one reason that lessons are returned for resubmission throughout the course.

To see more about the NGS Home Study Course, see my other posts:

[1] "Code of Ethics." Association of Professional Genealogists. accessed 2/12/2013
[2] "Sitting Bull Family." Sitting Bull Family Foundation, Inc. accessed 2/12/2013
[3] "Sitting Bull." Sitting Bull Family Foundation, Inc. accessed 2/12/2013

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