Monday, June 16, 2014

Oops, I've Stepped on Someone's Toes ....

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Or at least that's the best explanation I can come up with.  Dick Eastman posted an article on Sunday, June 15, titled "Forensic Genealogy Explained."  I disagreed with several points in the article and posted a comment — which didn't appear online.  I thought, "Hmm, maybe my comment didn't go through.  I'll try it again."  And the second comment . . . didn't appear.  Then I received five comments from other people on the post, so the problem does not appear to be that the comment function isn't working.  The majority of the other comments agreed with my points.  And I know my comments to other people's WordPress blogs haven't had any problems in the past.  So I guess he didn't like what I had to say or how I said it.  I wasn't trying to tick anyone off, I promise.  But I am tired of people using the term "forensic genealogy" in whatever manner they choose.  My first career (which I still practice) was as an editor, and I still appreciate accuracy and precision in speech and writing.

Well, luckily for me, I have my own blog, where I am free to post whatever I want.  So below is the comment that Mr. Eastman declined to include as a response to his item.

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The word “forensic” does not precisely mean “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence”, because the rest of the definition has been truncated, deliberately or otherwise.  It actually means “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law” [added emphasis mine], which is an important distinction.  Forensic intrinsically means having to do with legal matters, not simply relating to scientific endeavors.

Because the complete definition makes it clear that forensic means relating to legal matters, the term “forensic genealogy” is not being misused when it is applied to heir searches.  Heir searches are conducted to determine the legal heirs to an estate and allow the disposition of that estate.  The legal implications of that should be abundantly clear.

Colleen Fitzpatrick's book Forensic Genealogy does not relate to actual forensic genealogy.  It deals in scientific and analytical aspects of family history research.  Using DNA to determine if I am related to someone else is scientific, but if there are no legal implications associated with that identification, it is not a forensic matter.  Looking at the edges of photographs to see if they match up is an analytical exercise, but unless I am doing that in conjunction with a legal matter, it is not forensic.  Magnifying a photo to see the detail is again analytical, but if there are no legal ramifications, it is not forensic.

Arbitrarily changing the definition of a word to suit one's own purposes is a habit usually attributed to governments and propagandists, not historians, family or otherwise.

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Disclaimer:  I am a member of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy, which is concerned with laying a strong foundation for genealogists to practice sound forensic genealogy.  This post is my own opinion.

My own take on the incorrect use of "forensic" is that it's being done to capitalize on the current popularity of the term, with no regard for accuracy.  But the latter is also strictly my own opinion.

19 comments:

  1. Janice, your take on the definition matches everything I have found in exhaustive research since 2005. The Academy of Forensic Sciences, it's affiliated professional organizations, and the legal community all present the same definition. The application of a science or field of work to a case within, or with the potential to progress to, the criminal or civil court system. Cases with legal implications. Genealogy is the only field I have been able to identify in which some apply forensic to the use of advanced skills, methodology, or analysis within the field. Advances skills, methodology, and analysis have been taught in the field of professional genealogy for decades. None of the teachers refer to these as forensic.

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  2. Thanks for the support, Dee. As far as I can tell, it is only a limited number of people in genealogy who misuse forensic in the way we're discussing. Is that how you see it also?

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  3. Hi Janice - If you've ever attended one of Dick Eastman's webinars, on Legacy or elsewhere, he repeats over and over how his work is under copyright and may not be used by anyone, while at the same time "borrowing" others' ideas for use in his webinars. When I have tried to call him out on these things, my comments during the webinars have been ignored. Bloggers need thick skin in order to voice opinions and then accept whatever feedback comes to them. I value your knowledge on the subject of Forensic Genealogy and editing skill. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks for posting and for the kind words, Carolyn! I have noticed that tendency of his before, just never had my blog comment not be posted. Someone whose blog consists almost entirely of reposting other people's materials shouldn't have such a double standard, but such is life.

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  4. Janice - don't feel special (kidding) I have commented or asked questions on a few of his posts and he has never responded to anything. I think he prints his posts and that is the end of it. He does not seem interested in any back and forth or engagement on his blog posts (probably should just do away with the comment section). I feel your pain as the first few times nothing showed up, I thought it was me too. And I have found if people don't engage on either Facebook, Google+, or Twitter - they are using their blog posts in a megaphone way.

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    1. Tessa, thanks for letting me know about your experience. If it weren't for the fact that (1) I sent the comment twice and (2) several other comments have been posted, I wouldn't think it was deliberate on his part. I just figured he didn't like what I had to say and therefore didn't approve the comment. That's okay -- my comments are working fine! :)

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  5. As it has been mentioned that Mr. Eastman zealously protects his copyrighted works, I won't copy his comment to his post, but you can read it here:
    http://blog.eogn.com/2014/06/15/forensic-genealogy-explained/#comment-11380

    And my response to that is that the definition of forensic is very clear and consistent everywhere I have found it. Someone deciding that he (or she) wants it to mean something else just doesn't make it so. "This word means what I say it does because I said so" isn't going to cut it with me.

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    1. Thank you Janice. It appears you, Dee and several others brought some educational material to light for Mr. Eastman. Hope he is able to rethink his post.

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    2. Thanks, Leslie, but it doesn't look like it's having any effect. Even though the comments that were raised in no way impugned the quality of the research that CF has done, the last couple of posters decided to take it upon themselves to defend her work. I don't know if they don't understand the difference between her work and her vocabulary, or if they're trying to obfuscate the issue.

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  6. Thank you for pointing out the distinct meaning of this term. As a former editor myself, I appreciate correct use of words. People will tend to adopt a word inaccurately, particularly if it seems to lend importance to their activities.

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    1. Thank you, Lynda. I couldn't agree with you more.

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  7. Goodness me, that really was a "because I say so" comment on his part. I learned about forensics when I met a forensic accountant (who also happened to be a genealogist on the side). I was intrigued with the term, being a lover of words. Everything you say is as I learned it - BEFORE the CSI era! LOL

    Great post, Janice.

    Kathleen

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    1. Thanks, Kathleen! I met a forensic psychologist many years ago, and he's the one who enlightened me as to the meaning of the word. And at least the forensic work in CSI *does* have legal implications in the show!

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  8. Loved your blog post here, Janice. In all of my research as well, your definition appears to be accurate and consistent with other learned Forensic Genealogists, e.g. Leslie Lawson. It's too bad some people feel the need to be the all-knowing. I certainly am not. I'm still learning after 36 years, and still continue to learn. And feel free to edit my response if I missed something! I can take it. :)

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    1. Thanks for the support, Ann! There seem to be two clear camps — those who actually use the dictionary to try to define a word, and those who want to defend Colleen Fitzpatrick at any cost, not matter how poorly their arguments are put together. The debate on Mr. Eastman's blog unfortunately degenerated when Dee Dee King politely asked in several posts for just one instance of forensic defined as Fitzpatrick uses it that originated from somewhere other than her or her admirers. The responses to King's requests not only have made it clear that those admirers can't find even one example, but that their way of dealing with that is to make derogatory remarks about King and claim that she insulted Fitzpatrick (when she did no such thing). Personally, if that's who I had to rely on to be my supporters, I'd be looking for other work, but to each her own.

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  9. I only just found this post linked through Google+, and I was so glad to read this, making me feel justified in my feelings and conclusions about an incident in the past with Mr. Eastman.

    My post "A Cautionary Tale About Copyright" (http://www.emptynestancestry.com/a-cautionary-tale-about-copyright/) is 2 1/2 years old, but it describes the situation I was in as a brand new blogger.

    I have noticed since, however, that he is not the only blogger who has had this double standard in which it's OK to 'borrow', but then get upset to see others quoting from or linking to their site. I'm sure we are all guilty of it at one time or another out of ignorance, carelessness or whatever the reason may be at the time.

    Unless the culprit is obviously 'stealing' my information, I have no problem with them quoting from or using the RRS feed from my blog, as long as there is a clearly identified link back to my blog.. As a matter of fact, this has helped me increase my blog traffic and rankings substantially and in a very short period of time.

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  10. Christine, thanks for posting. I'm sorry to hear about your negative experience with Mr. Eastman. It appears quite a few people have had similar experiences. I suppose I should be happy he didn't accuse me of anything but simply declined to post my comment! - Janice

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