Monday, December 14, 2015

Fake Pedigrees and Online Genealogy

At last count, as many as seven subscribers to Ancestry​.com have now misappropriated my 6th-great-grandfather, Andreas Dippel of Leusel (1681-1743), as their own ancestor. And to add further insult, Ancestry keeps sending me “hints” linking my ancestor to these sloppy excuses for family trees.

I have serious concerns about the growing unreliability of the burgeoning member-generated family trees at Ancestry and other online genealogy sites, as stupid and careless “researchers” scavenge these platforms making specious connections to serious researchers’ work. Ancestry’s access to digitized versions of original records has been a wonderful boon to genealogy, but too many of the member-generated family trees are increasingly just rubbish. Fake pedigrees are on the rise.

I have found that, in my family’s case, most of the ancestor pilfering has involved the German branch of the family. Beyond laziness and sloppiness on the part of dilettantes, several other factors seem to influence why my German line seems more vulnerable than others. The sheer number of North Americans with German ancestry means that there are large numbers of people looking for connections, most with little or no knowledge of German history, geography, or language. German vital records have been historically more localized than other Western European countries, which has meant that it’s important to know exact villages and the religious profession of one’s ancestors to access primary records. German naming customs, where a person’s “call name” was often not the same as their first name, leads to confusion and the anglicization of names only adds to that confusion. And the tenacity of family myths about “what happened at Ellis Island” (or other ports of entry) frequently sets people off on the wrong foot at the very beginning of their search.

Ancestry’s television advertising only adds to the problem by making genealogical research seem easy and magical, rather than the serious, careful, and oftentimes difficult work that it really is. Like any area of study, dilettantism spoils the result.

The back of the Reformed (now Evangelical) Church at Leusel, Hessen, the birthplace of Andreas Dippel (1681-1743).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Strike Felt Round the World

Iceland has been at the forefront of the struggle for gender equality for more than a century. It was 100 years ago, this past June, when Icelandic women received the right to vote in national elections and Icelandic immigrants and their descendants were instrumental in winning the same right for women in Manitoba a little more than six months later. We are proudly marking the centennial of these twin achievements on both sides of the sea. But the right to vote represents only one step on the road to gender equality and, notwithstanding the great strides that have been made, we have not yet arrived at our desired destination.

There’s another anniversary marking an important milestone in the quest for equality this year. It has been forty years since the women of Iceland made headlines around the world for their bold Women’s Day Off, something that is generally characterized as “the day the women of Iceland went on strike.” If you spend any time online, there’s a good chance you’ve received an email or have perhaps seen a Facebook post showing the huge crowd of women who gathered around Lækjartorg and Arnarhóll in midtown Reykjavík on October 24, 1975. I have been bombarded with messages from friends seeking to draw my attention to this historic event, as if it could have escaped my notice. I remember the “strike” vividly, if only because I can recall my mom teasing my dad about launching a sympathy strike of her own. It sticks in my head that dad made supper that day.

The United Nations had declared 1975 to be International Women’s Year. In Iceland, the strike was one of the events organized to mark the year, calling attention to inequality and demanding corrective action. It’s estimated that ninety percent of the country’s women took the day off – both at home and at the workplace – and somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 women descended on the heart of Reykjavík, filling the streets and squares for as far as the eye could see. They called for fair pay, equal opportunity, improved child care, and world peace. The women sang, listened to speeches, and networked amongst themselves, while their husbands and fathers, sons and brothers dealt with the effects of their one-day absence. Women and men alike learned a lot that day.

Five years later, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state. Not long afterwards, Kvennalistinn (The Women’s List) was organized as a political party and it competed in both municipal and national elections, winning three seats in Alþingi in the 1983 election and doubling its numbers four years later. Iceland’s women weren’t turning back.

Today, Iceland has the smallest gender gap in the world, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, which gives the county a score of 0.8594, where 1.0 would indicate full equality. Women graduating from university significantly outnumber men and Iceland leads the world in the proportion of women in professional and technical occupations. Women’s participation in the labour force is in the top ten and the wage gap has shrunk to about 20 percent. High-quality child care is readily available and affordable, while household responsibilities are shared more equitably than in other countries. Finally, Icelandic women are more politically empowered than anywhere else. Yet, even with these measures of success, the aspirations of 1975 have not been fully achieved – Icelandic women are better off than elsewhere, but full equality has not yet been achieved. Forty years later, there’s still work to do, but Iceland’s experience and tangible progress still serve as an inspiration to women around the world who long for equality – and the men who stand with them as allies.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Party Unity

Lord, make me an instrument of party unity;
Where there is animosity, let me sow forbearance;
Where there is blame, forgiveness;
Where there is injury, reconciliation;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is arrogance, humility;
Where there is hyperbole, temperate speech;
Where there is doubt, new confidence;
Where there is despair, abiding hope;
Where there is gloom, insight;
Where these is spin, genuine candour;
And where there is aimlessness,
the enduring vision of the cooperative commonwealth.

— "St. Francis the New Democrat"