Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Genealogy Community: Where Everybody Knows Your Names

In this week’s Open Thread Thursday on Geneabloggers, Thomas MacEntee writes about “Defining the Genealogy Community” and cites some recent posts that have inspired a lot of discussion:

“The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?” (Planting the Seeds)

“Are Bloggers Really the New Experts?” (Marian’s Roots and Rambles)

“Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies” (Luxegen Genealogy and Family History)

I am no expert, though last week I did receive a lovely message from someone who had found one of my Public Member Trees on Ancestry, thanking me for the information I had provided on a particular family that she had despaired of getting the “911” on in time to get it to an elderly aunt for Christmas: “You must be a genealogist!”

You are so kind to think so and to say so, but I am not - not a professional or even an advanced amateur. Perhaps I am in the early intermediate phase, but for that I have to thank the people who write some excellent genealogy books, who run my local genealogy society, who put on the NGS and FGS conferences, who produce Webinars, who run the genealogy rooms at the libraries I visit, who write to me and provide me with information because they have seen my blog, my website, and my online queries, and my fellow genealogy bloggers, a number of whom I think of and refer to as friends.

I do think there is a recognizable genealogy community, and I include all of these people in it - even if they belong to subcommunities that are completely separate or have only the minutest of Venn diagram overlap with one another.

While the lofty leaders of the community - the top dogs/super-achievers/ professionals/trendsetters of genealogy - may not hang out with the lowest circles of the community - the proliferators of those dubious, deathless, endlessly duplicated online trees - they write the books that may help to turn a newbie or two from a tree copier into a real researcher.

Again, I am not an expert and I do not think that I am a trendsetter. I did not start blogging to become a trendsetter. Yes, I blog about my research. That was the original purpose of the blog and continues to be its main purpose: to further my research.

Should readers take my musings and comments as professional-level advice? Certainly not. I even wrote a post not too long ago entitled “Why I Want to Remain an Amateur.”

What I can offer to the genealogy community is the experience and the point of view of a dedicated amateur - and I think that there is a need for this in the genealogy community:

The companies need to hear what we amateurs like/do not like, can use/cannot use, and will pay for/will not pay for (and that even a very tech-savvy segment of the Genealogical Community will revolt when there is even a whiff of a “No Books” policy).

The professionals need to hear what we amateurs still very much need from the professionals: education, an example to emulate, and yes, services to avail ourselves of when we just cannot get any farther with a particular line of research or need someone to help us navigate the process for admission to a lineage society.

Our fellow amateurs need to hear our expressions of commiseration/ congratulation/empathy and our descriptions of our own research methods, experiences, sources, and much more. What I like most about the Genealogy Community, in its best embodiment, is that everyone can learn from everyone else, professional and amateur alike. An amateur may hold an important document, compile a set of graveyard transcriptions, write about a recent repository where procedures have changed, or share a particular memory that can advance a professional’s research. I wrote about some of these thoughts in two previous posts: “Toward a Genealogical Democracy” and “Sharing and Scholarship.”

What the genealogy blogging subcommunity has offered back to me and to others like me - thanks to some very perceptive, active, and involved people leading the way - has been the big surprise. Friendship, support, instruction, the courage and confidence to branch out and try things I never would have tried before, and especially the sense that I can have a voice and make even a small contribution to improvements in the area of genealogy services, records preservation and availability, and recognition of the educational value of genealogical research. While there are experts among us, I think the kind of influence we may wield as a group is more like that of an advocate, whether a consumer advocate or a public advocate, than that of an expert.

A final thought: Who are the members of the Genealogy Community? They are the people you can talk to about a subject of passionate interest to you - genealogy - and they will not yawn, laugh, or roll their eyes.

As far as I am concerned, everybody in the Genealogy Community is a Somebody.

(Even the Tree Copiers? - Well, take a look sometime at the most recent generations in those trees - occasionally there is a nice surprise or two there.)


  1. I can't believe I am the first to comment on this post. (Everyone must be busy wrapping presents). I love your balanced treatment of this discussion and agree COMPLETELY with all of your observations. Thanks so much for contributing all that you do to the genealogical world.

  2. Hi Greta, just getting caught up on my reading. Thanks for a great post! I love your description--I think you said "dedicated amateur" or something like that. Perfect!

    I agree with Kathy--very balanced and right on point all the way through!

    Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  3. Kathy - Thank you, Kathy - I figured this would strike a chord with some. I am really grateful for all of my "genfriends," especially fellow genealogy bloggers, who have helped me out so much.

    Jenny - Here's to dedicated amateurs! And thank you for your kind comments!