Perhaps I’m a pot stir-er, but I’m going to share my thoughts in response to Genealogy’s Star: Are Genealogists being defined out of Family History? James Tanner seems a little bothered by the following promotional item:
His blog starts off saying how the above enticement to involve more people in the genealogy tent is great but feels genealogists, in short, are getting a bad rap. I am tired of this hypocrisy. On one hand, genealogists tell you that to know an ancestor, you must move beyond the names, dates, and places on a family tree; but on the other hand, we’re not supposed to? Which is it?
Instead of leaving a huge comment on his comment feed, I decided to blog here. Let the pot be stirred.
The genealogy tent is too small. It can and should be larger.
It takes a long time to build a house if one person is doing every part of construction. But if a designer designs, a framer frames, an electrician does electrical stuff, a dry wall-er does drywall, etc, etc… the house gets built a whole lot faster. And, usually, the house is built better. Why? Because people who do their part, usually do it well and with more energy than one person doing every piece of the puzzle.
Might you consider this… how many ancestors’ stories and documents have been lost because few people want to be the jack-of-all-trades genealogist rather than a player on a family history team?
The LDS Church, and by extension FamilySearch, has been preaching the research proof standard for so many years, very few people want to participate. It’s tough. It’s time-consuming. It doesn’t appeal to everyone. I’ve attended classes and worship service ‘lectures’ on family history and they are B-O-R-I-N-G to anyone who is not a genea-addict.
Many LDS church members have “Books of Remembrance” that are copies of copies of copies of family group sheets and pedigree charts. Few have any documents, which is what was preached in the days of my mother-in-law. Why? Because copying those items was more difficult, than copying the group sheets? Because finding those items for inclusion is too difficult? Probably both, and other reasons.
There was an adage, ‘don’t put anything on the Book of Remembrance charts until you have documented proof of the fact.’ Genealogists would say, “Heck yeah! That’s right.” But how many genealogists also have recorded ‘theories’ for people until they can find the proof. And what about persons who have no proof? Does a relative knowing the person existed count for something when documentation can’t prove it?
Teaching the masses in this way has scared far too many people away from genealogy and its cousin, family history. But, how many people who ‘aren’t into genealogy’ have a house full of photos, a head full of memories, or artifacts that give the details of a particular ancestors life?
Expanding the tent put into action
|My Brown Family Team players|
When I traveled to Ohio on a research trip, the cousins and aunt I visited with had a wealth of information, but are not genealogists. The stuff they had are priceless keys to so many puzzles that I have still not sorted through. As I asked these family members the who and what of the photos and artifacts, the stories were recorded. And, some relatives continue to supply me with new things for my research. We’re a team. Together we’re doing all of the 10 steps listed on the charts above. Sure, I’m playing the ‘genealogist’ field position, but at least I don’t have to pitch, catch, man first base, and play outfield.
Here’s another team in my home. My mother-in-law has preserved a lot of documents. I’m so grateful to her. But, she’s not into genealogy. I’ve asked her to do a specific task, scan the family photos. And she’s ecstatic to have a specific job. I have a brother-in-law who now has the responsibility of photographing the family artifacts. Sure I could do it, but I’m hundreds of miles away and he’s a better photographer. He’ll play a role in the genealogy process, without needing to dig for facts. His research loving brother, my husband, will work on that. Three people pulling the wagon, rather than one. Okay, I’ve lost my sports and camping analogies, but the wagon pulling image fits, especially since this is a family of pioneers!
The importance of genealogist will never decrease
As we invite people to participate in family history, using their best skills, then the wealth of information grows and is richer. The work becomes easier for the genealogist. And fewer stories, artifacts, and documents disappear.
The importance of research will never decrease. Many, many times, I’ll learn a fact, open a brick wall, or extend the tree. Often, I’ll come across something, turn to the family and say, “Who knows about this?” That might trigger a memory and I have an answer. If no answer is known, I have more research to do. Genealogists are only pushed out if they choose to be.
By including my family, they buy into the whole of the family story. Again and again, my aunt tells me “Thank you for figuring this out” or a cousin will say, “How did you ever discover this?” Through research. My Brown line is learning we have a Civil War ancestor. No one knew this until I found his gravestone in a less visited cemetery with a terrible recordset. Yep… my family members would never have taken the time to research this, but I did. I’m still researching the story, but I know the fact. So you see, there will always be a need for a researcher.
The real question is this: “Do you want more people in the tent or is family history exclusive to genealogists only?”
I fully believe that there will be people who make ‘genealogical errors’ because they haven’t yet acquired the necessary education. Having been one of those people, as many genealogists humble enough to admit will do as well until I fell in love with family history, and it’s cousin genealogy, I would keep making mistakes. When the passion ignited, the education was sought, and the mistakes were corrected. I know I’m still making some now (fighting those opposed to FamilySearch’s new approach might be one of them).
Kudos to FamilySearch for expanding the tent
Perhaps FamilySearch is inviting people with a house full of documents in file drawers that haven’t seen the light of days in decades. Or the people with 50+ photo albums with only a hand-full of them labeled. Or the people with an aged family member who constantly tells stories at family gatherings but no one bothers to write or voice record them. Again, how many times do the ‘people who know’ die and leave the family guessing. A little invitation to participate could have salvaged those items. And those things could make the family story a treasure more precious than gold.
I am excited to see people who are in their 80s realize… “I’m not a genealogist, but I can share my stories, label my photos, and give it to a tech savvy grandkid to scan and turn into something wonderful.” She’s no in the tent, that’s not for genealogists only.
How do we get more people in the tent? We stop teaching LDS church members, and those who use FamilySearch, about genealogy and we start teaching them the roles in family history. You do that by saying “Family History is more than just dates, records, and research.”
I fully believe you won’t push genealogist out, you’ll invite reinforcements in.
(In case you missed it, I also wrote a post called Tech Tuesday: Family Search Redesign Hacks Off Old Guard Genealogists, but not me about negative posts associated with the FamilySearch.org redesign).