16 February 2011

More "Genealogy Worlds"

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings wrote an interesting post on the Three (or more!) Genealogy Worlds?. Recently I saw these worlds collide and can add a fourth world. The fourth world is "traditional, but experienced."

The "traditional, but experienced" world consists of some who haven't quite embraced the "online" and "technology" worlds described by Randy. But they are much more active in genealogical research than the "once or twice a month" folks Randy describes as "traditional." Many of these "traditional, but experienced" researchers manage small genealogical collections or branches associated with larger institutions, some review lineage society applications, some manage genealogical societies. These researchers know more than the new or casual researcher. But some are not conversant on developments in advanced genealogical research.

I attended an orientation session on resources available through a small-town East Texas facility. Most of the audience were "traditional" and a few were "online" researchers. (I was one of only two in the room who love "technology" and I still haven't advanced to the Twitter and iPhone stage.)

During the presentation the research tips offered made me realize how far apart these worlds can be. For years now the national conferences and institutes have taught that we have original and derivative sources that provide primary (firsthand) and secondary (secondhand) information that becomes direct or indirect evidence based on analysis and relevance to our research question. At the orientation outdated terms were used—primary and secondary sources were discussed. I was encouraged that the presenter did explain some records, such as death certificates, include both primary and secondary information. I was discouraged when "primary sources" were defined as government and church records and "secondary sources" as tombstones and Bible records.

Technology philosophies also collided. Advanced genealogists are taught to "write as you go." Productive researchers use a computer with a word processor open in one window to write analysis while viewing a document image on microfilm or online. Writing as you go ensures critical analysis doesn't slip your mind, saves time, and ensures you actually document the analysis before you get caught up in other tasks. At the orientation session one "traditional, but experienced" presenter wondered why anyone would bring a computer to the library where it could be stolen. Maybe she's never seen a computer lock. All three of the presenters agreed that "professional researchers use paper and pencils, not computers."

Why is this collision of worlds important? The thirty-something man sitting next to me who said he had been interested in genealogy since he was fourteen years old walked out before the end of the presentation. He lives in this small town and I have never seen him at genealogical society meetings. He is missing out on what he could learn from experienced researchers, even those who aren't using the latest terminology and technology. The older researchers are missing out on the benefits of modern technology they might learn from someone who knows what an IP address is and understands why it was relevant to a discussion of network access restrictions.

There may be more "online" and "technology" researchers than Randy estimated in his article. We don't know about them because they don't attend society meetings and maybe haven't attended national conferences due to conflicts with job and family and money. Those of us who have embraced advancements in genealogical research and technology need to make more of an effort to communicate the advantages to the "traditional, but experienced" researchers. We all need to publicize the things we learn at national conferences and institutes to those who are unable to attend. The more we all share our knowledge, whatever our experience level, the better off we all will be. And maybe we'd attract some of those younger genealogists who can keep our organizations alive when we are gone.

©2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved


  1. Hi Debbie,

    Excellent commentary, thank you. I had hoped that more bloggers would respond with ideas and comments.

    I only see this from my own fishbowl, just as you do from your own, and the presenters at your orientation session do. The more views we have, the better everyone will be able to understand the state of genealogy in 2011 and beyond. And,hopefully, we can grow the state to educate everyone in every fishbowl, er, genealogy world.

    Cheers -- Randy

  2. YES. Exactly. This is why I don't even bother with my local societies anymore. When I hear, "Real researchers use pencil and paper, not computers," to my ear it sounds like, "What are you doing here, you little chippie? We don't want you."

    So fine. I keep my money and I don't join. They continue to believe that all researchers are 70 years old and use paper, and I continue to use a computer and talk to other computer users (including many who are 70+), and there's no intersection at all.

    And then societies justify their lack of technology by saying, "None of our members want the newsletter via PDF/Kindle/Blog."

    It's crazy.

  3. The fishbowl reference brings to mind the concept of "little fish in big pond" versus "big fish in little pond." If every person teaches someone who teaches someone who teaches someone ... eventually all the pond edges might touch.

    I'm thinking we need a presentation like "Rainbow Swirl: Efficient Genealogy With a Dollop of Old and a Dollop of New." You entice the "traditional" by showing how easy it us to carry your entire genealogical research library and all of your research notes in your palm instead of carting around pounds of printed matter. Not to mention how Google Desktop can find that magazine article you remember seeing four or eight years ago on "Obscure Marriage Laws" that holds the answer to today's research problem. You entice the "online/technology" with a copy of a wonderful information-laden document that has never been digitized or even microfilmed and contains the key to a kinship problem. There must be hundreds of other examples that any genealogist would love even if it means expanding your comfort zone.

  4. Excellent points, Debbie. I feel like the man that left your meeting. I always want to learn more, but sometimes I just get tired of hearing that the way I do it is somehow inferior to others.

    Based on what I saw during the "technology and genealogy societies" unconference session I attended at RootsTech, I really do think that there are a lot of people that don't go to society meetings. I'm still trying to figure out a ways to measure this.

    This topic will surely be discussed for a long time to come, and I think that's great! Thanks for chiming in.

  5. I don't know where to start with all these worlds. Most people in my local society aren't involved in state or national societies, and most people I know at the state level aren't much involved nationally. And I'm quite sure that at all levels many people have tuned societies out and vice versa.

    Debbie, did anyone speak up for reality at this orientation? What would have happened if they did?

  6. Great post. I've been offline for about 10 days so I'm anxious to catch up on everyone's thoughts on this line. As someone who has recently become involved in a local society, you sure have got me to thinking...

  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Harold, I did not speak up at the orientation meeting because I don't like to contradict my hostess in her own facility. And it was probably only me and the gentleman that left early who used computers for more than e-mail or as a typewriter substitute. I saw many nod their heads in agreement with the hostess.

    When I give presentations, when someone sees me working in the library, or when anyone asks about apps or computers I explain how much easier the computer can make your life if you are willing to spend some time learning how to use it. And now I can tell everyone that RootsTech had an attendance of approximately 3,000 so there ARE lots of genealogists who use technology even if some are more reluctant to embrace it. Attracting these potential members could save a society that is becoming smaller.

    Those of us who are technologically savvy need to reach out and help train the non-techies. We sometimes forget how intimidating it can be when there is so much to learn. I often remind myself of the lady who thanked me profusely for explaining how you could highlight text and print the "selected text" instead of printing an entire Web page. Those little things we think everyone already knows might be the trick that brings a non-techie over to our side and shows her the computer is more than a typewriter.