Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Let's not raise barriers to family history

We seem to be preoccupied as a genealogical community with both exclusivity and inclusivity. We want to raise the standards for reporting our genealogy online while at the same time we want to include as many new users as possible. I have a few suggestions for those who want to include more people in the family history or genealogical community. I may also have some suggestions for those who want to improve the overall quality of genealogy, but that is another post.

I see several barriers to adding more people, especially young people, to the community. I guess I don't really have any particular order to these topics, and I do not intend to imply that the ones I mention first are more important than those down on the list. Here are the things I think that keep people from becoming genealogists. But before I get into the list, I want to point out my own memory of genealogy that I saw as a barrier. When I was a lot younger, from time to time the "genealogist" in our Ward would be called upon to give a short (or longer) presentation on the subject. He or she would come into the classroom with a hefty pile of genealogy sheets in huge binders, sometimes thousands of sheets of paper and then stand there and tell us how much time and effort had gone into acquiring this huge pile of paper. Often the commentary would include a detailed explanation of tracking down an ancestor in Sweden or Germany or whatever, with references to repositories visited and the books consulted. All this made absolutely no sense to me and I suppose to most of the other people in attendance. Oh, the presentation always began with a statement about how many records had been accumulated. Fortunately, these experiences did not deter me from becoming interested, although it was much later in life when I did.

Here is the list of common barriers:

Genealogy is a competitive sport.
The first question I am often asked when I tell people that I do genealogy full-time is how many people do I have in my file? An alternative question is how far back have I gone with my research? Both of these questions imply a perception about genealogy that has become an absolute barrier to some people. They think that all family history entails is gathering huge piles of ancestors. It like the difference between riding a bike around the neighborhood for exercise and becoming one of the Spandex shorts guys on racing bikes toiling up the steep hill. If you think that you have to wear a special outfit and ride an expensive bike to participate in the sport, you will likely not start, especially if you look rather funny in Spandex. The same principle applies to genealogy. Those who are wrapped up in the genealogical world sometimes become competitive. They think that numbers are important and that pushing the family line back to Adam is an accomplishment. However, this attitude is a monumental barrier to new genealogists. I have seen people break down and cry with frustration when they confront an experienced genealogist explaining some obscure issue about records or whatever. Let's stop making genealogy into a competitive sport that requires special professional equipment and realize that it is about families.

There is just one way to record family history
One of the first things many aspiring genealogists hear when they talk to the "old timers" is that they need to buy a special genealogy program to start their search for family members. Do you realize what kind of a barrier this is to new genealogists? I would say, yes, you need to record what you learn about your family, but you can use whatever method best suits you. Personally, I would suggest, however, that you use's Family Tree program. It is free. It is relatively simple to get started. It helps you find your ancestors and it will preserve whatever information you add. You may need to get some help to start, but there is really no need to learn other programs to start. As you progress, you will find there are other programs, but keeping a copy of your discoveries somewhere for preservation purposes is all that is necessary to start. Let's keep our opinions about our favorite genealogy program to ourselves until the new genealogist understands the need for such a program.

You must cite your sources in a particular way
Can you imagine what a beginning genealogist would think if they attended a class on citations? We sometimes get so wrapped up in the trappings of genealogy, we forget the substance. We are interested in the history, the stories, the photographs, the details and the spirit rather than being fixated on a particular format. Yes, you do need to keep track of your sources and add them appropriately to your documentation. But making people think there is only one way of citing sources becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to interest in genealogy.

You have to spend hours and hours searching for family members
This barrier can be true. But it is usually the case that a new genealogist will make discoveries about his or her family very quickly. Many people find interesting and even inspiring things about their near relatives. You will begin to feel the spirit of family history even if you spend only an hour or so a week learning about your family.

All of your genealogy is done
Especially those who come from pioneer stock, have likely been told over and over again that all their genealogy has been done. This is not only an impossibility the statement is silly. Even if one of your aunts or grandparents worked on their own genealogy for an extended period of time, they did not have the resources you have today and could not have found all of their own relatives. In addition, that person worked on only one line. It is almost inevitable that they neglected some of the lines. Also, unless your parents were related, there are likely whole lines in your own family that have never been investigated.

Genealogy is for old, retired people
This is the most objectionable and insidious of all the barriers to genealogy. There is nothing about being old or being retired that has anything to do with genealogy as such. This particular barrier is really a variation of the amount of time that needs to be spent. Just because I spend a lot of time involved in genealogy, it does not mean that you or anyone else needs to spend that much time. You choose to do what you think is important or what you do out of habit. You can probably live without TV or whatever for a few hours to spend on your family history.

You own your genealogy
This is another very significant barrier. Many genealogists become overly possessive about their genealogy, to the point of discouraging anyone from even looking at what they have done. Some people publish books containing their research and copyright the information and try to prevent people from copying any of the information just so they can sell the books and make money either for profit or to recoup the cost of publication. Because there is a published book, many of the people related to the person or family that is the subject of the book think that their genealogy is all done. This is true even if the book is entirely wrong and has no sources or basis in fact.

There are likely a lot more barriers to genealogy. Unfortunately, some of these barriers come from genealogists who, though well meaning, feel like everyone should be doing genealogy exactly the way they do.

No comments:

Post a Comment