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

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Challenges of a New Year for Genealogy

Sansumaria at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons
We are all aware of transitions. The New Year always seems to be a time for reflection and evaluation. Many make new resolutions or renew old ones. Personally, my genealogy work expands as time goes on. Some times I feel like I am trying to bail the ocean with a spoon, but once in a while, I realize my spoon has turned into a Bucyrus RH400 Hydraulic Shovel and I am making some progress. As I look around, I see a lot of unfinished business from this past year and even some that has accumulated over the past few years. Here are some of the goals, resolutions of whatever that I see are needed and are still challenges to me and in some cases to the entire genealogical community.

1. For years we have talked about the need for an adequate method of moving genealogical data from one program or venue to another. The general consensus is that the old GEDCOM standard is no longer a viable method of moving data. In addition, the wholesale transfer of pedigrees across program boundaries has resulted in the movement of bad data as well as good and has promoted duplication of effort. We need a common denominator in genealogy; a way to transfer all of the information we have on a particular individual from one program to another program without the loss of sources, attached media, notes, and any other pertinent comments. This could be accomplished in a variety of ways and does not necessarily involve any of the individual programs changing their proprietary formats. We can translate languages by computer, let's work on translating data files.

2. needs to finally resolve the inherited data problems inherited from in the Family Tree. There is still a massive overburden of unresolved duplicates and data limitations. Those of us outside of FamilySearch can take care of the duplicates if we are given the opportunity, but every year goes by with promises that there is solution right around the corner and the corner never shows up. The new features and add-ons to the Family Tree are helpful, but fundamentally adding an enhanced search capability and then telling me that I cannot merge an obvious duplicate is pretty frustrating and questions the integrity of the entire database of 1.1 billion names.

3. We need a way to gain access to information that does not involve supporting governments and other organizations around the world. No one owns my or your ancestors. The actors in this international drama include everyone from local societies and repositories to national governments. Why should I be required to pay for vital genealogical record information about my own family? We talk about all sorts of human rights, isn't there a human right to know your own parentage and family history? At every turn, we have public and private entities that want to make money from my desire to find my family. I certainly realize that information has monetary value in our global society, but it is fundamentally unfair to say that because I am rich or famous I can have professionals find my ancestry and broadcast it on TV for a profit and because I am poor, I cannot afford to find my own parents.

4. Genealogy is being cast as a populist movement that includes everyone. No where is this movement more evident than with those who would like to include the young in recognizing their heritage and becoming involved with their family. In this, I am reminded of an ongoing dispute between the cattle ranchers and those who manage government lands in the Western United States. One day, when I was near the end of a long and arduous hike in the Pariah Wilderness Area, we were planning on refilling our water supply at a prominently marked spring. When we arrived at the Spring we found that it was ruined by hundreds of cows and their very very evident droppings. The water was useful for the cows but by allowing the cows to have free access to the water, it was effectively ruined for those who did not happen to be cows. We need to recognize the tremendous effort that the dedicated genealogists have made over the years to seek out their families. We need to preserve the high quality and pureness of the work done by experienced researchers and not ruin their work and prevent them from doing the research that they know how to do, simply because we want to make genealogy more popular. In the case of this valuable Spring in the desert of Northern Arizona, the need to water cows should be weighed against the need to preserve the wilderness. In the case of the Spring, perhaps both interests should have been considered and the cows given water without destroying the Spring itself. I hope you see the analogy. Let's not denigrate our experienced genealogists and make their lives seem useless at the expense of attracting new, unexperienced and untaught people.

5. We need to do more than give lip service to family history. I am constantly bombarded with stories from dedicated family historians about the antagonism and even active persecution they suffer from family members and others. In some societies, the Tribal Historian has a prominent position and is given the respect and consideration needed to preserve the traditions and genealogy of the tribe. In our own Western and most U.S. society, family historians are barely tolerated. At a New Years Eve gathering where my "status" as a family history practitioner was acknowledged, there were several very negative comments, not about me, but about the fact that family history was something to be avoided. This is particularly true among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints although the attitude is not limited to members. If we value families, then that value needs to extend to our heritage. I don't necessarily need any help from those who surround me, but I do need to be able to do my family history without active opposition.

That is probably enough of a list to get started on for the New Year. Here is what I am going to do.

1. I am going to keep researching and extending my family lines with basic research supported by adequate source citations.
2. I am going to keep writing, teaching classes, assisting individuals in finding their families, making videos, participating in webinars and doing everything I can think of to advance the cause of good family history research around the world.
3. I am going to keep doing oral history interviews and accumulating and preserving our individual and cultural heritage.
4. I am going to record as much information as I can possibly accumulate in a way that it can be preserved for the future.
5. I am going to continue to write my own personal history as I have done since 1975,

That should keep me busy for while.

No comments:

Post a Comment