Thursday, October 6, 2016
What is competency in genealogy?
When we had small children at home, my two boys were involved in T-ball and Little League. However, their interest in this sport was not very great and they did not pursue any involvement in baseball in school. In our neighborhood, all of the boys and many girls played baseball. Most of them became involved, either because of peer pressure to go along with their friends or because their parents encouraged involvement. We all knew of the one boy from our neighborhood who went on to become a professional baseball player. I played Little League baseball when I was young and although I did not play any baseball in my college years, I played softball in tournaments for many, many years after I got married. I also enjoyed watching and listening to baseball games on the radio and TV. However, I have not played even one game of softball for years and I stopped listening to or watching ball games a long time ago. I really cannot claim to have become a competent ball player and after my sons stopped going to Little League, I doubt they have played any baseball except casually and recreationally. I would also be very surprised if they listened to or watched any baseball games.
OK, so what does this have to do with genealogy? There is currently an increased interest in involving children and the "youth" in family history and there is apparently some expectation that a casual involvement with family history will somehow translate into greater numbers of professional level participants in genealogy down the road. Of course there is no direct correlation in the activity of doing genealogical research and becoming professional baseball player in the American or National League, but there are some similarities and lessons to be learned.
Becoming a professional ball player involves a great deal of natural talent, motivation, desire, practice and in some cases pure luck. Very, very few of the Little League players who dreamed about a professional career in baseball actually went on to realize their dream. But realistically, how many young people in America today are going to dream about sitting around all day in a library or at home, in front of a computer doing genealogical research? The genealogical community doesn't have a corresponding organization like baseball. We do not have organized Little Genealogy Leagues (although maybe we should) or school ball or any of the other "feeder" activities the end up producing professional ball players. So why do we think that involving the youth in a casual family history activity will somehow result in a lifelong interest in genealogical research?
Although it appears to me that interest in baseball is on the decline, it is still an extremely popular sport with millions upon millions of participants But the reality is that there are only about 750 players in the major leagues. Genealogy or family history does not have a pool of millions upon millions of enthusiasts to draw from. Most involved genealogists got there by teaching themselves as individuals. There are very few organized educational opportunities to learn genealogy. Professional baseball has an elaborate system to qualify major league players from minor league teams and other training opportunities. Genealogy has no corresponding support system to move those who are interested into the ranks of the professional level researchers. Genealogists, for the most part, have to be entirely self-motivated and self-taught.
My point is that providing entry level interest, analogous to the T-ball level of baseball without providing an additional pathway to professionalism will not "produce" competent genealogists. In my own experience, genealogy is tremendously more complicated than baseball although obviously genealogy does not require quite so high a level of physical skills. But even if we are successful in getting our youth and young children interested in genealogy or family history, how are we going to move them up the ranks until we have some competent genealogists?
Perhaps, as is the case in some instances, we simply solve the problem of having competent genealogists by declaring all of our T-ball player level participants "professionals" and leave it at that. In other words, abandon any effort to produce researchers who can actually find records by making genealogy an entry level activity with no way or incentive to advance. This is just fine if we don't care about consistency and accuracy. Ultimately, why not make genealogy so inclusive that all we need to do is add names to a family tree of those people we would like to be related to? As a side note, we did print off a pedigree of Harry Potter's ancestors not long ago at the BYU Family History Library.
I guess my question would be this: if we are serious about including a lot more people in the genealogical community, aren't we somehow obligating ourselves to provide a path for advancement in competency, i.e. giving the newcomers a goal to dream about? I never thought I would become a professional baseball player, but because there were professionals, I could always dream of what it would be like and I had some incentive to practice and get better at playing softball. But I would not have played without an organized structure that supported my interest beyond Little League.