Today I read an article about “drive-by genealogists.” Apparently this is a label now.
My issue isn’t necessarily with this article in particular; it’s the message in it that I keep seeing. This piece just happened to be the last place I saw it.
There’s a baffling backlash toward those just discovering their interest in family history. I don’t believe anyone is anti-newbie, but there’s this bizarre assumption that their first efforts are automatically flawed.
Beginners are barely in the door of the Church of Genealogy and we have people telling them they’re not good enough to be here.
Naturally, I have a few things to say about this:
Everyone was once new…
…and sometimes the more established genealogists forget that. My home base is the Clayton Genealogy Library in Houston. I often watch people come through those doors for the first time. It’s a big place. It’s scary to those who don’t frequent libraries. Some folks may even feel like they’re not smart enough or tech savvy enough to be there.
The new folks walk sheepishly up to the reference desk and ask their first question in their family history journey. Those librarians—bless them—listen patiently, then get these new family historians the information they need. They help them get started on the computers or refer them to the best beginner books on the shelf.
What would happen if an intimidated beginner read this newspaper article? Would they even walk through the door? No. They’d get in the car or on the bus and go back home. Their families’ histories, photos and stories may be lost forever.
Suggesting people need a license to research is like throwing a citation book at the head of a new library visitor the minute he or she walks through the door. What would that accomplish? We need to get the new genealogists in the building. We need to show them how to start their journey and let them discover their own treasures. That’s part of being new. You can’t bombard beginners with advanced skills in any task, even genealogy.
The joy-ride analogy is an insult.
Ancestry.com runs commercials tempting television viewers to use their product. That’s what companies do. They try to get you to use their products. Many people might see Ancestry.com’s commercial and be curious about their ancestors. They could start their own tree and add photos and stories that have never been online. This is not a bad thing! I find it insulting that the article author assumes new Ancestry.com users will “leave a mess for someone else to clean up.” Since when is another person’s family history a mess?
We’re all here for different reasons.
You’re reason for researching family history is different than mine. We all have different goals and levels of dedication. Some might want to publish their findings; others might be content with just an online family tree. Some are professionals. Some have a genealogy hobby. It doesn’t matter why others do genealogy, so focus on you. The only thing that is important is that you enjoy family history they way you want to. Do not worry about anyone else.
We don’t need no stinkin’ sources.
Hear me out before you get your bloomers in a wad. You do not need to list sources and cite records when you do your family history. The world will still keep spinning. However, I strongly suggest that you do, because later on you’ll wish you did. Trust me on this.
Not everyone cites their sources. So what? That’s their business. When I see unsourced genealogy facts on the Internet, I use clues and details in that information to help me attain a record of the event because that’s how I approach my own research. It is not my place to lecture the person who published the information. I can take it or leave it (and I’ve left a lot). Our reasons for doing genealogy are different. It is not your job to make everyone record their own family’s history to your standards.
I understand that the intent of the article is to lessen inaccuracies and incorrect information online, but have you seen the Internet? I mean...have you seen it? It’s one big giant ball of nonsense. Why is it our duty to determine what gets published there? It’s not. If you find a valuable genealogical tidbit on Internet, use your own skills to determine its accuracy then do with it as you wish.
We don’t know what we don’t know about research.
I love research. So much that I went back to school and studied all about it. There is so much to the concept of “research” that is never touched in genealogy. If one actually needed a license to research or publish, none of us would pass the test. Arguments over qualifications, post nominals, and even the definition of the word “professionalism” have been hashed to death in professional genealogy circles. That won’t be happening here. Move on.
Haters gonna hate.
Genealogy is a mean friend. Sad but true. Folks are quick to correct others, and even harmless differences are made to look like errors. The article that spawned this blog post is a perfect example: that somehow if you don’t do it one way then it is automatically wrong. The piece takes a huge swipe at beginning genealogists…and it is not fair.
The article makes good points on the importance of evidence and establishing proof. However, those issues are buried below a snarky statement where new genealogists (who found their way because of a television commercial) are equated to gangbangers. Really? This is how you welcome people into the field? Do you really think they’ll hear your message in the middle if you’ve insulted them up front? I’m done discussing the article. It’s an old argument that does more elitist, divisive damage than good.
Researching your family history is a rewarding experience. I’d even go so far as to say it is life changing. Learning about ancestors gives our lives purpose and reminds us what is important.
I want everyone to research their family history. I want everyone to go online and search for information. I want everyone to continue that research offline. I want everyone to publish if they feel comfortable doing so. You’ll find that the search isn’t as easy as it looks on TV, but that’s ok. Once you find that juicy genealogical tidbit about great-grandpa, you’ll be hooked. You’ll find cousins. You’ll find friends that share your interest. You’ll find depth and definition in your own life.
Professional, hobbyist, or something else….does it really matter? No. So long as you’re doing what you enjoy. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Just as in other parts of life, sometimes people need to say things to make themselves feel superior. It’s like being in high school all over again. Don’t go back to high school, and don’t let others drag you to that place.
There are no dumb genealogy questions. Ask away about family history. There are lots of friendly people out there who are willing to help. Seek out the librarians, local genealogy societies and online resources. Heck, ask me a question. I probably won’t know the answer, but I can get you in touch with someone who will.
New genealogists: welcome…and please, please, PLEASE join our ranks. It doesn’t matter how much computer or research experience you have. Whether genealogy is just a casual hobby or a full-time obsession, we are very happy to have you here online and in-person in the genealogy sandbox. Your ancestors’ stories need to be told, and you deserve the reward of discovering their tales.
One last detail
I wrote this piece for my own therapy. Please do not use the comment section to debate or argue, as this is my blog and I’m not in the mood for a 10-paragraph diatribe on the definition professionalism. Severe sinus pain has made me Hulk-level annoyed at everything. Thanks.