Monday, November 19, 2012

Time to Pop a Cap in the Term "Drive-by Genealogist"


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.

This.
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.

86 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Keep fightin' the good fight, sista...and congrats on the APG appointment.

      Delete
  2. Great job, Amy. Thanks for presenting a beautiful response to the original article

    ReplyDelete
  3. I read the newspaper article and all I can say is wow. Loved your post Amy!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you, Amy. You are spot on! Your therapy is therapy for many of us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As a relative newbie I say, thank you! Nothing better than hanging out in the sandbox with some amazing genealogy friends. Felt welcomed from the very beginning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're all beginners in one way or another aren't we? I don't have any Italian ancestors, so I'd be a beginner in that area...and many others, too. "Beginner" is not a bad word. Guess I just got tired of reading that it is. Onward together!

      Delete
  6. You took the words that I wanted to say but just didn't have the guts too! Thank you!!!! Sorry about the sinus thing I so can relate! Get better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to give your words an outlet. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Delete
  7. Thank you, Amy! Newbies can feel so intimidated. The enthusiasm of a beginner should be a breath of fresh air and serve as a reminder of our own first feelings. I am so happy you voiced your opinion on this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree, Amy. Even when we aren't technically beginners anymore, we are still beginners in SOMETHING ... research in a different area of the world, a different record type, etc.

    I applaud those in the genealogy community who try to help the beginners (and I try to do the same when I feel qualified), and I have gotten a lot of non-judgmental help from a lot of people. I'm not afraid to ask anymore. That article would make me afraid to ask anything. Maybe they need to find a friendlier sandbox.

    ReplyDelete
  9. AMAZING blog post, even more so considering your sinus problem. I can't express myself that well even on a good day. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. My sinus problems are frequent and they make me very cranky. It's risky to write in such a state, even riskier to comment! :)

      Delete
  10. Thanks, Amy. Besides being so true, I'm sure the "rant" helped your mood:-D

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks, Amy. Besides being so true, I'm sure the "rant" helped your mood:-D

    ReplyDelete
  12. Amen x2 I agree with everything you have said and BTW- you said it SO WELL.

    Hope you feel better soon!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great post! Thank you for being a voice of a reason! A message such as the one in the post to which you are responding is not a good one to have out there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. It was a newspaper column (I think) and I didn't feel it represented a good "welcome" to genealogy.

      Delete
  14. One of these days, Amy Coffin, I too will use the word diatribe in a blog post...one of these days. Fine, fine post!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Glad you wrote this! We need to keep growing the base and no one starts out an expert. Not even Elizabeth and I'm sure she'd be the first to tell you so. I also wonder if those who insult those who are not "experts" are as good as they feel they are. If you want others to be better, publish so people can strive to follow your example. Teach so others can learn. One of my pet peeves, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your comments and support. The reason ESM is one of my favorites is that she leads by example. No stern lectures or negativity on her part. She makes people want to be better genealogists and I think we can all learn from that teaching style.

      Delete
  16. I summarized your article to my husband tonight during dinner and he started singing "I did it my way" Just the way to describe everyone's venture into genealogy or any efforts in life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ain't nothing wrong with my way, your way or the highway. I'm just glad were gathering that family history. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  17. Thank you - one always needs to remember our INTENT in our writings, particularly if they re getting circulated (gasp!) to a wide audience. I've always felt very welcomed and encouraged by those in the genealogy community on G+ and geneabloggers. Cheers! (I'm sure a little wine is in order).

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks Amy for a great post. You have certainly hit the nail on the head.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Replies
    1. Thank you, Craig. I value your opinion very highly and I appreciate the support.

      Delete
  20. My rant is this: I dislike the term "drive-by" to refer to anything other than its original meaning: Murder. A drive-by is a type of shooting, one that often kills innocent people. It's not a type of genealogist, or anything else. (And I totally realize that article authors almost never choose their own headlines, so no knock on Sharon Tate Moody).

    On the rest...I'm over the whole argument. I've had a rough year, and I only wish I had the energy to care what people are putting on Ancestry or whether they're using the term "proof" correctly. I just don't have the stomach for this crap anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on the "drive-by" term, Kerry. I don't think people quite understand it's meaning....and lucky you if you don't because that means you haven't been exposed to gang activity. Whatever the case, it's not a good term for describing anything in genealogy.

      Delete
  21. Great post Amy. I made loads of mistakes when starting out. If someone had discouraged me, I wouldn't have changed career, so I could become a librarian who helps people with their family history research.

    My earlier mistakes help me, help others.

    And I'm still not perfect, I still make them occasionally!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy,
      Thank You, Bless You. For days I was trying to figure how to say it without sounded to horrid. Seonald says she made many mistakes starting, heck I still make mistakes 50 years later. My side bar is MOM always said,"You learn from your mistakes" . I am still learning, Thank You, Amen and Thanksgiving Blessings.

      Delete
  22. Well said, Amy! I remember being an easily intimidated newbie very clearly, and if it wasn't for some friendly smiles and encouraging words, I might not have stuck with it. Thanks for posting this!

    ReplyDelete
  23. "It’s an old argument that does more elitist, divisive damage than good." SMACK DOWN!

    You coulda stopped right there; and spared yourself a headache. Jus sayin'

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great post, Amy! I haven't read the article yet and can only imagine what's in it based on your post. Regardless of the original that prompted this post, much of what you read needs to be said. Plain and simple...we all have to start somewhere. I was fortunate enough to have met some great people (mainly geneabloggers) who were very helpful when I first started. If not for these people, I would not be were I am today, just five short years later. I try to pay it forward whenever I can. Your post also reminded me of two blog post drafts I started about a month ago that I have not had time to finish...me thinks now would be a good time to finish and post them. Heading off to read the original article...hope I've allowed enough time for my anti-anxiety meds to kick cuz I get the feeling I'm goona need 'em :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you for this post. I am thinking of blogging after I retire next year, and it will definitely be a "My Way" kind of genealogy.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank you!!!!! You Rock...Right now I am singing the song, "Aimee..what you gonna do" I love that song and can't get it out of my head since I read the article. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thankyou for your post. I was born a fortunate offspring into this world for two reasons. One, I lived for 5 years with my maternal grandparents during while my mother was between husbands. My grandmother told me stories of what life was like when she was growing up in the "Forks", but my Grandfather hailed from a proud southern family and knew a great deal about his roots, facts, stories and things that had been passed down for generations. This was a man who had been born in the early part of the 1900's and lived until 1997. His great-grandfather had lived until I was 15 and full of stories himself. My Grandpa's grandmother had been born prior to the Civil War and lived well into the 1930's, after Papa was married with children of his own. She had lived an interesting life, but knew her husbands grandparents, and had cleaned house for the grand lady from Virginia, long before she married her grandson. She told her children and grandchildren stories and facts, that my grandfather passed to me. I have been busy recording these memories, now that I have reached the half-century point in my existence, for future generations, and collecting documents to back them up. There were people who may not have been documented, or barely. My great-great grandmother herself appears in the 1860 census as a child, her father's estate papers, and then totally escapes the 1870 and 1880 census and does not reappear until 1900 with her family. Another ancestress only appears in a marriage license, since there are no 1890 censuses available here. She was born in 1882, after the 1880 census, she married at 17 and then died of childbirth or shortly afterward of something else and did not appear in the 1900 census. Some folks made great waves in history, others merely a trickle.

    My other good fortune was a Dad who had dabbled in genealogy. He and his second wife were pioneers in locating old graveyards locally. He had quite a bit of information on portions of his family, his surname one, to be exact, and a little on the female lines. I have been busy working on the rest of his family. They are a fascinating bunch.

    While I have been able to corroborate most of my Dad and Grandfathers information, I have found some mistakes in it. One story Papaw told of a mistress of a Great-great Uncle, turned out to probably have been the mistress of his grandfather, not his grandfather's uncle. In one of my Dad's lines, he had the right tree, but the wrong limb. One of his maternal grandmother's had a cousin 4 years older with the same name, but he had the correct ancestors beyond those 2 generations, and it fell in place.

    All endeavors are worthy and newcomers will get it. If they enter what they know, they will eventually come to terms with finding that correct link, that matching documentation, or that brick wall that just won't come down. And maybe someone entering from a fresh angle or a different side may just be that bearer of information who can break down other brick walls. They may be the one who inherited great-grandma's cedar chest with that old bible in it, or those old photographs with the writing on the back with that youngest child who was given to someone else to raise after the mother died, who has been a brickwall for his or her descendants due to lack of documentation.

    Everybody has to start somewhere.

    Thankyou.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Great post. Glad to see someone articulate the sentiment. I would like people to cite their sources, now that I've learned how important they are. I emphasize, now that I've learned how important they are. I didn't in the past. But it takes dipping your feet in the water a bit before you're every ready to learn to swim. It takes learning to dog paddle before you can do a front crawl. It takes doing the crawl wrong before you can do it right. And really, is there only one right? My son is a perfect example of breaking the rules. He'd prefer to swim on his back.

    Anyway. Thanks for letting us in on your therapy. I hope the sinuses subside.

    ReplyDelete
  29. As a newbie, thank you for your post! I know I don't cite my sources properly but you know what, it's how I do it and that's all that matters to me. If I spent too much time trying to do it perfectly I'd lose interest in a hurry. And I'm so thankful for people like you who have helped me along the way.

    ReplyDelete
  30. *applauding* Well stated, Amy.

    Some of the comments on that article make me want to scream--especially the one about restricting archival access to the most trusted researchers. Yes, let's prevent anyone with an interest in information from being able to access it. That sounds like a GREAT idea. *smh*

    ReplyDelete
  31. scamp (aka Shirley)November 20, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    Thank you for a well written rebuttal to the article.

    It's bad enough that doors to libraries and archives are being shut due to lack of funding, and that records are being restricted through fear of identity theft and invasion of privacy. The elitist attitude that came across in Ms. Moody's article would have made me think twice if I were considering looking into my tree for the first time.

    Last week I connected with the granddaughter of my great-grandfather's brother, one of my "lost" people. She filled in some immigration gaps, and sent me a photo. By the way, she's a newbie. And I found her because she was posting and hunting in Ancestry. She doesn't have all her facts right. But by golly, she's out there looking, and I'm glad she is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Shirley! What if that family member had been shoo-ed away from genealogy? You never would have had that photo or that interaction with kin. I'm glad she's looking and adding information, too!

      Delete
  32. Thank you! This one got me, too.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Amy, my blood boiled for several hours after reading that article. But like so many others I am exhausted by this mentality. We can't change the haters but we can drown them out. There are enough of us on the Internet who are more than willing to help those who are struggling to research their family history. I encourage everyone to be gracious, empathetic and generous to our newcomers, roll out the welcome mat and let's throw those doors wide open to everyone, and I mean everyone!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Lynn. One of the reasons I wrote this was to give newcomers a voice. I want them to know there are welcoming faces here. I appreciate you being a part of that.

      Delete
  34. Great post! Never hurts to have fresh eyes searching.

    Being part of the younger genealogists, I'm usually asked at seminars/conferences if I've passed my 2nd or 3rd Great Grandparents yet. I'll reply "Yes. Quite a bit ago." but rarely mention that I have 20 years of research under my belt at 32.

    Everyone starts out a newbie :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I agree. I don't care if you're old, young, new, whatever. If you're researching my ancestors, I want in on that. I'll verify the info an get the sources.

      Delete
  35. Thanks, Amy. Two thumbs up and well said!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Excellent post! I'm just starting out and no one told there was a single definition of genealogist or family historian or any of the terms noted. There's precision and care in research of any sort and there's sloppiness. People with any discernment will recognize the difference and simply ignore work that isn't helpful to them.

    License indeed!

    As I said over there, because I don't like cyberbullies, and that's how I perceive that piece, if you want to inform people then you don't take an insulting tone. That could have been a helpful article, a way to define terms for others. Instead, it was off putting in the extreme.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't care for the tone either. Some thought it was funny, but I felt it did more harm than good in encouraging new genealogists to join the ranks.

      Delete
  37. I've been researching my family history seriously for about 12 years. I made mistakes when I started and now that I know, I TRY not to make them again. And I learned from making them, not from another genealogist's mistakes. In that way, it's a lot like life. Genealogy societies often come off as being elitist and I am working to make our society accessible to anyone who wants to know a little more or a lot more about their family history. I can guide them a little and we can learn together. We need to promote our societies as "sharing" organizations because "the more the merrier"!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The more the merrier, indeed. As a genealogy society member, thank you Pamela for making your group more accessible to others.

      Delete
  38. Great post. One of the things I love about genealogy is the sharing,where would I be but for those with more experience guiding me. I also get very excited when I come across someone who is just starting on their family history, and I see that glint come into their eyes as they start to discover their ancestors. We must be accepting of all levels of researching skills and remember we all started somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane, I couldn't agree more. Thank you for reading.

      Delete
  39. Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen. Late to the party but I had to add my amens to the list. Thanks for writing this so I didn't have to. As usual, you rock Amy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Janet, YOU ROCK. Seriously, it means a lot to have your feedback.

      Delete
  40. Refreshing - brings the fun back in genealogy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And that's the way it should be. Thanks for commenting, Robert!

      Delete
  41. BRAVO!!! Thank you so much - you've said everything I was feeling, and I've come away smiling!!
    :)

    ReplyDelete
  42. One must never forget what it feels like to be 'new' at something:new kid in school, new at a job, new at genealogy! Reach out your hand, offer help and the reward comes back tenfold! Genealogy Societies all over need to read your message and they may figure out why their memberships are declining! Great job on the article and a message to be heeded by all the 'professionals!'

    ReplyDelete
  43. One must never forget what it feels like to be 'new' at something:new kid in school, new at a job, new at genealogy! Reach out your hand, offer help and the reward comes back tenfold! Genealogy Societies all over need to read your message and they may figure out why their memberships are declining! Great job on the article and a message to be heeded by all the 'professionals!'

    ReplyDelete
  44. I'm one of those who likes to encourage new family historians and genealogists to cite their sources, and I put it in the context of "Don't make the mistakes I made!" I made some doozies when I was new! And I let them know that they'll make their own mistakes, anyway, as that's how they'll learn. I think there is a middle ground where we can gently and with humor and empathy bring the newcomers along, hopefully helping them avoid some of the pains we ourselves went through. But we also have to let them make their own mistakes so that they will learn -- and will have stories to share with good humor with the next generation of new arrivals. We don't have to be geneaNazis about it, though. Well said.

    ReplyDelete