My Thoughts on Genealogy Societies & Blogs

There was a post last week by a genealogist who stirred up a lot of discussion on the blogs about the paradigm shift in genealogy and the blogger’s role in this shift. Marian Pierre-Louis wrote a two part follow-up to this post. You can read Part I here and Part II here. Be sure to read the comments in all three posts.

In discussing my thoughts on the posts with a few people I interact with online and looking at a genealogy society newsletter I just received in the mail, I had a few things I wanted to share.

After reading the original post I walked away feeling like bloggers are being blamed for genealogy societies falling apart or shutting their doors. I felt like bloggers were being told we were not doing enough to keep societies running. I felt like bloggers were being told how we should run our blogs – put more research out there, cite all the sources on the blog, publish articles, talk about the genealogy societies, be professional (and get certified). I was a little offended when I finished reading the entire post.

I feel that perhaps the author hasn’t really read a variety of other genealogy blogs because it seems that all the things he says we should be doing, we more or less are. Most of the blogs I read, and the ones I write, include information on genealogical resources. We talk about research we are doing and what we find. We discuss genealogy societies and meetings. Do we cite the sources? Some choose to do this within the posts, others do not. It is personal preference.

Are we publishing? Many of us are, although not on our blogs. Blogs are meant to have short posts. Not long articles. In the last year I have had an article in the National Genealogical Society Magazine; the last four quarterly Koreny journals through the Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society of Illinois; I published a book about my cousin the Flying Tiger; I’m waiting for an article to appear on in their Expert Series; and I submitted an article for the Webster County Missouri Historical Society journal that will be published in 2012. I also just finished eight family history books for a client. I think I’m doing my part.

That brings me back to the genealogy societies. I belong to several. Only two are local. I guess three if you count the Schaumburg Library group which is free. I volunteer on a couple of committees in my local society. I try to give back to those societies that have helped me. The Webster County Missouri Historical Society is a good example. I don’t live there. Have no roots there. But the friend I do research for when I have time has some roots there.

Because of the research I did at the Webster County Missouri Historical Society in May, I have a new friend named Jo who I cherish. I joined the society and wrote an article for their journal sharing what I had learned because of all the help she gave me. I’m donating copies of the information I found outside of their society to their family files. Someone else will benefit from the information I donated. Being a member of this society really doesn’t have a lot of benefit for me since I don’t live there and have no roots there. If I start making more connections and have clients in that area there will be more of a benefit. But I continue to contribute because of the assistance they gave me.

As I thought more and re-read the original post I was a little less irritated. Bloggers have a voice and we may be teachers but it isn’t up to one person to tell us how to do things. It isn’t up to one person to tell us how we should help genealogy and historical societies. It is up to us, as individuals, to decide what works for us and what we are able to give back. And I don’t think that just because the vast majority of us are not certified by the BCG, that makes us less of a professional than the author.


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19 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Genealogy Societies & Blogs

  1. Well stated Jen, there are many bloggers who have tried to assist in the societies to be turned down and we need to look beyond all of this and remember we are all in it for the same reason. We love researching our family. Not one person can decided how we do what we do. Its a decision that a person can only make on their own.

    Yes, many of us would like to be the genealogist that is well known and assisting in the tv programs and speaking at large conferences, there are others that are ok with being the audience member learning. For myself, I work towards certification to learn more, not to make me better than any other person. I simply want to learn.

    As a blogger, we have a great cohesive society (for lack of better words). We know if we need help, assistance will be there. We just need to post to a blog, facebook or twitter. If one of our friends cannot help, they certainly will send us to someone who can.

    I have only been blogging for a few years, I certainly did not start to make any friends out of it. I started to track my research. This was the first year I stepped out into an uncomfortable space by going to Jamboree. I was welcomed by many as a long time friend. We held many discussions about blogging and how we handle certain issues. The conversations were always held with respect of what the other thinks, just wanting to know the thoughts on the opposing side. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting every last genealogist, so much, that I drove to Springfield just to hang out with the bloggers because the funds were not there for me to attend. There are many bloggers I count as friends. Not online friends, facebook friends or twitter followers. They are my friends.

    I hope that all of these blog posts will continue to open the dialogue, but one must remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion and no amount of certification makes anyones opinion the right one.

    I also agree that as bloggers we will need to continue to try and assist with the societies. I personally have enjoyed all of the meetings I have attended this year and I will continue to offer assistance to those that need it next year.

    • Terri,

      Thank you for your comments. Yes, only we can decide how to proceed in the field of genealogy, where to give of our time and skills, and how much to give. And also, where we can find a good fit. Which I know is sometimes hard when people give up a position only to refill that position when a newbie volunteers. :) I think everything happens for a reason so perhaps that just means we are needed more elsewhere in some capacity.

      I also agree about the cohesive society. I count many of the bloggers as my friends. They have not only been there to provide genealogical assistance but also support and friendship outside of the genealogy realm. We are all very lucky to be able to develop such great friendships.

      Hopefully you and I can attend more society meetings next year. :)

  2. Jennifer,

    You have put this conversation in a good space.
    The space of ‘giving’, ‘sharing’ and ‘paying it forward’.

    We bloggers and practitioners (did I spell that correctly?) should remind ourselves of what we do! For that, I thank you!

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

    • Thank you for your comment George. You did spell practitioners correctly. :) Writing the post reminded me of things I have done to pay it forward and share and things I should focus on in 2012.

  3. You misunderstood my original post. I did not intend to “tell anyone what to do” either in their blogs or their societies. And I certainly was not blaming any individual or group for the failure of another individual or group. The post was an observation of several changes that are occuring in the field of genealogy at large.

    However, I do believe that bloggers should be responsible with what they publish. Bad research publicly available online is far more dangerous than bad research sitting in someone’s notebook in their closet.

    This is not to say that I am more professional than anyone else, or that my credential makes me better than anyone else. As a professional genealogist and a Certified Genealogist, I would like the field of genealogy to continue to progress as much in the current generation and the generations to come as it has in the past two generations. I assume that you want the same thing.

    • Michael,
      I appreciate your comments and apologize if I misunderstood your post after reading it twice. However, I honestly walked away feeling like bloggers were being blamed and not doing enough. And I took offense to that because the bloggers I know do share and pay it forward not only online but offline as well.

      I do agree that I would like to see the genealogy field continue to progress. But I think the bloggers should not feel completely responsible for the progression and changes to come. There are some bloggers like myself that are professional genealogists. We talk about research, repositories and archives, methods, education, genealogy societies, etc. Then there are others who simply blog to share their family’s stories. Is what they post all correct? Maybe. Maybe not. But they are sharing the information and what they have learned. Do some post again later if they find something that contradicts what they posted earlier? Yes. This should not be seen as “bad research” but as a progression of learning. Isn’t it kind of like your posts about applying for certification twice? It was a learning experience for you and that is how you wanted us, who were considering certification, to see it. When I think of “bad research” I think of all those online family trees where people just copy and paste without verifying anything. Blogging gives us a platform, like a notebook in which we write, to express our thoughts, theories, research and results. The only difference is we are likely to get feedback from our blog posts because someone else is reading it.

  4. In no way do I mean to imply that bloggers should feel responsible for progress and change in genealogy. But I would like to see bloggers at least keep up with the current state of genealogy. The suggestions and appeals that I did make of my fellow bloggers in my post were simply that: cite your sources, support your local society, etc. These are not new concepts, but may easily be forgotten by online genealogists if we do fail to practice the fundamentals online as we would offline.

  5. Jen, your initial impressions of the article and mine were the same. Even after reading the comments, I can’t shake the disapproving tone. I’ve opted not to participate in the discussion (from my vacation spot) and will continue to contribute to the genealogy community in the way I believe is best. Thank you for your take on the discussion.

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  8. I really didn’t take away what you did by reading Michael’s blog post, but honestly, I kind of skimmed that one.

    I want to comment on just one sentence you wrote that jumped out at me: “I felt like bloggers were being told we were not doing enough to keep societies running.”

    I don’t know how bloggers could possibly keep societies running, but we can certainly help them. I started blogging for myself on a private blog, just to give it a try. Only when I wanted to write about my society did I quickly make it public. I write a blog entry for almost every meeting and sometimes mention it in between. (Disclosure: I am the president, newsletter editor, and webmaster.) I am using my blog to try to do more for my society. And this year, I ended the newsletter (one last issue to finish) and will be starting a society blog instead.

    I am definitely not the only person writing about my society. I have seen others blog about their search for good societies, looking into local and non-local societies, what they think societies should and shouldn’t do, volunteering and societies, etc.

    • Thanks for your comment. You are correct about bloggers helping societies. I write about several groups in the Chicago area on my blogs and run my local county genealogy society’s blog. I’d love it if ours got rid of the newsletter and moved it to the blog. Something to discuss I guess.

  9. I’ve read quite a lot of the comments around the original article and while I didn’t personally feel offended by the original, your comments, and others’, are valid ones. I fail to see why bloggers are individually responsible for any decrease in a FH society’s progress. There are many reasons why this may occur eg “closed” except to an in-group; poor access to society records; not moving forward with technology; not valuing volunteers; not offering opportunities for newbies to learn (each point interacts with another). In short at least some of the responsibility has to be taken by the society itself and how it functions. I’ve been involved with various societies over time but right now I prefer to blog -this arises from some of my own experiences and to some extent distance from other societies. For myself blogging addresses the issue of community, learning and sharing my love of family history and I know I do my best to meet high research standards.

    • Pauleen, you list a lot of valid reasons why societies close their doors or people avoid them. I think in the next few years societies will need to really step it up or face closing their doors. Too many things are changing with genealogy not to change.

  10. Well said! I agree with your take on the articles on bloggers.

    IMNSHO, too many folks in the blog world think their role is to run the world, not inform, educate, and entertain.

    If more folks would put their over-inflated egos in their back pocket, genealogy would flourish even more.

    There is room for everyone in genealogy, not just a select few who deem themselves ‘pros’ or ‘experts’.

    More of those folks ought to focus on putting more quality in genealogy and not just quantity of opinion.


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