Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wandering through the wilderness

Item: I am in possession of a new hardbound self-published genealogy book with enough hundreds of pages that it could be dangerous to try to pick it up one-handed. It obviously cost plenty of time and money to create. It contains a fair number of original documents and many photographs; few if any reference notes; a name index but no place index. For relatives who are not close, the organization is hard to follow; for non-relatives looking for possible cousin connections, it's discouraging.

Item: Several recently self-published books persist in using the Henry system of distinguishing relatives. (I did too, back in the day.) By this system I can easily distinguish 1-11-10-12-8-1-1 from his cousin 1-11-10-12-5-1-4. Got it?

Item: The largest US genealogy society surveyed its members last month. Nearly half of those responding plan to attend NO genealogy conferences this year. Bear in mind that these are people who already care enough to (a) send the New England Historic Genealogical Society at least $75 per year, (b) read their weekly on-line newsletter, and (c) respond to their weekly poll. Imagine the percentage for those who lack these characteristics! (Actually I don't have to imagine. In one society I know, the attendance rate at a national conference two hours away last year was 2%.)

Item: And among those who do attend conferences and the like, prolific blogger and instructor James Tanner finds little to cheer about. He taught a class on in which "only three or so participants in a class of thirty . . . had even heard of the program." On other occasions he fielded comments from people who weren't interested in the program because it was based in Israel, who weren't interested in FamilySearch because it was "Mormon," and who asked "whether FamilySearch owned"

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that a lot of people are not learning. I don't think it follows that we should quit. Clearly we need all kinds of genealogy education, more of it, and new ways to spread the word.

Harold Henderson, "Wandering through the wilderness," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 June 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Jen said...

Interesting post to think about and I'll post this comment to your blog also. In my case I am not attending any genealogy conferences this year and may not next year. I am still learning but taking a different route. My business and my personal research focuses have changed. I'm now looking at more WWII related education (books, lectures, events, conferences) and writing (same list.) Those are areas where I feel the need to grow my skills this year as I publish more books on WWII records and research and build my lectures so I can educate people. And my genealogical clients likely appreciate that I'm pursuing these paths because the quality of their family history books and WWII projects are better due to my increased knowledge and practice.

I will also pay this forward to the genealogical and other communities over the next year as I release 2-3 books on navigating WWII records. There is nothing like this in the genealogical, military, or history community. And talking with active military, MIA researchers, genealogical and research librarians - there is a great need.

So in my opinion, it isn't necessarily a bad thing some of us are taking time off from one type of education as long as we are pursuing other things that will continue to help us grow and give back to the world.

Harold Henderson said...

Good point, Jen. If everyone is working on their specialty as hard as you are on yours, that's good news!

Susan said...

I love to attend conferences, mainly to network, meet people face-to-face that I've met and deal with online, and learn about new products. Attending sessions, which many times seem to be repetitive of other conferences or online webinars, is secondary. Even though many conferences are reasonably priced, by the time you add in travel and lodging expenses, it takes up quite a big chunk of my genealogy budget so I have to choose wisely and usually end up going to ones that are close by. Having said that, there are so many great opportunities to educate yourself for free these days that I find it harder and harder to justify the expense of distant conferences for learning. Bottom line is that there are so many free resources available that there is no excuse for not being an educated genealogist, whether you attend conferences or not.