Monday, May 11, 2009

Technology, obstacle or benefit to genealogy

Many of us get so caught up in trumpeting the benefits of newer and better technology, we may lose sight of those who live either outside the present technology or chose to ignore it entirely. In the past few weeks I have seen a number of people who are not only challenged by the changes but altogether resistant. One example, today in a class about subscription Websites for genealogy, one of the class members, and LDS Ward Family History Consultant, was concerned about how the material would go over with her friend who didn't have an Internet connection. The friend was seeking help in doing her family history, but either did not have the money or the motivation to get online.

The question was how could the person do their genealogy without using Personal Ancestral File and how could they obtain the program without an Internet connection. As a matter of fact, the program is available on CD from the LDS Church Distribution for a nominal price. I asked whether or not the person had a CD drive on their computer? However, the class member did not know the answer.

Another student in the same class was trying to determine which genealogical database program to use. I spoke to her of several and she was still undecided how to proceed. She kept referring to her handwritten pedigree chart, which she admitted that she hadn't looked at since college.

I recall that the introductory materials for the LDS Church's New FamilySearch program had a number of sequences of individuals throughout the world who had no access to computer technology of their own, but had to rely on others to enter the information they had gathered by hand, into the New FamilySearch program.

Maybe, we forget that you can still do family history with a pencil and a piece of paper. Just as you can still walk across the U.S. Not that I would want to try either, but the possibility still exists.

On the other hand, the problem of resistance to technology is deeper than an inability to merely participate. During the past couple of years, I have been working on various research projects with the goal of applying for some kind of certification. It is interesting to me, that neither of the major genealogical certification organizations seem to recognize the changes effected by the technology. They are essentially still in a paper and pencil world. The certifications still focus on relatively small geographic areas and neither the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) nor the International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists (ICAPGen) recognize a specialty in online research, independent of geographic location. The BCG even has a weight limit for the amount of paper to be included with their application!! Why not submit everything on CD? or even online?

In another example, there is no sense of place or location, as such, on the Internet and it is indicative of a resistance to technology in the failure of the certification boards lack of recognition of people who "live on the Web" and are still emphasizing research limited to small geographic areas.

The counter-argument is simple, you still have to have certain basic skills to do good or adequate research, but there are those without those specific skills who can still do genealogy and there are those with technological skills that do not necessarily conform to the traditional method of "doing genealogy."

More thoughts later.

5 comments:

  1. Among some of my genealogy society acquaintances there seems to be a line of demarcation: the old way, and the wrong way. All things internet are suspect, and all things written are not suspect.

    I wonder how research can be conducted by any method with a closed mind?

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  2. You have touched on a Hot Button here, I am sure. I don't think I would be as interested in pursuing genealogy without the Internet as I am now that technology is nearly everywhere in the U.S. Granted, it isn't all on the Web, but it sure makes things more accessible.

    I too am troubled by the line in the sand: old way vs. wrong way. We need more value placed on a Tech Way.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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  3. James wrote:
    >neither of the major genealogical certification organizations seem to recognize the changes effected by the technology. They are essentially still in a paper and pencil world. The certifications still focus on relatively small geographic areas and neither ... recognize a specialty in online research, independent of geographic location.

    James, there are a couple of misconceptions here and in the rest of the paragraph. Allow me to address them in separate messages.

    BCG (the Board for Certification of Genealogists) does *not* certify anyone in "geographic areas." The Board, in every case, certifies genealogists who are capable of quality research "independent of geographic location." That is a guiding principle of current certification requirements.

    BCG, in the evaluation of portfolios, looks for a solid understanding of the *principles* of research, data collection, documentation, evidence analysis, and reporting.

    Successful applicants must demonstrate their ability to actually resolve multiple research problems, using a wide variety of records. Those who submit quality portfolios demonstrate the proper use of all types of media--digital, microfilm, paper, artifactual, oral, and others.

    BCG does not have an "Internet genealogy" specialty for the same reason that it does not have a "cemetery genealogy" or "courthouse genealogy" specialty. Quality research requires the use of all relevant record types.

    Many genealogists "know the local records" and/or "Internet resources" and can do quality lookups in those materials. It is a far different matter to be able to actually resolve genealogical problems when a "lookup" or a database search doesn't reveal the name of interest. Moreover, whether a search generates positive or negative results, it takes additional, carefully honed skills to convert those findings into reliable evidence that will eventually solve a brickwall problem in accordance with modern quality-control standards.

    Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, BCG Trustee and former president

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  4. James wrote:
    >the problem of resistance to technology is deeper than an inability to merely participate.
    >The BCG even has a weight limit for the amount of paper to be included with their application!!

    James, our Native American ancestors had a maxim that fits here: "Never judge a man until you have walked in his moccasins."

    The parallel here is this: it is difficult to understand why any certification board has this-or-that procedure, until one has been a part of the process.

    BCG puts a limit on the size of portfolios for a significant reason: Experience has shown that too many applicants confuse *quality* with *quantity.*

    The "2-pound" limit to which you refer allows applicants to submit nearly 200 pages of work samples. Applicants may, if they feel they have an exceptional situation, submit up to three pounds (i.e., up to 300 pages).

    Applicants who have difficulty staying within those 200-300 pages are invariably those who have difficulty making judgments.

    The excess weight typically appears in the client report where less-experienced genealogists do not perceive the difference between (a) submitting hundreds of pages of photocopies sent to a client, which demonstrates only their ability to do lookups in a situation in which relevant material can be found; and (b) analytical research reports that demonstrate the applicant's ability to evaluate a research problem, analyze negative as well as positive results, and use both direct and indirect evidence to reach reliable conclusions.

    Other applicants, fearing that their skills will be considered "thin," load an application down with photocopies of newspaper articles about themselves, certificates of graduation from schools in unrelated fields, and all sorts of other materials that have no relevance at all to the evaluation of their actual work products.

    The ability to make appropriate judgments in the selection of materials to fit a given need is an essential skill in every field--including genealogy where practitioners must daily appraise research problems (whether for a client or their own families) and devise strategies to meet those needs.

    As a simple corollary, I think we'd both agree that citing 50 sources to back up an assertion in a family account proves nothing. What counts is the quality of the source. All 50 could be wrong if they copied from the same wrong source.

    In short: Quantity is not the same as quality. BCG looks for quality; and it tries to help applicants develop the mental framework to achieve that quality.

    Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG; BCG trustee and former president

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  5. James wrote:
    >On the other hand, the problem of resistance to technology is deeper than an inability to merely participate.
    >Why not submit everything on CD? or even online?

    James, the issue here is by no means a resistance to technology. BCG's officers, trustees, and judges work daily with the latest technology. Some of them have been on the cutting edge of technology longer than some applicants have been alive. (Speaking personally, I did my first database compilations and data processing in 1968.)

    The transmission of material electronically via an online upload, e-mail attachments, or CDs is a far easier and cheaper mode of *transmission.* Superficially, one might say that the reduction in shipping fees--first to BCG, then to each of three judges, then back to BCG, and finally back to the applicant--would enable BCG to radically reduce its application fee. (Or, for that matter, enable BCG to actually pay judges for the many hours and even days that they volunteer with each application, taking time away from their own income production.)

    The kicker comes in the *evaluation* of electronically transmitted materials. *Light readings* of material can be done online. *Thorough and analytical evaluation* of 200 to 300 pages of material, a process that takes much cross-referencing over the course of those hours and days, cannot be done on a screen for countless reasons other than eye fatigue. (Again, the Native American maxim kicks in here: It may be difficult to understand why this is so unless and until one actually does evaluate a portfolio of that length.)

    Next, one might propose that each of the three judges could simply print out for themselves each 200-300 page portfolio that comes their way. However:

    (1) Electronic materials come in all types of programs, platforms, and presentations. Some individuals, as a bery basic example, use color in ways that are critical to understanding a chart or report. Others use non-standard relational databases to create material for clients, &c &c &c.

    (2)Those who generously volunteer their time and expertise to evaluate portfolios cannot be expected to underwrite the costs of printing those portfolios before the evaluation can begin--a consideration that involves time, toner, drums, paper, and wear and tear on the equipment itself. All of those are costs that far exceed the costs at which a portfolio can be shipped via USPS Priority Mail.

    BCG continually evaluates its requirements and processes, seeking the most-efficient balance between the needs of all parties. It has, for years, used electronic evaluations. It has, most recently, converted to a rubrics process that is also technologically based. Electronic vs. paper submissions is merely one of the issues that are continually reassessed. With this one issue, the day will certainly come that new considerations tilt the balance, but that day has not yet happened.

    Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG; BCG trustee and former president

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