Friday, September 10, 2010

Connecting the Research to the Genealogist

A while back, I wrote a post about connecting the genealogist to the research. Now, I am going to turn that around and talk about another side of the issue, connecting the research to the genealogist. In other words, how do we get the information we find out to the genealogical community without being lost in the background noise of the Internet?

A article from Ancestry Magazine from November/December 2000 called "Share and Beware -- Sharing Genealogy in the Information Age" leads off with a discussion of the impact of the photocopying on the old mimeograph process. Quoting from the article,
Photocopying technology has made it easy to reproduce paper or microform originals. As genealogists, we may now share our paper-based research with relative ease. As important as photocopying has become for duplicating our work, it's technology has been overshadowed by the even more replication-ready personal computer. Even larger volumes of information may be shared nearly instantly as electrons in the ether rather than ink on paper. Electronic files contain our research results. Diskettes, home-burned CD-ROMs, and electronic mail share our files with our friends and families. Internet accessible databases which accept submissions from researchers share our genealogy with the world. Truly, computers have made sharing easier than ever. Computers are photocopiers on steroids never running out of toner and never needing paper. The personal computer is the modern mimeograph machine more copies of more stuff with less thought and effort required. And therein lies the rub.
The article goes on to discuss the implications of putting our genealogical information in the "public forum" where we will lose control over that information.  That is another topic for another day, but what if you want people to see and respond to your genealogy files and find that you are a very small sign on a very busy freeway. How do you get noticed in the noisy online world? Can you yell louder than the noise?

Looking at the issue from a different angle, think about the common self-published family history book. How many of us have a few extra boxes of a book about our ancestors that we can't seem to give away? Even our own children will not take them. So the first challenge is that your genealogy is likely not very interesting to anyone except you and your immediate family (and maybe not even your immediate family unless you are very rich or very famous or both). Putting the information online does not make it any more desirable or interesting, but it does make it more accessible. You may find that even though your immediate family has no interest, there are those out there who will value your work.

To get the ball rolling, you really do need to make your information public. Uploading your file to any of the many dozens of online family tree websites, does no one any good if you make the file confidential, unless you happen to know a lot of people that are interested in your work, it is likely that a private file, like a private blog, will have almost no readers. So put the file on a very public website that does not charge a fee for people to see your file.

Once your file is online, you need to promote it. That means you need to refer to the file from a variety of sources, such as blog posts, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and other sites that may allow you to link to the basic records. Send out copies of the link to all your relatives every time you make a change or add information. They may put you on their junk mail filter, but you may also get people to look at your information. If any of your friends or relatives have blogs or websites, prevail upon them to add your information as a link, if they can do so. Every time a site is linked, it will increase the possibility that the website will move up higher in the search engines like Google.

Change you information frequently. Most search engines give some kind of priority to the frequency the site or information changes. The more changes the higher the ranking in the searches. The only real way to get through the noise online is to make some yourself.

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