It is pretty obvious that those who are extremely competent genealogical researchers rarely, if ever, seek me out for help with their research. I am almost always helping beginners or those who have few research skills with questions about where to find records or how to begin using this or that program. In fact, because of this dichotomy, I seldom have contact with the "upper echelons" of genealogical research. I am certainly not on the list of those who are consulted about the thorny research issues that appear in the prestigious journals. None of those who inhabit the rarefied atmosphere of many lettered, would deign to give me the time of day, much less have me as a Facebook Friend or talk to me at a conference.
How did I end up among the populist masses and not among the elite of genealogy? Well, I don't work for any of the large genealogical organizations. I have the wrong combination of letters after my name. I haven't had the opportunity of spending a 1000 hours at the Family History Library. I live on the wrong side of the tracks and I don't wear stylish clothes.
Wait a minute! Isn't this the same thing that happened to me in grade school? High school? At the university? Didn't I have the same problem in my law career? While I was out representing illegal aliens and the disenfranchised, my colleagues in the big law firms were representing huge corporations and running the State Bar Association and getting appointed as judges and being appointed to government commissions. They all drove Mercedes and BMWs and belonged to the country clubs, while I worked with the Boy Scouts, as a leader, not an executive and drove a Chevrolet truck. They all got their names in the newspaper for being on the symphony board or for attending parties for this or that foundation. I raised seven lovely children and had a garden.
In my case, being a member of the huddled masses was a choice not a default. My parents were definitely in the elite, symphony guild, politically influential group of what passes for high society here in the desert Southwest. So I feel at home in country clubs and exclusive clubs but I made the decision early that I could make a greater contribution helping common people than working with the rich and powerful. I fully realize that not many people are in a position to make that decision.
So, you are asking yourself, what does this have to do with genealogy? As I have said a number of times in the past, the genealogical community reflects the greater community. We have our self-appointed elite and we have the masses. As I have all my life so far, I choose the masses over the elite.
Oh, but you say, you are one of the elite. You are a blogger. Blogging is the great leveling force of our genealogical community. Anyone can blog. True, to an extent. But even blogging is considered populist and for the masses. Where do we see this dramatic division? I am constantly bombarded with messages saying how we need to expand the reach of genealogy, while at the same time I read of the angst of those who are trying to gain entry to the elite club of lettered genealogists. We can't have it both ways, we can't make genealogy a broadly popular pursuit and at the same time promote "professionalism" and certification. Either it is a profession like law or medicine, highly regulated and exclusionary, or it is a broadly available pastime that invites anyone to participate. What is going to be a hobby? Or a profession?
Can genealogy really be both? Can you imagine doctors or lawyers practicing law or medicine as a hobby? Do we really want to structure genealogy so that it is entirely exclusionary? Do we want to force those who would investigate their family history to go to a specialist? Am I the only person who sees these opposing goals as opposites?
I suggest that those of us out here with the masses begin to realize that we do have a choice. We can help those who need help to find their families and we can focus on our own personal research and we can decide that becoming a professional is acceptable, if you want to do so, but we should also realize that genealogy is not completely like law or medicine. There is a place for both the masses and the elite. Let's just not condemn the masses for being masses and praise the elite for being elite. Let's also stop expecting elite level work and contributions from the masses.