RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Genealogy is not at all like a fireworks show

For the past few years we have lived in between two competing churches. Each of these churches sponsors really spectacular fireworks shows. The shows are usually on the 4th of July, but then they seem to have them sort of randomly throughout the year. Sometimes, they are both going at once. We can sit on our patio or in the front yard and watch the show. They go on for a long time.

Fireworks are really impressive with all that flash and bang of color and light. But I was struck with the contrast to genealogy. No noise. No flash. Not much color. But genealogy lasts a lot longer and has a lot more meaning. When people claim that genealogy is "fun," I am not sure what they mean. Fun as in a fireworks show or fun in the sense that it is an enjoyable pursuit? Fun is one of those words like "free" and "luxurious" that have little or no meaning because of their overuse by advertising. I thought it might be interesting to see what the genealogy folks think is important to get all of us to buy their products. Here is a list of "buzz words" gleaned from a variety of websites featuring genealogy products. See if you can associate any of these words with what you do that constitutes family history or genealogy or whatever. Here's the selective list:

  • easy-to-use
  • free version
  • best all-around
  • easy navigation
  • perfect tool
  • casual and serious genealogists
  • fun and easy
  • make the most of your family history experience
  • newest version
  • time-saving
  • easy yet comprehensive
  • discover, preserve and share your family history
  • best and most comprehensive resources
  • discover your roots
  • largest and complete resource
  • find ancestors, guaranteed 
  • all the tools and resources you will need
  • make your research both productive and fun
I think you might get the idea. I'm sorry, but I don't seem to live in the same world they are promoting. I don't even speak the same language. I certainly understand that people have a widely varying idea of fun. You might think it is fun to sit and watch the grass grow. I may think fun is hiking twenty miles through the desert. But my personal experience is that fun usually means that someone wants to sell me something. I don't really think you can buy fun. By the way, I did stop at the claim that they could find my ancestors, guaranteed. I wonder how you do that?

To me fun is sharing dinner with my children and grandchildren. Fun is helping people find their ancestors in a FamilySearch Library or online. Fun is spending a quiet day in a library doing research. If the concept of fun has any meaning at all, which I doubt, I would not apply it to any commercial product presently available. Most of them are painful. Some are useful, but still painful. Some are better than others, but no one has developed the "perfect" genealogy program. I have to admit, finding the perfect program would be fun. 

I guess I fail to understand why everything we do has to be fun? I do not see fun as the ultimate goal of our existence. Most worthwhile things I do take a tremendous amount of effort. I can tell you one thing that is definitely not fun and that is moving 40 years accumulation of junk to another state. But that is another story. Does genealogy have to qualify as "fun" to be validated? I would hope not. I learned pretty early in life that work, really hard work, is its own reward. If I had the choice to sit and do nothing or work really hard, I would choose the work every time. Are we all caught up in the Mary Poppins "spoonful of sugar" syndrome and feel we have to be rewarded with a dose of fun for anything we do, no matter how valuable it is?

How about selling a genealogy program something like this with a little more realism?
Our program is fairly difficult to learn, but it has some useful features, that is assuming you can figure out what the program is supposed to do and can understand our instructions. You will also find a whole lot of features that seem superfluous and useless, but they are there just in case you can figure out how to use them. We do an adequate job of the core tasks but there are some quirks that we haven't worked out yet that will drive you to distraction. Assuming you get the whole program figured out, we will come out with a newer version about that time that will change everything you are already doing.

That doesn't sound very fun to me, but I am willing to put up with things that are not fun, if they are useful tools for doing my work. Shovels aren't fun, but they do a good job of digging holes, if I do the work. Think about it.

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