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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some of the many things I don't understand about genealogy

I once went to a motocross event. I knew almost nothing about motocross and was amazed at not only the number of people who attended, filing a large stadium, but also the amount of advertising and promotion that went along with the participants. After watching the show, I decided that I was not that interested in watching motorcycles race around in a circle and fly into the air. What the experience does point out however, is that there are whole lot of different interests in the world and some of them are widely popular. Genealogy is obviously not a whole lot like motocross, but both have their adherents and what I don't understand, their detractors. I can understand why someone would like football games, baseball, motocross or whatever, what I don't understand is why someone would actively oppose any of these activities. I happen to know people who hate football and even baseball. I also know people who hate genealogy.

They not only hate genealogy, their dislike carries over to people who like genealogy. I am aware that there are people who avoid me, simply because I am a genealogist. I am aware that many people have prejudices, some of which are totally unjustified or irrational. But prejudice is real despite its justification or lack thereof. It is just strange to me that people would put genealogists in a category subject to prejudice. That is one thing I do not understand about genealogy.

Another strange thing about genealogy that I don't understand is why some people seem to believe that "their method" of doing research or recording sources is correct and everyone else is wrong. I am not sure how they determine their rightness and everyone else's wrongness. I was not aware that there were any rules to the "game of genealogy" and that people who didn't follow those rules shouldn't be practicing genealogy. In making this comment, I am not talking about standards. Standards are necessary. It may even be necessary to have a standard method of citation. What I don't understand is who made someone a member of the genealogy police?

I also have a hard time with people who think genealogy consists only of copying what is already published online or in a book. I heard someone today comment that they had gone on to an online family tree and found their "family came from Germany" something they did not know before. I do not understand why that person would automatically assume that the information online was correct and/or accurate?

I doubt if I will live long enough to understand why people consistently characterize genealogy as an "easy" activity. In all my years of research, there is nothing easy about what I have done. It is not easy to sit all day in a library and go through microfilms. It is not easy to spend day after day doing an activity that no one around you either appreciates or cares about. Please do not misunderstand. I like doing genealogy. I will keep doing it even if I receive no recognition at all from any family members. But it is not easy. It is a very intense and complicated activity.

I will never understand people who throw away other people's genealogy or family photos because they see no need for them. Again today, I heard a comment from a person who related that they had found a lot of old photographs and didn't recognize any of the people and so threw them away. This comes from people who save cereal boxes because they may become valuable cultural artifacts they can sell on E-bay.

I don't understand why people who find a name in a public database now believe that their genealogy is done. They are kin to the people who have been handed a pedigree or database file and immediately assume that no more research needs to be done, even when they have no idea what is in the file.

I do not understand people who think that there is only one reason to do genealogy and since that reason doesn't apply to them, they have no interest in the subject. I won't say anything more about this reason.

I don't understand the use of the word "done" when referring to genealogy and/or family history. What does that mean? I believe it has no meaning, it is just a weak excuse for lack of interest.

Now, I do not mean to imply by this post that I think everyone should be involved in genealogy. Even if I believed that, it would be a very impractical belief. But I would point out that no one ever died from an overdose of genealogy. No one ever died in a genealogy crash. No one ever got a concussion or broke a bone from doing genealogy (except those of us who are old and infirm who would have fallen anyway). The only thing I can't say is whether anyone ever went crazy from doing genealogy. I think that might be a distinct possibility. Your comments are always welcome.


  1. I guess it's a matter of values. We do not do enough to teach the importance of the past or the importance of the truth, and we especially do not try to inculcate the importance of learning the truth about the past and passing it on. We do not teach that it is usually the thing that is the most difficult to do that is most worthwhile, and the result is that people seek only easy tasks. In our world, learning and understanding history is not important; getting a fancy degree in history and a prestigious university position teaching history is. Genealogy is not something we do for glory, but to understand ourselves, our families, and our world. It's something that we feel is valuable enough that we want to pass it on to someone, even if that cannot always be our children. It's sometimes hard to continue to devote ourselves to something that others belittle, but that's why we continue to seek the company of those who do understand - other genealogists and family historians.

  2. I'm halfway to crazy, and all those people (who you don't understand, and who don't like genealogy) are the ones who drove me there. It wasn't the genealogy at all!

  3. Well, you certainly spoke MY mind! I don't understand any of those things either and I can relate to each and every item you list. It is beyond my understanding entirely. I just wish that after 16 years of this I was immune to the disappointment I still feel when I can't get family excited over a great discovery. I am grateful for all my geneablogger friends who genuinely share in my excitement with me. They make a big difference.

  4. James, your post left me chuckling! Some days I think I might be going crazy from doing genealogy, but then, it's only someone's interpretation of "going crazy"! I for one love "going crazy" and that's my choice! It's nice to know that someone else out there is crazy about the same thing I am! Keep up the great work!

  5. What an exceptional post...I feel the same way James...thanks for voicing it!

  6. I don't think I know anyone who actively dislikes genealogy/genealogists, though I know plenty who are not really interested, and many who have various degrees of enthusiasm. And some who, like me, are borderline OCFH - Obsessive Compulsive Family Historians :-)

  7. This was a great post, but the best line is "no one ever died from an overdose of genealogy".

  8. I relate to most of this. I thought my research kept me sane, well, what do I know!? LOL No explaining the addiction, but, onward I go! I think I shall give up trying to figure out what others think, ignorance can be bliss. LOL

  9. I don't agree with it, but I do understand it. If someone else tells me my family is from Germany, I don't have to do the research - they already did it for me. If someone hands me a tree, well, there you go, it is done. Their lack of interest for any extra effort on their part is just like lack of interest in their sports.