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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What is the genealogical community?

If you are reading this post, you likely consider yourself to be "interested" in genealogy. But do you consider yourself to be part of the "genealogical community?" There is statement, commonly attributed to an African saying, that it takes a village to raise a child. See the discussion on Humanities and Social Sciences Online. I would paraphrase that statement to say, it takes a genealogical community to make a genealogist. I suppose you could try and re-invent the whole subject and do it alone, but you would end up repeating a lot of research already done by others. So what is a genealogical community and what do you need to do to "belong?"

In the most general sense, you can define the genealogical community as being comprised of anyone with an interest in genealogy. Does that qualify? I guess if you want to be ultimately inclusive, you could say anyone interested in their family is a member of the genealogical community.

For example, is reported as having over 1.4 million paid subscribers worldwide.
See Reuters. Quoting from the Reuters' analysis:
As of December 31, 2010, the Company’s registered users had created over 20 million family trees containing over two billion profiles. Members of its online community have uploaded and attached to their trees a combination of more than 50 million photographs, scanned documents and written stories. The Company’s registered users also have attached to their trees more than 800 million records. Its service also provides a platform from which the Commpany’s subscribers can share their stories. Subscribers can invite family and friends to help build their family trees, add personal memories and upload photographs and stories of their own.
 So do we include all 20 million family tree submissions as part of our "genealogical community?" How large can a community get? Some people define a community by a shared interest or passion. How many of those people with family trees on have a passion for genealogy? If you have a general undefined interest in your family, when do you cross the line and become a "genealogist" and a member of the "genealogical community?"

There is no question that genealogical professional organizations and accrediting organizations consider themselves as defining the genealogical community. Can you have sub-communities within a larger community? Are those "genealogists" with letters after their names the only true genealogists and the rest of us are just wanna-be genealogists?

When you talk about the legal community or the medical community, I don't think the fact that you are interested in law or medicine would make you think you were part of the community. Since both of those professions are more or less exclusively limited by law or otherwise to those who qualify for membership. Is there a similar issue with the genealogical community?

Let me venture one limiting factor in the membership of a genealogical community, shared values and interest. I think the fundamental defining issue of whether or not an individual belongs to a community is whether or not they share with others in the community and adopt the community's shared values. Who or what defines those values? Are those values imposed from "above" and is membership in the community defined by some arbitrary board or agency? I think not.

Let me ask a couple of more questions. What if I develop a software program for "genealogy" and sell it to the "genealogical community." Does that automatically make me a member of the community? What if I have no real interest in genealogy, but just in writing programs and selling them? What if my company never participates in a genealogy conference or even has a blog about genealogy? What if the company is selling to the genealogical community and doesn't even know the Blogging community exists?

Do you need to attend a genealogical conference to be a member of the genealogical community? What if you have no idea that there are genealogical Blogs, newsletters, magazines, conferences and such, are you still a member of the genealogical community? What if the only thing you have done with your genealogical research is provide a copy to your children? Are you a member of the genealogical community?

Just thinking.


  1. My reference to your blog and this particular post:

  2. This is an interesting question. I had to sit here for a few minutes to ponder it.

    I think that, for me at least, the "genealogical community" is pretty much anyone who (a) is into genealogy, and (b) occasionally interacts with others who are into genealogy.

    I often say that I am "active in the online genealogical community," because that, to me, is a subset of the larger community. I don't attend any association meetings or anything in-person like that, but I have lots of contact (all day every day) online.

    So in my mind, it's the contact with others that makes one a member of a community.

  3. I read your post, pondered on it a bit, and moved on, because I have nearly 200 posts to catch up on after a mini-vacation. Then something happened in the "Genealogy Blogging Community" that caused me to come back here, and reading Kerry Scott's reply completed this thought.

    In my mind the entire group of people with an active interest in genealogy is more like a genealogy "nation," and like any nation is composed of several communities. In this type of nation, the communities often overlap, and a person can belong to several different communities. Also, some communities (like Kerry Scott's online community) also have subset communities.

    And what caused me to come here and add this comment is how these communities overlap with each other. One of my subcommunities, "Genealogists in Second Life" has begun a community study of Val Greenwood's "Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy." One of those members wrote a blog (which I have not yet read) about a concept that was presented in that book. Another blogger wrote a post about using that concept in solving a genealogical problem she is blogging about.

    Marian, Bill, and I all belong to the genealogical blogging community (although I make rare appearances), Bill and I also belong the Genealogists in Second Life (although as far as I know Marion does not). Marion and I are connected only through the fact that I read her blog and may comment on it.

    What I noticed — and what brought me back here to post this comment — was how these communities or subcommunities interact with each other and "fertilize" each other. As long as all of us keep doing that, we all have a connection with each other.