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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Well Said Tom, Here's My Response

Tom MacEntee summed up last weekend's commentary in a thoughtful and even touching way. See Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?
Reading his blog, you can see why he is so well liked and well known. But more than that he expresses the feeling of community that exists among the genealogy bloggers. Quoting from his blog post, I would like to comment on the following:
Or is it more a case of “we know we can do and be better than this” and we’re seeking to ensure a vibrant community filled with resources covering every aspect of genealogy?  Are we willing to risk the loss of an event or a resource in lieu of something better? Do we properly channel our energies and opinions? Should vendors and others be wary of working with genealogists who blog, use social media, etc. because we are opinionated and sometimes critical?
I don't think that historically there has been a "genealogical community." I believe that the bloggers are in the process of creating such a community. Before there was the "professional, journal writing" genealogical group but I don't think you could view them as a "community." Now, I view myself as a member of a global genealogical community where we care about each other and what we do is genealogy in a more expansive sense than was ever previously possible. This is surprising because I personally don't even fit the demographics of my own blog. 

I have been on Facebook for a long time but I don't believe I have ever made a "Facebook" friend in all that time. To the contrary, I count many of the bloggers as friends, even those who have yet to meet personally. We turn out to have a lot in common and we react to injustice and unfairness in about the same way.

There is always a risk in any endeavor. I wasn't sure what kind of reaction I would receive from my initial post of the RootsTech issue, but having been a trial attorney for more years than I care to think about, I really decided that I was going to express my opinion despite the risk (or maybe because of it).

Are our energies and opinions properly channeled? I can say that my own style and content has evolved dramatically over the past years of blogging. Have I reached a proper channel? Who knows? If you like my blog posts, maybe you think yes, if not, you probably aren't reading this anyway. This points out a fundamental principle, a blogger will only keep blogging if he or she is committed, passionate and has content worth reading. Without passion, there is no community.

Should the vendors beware? No, I think they need to grow up. I think they need to realize as Bob Dylan said,
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
For genealogy, the times they are a-changin' and the vendors, whether they be profit or non-profit, need to know that if your time to you is worth savin', then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. 


  1. Well stated, all around, Jame. Thanks for this blog post. I read it! ;-)

  2. I like your take on this James, but if you are talking about change .... you seem to short change Facebook. Don't!

    I have some who follow my blog. I have some who follow me on Facebook. Some do both.

    They are equally important. Bloggers do NOT have a corner on importance in genealogy.

    Bobby Zimmerman was right!


  3. [Originally posted at ]

    I've read your recent posts with great interest and concerns. You are raising some good issues and I'm trying to figure where this is all going. I'll take it a chunk at a time.

    You challenge James Tanner's assertion that historically there hasn't been a 'genealogy community' [see and . You counter him with a listing of seven well known genealogy societies; the earliest founded in 1845 and the most recent in 1979. Communities may be thought of as different from societies, but are they?

    One society, from your list, that stood out for me was the 'The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (est. 1977)'. Was this a society addressing the needs of a 'community' that was denied access to those listed 'societies' for over 132 years?

    My concerns also extend to the 'hundreds of local, county, state, or regional historical and genealogical societies throughout the world' that you mention. Are they all welcoming the burgeoning genealogy community with its persons of color, new immigrants, gays, lesbians, trans-gendered, alternative life-styled, and blended families? Are their doors opened to these relatively new communities? For the record, since 1977, I have personally been welcomed and rebuffed by many a genealogy society. For the record, if my people were welcomed into the societies there wouldn't necessarily be a need for the creation of any of the many ethnic-specific genealogy societies, forums, exhibitions, and organizations. If those early societies all were open to everyone, can you imagine how awesome the genealogy community would be? And that's the offline or real world.

    Now, to the online genealogy community. Thanks to the internet, the genealogy communities are, as you suggest, much larger in terms of participants. Perhaps a little more democratic and open, but early on it was still necessary for the creation of a and other ethnic-specific genealogy societies, forums, exhibitions, and organizations. How different are the the online genealogy societies and communities from the offline ones? Are all communities being acknowledged?

    Michael, you say "Without the genealogy community of the past, we would not have the online genealogy community." My concern is that the gatekeepers of the genealogy community of the past are the gatekeepers of the online genealogy community today. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss type jam.

    I don't know if James Tanner was trying to call out the gatekeepers, or if he was even thinking that deeply about it. We can thank RootsTech for getting us rapping though. Mr. MacEntee, who got the party started [see , ain't no gatekeeper, but he is a keen observer of the human (genealogy) condition and got Rootstech to listen to reason. We have to thank Thomas for getting us rappin'.

    Michael, thank you for pushing the conversation to another level. We need to go there. On your blog, at , you have a post titled "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts". This begs the question; are bloggers the new gatekeepers? As an African ancestored genealogist, I'm going going to watch this conversation closely. There are considerably talented ethnic-specific genealogists and historians that need to be included in this elite group. As new folks get bitten by the genealogy and family history bug, they need to be, at the minimum, informed that there are experts from their culture that they can connect with and are part of the genealogy consortium.

    So, it is vitally important to know who the gatekeepers are. Rootstech, for one, cannot be a gatekeeper. They don't have folks' interest at heart. They showed their hand.