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

Sunday, May 20, 2012


As you get older, practically no one asks you what you do. When I was younger and met a new person or had a casual conversation, one of the most common "ice breakers" was to talk about what that person did for a living. I realize that this was a mostly male cultural thing, but still, other than the weather, it was a way to get going with a conversation. Now, the opportunity to enter into these casual conversations has virtually vanished as I have passed into invisibility in the "elderly" category. Really, I have people pass me by who are decidedly younger, that don't even look at me because I am in the old category. Well, enough complaining for today. On with the subject.

Well, if the answer to a casual conversation opener is that you do "genealogy" that is a dead end. Period. Occasionally, if the opposite person is also in the elderly category, I will get a few polite comments, but no really wants to know what you do for your "genealogy."

So, I've been thinking of a more enticing way of getting into a conversation. Maybe I should tell people that I visit cemeteries, or that I research old death records. Maybe I could say I travel the country doing detective work on people's backgrounds or that I am a writer. Hmm. The last one doesn't help, because the obvious next question is what do you write about? Genealogy. Another dead end.

Another observation is that I have been writing this blog for years now and I would guess there are no more than a small handful of any of the people I know in real life, personally, who are even aware of my blog or my writing or anything else I do online. Some of my readers might have noticed my wife and daughters publish a food blog called Family Heritage Recipes. I republish most of the posts because I really like the food and my wife and daughters are fabulous cooks and I like them too. Anyway, I get far more comments about the food blog than I get about my own.

I might note, that I am not a recluse. I have a huge number of social and business contacts and friends. For example, I might go to a wedding reception and see fifty people that I know more or less personally. How many of them are aware of my present activities? Zero. In fact, in the last few months, I cannot remember more than two people who I have talked to that were even aware of this blog.

So, writing a blog, especially about a subject like genealogy, is a real online sort of thing. You don't get warm and fuzzies from your family or social friends (as opposed to online friends). What I am grateful for is all those people around the world who actually do read my blog. It is very interesting and rewarding to travel and visit different genealogy conferences and actually meet many of my readers and also meet those whose blogs I follow. Because of this blog, I now have a hugely expanded circle of real friends who not only understand what I do, but are sympathetic and interested. I may never meet some of you, but I consider you my friends in the real sense. If you are ever in Mesa, look me up and we can go out to dinner or something and share some of our mutual experiences. Thanks again for reading my blog.


  1. I agree -- community is the surprising benefit of blogging. And unlike local societies, it doesn't take forever to "break in".

  2. When I mention genealogy, people say, I'd like to get into that, if only I had time. Then they tell me about one or more of their ancestors.

    Conversation starters are funny, and regional. In Maryland, people ask "What do you do?" In N.C. they ask "Who are you kin to" and "Where do you live?" I read in a book that people in Savannah ask, "What do you drink?"

  3. Here is a comment from one of your readers:
    I can relate to your observations - I have had the same thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog because I think that you are a good writer. Your ideas match mine and your words are well chosen. Your thoughts are logical and it is a pleasure to read what you write. I am particular as to what I read - I don't have much free time. I, too, am in the elderly category and many of the time that I used to spend, taking care of a family, has been funneled into genealogy.
    If, at any time, you wonder if your hard work is appreciated, please know that I enjoy it.

  4. I always enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

  5. Before I retired I told people "I work in an Operating Room". Most people are too squeamish to ask more about that.

    Now I tell them "I look for dead people." quickly followed by "I am doing Genealogical research." I think they would rather hear about Genealogy.

  6. I find skeletons in people's closets. Then I extort payment for me NOT to publish them. LOL.

    Happy Dae·

  7. James,

    This fan from far away appreciates your blogging. Being able to connect with like-minded people who share one's passion is a wonderful by-product of genealogy blogging and makes one realise that one is not an oddity.

    Meeting you in person at Rootstech this year was a great thrill - like meeting up with an old friend. Look forward to catching up in 2013.

  8. Another frequent reader here. I've discovered so much useful information from your blog and appreciate all of your time and effort.

  9. Along with Jill, I am another Aussie fan of your blog. I agree that mentioning genealogy can be a conversation killer, you forgot to mention the part where their eyes glaze over.
    If we think back to the days before the internet and blogging, what on earth did we do without bloggers like you?
    Sometimes the "Good ol' days", weren't so good after all.

  10. Your blog is one of my favourites, James because it's informative, reflective and well written. Coming from a legal background I think you have valuable insights to offer us and I really enjoying following what you have to say. I think we geneabloggers get much from each other, not least a sense of community.