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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Comments on Expectations

I have had patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library with two extremes over the past week or so. The first extreme is the patron who was looking for information on her Great-grandfather immigrant from England. I made some suggestions like starting with the U.S. Censuses for 1900 that showed when he arrived in the U.S. and also said that he was still an alien after 15 years in the country. The Census showed the year of his arrival. All of this information was greeted with blank stares. She didn’t get it. She had absolutely no reaction to finding the information. Nothing. Not even an “Oh, that’s interesting.”  For the life of me, I could not figure out why she was there in the Library. I can only guess that she was expecting the information and was wondering when I was going to tell her where he came from and what ship he came over on.

The next experience was at the other end of the spectrum. This patron came in with all of his genealogy on paper. He had just purchased a genealogical data base program and wanted me to help him get his information into the computer. In his case, I went on and found that the information he had on paper was already in the FamilySearch database. I helped his download some of the information from and he had the same reaction as that of the earlier patron. Nothing. Nada. Not a word. Nothing about “Wow, look at all this information I need to review.” I emphasized to him that the information from was not necessarily correct and that he had to verify it in every detail. But he gave me the idea that his work was now finished and that was all he needed to do, without so much as a thank you very much for your time.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking to get thanks or recognition or whatever. What bothers me in both cases is the total lack of connection to the data. Here they are both presented with valuable information about their family with the promise that there may be more, and they act as though they just got the correct change at the supermarket. No interest. No speculation. What a very, very sad way to react for both.

I guess when we are passionate about something, we expect at least polite interest from those around us. But with genealogy you have to get used to being either ignored or actively persecuted. But for someone to spend the time to come to the Library and then react in such a neutral, non-emotional way to specific information about their family is really strange.

From my standpoint, I do not provide help with any expectation of return. Period. What the patrons do with the information is their business and not mine. But that does not prevent me from being sad when I see a total lack of connectivity with history and ancestors.


  1. Is it possible that they were overwhelmed? I seem to appear stunned at times while I am trying to connect with information.

    I have gone to our Family History Center (but not since it has become a Family History Library). Each time I go, I am attacking a problem that confuses me. I know that I have thanked the workers there, but I am unsure if I appeared to be enthusiastic.

    I left feeling more confused because I had new tools; I knew I had learned and that my genealogy future was enriched, but I'm not sure that the confusion was more apparent than the gratitude.

  2. They act like it is some school assignment rather than something they are interested in doing.

  3. When helping people at our local Jewish genealogical society in Phoenix, I've had similarly disconcerting reactions. In one case an older person had been to several workshop meetings, but this was the first time I'd worked with him. Although he had an unusual surname, he'd not had much luck in determining his family's village of origin in the Russian Empire.

    I thought to look at Yad Vashem (Holocasut Victims' database) and found over 90 people with the surname and nearly all of them were from one particular village (a sad commentary in itself). He was excited. I sent the gentleman home with the recommendation that he look at the pages of testimony on Yad Vashem and try to match up the victims (whose parents and spouses were usually mentioned) with what he already knew about his family. That way he could determine if the village mentioned might also be associated with his family.

    A month later when I next saw him, I asked if he'd had any success with figuring out if any of those people were relatives. He said (somewhat dismissively), "Oh, they're ALL family."

    As a careful and diligent researcher I know that may be true, but it made me sad that he does not feel the need to document the connections. For me that's where the fun is. For him, I guess, the satisfying answers come much more easily.