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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Finding the Genealogy Community

Where do we go or what do we do to find the genealogy community? Before I  get to the answer to that question, I guess that the first question is whether or not such community exists. There have been several blog posts over the years talking about how to define the community, but of course, the definitions always assume the person making the definitions is somehow at the center of the community. So what is really at the "center?" How do we go about defining a "genealogist" even more defining an entire community of these people? Any definition will necessarily include an overlap of people who are easily includable in the community and those who are not.

Defining self-appointed groups is very awkward. What I mean by this is that if you define a group where the members of that group are the ones who determine whether or not they belong, there is never a definable standard to determine if someone is or is not a member of that group. This issue applies generally to all sorts of groups and organizations. On the other hand, if an online database has a registration requirement, you are either registered or you are not. No matter how much you like or use the service, you are not a registered user until you register. But if you make some sort of nebulous requirement for belonging to the genealogical community, what it boils down to is that the individual is the one who determines membership. Here are some questions that further illustrate the point:

  • Are all of the people who attended RootsTech 2014 automatically genealogists?
  • Are those who define themselves as family historians really genealogists, or is it the other way around?
  • Do you have to be actively involved in researching your ancestry to be a genealogist?
  • How long can you go without doing any research and still be considered to be a genealogist?
  • What if you fill in a pedigree form with the names of your mother and father? Does that automatically make you a genealogist?
  • What if you put a family tree on or Does that automatically make you a genealogist?
  • What if you are researching the economic effects of industrialization in the Midwest and look at how the availability of employment opportunities affected several generations of one family, is that genealogy or some other discipline?
  • What if I am so busy writing about genealogy, I never have time to do my own research? When do I lose membership in the genealogical community?

Of course, the list could go on and on.

One of the ultimate questions is who cares? Does it really matter if we have or do not have a definition of the genealogical community or even have a definition for who is and who is not a genealogist?

I think a good analogy is comparing the genealogical community to people attending a large, free, community event. We had one of those recently here in Mesa when they officially opened the new Chicago Cubs Riverview Ball Park. There were thousands of people milling around with lots of loud music, food vendors and all sorts of activities. How many of those people were "baseball fans" and how many were there because of the carnival-like availability of free entertainment? My point is that as people who consider themselves to be genealogists, we find ourselves in the middle of huge cloud of people who show up in our ranks merely out of curiosity and really have no interest at all. If we are inclined to prove the popularity of genealogy, we can count everyone in the world as a genealogist by making the definition very broad or we can make a definition that includes only one person.

Many of the attempted definitions of the genealogical community resort to constructing arbitrarily defined levels of interest or activity. However, this supposes that the interest or activity has something to do with an unstated definition of genealogy. When does someone cross the "line" between casual interest and active interest? What if we define genealogists as only those practitioners who have accreditation or certification? The rest of us are just pretending to be genealogists. I know some people that have that opinion, by the way.

Let's suppose that anyone who was a genealogist had certain "rights," such as free lunches every day at a certain restaurant or whatever. Do you suppose that would get a lot more people into the genealogical fold? What if we throw the whole issue out the window and simply allow anyone who is interested to be a genealogist or not and consider everyone a potential candidate for inclusion? Now that I have gone through this process of analyzing the community, I think that works best. How about we kindly include and help anyone no matter what their skill level or attitude towards genealogy? I think that works.

One last exception. I think all those that believe that they can demonstrate a pedigree going back to Adam should be defined out of the genealogical community. Hmm now that I think about it, there are several other groups I don't think deserve inclusion. Oops, I am right back where I started.


  1. First, Thank you for your posts, it really gets my mind moving.

    Rather than try to define the serious in genealogy, I think genealogy should instead be the most INCLUSIVE of all sciences—it needs to be in order for it to survive. Individuals are always looking for ways to be heard or to take a part in something (especially if they think what they do matters). Everyone has a story to tell and we should understand that genealogy is the documentation of every person's involvement in the human family. How everyones moments strung together brought you to this moment, and how everyone has a part in it. Genealogy can't be undertaken as a secular (exclusionary) idea, whether it becomes a coedified field in the future shouldn't determine it's real focus of bringing people together.

    1. Those are very interesting ideas. Thanks for the comment.