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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Genealogy is not as easy as some would like it to be

I got the following comment to a recent blog post:
Thank you for a thoughtful and insightful column. I am a DAR registrar and lineage researcher who deals constantly with people who want genealogy to be "easy" and are upset and even downright angry when it is not.  I do most of the research for them (except for the first three generations for which they must obtain the commonly available government documents because of privacy concerns -- an expenditure that many resent mightily.)  They want to have an "illustrious" lineage and they want it easy and on the cheap.  Well, it is neither. They want to bring me pages of family trees printed off of Ancestry and have me fashion it into a silk purse. They want me to use a totally unsourced history of their family that some relative has put together and are furious when I tell them that DAR will not accept it.  I don't want to make them all into genealogists; they may have many other talents which are useful to and needed by the organization.  But I demand a respect for the rigor of meeting the standard of proof of the organization, which is considerably more difficult than it used to be.  There is none so enraged as the would-be member whose great-grandmother was able to get into DAR in 1910 on nothing more than her say-so that her mother told her she was descended from a patriot, and who believes that she should now be able to do the same in 2014. Ain't gonna happen.
There is a disturbing trend, not just in genealogy, but throughout our society to always want things to be safe and easy. We used to be a nation of risk takers. We now avoid anything that does not provide instant gratification and any problem that cannot be solved in a one hour episode. One of the most evident of this avoidance of things that are difficult is the unfortunate trend away from lasting marriage relationships. For example, concerning the marriage rate in the United States:
The marriage rate has fluctuated in the past, with dips in the 1930s and 1960s, but it has been in steady decline since the 1970s. 
Now, researchers report that the marriage rate has dropped to a new low of 31.1, meaning there are about 31 marriages in the U.S. for every 1,000 unmarried women, researchers found. In 1950, that number was 90.2. In 1920, it was 92.3. See "US Marriage Rate Drops to New Low"
 I see this disturbing trend every time I talk to a newly interested family historian and explain what is needed to find the person's ancestry. Very, very few wish to make the effort or commitment necessary to learn how to do the research. They abandon the effort as soon as they learn that their "genealogy" is not available at the click of a button. As is always the case, there are a very few exceptions. Potential researchers who dig in and make the effort to learn what is necessary. Becoming involved in genealogy is a long term commitment. It is like becoming married for life and beyond. It involves many difficulties and some significant reversals. But it is worth the effort. I would not be involved in genealogy were it not one of the most difficult and challenging pursuits I have discovered in my life. I admire all those who have made the effort.

I am somewhat annoyed every time I see a written statement or hear someone say how "fun and easy" it is to do genealogy. Almost always, those statements are made by people who have had little or no experience working with their own genealogy. It is time we face the truth. Genealogy is a very difficult and time consuming pursuit. There is no way to candy-coat that fact to make it more palatable. It is easy to copy someone else's work without evaluating its accuracy. It is much more of a challenge to discover your own pedigree though cited sources.

I am truly afraid that a generation or more of those in our own country who have worked hard to avoid commitment and the risk of long term relationships, are ill prepared to enter the world of genealogical research. I don't think we solve that problem by "selling" genealogy as easy and fun.


  1. Sorry, I’ll never say “fun and easy” again, even though it is! But then I loved Calculus. Also, those logic problems where “Mary only wears red, John has a Dalmatian, the man in the green house speaks German. Who owns the Porsche?” are my favorite. Can I say “fun and easy for certain time periods when the record cooperate, fun and challenging when the records are hard to find, and fun and terribly frustrating when the records are sparse or absent”?

    By the way, my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year. Those years have been pretty fun and easy, too!

    1. Fun is certainly a very relative term, but I don't think most younger people would characterize what we do in genealogy as fun.

  2. "Fun is a relative term" is an understatement! I still remember exactly where we were standing when my then 17-year-old son told me he thought my life was boring! He is now in his 30s and is trying to help his dad, my husband of 39 years, assemble the records so they can join the SAR!