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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Carrying on a Conversation with the World

Sitting in the quiet of the morning and looking out the window at the wooded hillside, I often wonder about the phenomenon of writing on a computer and sending what I write out to the world. Genealogy is such a personal pursuit and for years what I thought and what I wrote was also very private. No one besides my immediate family, consisting of my wife and children, had any idea that I was involved in so much research and writing. Then one day, the internet came along and I start posting short bits of ideas online. After fussing around with a few other blog ideas, I started Genealogy's Star on November 21, 2008. Now almost 5000 blog posts later, I am still writing.

There have been some dramatic changes in the genealogical community in those years. We spent almost three hours yesterday listening to Ron Tanner of FamilySearch talk about the future of the Family Tree. Almost all the ideas he talked about were only vague ideas just eight or nine years ago and now most of them are well developed or will be shortly. We are sometimes so completely involved in what is going on right now, we cannot see how rapidly the world of genealogy (and the rest of the world for that matter) is changing.

One of the major benefits of being online with the blogs and all of the YouTube videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel is that I can immediately identify with and talk to people all over the world. Granted, the genealogical community is very small compared to other interests, but because it is small, I can feel like I am part of a real community and not just one of the minions in a nameless and faceless mob.

What is really going on in genealogy is part of what is going on around the world with technological changes that allow us to actually carry on conversations with the world whether we like the idea or not. Genealogy has become a very public topic and issue. Those who choose to ignore its public nature are very likely simply repeating what has already been done and because of the geometric progression in the number of our ancestors, the further back we do our research, the more likely it becomes that our efforts are being duplicated by someone else. Genealogists who ignore this reality are deluding themselves into believing that what they are doing is somehow unique.

I was recently helping a friend with his research. He is an immigrant who came to America as a child from Europe. In the course of helping him discover his ancestry, I began searching for records in the website. I immediately had record hints (green shaky leaves) for others who share his ancestral heritage. I am certain that he is entirely unaware of his relatives that are doing research about the same people he is interested in finding. Our lack of knowledge about those who are doing concurrent research into our common ancestors and relatives does not mean they do not exist.

Just as I can sometimes believe that no one out there reads this stuff, people with less contact to the internet than I have can firmly believe that they are the only ones "working" on a given ancestral line. In imagining this, they are denying the very nature of the world as it exists today. What is even more isolationist is to believe that you are the only one doing any "real" research and that the rest of your vast web of relatives are all stupid and don't know what they are doing.

Yesterday, my daughter was showing me an exchange she was having with a researcher on the Family Tree with a relative who was doing some extremely detailed and documented research into one of our family lines and correcting the misinformation online. We may believe that no one else out there knows how to do research or could possibly contribute anything useful, but we would be wrong every time.

In essence, we are all talking to the world, but the real question in genealogy is are we listening to the responses?


  1. Good post! I came to a similar realization not long ago. In addition to researching and writing about what interests me personally, I'm also trying to think of how I might contribute to the larger conversation.

  2. Hi James, I wonder, every time I see the Tanner name, is that person related to my Tanners? My Tanner family started in Pre-revolution Henrico County, Virginia and moved on to the Kings Mountain area of SC. From there they moved to Trimble County, Kentucky and in approximately 1827 the moved again to Whiteland, Johnson, Indiana. If any of the above sounds familiar, I would love to correspond with you.

    Thanks for your blog,

    1. Hi,
      Our Tanner family originated in Rhode Island in the 1600s. Our branch of the family moved to New York and then west with the Mormon migration. There are several large and unrelated Tanner families in the U.S. Tanner was a common name in England, Switzerland and Germany. We don't have any known connections to any of the Southern Tanners. Sorry.