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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Is Genealogy an Elephant?

By Illustrator unknown - From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89., Public Domain,
I am sure I am one of the blind men feeling the genealogical elephant. But I am also certain that there are many other blind men out there in the greater genealogical community. Why do we have such differing opinions about the nature of genealogy and its methodology? Could it be that the subject itself is the answer to that question? Genealogy is really a very personal endeavor. Each of us begins and becomes interested in our ancestral heritage in a different way and how we proceed depends as much on our own personal background and interests as it does on any objective approach to the subject.

Unfortunately, genealogy is fragmented by those who believe that their way of doing research and recording the results is the only way. They are certain that their opinion of the elephant is correct and the others are all wrong. This week, I had two experiences giving me an insight into two of the very divergent views of genealogy. One of the experiences involved a group of teenagers who were brought to the local Family History Center for a "family history experience." The second was attending a meeting of a local genealogical society where we listened to a presentation about the resources of the Maryland State Archives. The two experiences were certainly at different ends of the elephant.

My elephant reality includes a large number of such disparate experiences. For example, there is a major emphasis in some parts of the greater genealogical community on citations and proper report writing. Neither of my recent experiences could have possibly viewed the genealogical elephant through touching on either citations or reports.

I spend a huge amount of time with online family tree programs. But I also do research in libraries, archives and other large and small repositories. You only have to think of the difference between beginning a family tree on an online genealogy program and sitting in an archive looking at original records to understand the disparity between these two experiences.

When I work with people who have a real desire to find and connect with their ancestors and they struggle with technology, I feel their frustration and can certainly understand that not everyone has "grown up" computers. I guess I am still trying to completely identify and quantify the genealogical elephant and perhaps harmonize all of the disparate impressions and beliefs about the subject. I had one person who I spoke to recently say, "I need to hire a professional genealogist. I have been doing genealogy for more than thirty years and I just can't resolve some of my research problems." He was seeing his part of the elephant quite clearly.

Maybe we all need to start seeing our own part of the genealogical elephant.

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