Online access to historical and genealogical databases has proliferated over the past several years, and family history researchers are rightly reveling in all the resources we now have at our fingertips. In moments, we are now able to pull up documents and obscure references that, in the past, would have taken ages to uncover—if at all.
I’m happy for that progress. I’ve certainly benefited from it. Even with this accelerated research convenience, though, I feel there’s something missing.
I’ve felt a sense of calling, lately—away from the computer, which is my mainstay for so much research, and back into the real world of touchable people.
This message was a long time in coming. And it took the influence of several people to make its presence known. In the end, though, it’s something with which we family history researchers would do well to re-acquaint ourselves.
For me, the wake-up call came almost two years ago, and resulted in an invitation to drive into town and join a stranger for coffee. The way it had happened was this: I had only been blogging for a couple months, and had finally asked to be mentioned in Thomas MacEntee’s weekly new-blog roundup on GeneaBloggers. I had found out about the whole matter because of one particular blogger, and wrote to tell her so.
Actually, I did more than just that. Since I’m a blogger, I decided to blog about it. Somehow, I had found out that this blogger—genealogist Sheri Fenley, who writes The Educated Genealogist—lives in the same town I do, so I remarked about it.
That was quickly followed by her comment on my post, and a volley of emails. Though I was out of town on a research trip at the time, when I returned home, I found myself invited to meet Sheri for a cup of coffee.
How remarkable—yet, as I’ve found out, so reasonable—that we would meet for the first time, instantly bond and, only “moments” later, realize that we had spent the entire morning talking. And, surprise, blogging about it.
And yet, I didn’t get it.
I’ve had coffee with Sheri several times since that summer meeting in 2011. Somehow, though, I’ve ascribed our rollicking visits to her effervescent personality—with, perhaps, a passing acknowledgement to our mutual fascination with genealogy.
It took a second experience before it dawned on me that something bigger was taking place.
I mentioned yesterday that my husband and I had to take an unexpected trip back to Ohio on account of a relative’s unexpected health crisis. Ohio is one of those places where I’ve done hours upon hours of genealogy research—both my husband’s and my maternal lines came from the Columbus vicinity—but it is not a region in which either of us has lived. Yet it has become like a second home to us.
I don’t remember how this came about, but sometime last January, I wrote about my upcoming need to head back to Columbus. Before I knew it, a blogger I enjoy reading—Shelley Bishop of A Sense of Family—piped up and asked if I’d have any time to spare for a meet up.
As it turned out, between my visit’s purpose of aiding my recuperating aunt and Shelley’s upcoming trip out of state, we were left with only one late afternoon in which we could meet. We set a coffee date at a convenient location, trying to squeeze in a visit together before our window of opportunity closed.
You know what? We could have gabbed for hours. We met, and instantly seemed to bond. There was so much to talk about—between two people who were, essentially, strangers.
I still didn’t get what was going on.
A couple weeks ago, once again I found myself preparing for a research trip. This one was closer to home: San Jose. It was going to be a quick trip over an extended weekend—part personal vacation and part focused on research. Somehow, I mentioned those plans. A blogger whose story really resonates with me—Linda Huesca Tully of Many Branches,One Tree—contacted me. You guessed it: we got together for coffee.
It was so enjoyable!
How can I not get what is going on?! It is a result of being with people sharing mutual interests—being with people who are alive with fascination over what they are learning and discovering. It is a mix of sharing mind-numbingly intricate research details with people who already appreciate what it is like to be met with the My-Eyes-Glaze-Over reception of the uninitiated. It is the joy of sharing the thrill-of-the-hunt with others who have come back, victorious, from the dreaded library-dungeons of archived history. It is receiving affirmations like writer Jennifer Wilson observed in last Friday’s GenChat:
Genealogists rule. Love you guys. Hearts like scrapbookers, minds like investigative journalists.
Perhaps, though, it is also owing to the high of being unplugged from our anti-social caves—those private perches from which we conduct our solitary research projects. Alone. In our own worlds.
There is an aspect of genealogy research that is so solitary, so individualized. Perhaps the research, the detail, the obscurity of the pursuit draws the introverted, and seems likely to be shunned by the gregarious. I am not sure of the dynamic. Whatever it is, it seems to become a package deal that includes the proclivity to avoid getting together with other people—even with like-minded peers.
I’m certainly glad that there were other researchers out there willing to take the chance, break through the rigid brick walls of schedule or habit or even convenience, and get together with someone they’ve never met before. I’m indebted to Sheri Fenley for taking the initiative. I’m grateful for the refreshing visit I had—actually, I really needed that—with Shelley Bishop in Columbus in the midst of pressing family concerns. And I loved being able to meet Linda Huesca Tully and get to know the person behind all the family stories she’s crafted.
I hate to think I could have conveniently waived those opportunities aside. After all, there was every excuse available from being out of town to being tied up with family matters. It’s so easy to be too busy.
If you find yourself sensing that, the next time you shrink from a chance to get away from your computer—turn around and embrace the opportunity. Reunite with the real-world setting and take a chance on meeting up with other family history researchers. There is really no one else out there who will resonate with your passion in quite the same way as another genealogist.
Photograph: meeting with blogger Linda Huesca Tully for coffee recently in downtown San Jose, California.