Thursday, March 20, 2014

Energized by Learning

Now that we’ve closed the current chapter on research about the Melnitchenko family, it will soon be time to return to my original pursuit for this year: research in preparation for a trip to find my husband’s roots in Ireland.

Before we return to that study, consider the posts of the next few days a seventh-inning stretch. Every now and then, I just need to take a process break and talk about what is going on right now.

Lately, I’ve found myself more and more involved with our local genealogical society. This is a good thing. It fits well with the philosophy behind many of the projects I take on—like writing this blog, for instance. It’s a philosophy of giving back—in return for all the help along the way, on behalf of the many who would also appreciate knowing what I’ve learned about family history.

For the past year, our society has taken on the project of giving back to the community by providing free classes on how to begin genealogical research. We conduct these classes in cooperation with our local public library system. The library provides the classroom and the administrative interface, the Friends of the Library funds the refreshments, and our genealogical society provides the instruction—once a month throughout the spring and fall semesters.

Last Saturday was our most recent training event. While our sessions are equipped for about fifteen attendees (complete with laptops and wifi access to the Library Edition of, we haven’t always played to a full house, but last week we did.

The positive response we received last Saturday went beyond just seeing every seat in the house taken, though. It went beyond the subject matter taught that day. What was particularly rewarding about this event was what occurred afterwards. You see, our classes follow a general format like this:
            11:00 — Sign in and introductions
            11:15 — Begin instruction on specific topic
            12:00 — Q&A about the topic just taught
            12:15 — Break
            12:30 — One on one sessions with society volunteers

It is in this second hour that registrants for the class get to break open their own notebooks, open their computers, and share with our volunteers just what it is that has them stuck in their own research—or where they’d like to begin their research journey.

Our volunteers get all sorts of questions. We get attendees who have no clue where to begin but remember some story grandma used to tell them—was that true? And we get attendees who waltz in with three-inch-thick binders filled with pristinely-organized, studiously-completed charts, springing questions on us about their tenth-great-grandparents and the finer aspects of research in the native origins of their line.

There are two types of reactions that are notable, regarding these situations.

The first is the response of inspired awe at seeing, for the first time, a family member’s name—or even the actual signature—in a digital copy of a document online. That’s the my-hands-are-shaking, I-can’t-believe-how-incredible-this-is kind of response that has hooked us all and converted us into diehard genealogists.

The second is the transcending response of sheer relief: here, at last, is someone else who appreciates what I’ve discovered, who walks the same solitary road I have, loving the very pursuit that for others merely invokes that expression of my-eyes-glaze-over boredom.

What is interesting about generating these responses in a classroom setting is that they can achieve a critical mass if multiplied in sufficient amount over a short period of time.

That is what happened in class last Saturday.

Who knows. Maybe it was just a great bunch of students last week. Maybe it was the glorious advent of a spring sun bringing everyone’s spirits back from a winter lethargy. It could have been any reason causing the positive energy to flow.

On the other hand—and this is what I suspect is the more likely reason—there is something very affirming about gathering together to share one’s passion, even in a group as random as this assembly of strangers. Letting the vehicle of genealogy classes help hone the self-selection process results in the type of participants more likely to resonate with delight over discoveries.

And like a chain reaction of the nuclear kind, each burst of energy shared multiplies subsequent reactions, until the positive energy flow infuses the entire group—and spills out the doors to reach out into the community and invite others to come join in next time for more of the same.

In the case of positive energy flow in genealogical workshops, critical mass can be achieved by a group small enough to fit into a library classroom. It could be achieved by fifteen. It did last Saturday.

Or it could be achieved by a much smaller group. All it really takes is two: to listen, to share, to connect through the mutual fascination with what we are researching.

An energy level approaching that magnitude is, however, something near impossible to obtain, just sitting alone in front of a computer screen in your own home. When it comes to energy like that, it's something that just has to be shared with someone else.


  1. I know what you mean. Just yesterday I did a simple program about surnames for my aunt's church group's St. Patrick's Day luncheon. Many of the ladies came to me afterwards to share stories about their family history. I shared their excitement even though it wasn't my family or my discovery because I know how it feels to make a discovery.

    1. That's exactly it, Wendy! What a great story. I just love experiences like that.

      That reminds me of one member of our society. She often tells people the very reason she joined was so she could have someone to share her excitement with over a fresh genealogy discovery.

  2. That energy is something you need to carry you past the brick walls and the frustrations. The social aspect is a bonus - like when one of Far Side's photos goes home - just knowing someone else "was involved" - makes some "dry, lonely" research rewarding.

    1. Now you got me thinking, Iggy. Good point about the participatory process being there, even when we aren't sitting face to face with the people we're talking with. Sometimes, it's a tag-team conversation, and it happens "in the ether."

      I had to go and blog about it...

  3. Receptive people with like minds, that is always fun! What great personal satisfaction to be part of that activity:)

    1. It's the kind of satisfaction that draws other people in, too. Can't beat a bargain like that!


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