Friday, April 29, 2016

Going Social? Or Losing It?

Connectivity became the buzzword in a decade that ushered in the ability to "go social" online.

Being "social" has never been a foreign concept to genealogical researcherswe've a long history of cooperative efforts, as witnessed by the myriad mailing lists, message boards and forums of bygone decades.

As I ponder the changes I've noticed, just from going back and reading old emails from fellow researchers from ten to twenty years ago, the ironic detail that stands out to me is the inverse relationship between ease of access to communications choices and likelihood that any two researchers would engage in lengthy exchanges regarding genealogical discoveries.

There's no doubt that there weren't many of us online sharing genealogical insights, over twenty years ago. And yet, with those limited means of access, those who connected could sometimes look forward to continued volleys of conversation, sharing data and the documents to back them up.

Now, we're inundated with multitude means for connecting with fellow researchers. Indeed, the specificity of connection can be mind-boggling. Consider this: in one of her posts at Genealogy à la carte, Gail Deverone of my favorite Canadian bloggersposted her finding aid for nearly four hundred Facebook pages (in either French or English) dedicated to helping researchers find information on their Canadian ancestors.

You think that's extreme? In her post, Gail referred her readers to another file, this one assembled by Katherine R. Willson, which includes over eight thousand Facebook pages (limited to English language resources) related to genealogy. That's a lot of people talking genealogy.

Or so it seems...

In the meantime, I hear moans about declining in-person attendance at genealogical events (especially at the local level). I hear people complaining that no one answers their emails even inquiring about something as basic as discovered DNA matches (that they've already paid to discover).

While the thought did occur to me that the underlying force behind this shift might have been the simple answer of demographic changes, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the difference is owing more to cultural changesthe kinds of "environmental" shifts that occur so incrementally that we hardly notice them at all. Among these culprits might be those incessant words of advice to bloggers to post "simple" articles that can be easily scanned. Or the multi-tasking mask that provides the aura that we can do more than one thing at the same time (albeit each completed equally ineptly).

The snap, superficial exchanges that seem to be the hallmark of modern culture are the very elements that beg us, as genealogists, to become counter-cultural change agents. The plea to not go with the flow. To be the leaders of intentional change. To seek out the better, more beneficial way.

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes see as detrimental to our genealogical well-being the very resources of this Internet age that we are championing: the growing commercial concerns that make it so easy to find the documentation and other verifications that move our research forward so rapidly. Lulled into the complacency that comes with such ease of discovery, how can we shake ourselves awake again? Not by ditching the progress that is, after all, so beneficial. But by integrating it with the methods and systems that worked for us in the pastthe processes of genealogy that once brought us those social interchanges between cooperative researchers.

That level of communication exchange may, actually, be a universe unfamiliar to some now amidst our researching ranks. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't share that vision with othersand work to reshape behaviors to include the benefits of the past with the technological prowess the present has afforded us. These peer-driven cooperative efforts, in one way, can inspire us to get out in the researching world and exercise our own research "muscles"and to not let our powers of reason and discovery atrophy in the armchair effort to merely chase those virtual shaky leaves. 


  1. As you probably know, I'm not really a big fan of much of "social media" -- for several reasons -- one is the sense of "it can get you into trouble easily enough" and another reason is the "do I really want to know what the (useless) Kardashian's are up to this moment" sort of deluge?

    1. True, Iggy--and I heartily agree with you on that latter point. However, I'm seeing "social" in a much broader sense. Your blog--and the opportunity you give to your readers to leave comments--is a form of social media, too (at least in my book).

      I see this social media as a tool--not any specific gadget--that can be used to bring people together by facilitating communication.

      I wish I could share with you the many emails, over nearly twenty years, exchanged with fellow genealogists in pursuit of mutual family lines. The conversations evolving from those initial queries were thoughtful, detailed and, in many cases, filled with helpful resources and fascinating stories. They weren't today's one-liners straight from the Twitter app. That's a kind of social media that enabled those discussions to evolve, too. Just not the trendy "social media" people have in mind today.


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