Saturday, February 17, 2018
Of Presidents, New Starts
Right now, many people are enjoying a three day weekend. The holiday, at least to the federal government, is still officially known as Washington's Birthday, though that designation used to be pinned, less conveniently, on the stationary date of February 22. Now, serendipitously for some employees, it has become the movable target attached to the far end of a weekend. Bank employees and civil servants celebrate. Everyone else goes out and shops, keeping captive the rest of the work world.
That goes for the far end of the weekend. On the near end of this celebration weekend, as our local genealogical society was reminded at our meeting last Thursday night, Friday ushered in the Chinese New Year. For those of my neighbors who, upon awaking with a start at midnight and grumbling about it online at our neighborhood's NextDoor social media, not a thought was given to that celebration; people were wondering about all the "gunshots." It didn't matter that nearly fourteen percent of our county is comprised of Asian-Americans, or that fireworks are a popular way to usher in the new year. Perhaps the rest of us didn't get the memo.
For those of us attending that small genealogical society meeting last Thursday, we were treated to an excellent presentation by the immediate past president of the California Genealogical Society, Linda Harms Okazaki. Linda traveled out to spend the evening with us for a reason: I wanted to launch my first term as president of the society with a reminder that an organization only grows as it meets the needs of its surrounding community. And, as you can tell if you happen to read through our county's regional growth analysis, we're presented with an ethnically diverse set of research challenges.
Though I'm barely flexing my own presidential muscles at this point, I have spent a few years working in other capacities for our society, mainly in teaching genealogy classes for beginners. One of the situations I face constantly is the question, "Is there any resource for researching my ancestors from...[fill in the blank with a distant, non-European country]?" I've had immigrants from Pakistan, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and other countries ask me that question. And while, yes, the answer can always be FamilySearch, sometimes that response is a facile cop out. Especially for a location like our county.
The key is that those people also wish to research their ancestry. At the beginning, the path to connect with their ancestors will generally follow the same pattern as anyone else's research, but the particulars eventually will be quite different, especially the farther back in time any immigrant American cares to trace his or her roots.
The genealogical organization in a community such as ours—rich in our diversity—should be prepared to answer such beginners' research questions. That's why I like Linda's new presentation, "Who's in Your Neighborhood? Meeting the Diverse Research Needs of Your Community." With increasing numbers of people taking an interest in family history—thanks to everything from the much maligned "lederhosen" DNA commercial to TV programs by spokespersons like Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—we have a ready-made local audience primed for our services. We just have to find the best way to connect. Trust me, the people are out there.