Friday, September 21, 2012

What Message Are You Searching For?

Yesterday, when we discussed that staple of online genealogy research—Cyndi’s List—one reader commented that she found the site “a bit overwhelming.” Granted, taking a look around the Cyndi’s List website reminds me how much it has grown over the years. “Burgeoning” comes to mind. Taking the route there of searching by categories can itself seem a daunting task. A person can find himself being grateful for simple gifts like the addition of a Google™ Custom Search bar to the top right corner of the Cyndi’s List web pages.

And that overwhelming feeling comes from just considering Cyndi’s List alone. Yet, this is not the only landing page for family history enthusiasts.

There are so many websites—not to mention blogs—out there seeking to reach the genealogy-loving community. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers mentions a number nearing three thousand when he speaks of how many genealogy blogs there are out there—and that’s only counting genealogy blogs. As far as websites, the count is many multiples above that tally.

Somebody must think we are looking for something, for they are all talking at us. Regardless of what they think they should be saying to us, I’d like to consider the other side of the equation: what, exactly, is it we are looking for online, as genealogy researchers?

For one thing, we obviously are hungering for more digitized documentation. Last July, announced that it had just added its two-millionth “active current subscriber.”, billing itself as the “largest genealogy organization in the world,” simply puts it as “millions of people” when quantifying their annual number of unique hits. (But with a little searching, I discovered they now have over three million users visit per month, with over 150 million landing there since their launch in May, 1999.)

Other than the largest, most well-recognized names at the head of the genealogy world, there is indeed a very looong tail of other websites and blogs clamoring to be noticed. And heard. And used. They all think we want something. But is that really what we do want?

Whether they’ve made the correct assumptions about what we are seeking when we delve into our family history quest, it would serve us well as consumers to voice what, exactly, it is that we want. What are we searching for? What makes us perk up our ears and listen? Do we all listen to the same message?

The flip side of this question is for those who are broadcasting that message. In my role as blogger (rather than researcher), I need to understand those dynamics, too. What is it that calls readers here to stop and take a peek today? Why do those readers want to come back again tomorrow?

(While things may be going swimmingly for genealogy bloggers in the midst of a glorious summer or vigorous fall day, that will not always be the case. Believe me, on a cold, dreary February day, a blogger can get depressed enough to ask herself questions like that. Why bother writing, anyway? That’s why I want to take the occasion now, in the reassuring comfort of broad pre-autumnal-equinox daylight, to pose such a query.)

Can you fill in the blanks here? Why do you read genealogy blogs? Is it because you are researching the same surnames? Looking for family photographs? Checking out how your fellow researchers are progressing? Looking to pick up some hints or tips on tackling difficult research problems? Watching to see how someone else frames their family portrait? Or tells their ancestors’ stories?

Or…maybe I’ve got that all wrong. Maybe someone is just looking for a good, quick read while drinking a desperately-needed hot cup of coffee.

What do you think?

Sometimes, I just want to sit down at my computer and type in my order on Google™ for the perfect genealogical solution. But even the SearchMeister cannot always intuit my reading needs. Maybe we all just need to come together and talk about it….

Above, right: 1882 lithograph, Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity's Gate; compare with a pencil-on-paper version of that same year re-titled Worn Out, and, reverting to the previous though amended title, Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate), an oil-on-canvas completed barely two months before his death; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. This is (yet) another well wrtitten, penetrating post.

    For me, what I search for is "the voice" of those family members I never knew and will never meet. I would like to know why they did things they did - and how they felt about doing them - and if possible, in their own words and spelling. I'd like to know why they got into a wagon and headed west - or why they sailed across the ocean to come to this country.

    finding old photos come a distant second - what they looked like and how they lived fill (or fuel) the desire I have to KNOW them. I understand in a way, the olden day "seance," where folks gathered around a table with a medium to receive messages from spirits. To know and reconnect with them... they are in (and of) my blood.

    As to where they "went" after they passed on... I'm not so sure I want to know. :)

    I first read *this* blog to learn how to "do it myself" - but it grew to something much, much more - the people I "met" (in a virtual sense), like Agnes and Frank became "alive" to me - and I took pleasure in learning of their "day" (since the blog is daily!) each day. They were very real people - and people I think I would have greatly enjoyed meeting -

    1. Seeking "the voice" is a good way of condensing it, Iggy. We are both on the same wavelength here. I'm not sure I'd go as far as the route of seance, myself, but I definitely want to get inside the head of each ancestor I'm studying. You are right: in a way, each of these ancestors is in our blood.

      I'm glad Agnes and Frank became "alive" to you--and, in a way, you did "meet" them, as did I as I went through this process. Sometimes it is even painful to get to know each ancestor so closely (it was for our family in the case of Frank), but we find each person has his or her own story to tell and point of view to examine. Actually, that story is waiting to be told, and we as family history scribes are the partners making that telling become possible.

      And people like you have families full of individuals who need their story to be told! I can't wait to read more from you as you tackle your own family's stories!

  2. I read other genealogy blogs for all of the reasons you mentioned! It sure cuts into time to do my own research and writing! :) I find the some bloggers tell such interesting stories that I adopt myself into their family.

    1. Kathy, thanks for stopping by and for your comment! Funny, I find that to be true about cutting into my research, too! ;)

      One of my missions in life is to help others realize that their own families have interesting stories, too--and to encourage people to write them so they can be passed down through each generation, too. You needn't rely on adopting yourself out to other families. Your family has stories worthy of being passed along, too.


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