Saturday, September 22, 2018
Against the Flow
It seems to be a great time to be involved in genealogical research. No more crawling around on dusty floors to retrieve the book we wanted that just happened to be on the bottom shelf. No more gingerly balancing that fully-extended card catalog, just to read the card we wanted that turned out to be the next to last card in the drawer. And—more important than anything else I can think of—no more waiting for six weeks (or longer) to get back that stamped, self-addressed envelope we sent off with hopes of receiving the all-important certificate that would solve all our family mysteries...and then discovering that nothing could be found in the records, after all.
Now, we have webinars. Podcasts. Digitized records on websites. With a mere click, we can conjure up documents that once took six weeks or longer—or never—to retrieve. With research luxuries like that, who needs to step out the door to do genealogy anymore?
Sadly, that has had its impact on what used to be the staple of the family history pursuit: the gathering together of groups of like-minded researchers. You remember those, don't you? We used to call them genealogical societies. Likely, there was such a group that gathered somewhere near you. With the advent of all these wonderful research utilities, some people have observed that genealogical society memberships correspondingly dwindled.
Of course, there are those who are quite happy to bring up other reasons for the demise of societies. I call them the detractors. You know the routine. Meetings are too far away. At inconvenient times. Run by grumpy autocrats. Or research Luddites. Yeah, yeah. I'd rather have Take Two: just how can we switch this up so we meet needs, instead of just complain about how they aren't being met?
This past week, our local society started up its fall meeting sequence. We take the summer off because, well, summer. Time for vacations—or at least genea-travels to distant research centers or spots of family significance. But with September, it's back to "school" for those of us who wish to polish our research skills.
Though ours is not the biggest of local societies, we certainly have the energy of a thriving group. And that's what makes me realize that getting together with like-minded people still has its place, even in our virtual-reality world. Maybe it's just that, once people see what we are up to, they want to be a part of it. I sometimes wonder if they realize what it is that they've been missing, once they get to rub shoulders with it, once again.
That type of discovery makes me realize that perhaps we, as genealogy groups, need to band together to explore ways to become more pertinent to the needs of individual genealogists—and not only genealogists who are professionals, but avocational researchers, as well. Just being able to reframe the viewpoint from "what are we doing wrong?" to "what can we do to become more relevant to today's researchers?" will point us in a more promising direction.
I hope to initiate that conversation in my own local area, and I'm wondering whether anyone else is testing these same waters in other locations. Do any other genealogy enthusiasts get together to specifically discuss just that: how we can best get together? While I realize there is supposed to be a conference for this very reason—the Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conference—sometimes, this sort of discussion is better suited to a round table and people with like local interests.
Networking, brainstorming, crowdsourcing: when these all have an element of local interest attached to them, perhaps the results become more practical—and applicable—to the organization we originally were concerned about, the local genealogical society. I know my quest is to see ours thrive. Surely, I am not alone in that goal.