Sunday, June 23, 2019

What is it we Want, Anyhow?

The realm of genealogy has been an incrementally-changing universe for decades. Perhaps those microscopic changes, repeated so many times we lose count, have made the process of change invisible to our own eyes. But we have been changing.

Considering genealogy is a pursuit of history—micro-history, I grant you—it is surprising to realize we haven't done such a good job of keeping track of our own timeline. By that, I don't mean the history of each of us as individuals, but the chronology and narrative of how we've changed as an entity, as a movement.

Some of us who are not new to this ancestor chase can remember back before genealogy was a pursuit of (mostly) digitized records—before there was a Find My Past or a MyHeritage or even an Some of us can remember when the only significant record FamilySearch offered online was a transcript of the 1880 census.

Sharing was a big part of that genealogy community. Some of us can remember posting our tree on Rootsweb when Rootsweb wasn't the foundling child kindly taken in by We remember posting queries on Or GenForum. Or listserv systems hosted by universities. Or writing out our query and mailing it far away to our ancestral home state's genealogy society, to be inserted in their newsletter or journal along with countless other pleas for research help.

It wasn't that we'd crawl around on the floor, just to demonstrate that we were so desperate to find our elusive ancestors. But some of us did that, nonetheless; it was how we pulled out the drawer of the card catalog containing the call number for the archival records we were seeking, or the library book we needed to check. Sometimes, that stuff was on the bottom of the stack, and the only way to get there was to literally get down on the floor.

Even though genealogy has traditionally been a solitary pursuit, we have always found ways to connect while working on our separate tasks. We founded local genealogical societies. Created periodical publications. Started classes—which eventually grew into conferences and institutes. There has always been something about being able to talk about our favorite subject—the thrill of the chase—and know that our audience is right there with us. They know exactly what we're going through.

Now, though, it is so much easier to do our solitary research duties from the seclusion of our own personal hideouts. Do we not miss the collegiality of comparing notes and sharing stories of research conquests? Is it sufficient to simply tweet about it? Are Facebook groups adequate substitutes for discussion groups? Do Google Hangouts really replace getting together in real life?

Ever since the formation of the first virtual genealogical society, the concept of a virtual conference format was not far behind. In fact, the North Carolina Genealogical Society already offered one for 2019. And an enterprising business has dedicated their efforts to launching a series of four-speaker "eConferences"—and combining those offerings with a way for local societies to "host" and thus share in the fund-raising benefits, without the onus of doing all the grunt work of an on-site event.

The only problem is: I don't go to conferences simply to learn. It is true: we can certainly learn online as much as we can by attending an event in person—and, unlike live events, if we want to step out to the kitchen to fix ourselves a snack, or forgot we were supposed to call that business before they closed at five o'clock, we can just mute the proceedings and multi-task. We can even do it all in our pajamas, sloshing our hot chocolate precipitously near the computer screen, while not spending a penny on air fare or hotel rooms.

But I can do that stuff all the time. What I want in a conference is something special—something different than what I can get at home, listening to canned broadcasts and repeated material. I go to a conference to engage with people, to meet someone new, to hear how someone else tackled that brick wall problem. It's not the same "meeting" people through the window of technology. People tuning in to an online event are there to listen to the speaker, not the other attendees.

Perhaps conference-goers are a dying breed. But if the need to get together and communicate, face to face, is withering on the vine, then why are gathering places like coffee shops so popular? Do we want to talk to other like-minded people, or don't we? Is there room for a happy medium? More so, is there a need for a happy medium? Can in-person meetings, at least in the genealogy world, find a second life?   


  1. I am so excited that our state genealogy conference for 2020 is going to offered within driving distance of my house - actually only 45 minutes away! I want to be there in person! I am debating getting a room at the conference facility even though I certainly can arrive for breakfast and leave after dinner. But I always found, back in my work days, that I gained so much more at a conference in conversation with fellow workers and I have a feeling that the conference will be the same.

    1. Oh, that sounds great, Miss Merry! Stay or commute, either way, you'll get the opportunity to be there, although I tend to agree with you: you can gain so much more from a conference if you have the opportunity to stay at the host hotel. And, since conferences can be quite exhausting (having fun can be hard work!), staying close by helps avoid that weary feeling at the end of the week.

  2. Miss Merry, Get! A! Room! You will get SO much more out of the conference if you stay at the host hotel! We've done it both ways, and the commute will steal valuable time and energy you would otherwise invest in networking and new-friend-finding. Have a grand time!

    1. Agreed! That is the voice of experience speaking!

    2. Thank you - I will be saving my pennies LOL

  3. Replies
    1. That's the way I'm seeing it, Far Side--although those face to face encounters could use some updating.


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