Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thoughts From the
Head Beneath Two Hats

All is not a drink from the genealogy fire hose at this week's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Eventually, even the most dedicated family historian needs to come up for air...or at least water. And food.

One of the unexpected snags to expecting that nothing will ever change at SLIG was the discovery—too late, alas, to make rapid amends to my strategy—that my go-to place for sustenance while holed up at my computer, researching, was closed. No more evenings glued to my computer while scarfing down food from the restaurant just steps from my hotel door. I'd have to walk a ways to find anything more than a snacky—or pricey—lunch (or a time-consuming dinner at the hotel's steak house).

The solution to this year's dilemma became a national chain Asian fusion restaurant less than half a mile's walk—the place where a fellow SLIG attendee and I usually go for a once-yearly dinner. So, after class ended last night, I logged on to the restaurant's website and ordered food to go, then headed out the door to pick it up. I had work to do that evening.

Still a half hour before sunset when I stepped outside, it was a beautiful time for a walk. This Californian needed to re-acquaint herself with actual sunlight, and the break from snow was welcomed.

Walking has a way of letting visitors see a city up close—close enough to keep a good eye on all the cracks and crannies. On my way, I spotted a sign posted in front of a parking lot which gave me enough food for thought to keep my brain churning long after I returned to my room.

The sign trumpeted the domain of the Museum of Change. This, I discovered after pulling up their website, is officially dubbed The Temporary Museum of Permanent Change.

Now, there's something for your brain to chew on: a place traditionally the preserve of the past promoting it's diametric opposite, the condition of never staying the same. How could change be housed in a museum?!

If you know me well enough, you know my brain works by ricocheting from one thought to another. After mulling over the conditions traditionally placed on the concept of a museum, and trying to rub that—kinda like a balloon against a sweater in a static-y Salt Lake City winter—up against the transience which is the essence of change, my thoughts flew to the barriers restricting another oxymoron.

Hint: it has to do with the two hats I'm currently wearing.

I may be a lifelong genealogist—that is why I'm still at this learning gig at SLIG, for instance—but I also have responsibilities as current president of my local genealogical society. Like almost all other societies which still have managed to maintain a foothold in an era when genealogy is shifting from a social, person-to-person engagement to a "touchless" online milieu, I'm searching for ways our organization can gain some traction on this slippery slope.

Sometimes, that brainstorming can lead far afield of, well, just "doing" genealogy. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that metaphor I just had stumbled upon—the idea of a "museum of change"—might be key to how we, as local societies, see our updated mission.

Here's why. If you take a close look at the website for Salt Lake City's Museum of Change, it is apparently a consortium of local associations and businesses (and creatives and archaeologists, even) which have learned to embrace the sometimes awkward but always annoying inconvenience of construction. Apparently, Salt Lake City has had to endure—and is continuing to have—more than its share of construction projects. But why grumble? Embrace the challenge. Find a way to own it. Add the flair of the jiu-jitsu of taking advantage of the "opponent's" weakness. Re-invent ourselves as pertinent to our future's constituents, despite seeking to preserve our past. Do the old in a new way.

We are at an unprecedented inflection point in our trajectory as genealogical organizations. We can ride the wave of increasing public interest in "finding ourselves" by tracing our roots—including the new tools brought about by genetic genealogy. While I still doubt the now-years-old appearance of that meme of genealogy as the "second most popular" hobby, the thrust of a more widespread pursuit of family history can be harnessed by the very organizations designed to serve such interest.

We can't, however, just assume we can do more of the same programs we've offered in the past—or market it to the same demographics we've reached in the past. Face it, our fascination with our familial past is not always a burning desire shared in exactly the same way with others. But there are others out there who would—if they knew how—want to delve into their own family's past.

And yet, history can be everyone's story, and offers each individual a connection to a shared identity. Local societies can be the hands-on personal interface so helpful for introducing others to the skills they need to start their own journey of discovery. If we can brainstorm those as yet not-thought-of ways to connect people with the fascinating details of their family's past, we can reshape how our societies reach out to communities and how we can negotiate a nexus between our search skills and their quest to construct and connect with an overarching story.

As much as genealogy—and the societies we've created in its pursuit—may seem rooted in an unchangeable past, the search for our family history can, after all, have something to say about identities still under construction. Not unlike a museum of change.

Note: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

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