Sunday, October 11, 2020

Did I Say Collaborate?


Do you get that eerie feeling when, shortly after having a conversation on a specific topic, your social media feed serves up exactly what you had just been discussing privately with a friend? Not that this is exactly what happened to me this week, but close.

To set the story: a fellow board member from our local genealogical society had been working with me to prepare a class we will be teaching for a continuing education program in our city. Since the class subject will be an introduction to using to build a family tree, my co-instructor asked if I had recently received an invitation from Ancestry to participate in a survey. He had.

Interested, I asked him if he still had the email. I was curious. Unfortunately, it turned out the message had been deleted, which he told me later that day after a fruitless search. I put the topic out of mind.

Fast forward a few days. I logged in to my Ancestry account, and what should greet me but a drop down menu, asking if I would be interested in taking a survey about collaboration.

Collaboration? Didn't I just write about that the very night before?

Of course, you know I completed the survey. At the end, Ancestry wondered whether I'd be available to participate in further surveys. If there are questions concerning the waning tendency of family history researchers to engage in collaborative research, you know I'll be available. I feel collaboration is part of our history as avocational researchers, and I want to do everything I can to re-introduce others to the benefits of a community approach to research.

Wondering whether Ancestry has now taken up that mantle of collaboration themselves, I decided to make a quick, googling check of the genealogy system's vitals. Using terms like "Ancestry collaboration," the most I could find was either specific to DNA research or dated far earlier than I'd hoped to see. Nope, it doesn't seem there is any uptick in signals that collaboration is the new buzz word in the commercial genealogy world. Maybe this survey invitation heralds the very earliest hint of plans to come. I hope so.

Meanwhile, it was, um, interesting to read Crista Cowan's transparency following a 2013 invitation to collaborate on a detail in her own family tree. Other than a link reminding me of Ancestry's Member Connect program, I couldn't find anything more recent than that publication date.

Remembering how Ancestry has continued servicing their message boards, including the forums they inherited from the now-defunct Rootsweb, I wandered in that direction to see whether I could spot any new life there. Sure enough, the layout is much the same as it was before, with the one difference that those messages posted by Ancestry subscribers are boosted by hyperlinked connectivity, while those posted via Rootsweb present no way to click through to the post's author.

For the most part, it is unlikely that one would receive an answer to a query posted back in, say, 1999—though I did spot some posts concerning Falvey ancestors which I would like to follow up on. And yet, when I did click through on an old post written by an Ancestry subscriber, it led to a very unsubstantiated tree—to be blunt, absolutely no documentation at all—despite the fact that, after all these years, that subscriber is still active on Ancestry.

Though it may take a few more steps, that type of investigation may save future collaboration enthusiasts from pouring time into "team" efforts with researchers unwilling or unable to share in the labor of the process. Partnership as a theory of genealogical research may sound like a grand idea, but if the agreement leaves an arrangement where the effort contributed is one-sided, I can see why researchers have staled on the concept.

Even so, I still cling to the ideal that extended family members can come together on research goals and, in the process, experience a synergistic partnership. I certainly have met the brightest, most insightful researchers that way in several experiences over the years. I am correspondingly concerned over the movement away from cooperative research into solitary online pursuits.

If nothing else, it is so encouraging to be able to share our research victories with like-minded others who care about such triumphs. It is hard to get one's bunny slippers to do their own happy dance, or nudge one's coffee cup to unsloppily leap for joy. We need people to do that.

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