An article was published last week setting the genealogy community on fire. The thrust of the article; without first obtaining a license, people shouldn’t be allowed to publish their genealogy. I have no problem discussing controversial subjects, but many readers felt the author’s tone was gratuitously condescending. I won’t link to it directly, however, if you’d like to see what all the fuss is about, the title is “Drive-by Genealogy”. Here was my initial reaction:
Well, actually, that was not my ‘real’ initial reaction. I first typed out a scathing critique of the writer’s tone and her premise in the original article. Fortunately, my rational side grabbed the keyboard back from my emotional side prior to submission. When you get past the tone, the article addresses a real problem.
The Problem – Bad Information Abounds
Saying there is bad information on the Internet is like saying all genealogists will encounter a brick wall. It’s a fact. Every genealogist was once a beginner. Beginners make the mistake of taking someone else’s information as gospel. When I began using Ancestry.com I freely connected to other family trees. I built my trees on family stories and grabbed the sources that confirmed predefined ‘facts’, contributing to misinformation. Those shaky leaves became my ‘fix’ and my tree quickly grew as a result. Great fun!
It didn’t take long before the problems and contradictions became obvious. Fortunately, I was hooked. My new mission became Better not More. But I had so much to share with my family and no meaningful way to do it. I began hosting my trees publicly on the Internet. And those public trees – knots and all – have led to many new research opportunities, corrections, cousin-connections and professional development. Opportunities and connections that could not have come any other way.
The Solution – More Speech not Less
The article’s solution, only professionals should be allowed to publish, ignores basic facts.
- Even professionals make mistakes.
- One cannot become a professional without publishing their work.
- Most families don’t have a professional genealogist.
So what might be a better solution? The answer to all controversial speech is more speech. We debate and engage rather than stifle those we disagree with. In the case of genealogy, we engage those who publish incorrect information.
When I realized the poor quality of some Ancestry or self published genealogy, I assumed a drastic personal approach. I ignored it all. I was smug in the knowledge I was going to do it better. I ignored everyone else’s work. Then I began to think: “But these folks are working the same family I am”. I sent messages to other Ancestry members to inquire about our shared interests. I emailed owners of self published websites to see if we could prove a connection.
Low and behold, the much maligned beginners were a wealth of information. Yes some of the information was wrong. But some bad information came with pictures and documents that I could analyze myself. There was personal knowledge and recorded interviews that moved a brick wall back a little farther. There were stories and laughs and promises to stay in touch. And, there were opportunities for me to help them avoid some of the same pitfalls I suffered.
Some people will not respond to your outreach. Some people will not take the information given because they are still emotionally invested in their story. Mark these folks down in your research log as non-communicative and move on to the next potential cousin. You should not ignore those Ancestry Member Trees or self published genealogies, but you don’t have to link to them either.
Genealogy is about finding our place in this world and connecting families together. Banishing the beginner from the Internet takes away their opportunity to collaborate, learn and grow. And maybe, join the ranks of the professionals some day.
Copyright (c) 26 November 2012