Thursday, July 31, 2014

Comments on "How Should Genealogical Societies Nurture Beginners?"

I had several excellent and thoughtful comments on my post How Should Genealogy Societies Nurture Beginners? (posted 24 July 2014).  They included:

1)  Sandra Steele Deford said:  "Randy, your points are right on the money and every society should take your advice."

My comment:  Thank you, Sandra.  I was hoping that comments would provide some more suggestions, since I know I don't have all of the answers.  What does yourl ocal society do?  What should they do?

2)  Nadine Feldman commented:  "I'm a newbie with strong computer skills. I appreciate all your comments, and I agree that having classes that match people with their computer aptitude is smart. Our local genealogical society is having a class on using Word -- I wouldn't be interested in that, but I went to a recent meeting where I learned a LOT that I can use.

"Recently, while looking at some hints, I realized that several families had picked up the same error -- a man who died several years before his "daughter" was born. 

"I think the Internet, even with its limitations, will 'save' genealogy. If I would have started with going to the library, I doubt I would have developed an interest. Online, I have found some wonderful resources that have only made me more curious. NOW, I want to know more about what's beyond the online search. That led me to our local society, and I attended my first meeting last week. 

"The ease of online research will certainly make for some bad genealogists -- but I think we will always have a certain segment of the population with a love of research, for whom the Internet opens a door into a fascinating and wonderful world."

My comment:  You've articulated several key points, Nadine.  Thank you.  I especially like your comment that "If I would have started with going to the library..."  We all come to genealogy with a skill set and family experience, and how we progress in genealogy often takes time and trials.  You've made another key step with attending your local society.  You may find wonderful people, even mentors, there, or you may find they don't advance your knowledge much.  

3)  Melissa noted:  "Randy, I agree 100% with what you said. I have been doing genealogy research for almost 30 years now and the past 8 of those years I have been a professional genealogist, speaker and teacher. I teach a free genealogy class at my local library and I have 'newbies' come to my classes every month. I teach these new students of genealogy research to not rely totally on online resources and information but to venture out into the 'real world' and visit an archives, library or courthouse. Since I am also my local county archivist, I know that there are tons of records not online or even indexed that are just waiting for researchers to discover. The internet is a great resource but we have to put it in perspective to the whole world of genealogy research."

My comment:  Melissa, your students are very fortunate to have you as a guide and mentor.  Not all teachers have the archives experience.

4)  Dave Robison offered:  "Randy, I could have written this...but you've said it better than I could have! We seem to be traveling parallel paths: relatively small society (120+ paid members with an average of 45 per monthly meeting in attendance), computer labs with one-on-one instruction, teaching basic computer skills when necessary, coaching non-internet research strategies..... My eye is on growth with a younger set. Not high school students (but I wouldn't discourage them) but a generation that is computer literate and has the requisite energy and enthusiasm to 'do the work.' Other than our Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society, we've grown a following at the Chicopee Public Library through beginner's classes and some intermediate classes both lecture style and computer lab style. We've managed to get the Chicopee Library designated as a Family History Center. All the micromedia from the Ludlow LDS Church has been transferred there. That will bring us even more 'traffic'. It's looking pretty good!"

My comment:  It's amazing what can happen when several enthusiastic and hard-working society members see that a diverse program and curriculum works very well, and make it happen.  Libraries and churches can work with societies for everyone's mutual benefit.  WMGS is a great example for all societies, large and small.

5)  Lee said:  "I love delving into my family's past. I belong to both the Pima County Genealogy Society and the Southern Arizona Jewish Genealogy Society. I'm not a beginner but I also have almost no experience doing anything other than online research. Most beginners I encounter want to know more about their family's history. They don't want to become genealogists. It's hard enough doing research properly and thoroughly. Maybe we unnecessarily complicate the introduction of beginners to the joy of family history research by subtly suggesting they start a genealogist track. There's a reason Family History Centers aren't called Genealogy Centers."

My comment:  I'm somewhat confused by your comment "They don't want to become genealogists."  Do you mean "professional genealogists" (those who take clients, get paid, etc.).  Some folks define "family history" and "genealogy" as two different pursuits - I think they are woven together.  Yes, we want the names, dates, places, pedigree charts, etc., but we also want to know the stories behind the record documents, ancestor activities, photographs, etc.  

For me, the main reason to suggest starting a pedigree chart, using family group sheets, inputting data into a genealogy program or online tree, etc. is that they are a way to keep the research organized.  

One of the images I use in my beginners classes and adult education classes is the "Iceberg chart" developed several years ago by the California Genealogical society (who kindly permitted me to use it in my materials):

I truly believe that the iceberg chart portrays the reality of genealogy research resources.  My best estimate is that we have between 5% and 10% of ALL genealogy resources online now. 

 FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other providers have done excellent work in adding record collections to online databases, and indexing them.  But there is so much to do.  I recall reading that only about 1.5% of all of the U.S. National Archives documents have been digitized and are online (which includes other websites).  That tells me that there are billions of documents in boxes, on shelves, or in piles in national archives, state archives, state and local libraries, historical and genealogical societies, courthouses and county offices, etc.  

I sincerely doubt that more than 25% to 40% of ALL of the records will ever be digitized, and not all of them will be indexed.  

I've expressed the thought before:  When more "rich" records are digitized and indexed, many more "brick walls" will be broken through.  For me, the real gems in the "rich" records are church, land, probate and newspaper records.  

Thank you to my readers for their comments on my earlier post.  If you have additional comments, please add them to this post, or to the earlier post.

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver

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