Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another "Family History is Really Bunk" article

The Spectator magazine in the United Kingdom has an article dated 30 April 2008 by Leo McKinstry titled "Sorry, But Family History Is Really Bunk." There are four pages to it, Page 1, page 2, page 3 and page 4.

Some snippets:

"Leo McKinstry says the current craze for genealogy reflects an unhealthy combination of snobbery and inverse snobbery, and is a poor replacement for national history"

"But the belief that there is something intrinsically interesting about a family’s origins is badly mistaken. Most people’s ancestry is as dull as their holiday snaps. As any reader of historical biography knows, by far the most boring passages in any such book are the early sections covering the subject’s forebears. But that does not deter the obsessives who think that their findings are ‘fascinating’. "

"The tragedy is that the family history boom has not led to a greater understanding of our nation’s past. While we beaver away on the net or in the archives, we have never been more ignorant about our island story. Genealogy is no substitute for a true sense of identity."

Interestingly, the author ascribes a political motive to the promotion of family history and genealogy research in the UK. Read the whole thing, and the comments too. I'm reminded of the brouhaha in the genealogy world a year ago about a similar article in Smithsonian magazine.

Not everybody thinks that family history research is worthwhile, notwithstanding all the efforts by genealogy bloggers!


Bill West said...

Hi Randy
Sometimes I think the people
who write these articles have
traced their family trees and
not having found anyone exciting
or famous decide it's a waste of time.

Either that, or they have bad cases of "gedcom envy"

Mister Tolley said...

Well - I actually do think I agree with the article to some extent. A lot of family history is just body collecting. On more than a few lists I read people talking about having 10s of thousands of folk in their data base. Finding out in some depth about HOW ancestors lived, rather than just "born, married, died" data can be interesting, educational and worthwhile.
Maybe this article loses sight of the fact that for most of us it's a HOBBY. And most hobbies in the broad light of day ARE useless wierd activities. The point of a hobby is to enjoy it, to have FUN. The end product is often not what a hobby is about - it's about doing an activity that gives personal satisfaction that enables often very ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Through family history I have met people who wouldn't consider themselves to be great academics, who had ordinary school careers, and who can, through their family history work demonstrate amazing levels of knowledge, thinking skill, abitlies to collect sift, evaluate evidence etc to the level of a graduate student.
On the other hand I do agree with the article that other people's family history is really boring and often worse than the holiday snaps. MY family history on the other hand is absolutely fascinating . . .

Terry Thornton said...

Leo ain't no HOGS BLOGGER is he?

Shannon said...

I know I cant speak for all researchers, but I know for myself that delving into my family history as definitely increased my knowledge of our nations history. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on in the world during a given time period, for example trying to figure out why an entire family up and left Georgia for Oklahoma in the 1890's led me to learning all about a state I never gave a second thought and the land runs. Trying to figure out why so many people died between the 1910 an 1920 census led me to studying the Spanish flu epidemic...I could go on and on about history I have learned soley because I was researching family. Its something, that for me, gives my hobby a little more meaning.