Do “Top 40″ Lists Help or Harm the Genealogy Community? Open Thread Thursday

Double-edged sword

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Various magazines, blogs, and websites occasionally publish a “best of” or “top 40″ list related to genealogy. These include the best blogs, the best users of social media, the best genealogy software, etc.

One problem with lists is that they are finite and only have room to mention ___ number of resources. In addition, a list is often subjective and can be biased based on the author’s experience with and awareness of such resources.

Is it helpful to have such lists since they can often make those new to genealogy and family history aware of these resources? Or do they tend to perpetuate the same “gliteratti” in the genealogy community each year with little room for newcomers? Are there alternative solutions such as “Our Reader’s Recommended List of . . .” or “The 40 Genealogy Resources You Might Have Missed?”

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

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At first I hesitated writing this post at all: I was recently named a Social Media Maverick by Family Tree Magazine and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. But at the same time I realize that there were several resources which I would have included (such as DearMYRTLE) if I had been asked to prepare the list. I know that it is never an easy job to select and prepare a “best of” list and I’ve been guilty of omitting obvious resources . . . I once did this while on a panel discussion: I failed to mention the creator of one of the best resources who was sitting right next to me!

While being listed is great, it can be frustrating to know that many others put many hours into giving back to the genealogy community via social media yet don’t get listed. This week it has been noted that there is a US bias to the list (it is a US-based magazine with predominately US readership) as well as a lack of diversity in terms of various ethnic groups within the genealogy community.

My opinion, for what it’s worth: these lists help more than they harm, as long as they are seen in overall context of the resources available in the genealogy community and that genuine efforts are made to highlight and promote all valuable resources – whether they get 10 or 10,000 page views a day. I’d love to see several types of lists in a given year such as “most underused resources” or “best _________ resources” etc. In addition, having a “reader’s list” where others submit their own “top 40″ or “best of” could be a real eye-opener!

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This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

Photo: Sword, on Flickr, used via Creative Commons License.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Banned Genealogy Records? Open Thread Thursday

ALA Freadom 2013

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Here in the United States, this is Banned Books Week which is sponsored by the American Library Association. The goal is to raise awareness of books that are banned in schools, libraries and other venues due to their content.

What if censorship of this type made its way to records frequently used by genealogists and family historians? Or is this already occurring through restrictions to access such as pending legislation governing use of and access to the Social Security Death Index? Have you considered what would happen if entire record sets were removed from the shelves or from online sites? Or something worse, similar to “book burning?” Shudder.

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

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From my perspective, as genealogists we have already been forced to navigate our way in a world filled with banned records. It isn’t often that the ban makes the news nor is there a week dedicated to raising awareness of banned records (but there should be . . .). Why not? Well, I think it is how censorship and restriction to access takes place for any material . . . little by little, step by step. Most don’t notice until it is too late.

There are various ways in which we see restrictive access take place:

  • Broad legislation on a federal, state and local level with an unreasonable and ill-informed concern for privacy. Often such laws are meant as a “quick fix” and to convince voters that their legislators are actually doing something.
  • The actions of a gatekeeper such as a county clerk who attempts to circumvent local laws guaranteeing access with his or own set of “rules.”
  • Inconsistent and burdensome pricing and policies set by a librarian or archivist or court clerk to make access “difficult” in the hopes of deterring researchers.

I strongly recommend following the Records Preservation and Access Committee site and also getting involved on a local level when it comes to records access. Also research the access laws and rules prior to visiting a repository and make sure you have a copy with you.

Not only can you help guarantee your own access to records for genealogical research, but help insure that future generations will have the same or better access.

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This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Is There A “Right” To Do Genealogy? – Open Thread Thursday

Secrets

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Have you ever had an ethical dilemma when it came to doing genealogy research? Perhaps for your own family, you uncovered a secret or a story that would have been scandalous at the time it happened. What would the ancestors involved think about having their story uncovered and possibly made public and shared on a genealogy website? Or what about a simple record such as a marriage certificate: could your ancestors have anticipated easy access to it by millions of researchers? Tell us if you’ve encountered such dilemmas and how you’ve handled the research and any ethical conflicts or questions.

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

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This past weekend I was presenting one of my more popular lectures – Privacy and Our Ancestors – when someone in the audience posed an interesting question (and with quite a bit of passion). She said something to the effect of “What right do I have to poke around in these records? I sometimes think about how my grandparents would react if they knew I had information on many aspects of their lives such as their age, when they were married, etc. What would they say to me if they were still alive?

The question stuck with me the rest of the weekend and even to this very day. It had that kind of impact on me, and I sensed, on the rest of the attendees in the lecture. Indeed, since I just discovered last year that my great-grandparents were not married when they said they were, I’ve considered what their reaction would be.  My great-grandparents helped raise me and they were quite “buttoned-up” and old-fashioned when it came to privacy and information.

My great-grandmother never revealed her age and it was only through research that I found out that she died at age 94. There were just certain things you didn’t ask, especially of a woman. And she also believed that a woman should only have her name in the paper a total of three times in her life: birth, marriage and death.

My response to the question? Not exactly evasive, but I couched it in such a way that the audience realized that even for me it was sometimes a struggle to square way what “could” be done with information and what “should” be done. We discussed the fact that the dead don’t have privacy necessarily, but that we need to consider the impact on living family members when it comes to our rights to records access and sharing information.

Just because I have access to records, should I be doing genealogy? My great-grandparents answered questions on the 1940 Census, and they were told only the government would have access to the information. And yet 72 years later that information was made public and in a very public way. I’m sure they never anticipated such access and I know they would be uncomfortable with the entire situation.

Yet I plod on and continue with my own personal research. For me, the issue is not the records or stories themselves, but how I choose to use them in building profiles of my ancestors and bringing them to life. The truth is the truth and facts are facts. My skill as a family historian is to analyze those facts, understand them in context of the life of the person, and preserve them for future generations of my family. I can do so responsibly and in a caring way that still respects that person and their personal information.

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This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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