Genealogy Generosity

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This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Do you remember being the recipient of “genealogy generosity” at some point in your family history journey? Was it when you first started out and someone guided you to the right resources and methodologies? Perhaps someone sent you photos and documents needed to break through a brick wall?

A networking of “helping each other out” seems to be a hallmark of the genealogy community, especially with new sites like Generous Genealogists and GenGathering appearing recently.

Let us know how the generosity of other genealogists has impacted your own research and if it has motivated you to “pay it forward” to others in the genealogy community. This is a great time to do a shout out to that person or organization and say, “Thank you!”

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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My Own Journey to Genealogy Generosity

The instances in which I have been on the receiving end of another genealogist’s advice, guidance and even have had physical items mailed to me are too numerous to mention.  For most of these encounters I never asked outright for assistance. It was simply a kind person who knew that they could provide needed information and they were motivated to help.

As the recipient of such generosity, I’ve realized the need to do my part and to give back. I do this on an individual level through various projects including volunteer work and individual mentoring. I also have come to embrace the “abundance model” in which I am willing to provide advice, content and other services to the genealogy community with no strings attached.

Such an approach has greatly enriched not only my genealogy life, but life in general. And for every one thing that I post or share freely, I get paid back what seems to be ten-fold. I simply can’t hoard knowledge that would benefit another genealogist and somehow parcel it out in return for something I need or want.  That isn’t abundance in my eyes.

Generous Genealogists

Mark Rabideau has started a new site called Generous Genealogists and has passed along the following information:

As is often the case, I sign-up for more than my family thinks is good for me.  Based upon a request from one of the Internet discussion groups I belong to, I agreed to construct a “new and improved” website, gratis, to fill the void left when the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) website disappeared from the scene.  As you might expect, when the old RAOGK site went down (the last archived evidence of the site is dated 18 Jul 2011) its database went into the ether along with the rest of the site. In response to the this request & need, I have built a brand new database and which is currently being populated with new volunteers.  The new site which houses this database, along with other community oriented functions, is called GenerousGenealogists. It is a  totally new and freshly written website. If you are curious, you may view it at http://generousgenealogists.com.

This new site’s activities, functionality, and purpose are derived from those of the original RAOGK site, which was founded and managed between 1999 and 2011 by Bridgett and Dale Schneider.  Although I have to admit, I have taken considerable license and expanded functionality more than just ‘a little bit’.  If you were familiar with the old site, I think you will find this new site looks a lot different.

As a service, GenerousGenealogists represents a group volunteers who agree to provide free genealogy research and assistance, as acts of kindness to “those in need.” We are always looking for new volunteers.  And oddly enough, GenerousGenealogists is looking for Team Members as well! It is our hope that GenerousGenealogists outlives its founders, creators, maintainers, and carries on the spirit & tradition of generosity and giving that was begun in 1999 by the original Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website.

GenerousGenealogists’ volunteers agree to donate their time for free; recipients of our “Generosity” agree to pay/ reimburse “their” volunteers for any/all expenses incurred in the fulfillment of requests (including: copies, printing fees, postage, film or video tape, parking fees, mileage, etc.). The assistance, research and networking we provide is made available freely and without respect or intent of financial gain.  All volunteers ever request of a “client” is expense reimbursement and a Thank You.

GenGathering

Another site which started recently is GenGathering. Here is information from the home page:

A gathering of researchers and genealogists that “give and take”.

Do you have resources in your home, or are you willing to do searches at your local courthouse, library, cemetery, etc.? If so, we would love to have you step up and join us.

If you come here seeking volunteers to assist with finding a record for you, you have also come to the right place.

We are all working together through generosity, cooperation, and willingness to share!

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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.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Can We Get Real About Genealogy Conference Attendance Numbers?

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[Disclaimer: While reading the post below remember that I am NOT wearing any hat related to genealogy conferences or genealogy societies . . . these are merely my observations in the genealogy industry as the owner of GeneaBloggers.com. As many readers know, I want to make sure the genealogy community is having honest and valuable conversations about the issues that impact us as genealogists.]

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Have you ever attended a genealogy event such as a week-long conference or an all-day workshop and somehow the publicized attendance numbers just don’t jive with what you can see with your own eyes at the event? Have you been in an exhibit hall where there are supposedly X number of attendees and your impression is that the number is more like Y?

What are your thoughts on attendance at genealogy events in general? Do you think that conference and event planners prop up attendance figures, and if so, why? Should vendors at these events insist on a report as to number of registered attendees, number of walk-ins, etc. after the event?

Finally, do you think that in general genealogy events are seeing a decline in attendance in the past few years? Is it the economy? The popularity of genealogy webinars?

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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While I may be in a precarious position here since I volunteer as publicity person for several genealogy events and societies, as someone who tries to get our community to view current issues from all angles, I feel the need to speak up about the topic of attendance at these events.

Do You See What I See?

When I am at a genealogy conference or event, I use my observations and analytic skills to figure out what the “real” attendance is.  I can factor in a bigger exhibit hall over last year.  I do a head count when I am in each lecture.  If handouts are left on seats before a keynote address, I can count those that are left behind.

The fact is this and it has to be said: genealogy event attendance is down over past years.  Some events have seen a more drastic decline than others.  Yes there are  many factors such as geographical location, the economy and others, but come on . . . let’s admit what’s going on and have a serious discussion about attendance at genealogy events.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

As I often say, genealogists are smart cookies and we can smell bologna and cheese a mile away.  We are researchers at heart after all.  We do our homework.  We look, we observe, we analyze.

The planners of genealogy conferences are doing the genealogy community and industry a disservice by not being honest about attendance figures.  In my mind, it is much like “realtor geography.”  It means that a dump of a place in a high-crime area which borders a better neighborhood is marketed as being in that good neighborhood.  Think Beverly Heights instead of Beverly Hills.

I’d love to see an organization be up front and admit that it didn’t have the numbers expected and reveal the actual figures.  There is no shame in this.  It can be done without affixing blame. We – vendors, societies, genealogists – all need this info if we are to move our field forward and understand why some events are not successful.

We are only deceiving ourselves by not being honest about genealogy conference attendance.

What The Genealogy Industry Is Telling Me

The facts tell me that some vendors, even big ones like Ancestry.com, are cutting their conference exhibit budgets and looking for new and different events at which to appear instead of the usual annual conferences.

In addition, more and more vendors are doing the math and when they add up what they see it doesn’t match what the conference organizers are telling them.  I’m seeing certain vendors pass on some events where they’ve always appeared and they are being more selective in terms of where they set up shop.

Perhaps the economy has had an impact, but it might be more than that.  Has the “portability” of genealogy attendance impacted “brick and mortar” events? I mean webinars that make it easy to participate in workshops and lectures from the comfort of one’s own home or office.  While a webinar will never replicate the in-person experience of seeing your favorite genealogy speaker, the concept has made genealogy education available to the masses and in a convenient format.

Or perhaps the genealogy conference concept needs updating. Are we “doing what we’ve always done” and seeing a diminishing return on the investment? Many of these events rely upon thousands of volunteer hours.  What if professional conference planners were used to improve efficiency? What if the volunteers could then return to running society projects and providing member services to help improve the society and maintain it as a vibrant part of the genealogy community?

Finally, what if genealogy events went more radical?  Have we been following what other industries are doing with their events? What about offering a Groupon deal on registration to bring in new folks to the event? What about using a ticket-per-seat option to guarantee a seat in the most popular lectures?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: if we want to find the answers, we need to admit there is a problem.

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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.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Open Thread Thursday: Does Celebrity Genealogy Mean Sloppy Research?

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This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Is there something about the cult of celebrity and researching their roots that makes for strange bedfellows when you mix famous folks and genealogy? While we as genealogists love the media exposure, do we sometimes pursue it to our own detriment and in a way that harm’s our field?

Do we as genealogists sometimes throw reason and good research practices out the window in order to be affiliated with a television show or a story? Is there pressure to come up with a story that doesn’t exist or to stitch together evidence to reach a conclusion that doesn’t meet the Genealogical Proof Standard or even qualify as a reasonably exhaustive search?

Or is it more a matter of a media industry which does not fully understand genealogy and family history research? In this age of the quick sound bite, does the media “dumb down” what we do and seeks out a story that really isn’t there or a story to fit a desired conclusion?

Have you had your own encounters with the media involving your own research or some aspect of genealogy? Tell us about your experience and what you think celebrity genealogy does for the genealogy industry.

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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I can be as big a fame whore as the next person – there is something special about personally talking with the stars or the producers of Who Do You Think You Are? You get giddy, you tell friends and colleagues, you somehow think it makes you special. But it doesn’t make you a better genealogist.

And I think that researching the roots of the famous is not the issue here – it is hasty and sloppy research that doesn’t follow the Genealogical Proof Standard combined with a basic lack of understanding about genealogy from the media as well as the general public.

But even when the standards are followed, care should be taken when dealing with the media in relating evidence and a conclusion, especially when those “wiggle” words are used.  In the recent case of politician Elizabeth Warren’s supposed Cherokee roots and the recent involvement with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), I truly believe that sound research was in practice and in process. See Garance Franke-Ruta’s excellent article at The Atlantic (Is Elizabeth Warren Native American or What?) for an overview of the controversy.

But, most of the media ignored the “qualified” answer as well as those wiggle words and ran with a story while the research was still being undertaken. This is why it can be better sometimes to not present a “half time” view of research until a reasonably exhaustive search is done and the results can be presented as a whole. There are times when I think it would be nice to be part of a “hot” story, but as I evolve in my genealogy career, very often I find myself putting the brakes on my involvement in order to stop a “run away” story that can take on a life of its own. And with today’s marriage of traditional media and social media, that is one fast moving train that often can’t be stopped or steered effectively.

Another example is the recent broadcast of Who Do You Think You Are? involving Jason Sudeikis and his alleged bigamist great-grandfather. As you can see in a recent discussion over at a new blog, The Lineal Arboretum,  there is a lot more research involved than what was shown in the episode. Perhaps as genealogists we use a much more critical eye when research results are presented in such shows, and we should. Again, in 42 minutes, a television show is going to make it all look so easy.

This approach does bring newcomers to the field of genealogy and we all seem to benefit – professional genealogists, genealogy vendors and even genealogy societies.  But often it can be quite a bit of work to “undo” the mindset that arrives with the newcomers, and convince them that genealogy is not “magic.” Genealogy is a process which has research standards and an industry with professionals committed to those standards.

Sometimes I wonder if having the media spotlight on genealogy is not just more trouble than its worth but harmful to the industry. Or perhaps we as genealogists just need bigger voices when it comes to the media and we need to start controlling the conversation.

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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.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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