|Author's children, learning to compromise.|
It's not just true in politics: you see it everywhere you turn. It's a cultural thing. It even rears its ugly head in the genealogy world. It is not fashionable to be tolerant and patient. Somehow people have decided that they must not listen to anyone with a different view, and in fact, must condemn them. Is it for fear of weakening their own opinions? If so, it means that their view is founded on emotion, not facts. I've got nothing against emotion. But first I want to make sure that what I'm getting whooped up about is actually true. Only then can I truly express indignation. Nothing burns me up more than watching someone rant about something that is true only in the ranter's own mind. What a waste of energy. I think fear causes most of this, and fear can be alleviated through gathering more information about an issue.
Some people think they are being objective because they do seek others' opinions. They talk to people (their friends), watch the news (on one channel) or check things out on the web, usually starting with a Google search. It was recently reported in the news that Google searches don't return purely objective results. Google is learning about you by how you act online, what sites you visit, what you search for. So Google brings you what IT thinks you would like to see. This makes it tougher to seek out other points of view. Just as I get my news from multiple sources, including but not limited to various media outlets, so would I like to have a completely unbiased-in-my favor search result. I'm looking for truth, not stroking of my ego. Add to that the fact that Google has their own reasons for skewing the results, based on advertising dollars, and you have a cloudy vision of reality.
So what, you may rightly ask, does this have to do with genealogy? Open-mindedness and compromise are what lead us to continue learning even when we think we know it all, as many seem to these days. In particular, I'm thinking of genealogical societies. There is a crisis in genealogical circles today: a massive clash of the old and new style genealogist. Two vastly different demographic groups are intersecting after years of remaining isolated from one other, and creating what appears to be a rift.
We Can Fix This!
Many societies were founded in the 1980s, before computers, before the internet, when genealogy was unknown to most people. They were a great place to gather with like-minded souls, laugh about loving cemeteries and go on research trips together. The pace of research, and life in general, was exponentially slower. Most societies' members were limited to those able to travel to a convenient meeting place and who had local genealogical interests in common. Sharing surnames was a great ice-breaker and many people learned a lot from their peers. The members considered themselves experienced, well-rounded genealogists.
Once the internet catapulted many of us into warp speed, we found the web to be an increasingly fruitful way to research, organize and communicate with other genealogists. Many, many newer genealogists have never belonged to a genealogical society though, because the drive to network is not as strong nowadays, not at first. Online communities provide so much support that it takes a while for people to realize that there is nothing like live interaction to deepen the connection with others, enhance learning and create friendships with like-minded people. When developing genealogists reach this point in their experience it is natural to refer them to local societies.
|No need to resort to fighting.|
The open-mindedness needs to go both ways, however. We repeatedly see the techno-genealogists join a society and their first instinct is naturally to help (whip) them into the 21st century. Because they have no need for it themselves, newer members might want to eliminate costly hard copy traditions and slower ways of the well ensconced members. This is generally met with a planted-foot stance and reluctance, if not absolute refusal to cooperate. This is because the two groups have not previously co-existed. So patience on all sides is warranted! There is, after all, a shared goal which can be explored and developed.
What will happen to these two groups? I find myself smack dab in between and I can see that both sides need tolerance and patience for a few years. Do societies want to continue to survive? If so, they must find a way to welcome these changes without fear of losing the society's identity. The experienced leaders need to nurture and pass the baton to the newer ones. Fresh blood enriches any organization, pumping it with new ideas that create enthusiasm and pride in new accomplishments. They need to happily embrace technology and view it not as a threat, but as an enhancement to everything they have done and are doing. On the other hand, newer members need to understand that not everything can be accomplished electronically. The must listen between the lines and realize that some members are completely threatened by technology for a variety of reasons. They fear that the internet and computers will completely replace telephone calls and letters and paper newsletters, as sometimes they do. Surely there is a way to reassure them that they will still be valued members.
I would like to suggest that deliberate thought be given to connecting these two groups and all societies implement a bridging mechanism.
Hold on to the Past While Reaching into the Future
|Cars can use covered bridges, too.|
We can also work with those non-techie genealogists to introduce them to aspects of the web that could help them. Perhaps they do not have a computer. This could be due to financial constraints. Or it could be disinterest or even disdain. Then again, may it is just because they don't know where to start. There are computers in libraries where we can access Ancestry.com and other databases, even set up email accounts. We can have a ten-minute mini-lesson by laptop at the beginning of every meeting, where we offer explanations of jargon, perhaps something like, "What Exactly is a Blog, for Goodness' Sake," or introduce a new website. A little demonstration of how to send email to more than one person, or include an attachment could be very helpful. Seemingly simple things can empower those not familiar with them. Sometimes people just don't know the questions to ask, and once you start explaining you will receive a flood of questions, and see the relief on their faces when they realize it isn't as daunting as they had feared.
Alert the membership to the fact that digital publications cost very little to store, nothing to mail, and take up no space. Inventories can be reduced, not eliminated. Assure them that you will still mail out paper copies to those that need them, but that there will be a great savings in cost if publications go digital. With this reduction in printing costs you may be able to reduce or even eliminate dues. There is nothing to lose for those who still require hard copy, and everything to be gained for those that don't.
Lay the Groundwork for the Future
At the same time, the newer genealogists can be tutored in offline record groups, local repositories, and well established methodology. Members with 25 years of experience probably know who the local clerks and librarians are and can share handy research tips. And again, learning the history of your society means you will not repeat errors of the past. So often newer people assume that things have never been done, then find they have. Isn't it best to learn what happened before plowing into it all over again?
Nobody is saying it is easy. Societies are folding all over the country. The only way we are going to prevent that is if we can get these two previously isolated groups to co-mingle. Be open-minded, patient, reassuring and instructive, and with some compromise on both sides we will make it happen!
[Thank you to Ryan and Nathan for allowing me to use your images royalty-free!]