23 January 2012

Caps for Sale - the State of My Life

Courtesy of http://books.google.com
Someone on my Facebook page asked how many hats I currently wear. Quite a few, as it turns out. Here on my blog I write about things readers might find interesting. To me, my own activities don't fall into that category, but I've had a few people chastise me about that, so here it is.

There is a lot of negative buzz in the genealogical community lately about people overselling themselves, and I certainly don't want to come across that way because in reality I don't think anything I'm doing is all that spectacular. I myself am happy with it, but I'm not out to impress anyone. Then again, it seems kind of dumb that you can read my blog and have no idea what I'm doing. I always say that if you carry modesty too far it becomes an egotistical thing. A person who purposefully does not share anything about him/herself can seem closed-off, and for what purpose?

Courtesy of http://www.networkoffood.com/pies
So, yes, I've got my finger in countless pies these days. It goes in cycles. I take on lots of projects, work really hard for two-three years, nearly burn out, then take a year off to recover. Right now I'm in a heavy work phase and will be for another two years. I have already decided that from then on I will only accept one major volunteer position at a time. Remind me at the end of 2013 somebody!

Love
Being a wife and mother is my favorite thing in the whole world. With two kids in college and one in high school the responsibilities have eased up over the years, but I always put family first.* Home is where I relax, feel centered and can gaze lovingly at my sons and husband when not yelling at them about socks in the middle of the room or toilet seats in the wrong position. My boys are what sustain me. And my friends brighten my days and I am blessed to have so many that I love.

Courtesy www.dtic.mil/dpmo
Job
I work for the American History Company, under contract with the US Army, and have posted about this before. This takes up the bulk of my working time. It is extremely rewarding and my co-workers are the best! I wake up in the morning and start thinking about the cases I'm working on and next thing you know I'm at the computer. Whoosh! Not bad for someone who has trouble getting started in the morning.  I also take on various genealogical research projects, most of which are Massachusetts immigration/emigration jobs.

Volunteering
It may be voluntary for some people, but I feel obliged to give back to a very generous and nurturing genealogical community that welcomed me when I was a n00Bish genealogist. I count myself among the most fortunate people on the planet, having a big warm house, the aforementioned well beloved family, a job I adore, fuzzy cat, dear friends, and several ongoing knitting projects beckoning. Most people on this earth don't know where their next meal is coming from. I never forget about those people. Millions of them, all over the place, suffering in ways I can't even imagine. Is it guilt that makes me volunteer then? Or is it a way to return some of my good fortune to the universe? I don't know. I just know I feel compelled to give my time in some way that benefits others.

That's how I got talked into accepting the position of president of the Massachusetts Genealogical Society (MGC). I have a most spectacular executive board who greatly assist me in the work MGC is trying accomplish--educating the public about legislation that threatens to limit the access to public records. We put on an annual genealogy seminar each year and this year promises to be the best yet.

I've also been working for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) for a year or so, and as of January 1st joined the FGS Board of Directors. Being on the board means added responsibilities, so I'm also the head of the Nominating Committee, on the Conference Planning Committee and editor of the FGS Voice Newsletter. I just published the first issue in the new format yesterday and am hoping subsequent issues won't have so many, umm, issues, as this first one did.

Lest I not neglect the New England Chapter of APG, I should mention that I am currently in charge of publicity for them. I should not be doing this, don't do it well, and am looking for someone else to take it over. Anyone?

Speaking Engagements
I reluctantly accept offers to speak, and have done so a few times in the past few months. I've been a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio on Veteran's Day talking about my military research, and on FGS Radio-MySociety on January 7th, about transitioning new boards with grace and aplomb. I hate listening to myself since it appears that the only word I've ever fully mastered was "ahhh," but I also like to push myself to do things that make me feel uncomfortable, and that definitely qualifies. I also gave what might have been a fine PowerPoint presentation to the Shrewsbury Women's Club, but the projector experienced technical difficulties, so I ended up just talking and gesticulating grandly for a very bored audience! Remind me to tell you about the lady who was stalked by a genealogist that wanted to harvest one of her kidneys.

Publications
I've had a couple of articles printed about me: one in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the other in the APG Quarterly, but as for publishing something myself, I still haven't managed it. I've got a little piece I'm going to submit to the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists 2012 Writing Competition that I hope will get published, even if it doesn't win. Some day I'm hoping to actually write up my own family instead of only shoving things into folders and updating the genealogy database. Well, there is this blog, of course. I guess that counts as a publication.

Transferware Collectors Club Seminar
Baltimore, MD, October 2011
Fun Things
Lest I give the impression that I never have fun, I should mention that I belong to a very good community chorus. I also adore knitting, being particularly excited about the colors and textures of the yarn, not so much about the finished garment. I try to do things that are good for me, so I have an appointment to walk with a friend every Mon-Weds/Fri, and go to the gym on Tues/Thurs/Sat. I enjoy kayaking immensely. And so I can play dress-up without bankrupting the household I also sell Mary Kay products. I play word games on my iPhone, do crossword puzzles, love to travel, and am intending to create scrapbooks for all three sons one fine day (before they have kids of their own). I also collect blue and white Staffordshire pottery and go to a yearly Transferware Collectors Club conference with my dear sister. Part or all of the family goes on an annual week-long camping trip in New Hampshire where we meet up with old friends and enjoy the simple life. I love to take family vacations in exotic locations. See? I have fun!

Things I Don't Do Anymore
Re-Dedication of the Col. Timothy Bigelow Monument
Worcester Common, Massachusetts, May, 2008
I did not renew my commission as a Notary Public. I no longer walk 30 miles a week. I won't train for an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer again because it ruined my feet. I don't sew any more. I have a hard time reading non-genealogical books because my time is stretched too thin. I don't have many dinner parties. I haven't cross-country skied in two years. I've given up on home decorating until the last son is out of the house. In fact, the housework, in general, has slid a bit. I haven't done a thing with the DAR since my "reign" as regent of the Worcester chapter ended. I don't sing in the church choir, nor do I make it to church very often. I'm no longer the Church Historian or on the Church Council. I am no longer on any school councils or committees. I do not currently volunteer for APG. My garden is sadly neglected, to our neighbors' chagrin.

Priorities
When you have this much on your plate, you have to constantly try and trim it down. You end up drilling down to the essence of everything you do. If you aren't careful it can be to the detriment of relationships and productivity. You notice the first subheading I listed was Love. You could take all of the other subheadings combined and they wouldn't equal that one. Love is the meaning of life. If anything were to threaten that, I would readily eliminate something else to compensate. I'm so lucky to also love my work, and those that I work with. I'm one lucky lady, that's for sure.

Feedback
Do you think this post is boastful, arrogant or publicity-based? Does it seem self-serving? I'm curious what people think about this one because it is different from my others. Let me know your thoughts!

* Except the time I went cross-country skiing with Jude and left 12-year old Nathan at home sleeping feverishly. God forgive me!

With my boys at the top of Mt. Washington, during a camping trip in 2003.


16 January 2012

Open-Mindedness and Compromise Not Dirty Words

Author's children, learning to compromise.

Play Nice!
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.
Lots of genealogical societies are still being run by the folks who founded them. It is a noble and healthy ideal to want to preserve tradition, and any institution is naturally resistant to massive change. But what has transpired with the introduction of the web is that every aspect of daily life has changed radically for the vast majority of the population. If societies do not start finding a way to welcome both younger and newer (not always the same) genealogists, they will simply fade out and finally fold once the older generation passes on.

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.
Designate a member to communicate by mail or phone with those who are not tech savvy. Yes, it is a major disruption to the way we conduct business in the 21st century. It interrupts the flow of communication and slows everything to a snail's pace. But generally those not on the computer simply want to be kept in the loop, and it is in the society's best interest to do so, given that they hold within them the institutional memory and have a perspective that we do not.

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.

Look for ways to record the history of your society and put it up on your website. New members can interview experienced members and write down their memories and highlights from the past.

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!

Brotherhood

[Thank you to Ryan and Nathan for allowing me to use your images royalty-free!]

06 January 2012

How I Can Live With Myself, Being Both a GeneaBlogger and Board-Certified Genealogist



The Rules
OK, everybody back to your corners. Here are the rules to polite behavior. Are you engaging in them?
1. Do not insult anyone.
2. Do not generalize.
3. Do not stereotype.
4. Pay attention to who is saying what and how many times s/he repeats it.
5. Count to one hundred before posting. (I know, I know, I didn't follow this with my bow tie comment on Facebook, and I'm very sorry. I'll make it up to you bow tie people.)


The Problem
The online genealogical community is in an uproar over ever-more heated comments in the debate on citing sources on blogs. I don't want to go into detail about the comments. One person in the genealogical community is proselytizing--telling bloggers how to blog. As far as I can tell, just one associate of the Board for Certification for Genealogists, commonly called Certified Genealogists(SM) or CGs. I am one of those AND a blogger, and I'm writing to defend both.

Snarkiness on the list has been dragged out and repeated endlessly by people who are not certified because they do not agree that those principles define professional genealogy. They can't seem to tell us what does, but I don't care what they think and I'm ignoring them. Can you? They have nothing to do with this discussion.

My Credentials Should Not Be Threatening to You
I pursued certification because I wanted to know how well I measured up against professional standards in the field. I'm just that kind of person. I wanted to know if I was doing it "right." I have never been the most confident of people, but I wanted to be assessed. I thought the standards made good sense, would make me more productive and please my clients. I measured up just fine, thank you very much. That's between me and BCG®. It's an assurance to my clients that at least I had the guts to let someone else look at my work and tell me what they thought of it. It's not assurance that I'm going to write fantastic reports every time, just that I want to do so. I do not want to lord my credentials over anyone. I do not think I am better than anyone else. But I worked really, really hard, learned a lot and am not going to apologize for that. I am well aware that a lot of the best genealogists in the country do not have credentials. Just because you never took an IQ test doesn't mean you're not intelligent. And some people who managed to get credentials create some lousy work.

But when are we supposed to follow the standards, including citing sources? In client reports? Of course. In writing articles (though some publications strip them out anyway)? Of course. In writing up our own research? Sure helps if you ever want to find it again. But how about blog posts?

It's My Blog and I'll Cite If I Want To
How about we leave it up to the individual? Yes, vast, angry, oh-so-sensitive GeneaBlogger community, it's up to you, personally, to make that decision. One guy trying to change the world really shouldn't be such a threat. Everyone engaging in genealogy does not have to follow professional standards. It depends on the post. It depends on what you want people to take away from the post. I've got credentials, colleagues who read my work and will judge me on it, potential clients who will be evaluating my posts, and still, only very rarely do I cite my sources in footnote form. I mention the record groups, and anything out of the ordinary or hard to find I include in the body of my post. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS, EVEN FOR PROFESSIONALS AND THOSE WITH CREDENTIALS. There is room for everyone in the sandbox as long as you don't throw sand.

The nature of blogging is casual, transient and in my opinion only one step away from email or writing in a diary. Formal ESM-style citations are overkill there, especially for the happy casual genie. The spirit of citing your sources is to make it clear where you info comes from, and bloggers just naturally do that.

It's Not Compromise, It's Inclusivity

I think it ought to be clear by now that there are two extremes. But that's the point: they are extreme ends of the spectrum of human nature. Those who need every comma in the precise spot and those who talk/write without knowing much. Neither of these is balanced. By taking what one man says and accusing 2,000 other people of subscribing to his theories you stir up trouble. It doesn't have to do with credentials. It's too easy to paint everybody in two camps. Bloggers vs. Credentialed. Everyman vs. Elitists. Democratic vs. Fascist. I have some very good friends who are persnickety about typos, commas and the like, but I am not. I care about bad information, bad manners and bad feeling in public forums. The point is to get the information out where we can access it ourselves and judge for ourselves whether it needs more research or not. The vast amount of information I've only touched on in the blog posts I've read make it clear what a genuinely valuable resource they are. The bloggers will decide on their own format. If you want a precise citation, ask the blogger.

Some of the absolute best GeneaBloggers have now declared themselves against professional genealogy and started to show disdain for what I worked so hard to achieve. All because one guy is advocating citing sources on blogs? Really? Their voices are pervasive and important to me, and I'm sad that something I was proud of having achieved is now being mocked and equated with bad character.

If you've insulted someone, apologize. If you're feeling persecuted, relax! Can we all please take the weekend off and come back with smiles on our faces, ready to do some real genealogy? It's time!