Kimmitt Genealogical Research

14 September 2015

GenStock 2015: On Being An Early Adapter

Yesterday was the final day of GenStock 2015, a three-day retreat for professional genealogists. GenStock was the brainchild of Billie Fogarty and Matthew McCormack who managed to bring to fruition a dreamy vision first conjured up 18 months ago after years of what-ifs discussed at conventional genealogical conferences. 
  • What if we could get together for longer periods of time, without the distractions of conference work? In a really relaxing, casual place?
  • What if we had time to really explore the state of the field of genealogy? And to examine what constitutes being professional in our field?
  • What if we had input not only from well established genealogists but also from newer professionals with the potential to imbue our community with new ideas and more energy?
  • What if we could view one another as colleagues instead of competitors?
  • What if we could find a way to give newer professionals the acknowledgement they often deserve without thinking they need to "come up the hard way," like we did.
The dream had us all coming together on a farm in Northern Michigan to ruminate on these concepts and more: alternatives for advanced education; how to market your business; whether there a need for a new publication, and so much more –– essentially, anything we all could think up to discuss.

Matt and Billie had no idea whether people would come. So hard to get to, no nearby repository to justify the expense of the trip. Early details were vague as they wisely left it to the greater group to discover its own purpose. Invitations were awkward. It would be impossible to invite every serious professional, so they introduced it in phases, enlarging the "guest list" each time, and eventually extending the invitation to all serious professionals, telling us, "invite colleagues you think would enjoy it." Still, a risky undertaking and some feelings were hurt, but I suppose that was unavoidable.

The resulting mix was 20 people that normally would not be thrown together like that: some nationally known, others pretty new to the scene; old and young, taking clients and not. So over the course of three days on Matt's beautiful farm in Alpena we gathered to share and learn. And now we want to disseminate what we concluded. 

The first words out of Billie's mouth were, "There are no wrong answers here." She set a tone of warm acceptance and no one violated that, to my knowledge. I did not hear any sniping and I must say it felt really nice after three days of constant discussions not to witness any animosity.
Colleagues want to know what we learned. I learned very little. But I stopped to dwell on some things that I've already recognized, but have not worked toward improving, and I will do so in the future.
  • Our awareness of others generally results from them being outstanding students in a course, being on the lecture circuit, being introduced by another colleague, or writing for journals. Many superior genealogists do not fall into any of those neat little boxes, and there are colleagues we may never have heard of who do great work.
  • Our colleagues can be supportive and encouraging when relieved of their fears and gently massaged in that direction. 
  • Experience in the field of genealogy is not the only criterion by which professionals should be judged. Those transitioning over from other professions may have research, writing and analysis skills that put them way ahead of the game. Advanced courses and the proliferation of primary information on the web speeds up their learning curve tremendously.
  • People are their own worse enemies, usually from insecurity. The cure is to date to reach out, share your concerns about yourself and soon enough your colleagues will help you overcome that barrier.
I did learn one thing. I finally got it through my thick skull that the SLIG Practicum is extremely useful, even (especially!!) for the advanced genealogist. So I am going to be brave and go for it in January. I'm secretly (not so much secretly after this) afraid that I won't solve any of them, but must admit that's probably not going to happen. I think if all of us could do just one think we're nervous or insecure about we'd all be a lot better off, so that's mine.

Billie and Matt, you have created a beautiful thing. You laid the ground work and then let it grow organically into an entity which will positively impact our field. Thank you for that. For those of you that did not attend, there WILL be a GenStock 2016, so stay tuned.


Sheri Fenley said...

Thank you for the review of your trip Polly. I truly wished I could have joined you all. HOWEVER, this retreat sounds like it is good for the soul and so will forfeit the major event I usually attend and spend my money on GENSTOCK next year. Um, where is Michigan?

Katherine R. Willson said...

A lovely description of what was obviously a beautiful weekend with beautiful people. Thanks for sharing it with all of us, Polly! I can't wait to meet folks at the next one!

Jacqi Stevens said...

Jealous, Polly! I'm absolutely jealous! This type of format would be so welcome, not only for genealogy professionals--as was your group's intended purpose--but for further learning in all aspects of genealogy. Classroom learning is essential, and conferences are great. But there seems to be a different stage of learning that isn't often addressed--a process, a sharing, an application evolving through examination--and I think the mode of Genstock is exactly the process that would best fit this niche of learning.

Read your post yesterday, kept thinking about it and had to come back and say something. I hope this Genstock idea sparks many more such explorations.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

This is why I love getting the New England GeneaBloggers together a few times a year. We don't have a plan for discussion, but it happens and good ideas, sharing, collaborations and friendships form each time. It is so different than online discussions or quick luncheon conversation during conferences or classes.

Christine said...

Polly, Thank you so much for sharing. This sounds great. Being involved with NERGC and even joining NEAPG were all outside my comfort zone. When I started college I decided the only way to grow was to go way outside my comfort zone. In college it was going door to door to get nominations my Freshman year for Student Senate to being the first Female student body present in my Junior year, being the support and having a stay at home dad when nobody did that to many years later taking on the Volunteer Chair role at NERGC when I didn't know anyone and had only attended one conference 4 plus years before. Then being Tri-Chair for 2015. What I like about the genealogy community is the acceptance and sharing. I also want to attend a SLIG or something. I have also debated attend the BU program since it started.

Jana Iverson Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Polly F. Kimmitt said...

Thanks for all of the kind comments. We all definitely felt like we were experiencing something new, different and quite wonderful. It will be SO fun to hear about next year's event!

Jackie said...

Is there a good place to find out about next year's event? I am still in the thinking about going professional phase, but I may have transitioned into a professional status by next year.