THE BLOG

Genealogy and Change: Like Tea and Scones, We Must Embrace Them Both

29/04/2013 13:03 BST | Updated 24/06/2013 10:12 BST

Someone once said 'some things never change'. Don't believe them! Nothing ever stays the same and everything is always changing. So it is with genealogy and our quests to find our family histories. While the fundamentals might remain similar over time, how we go about it, what we can access, technologies, etc. are all continually changing.

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So I suggest that we never try and stay the same. We shouldn't try and go back to some older time. We must embrace change because change IS inevitable. At least to me, it is far better to acclimate to changes in the world than to be left in the dust of antiquated processes and thinking.

Just as you and I are one day older today than we were at this same time yesterday, so is the world changing and how we must go about our life changes each day. Sometimes the world changes for the better. Sometimes it seems changes are for the worse. But make no mistake about it. Things are changing, so in order to do our best we need to be ready, willing, and flexible to embrace change.

I will readily admit that while I personally thrive on, and embrace, change; I do not necessarily 'love' every change that I encounter. For example I still prefer my morning newspaper the old-fashioned way, on paper and in print. There is just something very comforting to me about the feel of newsprint with my morning coffee. I probably won't get to enjoy it this way for long, because I am as guilty as the next chap in that I also check my newsfeeds on the computer to see what is happening at that very minute.

This is especially true of our pursuit of genealogy. It wasn't that long ago that folks marveled at the advent of microfilm. Now, more often than not, I hear folks complaining when they have to go to a microfilm reader and wonder aloud why the records they are seeking haven't been digitized yet. Oh, and I rarely ever hear someone saying 'boy, I sure miss microfilm' (or microfiche) when records have been digitally captured.

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I also love antique books. I love them as much as I dislike 'print on demand' copies of old books. (Aside: I say this inasmuch as I have been burned far too many times with incomplete or shoddy products to make the mistake again of buying print on demand copies.) So it was that I was like a kid in a candy shop when I found a complete set of Sir John Maclean's "The Parochial and Family History of the Deanery of Trigg Minor, in the County of Cornwall", published in 1873. This was especially true as I have since discovered that Sir John is a first cousin of mine. I love these antique books because they were the only way anything was published in earlier times. And as much as I adore having such volumes on my bookshelf, I also appreciate that they have now been digitally copied for posterity for many other people to access and enjoy. But we no longer rely on the need to hand set type and hand-crank our printing presses. E-publishing also eliminates risk, inventory, storage, spoilage, and expenses for many in genealogy. Does this mean change for some publishers and Societies? Of course it does. Just ask the buggy whip makers.

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Now days, I even find myself more frequently feeling irked with organizations that do not e-publish their newsletters, magazines, etc. Unless someone is still banging out these newsletters on a typewriter or mimeograph machine, they are being computer-generated to begin with. Why not let members and other folks access them electronically? E-publishing saves trees, saves postage, and saves the material for posterity much better than paper copies, especially after they have often been mangled on their trips through the postal services. I'll bet you London-to-a-brick that when I pass away no one in my family is going to keep the carton of old newsletters I have from genealogy Societies. Heck, even I toss many of the issues into my recycling bin if they do not have any information that is germane for me. But the e-versions live on in my hard drive.

Like many of you, I have used Facebook for family history purposes. Is it perfect? No. Is it hack-proof? No, but then again hardly anything is online (but since I actively stay away from many of the outside apps, I have done just fine). Do I hear loads of folks still saying how terrible Facebook is? Yep. But think of this fact: Facebook has over 1.06 billion active monthly users as of April 2013 (from ExpandedRamblings.com). Did you catch that? More than 1 billion! Where else can you find that kind of electronic reach? Add dozens of genealogy and history societies and groups having a Facebook page and I wonder how can you not be there?

We must also, as a community, realize that we are but a portion of the society we live and work in. We need to understand that our goals and interests may not always mesh or support the goals and interests of other segments of society. This does NOT mean they are attacking us, as so many genealogy bloggers often seem to want us to believe. Life is not always 'us vs. them'. It simply means other people and groups can view the same issue from a different perspective and may well have differing goals in mind. We must learn to dialog, debate, and coexist. We simply cannot afford to be seen as a consistently reactionary group that is change-averse and that views change as some sort of 'attack' on us.

Change also demands that we, as a community, must operate openly and transparently in our genealogy. We should encourage privacy policies that are crystal clear, understandable, and not hidden in fine print on the bottom of a remote webpage. We must honor copyright laws and seek permission to utilize information from any source, just as we dutifully footnote and/or document our sources on our family trees. It may take time, but every one of us should ask permission before we utilize any information, photographs, documents, etc. from any site be it FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, an individual's family tree, FindAGrave.com, etc. After all, don't you want the same common courtesy extended to your work and your family information? And while I am on the issue of transparency, if a blogger is financially beholden to a company, then they need to say so. If they are employed by that company then they really need to say so right up front. If you are pursuing your genealogy for your personal religious convictions, that is fine and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. However, perhaps you need to say so, just as business entities/services that share data with a religious group need to do. Especially if this is one of the reasons you are trumpeting the 'need' for everyone to share their genealogy online. The days of silence, secrecy, and obfuscation are long gone and those who practice such will, at some point, cast a very negative light on all of us in the genealogy and family history community.

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Pauline R. Kezer penned one of my favorite quotes on change: "Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights."

So what do you say? Let's embrace change as we go Onward To Our Past!