24/06/2014 10:04 BST | Updated 24/08/2014 06:59 BST

Seven Solid Rules for Genealogy and Family History

Seven Solid Rules for Genealogy and Family History

I recently read a thoughtful and thought-provoking blog post by Dr. Steven Lubar, a professor in the Department of American Studies at Brown University. It is titled "Seven Rules for Public Humanists" and you can read the full post by Professor Lubar here.


The thing that struck me most profoundly about Professor Lubar's rules is that you can substitute 'genealogists' or 'family historians' for 'public humanists' and the rules ring just as true for us. They are seven rules, if we want more folks to fall in love with our passion of genealogy, ancestry, and family history we really ought to follow!

Dr. Lubar's rules are as follows:

1. It's not about you.

2. Be a facilitator and translator as well as an expert.

3. Scholarship starts with public engagement.

4. Communities define community.

5. Collaborate with artists.

6. Think digital.

7. Humanists need practical skills.

These basic rules fit so very well with what we, as genealogy and family historian fans should be practicing in our own communities if we want to attract more folks, especially family members, to our shared love of working on our genealogy and our passion for understanding our family history and ancestors.

These rules may seem easy and simple, but unfortunately all too often I observe some in the genealogy community acting almost exactly the opposite to these rules.

Two of the common themes in Dr. Lubar's rules are those of inclusivity and collaboration. These ideas that some may think of as 'simple' can be a challenge to some folks to actually live. For genealogy fans Rule #2 is especially important. While we each have some level of expertise in our family history, we very much need to remember to facilitate and very often 'translate' our information and findings for our audiences. This is not a sign of anything other than being able to relate, and relate well, with your audience.

This leads right into Rule #4, 'communities define community'. All too often we try and form the community we are working with into what we 'believe' it must be for its own good. Or at times we run off to immediately begin some new group or program to try and propagate our view of what is needed by or in a community. What we really should be doing is sitting back, listening, and then collaborating and improving as best we can that which is in front of us in that community or group already.

Naturally for genealogy Rule #6 is crucial as well. We must move away from paper and become totally comfortable with digital products of our work. One of the challenges under this rule will be to, again, be collaborative and facilitator, and engage the advice of Kent Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society. Kent has said "Stewardship is an open hand, not a closed fist." In the case of 'going digital' this advice is especially important since we need to encourage genealogy and family history aficionados to 'going digital', but by using an 'open hand' and not a 'closed fist' of insisting that there is only one way, or software package, with which to do so.

There is much we can achieve in our genealogy and ancestry work through collaboration and it seems to me that the collaboration and outcomes will only become greater by following Dr. Lubar's rules!