I love, truly love, genealogy and family history! I am a true-life example of my favorite genealogy quote “I used to have a life and then I started doing genealogy.” This is especially true since I started my business, Onward To Our Past®.
Unfortunately, I have come to discover that there tend to be two ‘camps’ of people I run into in genealogy. First there are the kind, open-hearted, helpful, and supportive folks (whom I love), and then there are what I call the ‘genealogy snobs’ (whom I detest). Unfortunately the ‘genealogy snobs’ seem to be gaining on the community and for that we are all the poorer. It seems to me that they are taking their lead from the disharmony of politics these days and to be following a motto of ‘I deserve mine, and you deserve to sit down and shut up’.
First, the good:
Discovering your family history is awesome and something that everyone should try.
The thrill of discovery is a wonderful feeling. The immense amount of learning that comes from the history and times of our ancestors. The incredibly deeper understanding of ourselves as individuals that comes with knowing, understanding, and appreciating your roots and what makes you who you are! It is a field that holds personal rewards that are of such a soulful nature that when you do make a discovery, jumping out of your chair, fist pumping, and doing your ‘Happy Dance’ comes naturally and with abandon.
As I have pursued my family history into the 1500s in Bohemia (the Czech Republic now), Cornwall, and Italy, I have become a far richer person. Not in monetary terms, but in terms of how much I have learned about history, about the world, and best of all about my family and the dozens of cousins I have connected with and now hold in my dearest circle of my life. Be they in Cornwall, Czech Republic, Italy, California, Texas, or Ohio, they are close to me in a way I never envisioned before I began this work.
Then there are the people I have met through genealogy who fall in that first wonderful camp of collegial community members. There have been mentors galore from whom I have benefited greatly. There are now people in my life such as the incredibly talented and knowledgeable Peter Foden, the world-class paeleographer, who could, with good reasons, be unapproachable and off-putting. Instead he is one of the most sharing people I have met. He seems to enjoy seeing me learn as much as he enjoys his work.
There have been those folks on message boards, in chat rooms, and social media who have not only taken time to answer a question, but to go above and beyond the answer with some examples and creating a learning opportunity. There have been those folks I have encountered who, in response to a question, have taken their lunch hour to trudge across town and slog through a churchyard and/or parish church to get me information, data, photographs, etc. Oh, and now that I mention photographs, there are those photographers, such as Steve Joyce who ventured out for me to use his highly trained photographer’s eye to capture the beauty of several stained glass windows at Talaton parish for me. Not only did I get the image I was seeking, but I got treated to a set of views of the church and churchyard that are second to none.
I could go on and on about the good ones … the real community of helping and caring folks in genealogy! Another is Peter Knegtel, who has spent a good portion of his life working on the Knechtl family worldwide, of which I am a part. He could have easily pushed me aside in my early inquiries as a greenhorn newbie, but he didn’t. He took the time to respond to me, he taught me, and now we actually work together on some of the toughest research on this family. Or I could talk about Martin Pytr, a world-class Czech researcher in Moravia who never is too busy to lend an ear, offer a suggestion, spend a moment teaching, or to simply listen to a theory. These are true win-win situations and celebrations of collaboration.
BUT THERE IS ALSO THE BAD SIDE:
Unfortunately, I am seeing more and more of a very negative group of people in genealogy. These are folks whom I call ‘genealogy snobs’. I have found that they ten to be marked by some very specific actions, such as:
- Showing open disdain for anyone who might dare disagree with their specific point of view.
- An almost instant willingness to engage in public trashings of those who question their position, data, findings, or even their sense of humor.
- Ignoring, or worse, blackballing, those who do not act as sycophants.
- Unwilling to admit that a software program they use is not totally and completely perfect and if you have a problem with it you must be an idiot.
- Belittling those with less experience or credentials than they have.
- Setting up ‘castes’ of fellow genealogist by whether or not you are a ‘professional’ or ‘a simple hobbyist’ or something worse.
- Ignoring anyone who is not of the proper ‘caste’ to warrant their precious attention.
- Copping an attitude of ‘my way or the highway’ in genealogy, which frequently are mired in methods, systems, and ideas of the past.
- An unwillingness to accept newer technologies, which they hold some unexplained grudge against, and then an attitude of hostility to anyone who might actually think these technologies are useful.
- Constantly scream that every problem is a potential threat to the very existence of genealogy and is a purposeful attack on the genealogy community.
I tire easily of these folks and have come to believe they should all be sent to a very large room, full of only those of their own ilk, and forced to listen to their own self-centered, egotistical selves.
I believe that it is deeply unfortunate that there is such a large group of ‘genealogy snobs’ out there. If they gain the upper hand, it will spell certain doom for the growth and popularity of genealogy.
Personally, I have never had a significant breakthrough in my genealogy/family history work that I accomplished by myself. Somewhere along my path to discovery someone showed me some kindness, educated me, suggested something to me, corrected me, led me, and at times pushed me to continue.
As a result I keep this Winston Churchill quote taped on the edge of my computer monitor: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
There are more than a few folks out there I’d love to send this to!