In Genealogy New Is Good, but Old Can Be Better!
Genealogy, like everything in life, is in a state of constant change. Very much like the old adage “the only thing constant in life is change” new ideas, new ways of doing things and new materials become available to us to help us with our journeys. This is a great thing. Change brings new ideas, new vistas, new and improved technologies, and new ways of undertaking our favorite passion of family history.
However, I offer one piece of advice …. LET’S NOT FORGET THE OLD. ONE IS SILVER AND THE OTHER IS GOLD
While there is often a natural inclination to go with whatever is new, frequently in the case of genealogy there is much to be gained from working with the long established in our community. As I said, I believe in some areas the new may be silver, but the old is frequently gold! Please do not take this post as any type of bashing of the myriad of new genealogy-related organizations, Facebook pages, and other efforts that are sprouting up all over the Internet. I applaud them. What I am saying, however, is that often times there is neither any need to reinvent the wheel, nor is it always the wisest to go about these new efforts as the new ‘Lone Ranger’ in town.
All over the world there are some magnificent organizations that are currently doing, and have been doing fantastic work in genealogy for decades and longer. Many of these organizations might not be household words, but there are there and many have magnificent resources for us to use. They should not be overlooked. As a matter of fact, some of my most significant discoveries have been made while working with many of these long-established organizations.
One example of what I am thinking about here is the recent movement to create an organization for place name studies. Perhaps a fine idea, however, I have yet to encounter a place that does not have a long established organization in place that has quite literally phenomenal resources. For example, frequently I have found myself interested in doing some research in the hometowns of some of my family and ancestors. While I had to do a bit of searching, I found truly awesome help and resources with organizations such as the Greater Cleveland Genealogical Society where I found some subject matter experts that I had been unfamiliar with before my membership, Canadian County Oklahoma Genealogical Society where a wonderful volunteer found over two dozen photographs of ancestors, Lawrence County Ohio Genealogical Society where I connected with several folks who have lived their lives in the area and know it like the back of their hand, Wadena County (MN) Historical Society, which held a wonderful set of early publications that had ancestral biographies in them, Czech Heritage Project, where I connected with newly discovered distant cousins, and Wayne County (PA) Historical Society. The beauty of these organizations is that in every case I have discovered that they hold some amazing resources that are one-of-a-kind, such as in the case of Wayne County Historical Society, their museum holds four years of personal letters written by a Civil War Captain family member. Plus every one of these organizations and other have folks who have spent decades knowing, living, and learning about the area. In many cases the volunteer I spoke with was able to put me in contact with distant cousins in the area and in one instance it was even a relation that answered my phone call!
There are also some awesome subject matter organizations that have also been hard at work for generations. I frequently read posts mentioning the need for an organization for cemeteries. However the is already a truly amazing organization The Association of Gravestone Studies, which does wonderful work in analyzing, documenting, and proper preservation techniques for gravestones and graveyards. They also have a robust cadre of local chapters hard at work. Another example happened to me when I came across the fact that one of my Phillipps ancestors had handcrafted mile markers along a road called the Launceston Turnpike in Cornwall, United Kingdom. In my efforts to learn more about this interesting fact I discovered The Milestone Society. To my amazement not only did I learn a huge amount about milestones in the British Isles, but I even started communicating with a fellow historian who has studied and seen some of the milestones crafted by my ancestor.
These are just two examples of wonderful, niche organizations that have amazing resources, knowledge bases, and information.
These days many genealogy and history societies and organizations are feeling the effects of the Great Recession and its lasting economic impacts. Many are seeing their membership dwindle and they are doing their best to survive in these challenging times of fewer donations and tighter budgets. We certainly gain more by multiplying than we do by dividing. This is true in math and it is true in genealogy and family history.
As a result of my experiences I certainly think it advisable to work hand-in-hand with existing genealogy organizations when any new initiative is considered rather than running off and creating a new initiative, especially when it essentially duplicates what is already available. Having a significant number of my ancestors in Ohio, I use Ohio resources frequently and, or instance, have noticed that there are now any number of Ohio genealogy pages on Facebook, several of which are generic genealogy pages, neither with connected nor enhancing the Ohio Genealogical Society’s page or efforts, plus several of these have become moribund. I feel sorry for ‘fans’ of these pages who post on essentially a ‘dead’ page. Working together would strengthen not only any new initiative, but also the OGS as well. This is just one example and I am sure there are many more.
To me another example is the unfortunately duplication by newer site BillionGraves of the already well established site FindAGrave. Why, other than for competitive reasons (and money I suppose) did the new BillionGraves not work with and build on the success and data of FindAGrave to create one wonderful site and database rather than beginning a second? This seems so useless to me, but that water in under the bridge now.
I understand a person’s desire to create the ‘next big thing’. However, if someone has already created a substantial presence in an area of genealogy why not cooperate with these preexisting organizations and sites that have been on the genealogy scene for years and in some instances generations to make the existing even stronger and better?
I truly believe that in the vast majority of undertakings we are consistently better off and get farther ahead when we cooperate than when we ignore history and the work already done by so many others and decide to reinvent that which has already been invented.
We in genealogy spend so much of our time and resources searching for clues, leads, and hints that it seems to me we should be the first folks in line when it comes to cooperation. We need to be taking full advantage of multiplying our efforts amongst organizations and groups and not continuing efforts to simply create more. Unifying our efforts will result in stronger organizations and give us all a better genealogy ROI!
Onward To Our Past®