Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Reality of Genealogical Education and Skills

Recently I wrote an article entitled "The #1 Thing That Impacted My Research in 2010" where I discussed an epiphany I had about using footnotes as a guide to help with my research.

Once commenter had this to say in response:

Martin said... "I've been doing that for 20 years; talking about it for 20 years; writing about it for 20 years; and blogging about it for 3 years. Maybe people will listen to you, but I doubt it."

Martin's comment really got me thinking about genealogy, blogging, education and skills.

What is the answer?

The reality is that genealogical skills and educational training vary greatly among genealogists.

I hate to use a sports analogy but I'm going to anyway.  In the game of golf there are hobbyists and professionals and many layers in between.  The skill level and training of a hobbyist golfer, amateur golfer and professional golfer vary widely.  Similarly, genealogists have the same variance in their training and skill level when it comes to researching their ancestors.

Some genealogists never get past the superficial momentary fad of quickly checking for their ancestors online.  Others go a bit farther, seeking out ways to increase their success in the quest for their ancestors.  Others become smitten with genealogy, and even if they don't choose to become professional, they explore ever opportunity to improve their skills.  And for those with the strongest interest there are many institutions, seminars, conferences, journals etc that help them to achieve their goals.

[For a superb overview of educational opportunities within genealogy at all levels see the video of Elissa Scalise Powell presenting "Choosing the Best Continuing Education Opportunities" made freely available, along with other helpful videos on the APG website.]

Besides the desire to seek out further education, another aspect that impacts genealogical skill is pace.  Even though we may all seek to better educate ourselves we can't all do it at the same rate.  A single person or a retired person may have more resources and time on their hands than a middle-aged genealogist with a full time job or three kids to watch over.  Contrast the outside pressures in our lives with the impetus that is pushing us to learn and that creates an environment where some learn quicker than others even if the desire is great.

In my own case, for example, I have many distractions, I mean responsibilities, in my life.  That means that while I would like to focus on improving my genealogical education and skills to the fullest, I don't always get to do that.  Jump starting my education by attending far away institutions is not really an option for me.  So I make headway as best I can on my own, by reading journals, following blogs and collaborating with colleagues who have greater expertise.

So to answer your unspoken question, Martin - What's the point of wasting time blogging and trying to educate people?  I think that can only be answered individually.  I'm a populist at heart.  For me that means blogging about ideas that will help people is a worthwhile effort even on the chance that nobody reads it or learns from it.

I admit that I am hesitant to share the shortcomings in my own genealogical education.  I'm afraid to show that I don't know something which I should probably already know.  But once I started blogging I thought it might help other people if I blog about what I'm learning along the way.  If it helps bring other genealogists further along in their skill level then it was worth admitting I'm not perfect.

Martin, I hope you'll keep writing and blogging so that I can continue to learn and come closer to attaining the same level of ability that you have.  At least you will know that one person is listening.


  1. Writing on a particular subject, however worthy, is not something that should be done once, by one person, and then never discussed again, if the goal is to put knowledge in front of a large number of people. The reason why a certain person might read a certain article is a product of probability more than the intrinsic value of the writing. Right place, right time! Your article popped up in a feed I happened to look at during the time the baby is napping, the older child is in school, nobody is calling, the chores are done, and so on. It is well-written and I agree with it, but I would never had read it or made a comment if lots of other things had not reached alignment. So what's the point? I am glad you wrote it. Thank you. :-)

  2. This was particularly enlightening to a beginning genealogist like me. Thank you for posting it and also for including links to resources and webcasts.

  3. Keep up the blogging, Marian. Even if there are no comments (or a very few), it isn't an indication that your work isn't being read. Some readers just don't post a comment!

  4. I love reading your blog entries. They're always so well written and interesting. I just wanted to let you know I'm featuring you tomorrow on my Follow Friday post!

  5. I found this an interesting post with a very balanced and understanding viewpoint. We don't all start from the same place and we don't all have the same destination in mind, genealogically speaking. Thanks.

  6. It is definitely worthwhile to keep hammering some points home. While there is a certain hobbyist/name-collector segment that is resistant to learning and improving their skills, most of those people don't read genealogy blogs unless they stumble on one in a Google search. Most of the rest of the people who do read genealogy blogs fall into several categories: those who were unaware of what you were proposing but are willing and glad to learn, those who know they should be doing this but need some guidance in how to do it, and those who usually do it but have forgotten to recently and need reminding. I love the genealogy blogging community because it is like a loose educational association where people are more inclined to help one another research and learn and are more tolerant of different levels of educational and professional preparation.

  7. well, I've stopped blogging and essentially stopped genealogical research. In any case, two points. The first is that you wanted people to read journals and specifically footnotes to find better sources to use. I'm telling you no one reads journals and I did an extensive study of that in 2009 to prove it on my blog. Second point: nothing that anyone blogs is original in terms of genealogical research. If you are new or intermediate in your skills, there are books, articles, etc. etc. on what to do. Do you really need a blog (and really another blog) that says: wow, I should have looked at the original source!!! No. It's all been said--all you have to do is search for such skill postings.

    So my ultimate point is, you can blog about whatever you want, because no one is really listening. If they were we wouldn't need the blog posts in the first place.

  8. Well, I think more people listen than we know. They just don't post comments to our blogs and I think that is unfortunate. I have been blogging about my Acadian heritage because too many people know too little about us. A whole lot of people, including Acadian descendants do not know our history... that their ancestors were deported and exiled from 1755-1763 and longer in some instances. I hope I am helping them touch their roots. It makes so much difference when we know who we are and the legacy left us by our ancestors.

    From my first blog evolved two more that I am so happy to share with everyone - if they listen, wonderful - if not, their loss. ;o)


  9. Ah, but Martin - people ARE listening :) I'm a budding genealogist and I find blogs like Marian's to be of great value. Especially Marian's! I subscribe to quite a few blogs because I don't see the sense in re-inventing the wheel. There's a lot to be learned from those who have been doing this for years. And yes, there are some blogs that I barely get through the first couple of sentences and stop reading because they're so dry, but I still continue to subscribe because inevitably, something comes along that is an answer to one of my questions or my question is answered in an archived section.

    Marian presents her research in a way that makes you want to keep reading and while sharing her story, also passes on some great advice and tips. I think it's great when she shares an "AHA!" moment, for example the Register footnotes. I thought: "Wow, what an excellent resource that is!" I may not have thought of that on my own for years! Just sharing that little tidbit may have saved me a lot of time in finding information that I most likely would have gone the long, roundabout way to find. Learning something like this early in my career (and yes, I do intend on making a career of this) is priceless.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is: I'm listening, Marian - don't stop talking! Please.

  10. I'm just catching up on my blog reading but I had to echo what others have said - people ARE listening! I think Greta really hit it on the head about different levels of people reading blogs...and I too love the genealogy blogging community! Right now I just don't have as much time for genealogy, but I love to stay in touch with what's going on out there. Please keep up the great posts - for all of us who do listen!

  11. Hi Marian
    Great post, although I can feel Martin's pain I think you put it wonderfully. If no one was reading or listening I wouldn't be blogging. Secondly, not everyone arrives at the same place using the same path, the world is changing and blogs are going to be around for a while. Do sometimes I feel like I have nothing new to add to the conversation, certainly, but I also know I was new to genealogy once, and blogs advanced my education, those are the individuals I keep in mind when I right. You could apply the same theory to magazines, same stuff different writer. It's what makes the world go round, sharing of information. No stopping it. I suspect 20 years from now it will just have evolved into some other format.

  12. A lot of us do read blogs and journals as well as attend conferences, webinars, etc as we can.
    I post very few comments due to time constraints. I appreciate seeing information, hearing information in various ways and even if it is information I've heard in the past. Maybe the information is more relevant to a current research opportunity, so it resonates with me at the moment and I have an ah ha moment and use the suggestion immediately.

    Marian (and other bloggers), Please keep on blogging. We are listening!!!

  13. From hobbyist to professional, beginner to experienced, the genealogical community is partially based on the sharing nature of those who are involved with it. As a seasoned researcher and genealogist, I do not hesitate to share with others what I have learned along the way. We all have to start at the beginning, learning at our own pace and in our own time, always learning from those more experienced than us and sharing our knowledge. Each of us hears things differently which is why there are so many scholarly articles, journals (yes, journals), books, etc. It does not mean the information has changed only the way it is presented. "The #1 Thing That Impacted My Research in 2010", explained what impacted you, Marian in 2010. For you, it was using footnotes and kudos for sharing your learning experience. Some people may read the article and gain nothing but if one person learns something or has an epiphany of their own, the article was well worth the time spent writing! If someone reading your material is not happy with it, perhaps they should find something else to read…..

  14. Well said, Marion. If Martin wishes to stop blogging, writing, and researching- that's his choice. Everyone has a choice. I choose to continue at the pace that my life allows. Keep on writing, Marion- for those of us that keep on reading.

  15. This is a well thought out post, and well said. I think we should all remember that, since we all approach genealogy differently, we all have things we don't know, and things that we forget to do even though we know we are supposed to do it. I think a reminder now and again is a good thing.

  16. Martin,

    If you have stopped genealogical research, and no one is reading genealogy blogs, then how did you come across this blog to make your comments in the first place?

    And as for your alleged "study" in 2009 that "proved" that no one reads journals--who exactly did you ask? There are several online study groups that thoroughly go through and analyze NGSQ articles every single month, as well as entire message boards of people who would likely beg to differ with your conclusion.

  17. Great article. I also would love to benefit from all the educational opportunities out there from Conferences to Blogs, but because of time, finances and other obligations do what I can. In the past I was lucky to attend Samford IGHR, but now I have to be content in reading great educational blogs such as yours and the webinars I have been watching.

  18. Martin, you don't half generalise don't you? Nobody reads Journals, really? I do! Nothing is original in genealogy research- hmmm, no new research sites, no additions to existing sites, nothing changes?

    It has all been said, you just need to look, OK, but then one has to know what to look for and a blog may just lead to the correct questions being asked.

    But I suppose if you've been there, done that, got the T-shirt, then an attitude of "tough luck" on the newbies is probably self-satisfying.

  19. One additional aspect of writing a blog, which I only recently started, was my own education. Writing posts about my family is a wonderful means review my data. The carnivals and series prompts are a great way to hone my writing skills. Plus, you never know what relatives might stumble upon your blog and contact you!


  20. I had no idea when I started my blog that there was a whole community of geneabloggers out there. I did a slow motion slide into the whole thing. I told someone just yesterday that blogging and being part of such a knowledgeable community of tech savvy genealogists was probably the best accidental move I've ever made. I have been an incurable genealogy addict for 16 years. My blog is almost a year old and I have learned more in this past year than I have in all the other 15 combined..thanks to bloggers like Marian!

  21. Hurrah for you, Marian, and most of your commenters who have articulated the point of what most of us do. Martin, for someone who believes that no one is reading blogs, you sure turn up in a lot of comments!