Friday, September 4, 2009

Secret Societies

When I first started down the road toward researching my family history, I looked to do practically everything myself. I ordered certificates, wrote down what I had learnt, and used those notes to proceed onto the next level of certificate ordering. It was linear, amateurish, and I missed a lot of clues, but that’s the pitfall of tackling this obsession as a loner.

A couple of years of research passed before I finally ventured into a local Historical Society or Genealogical Research Group, and whilst I’d love to say I joined up and found some handy contacts, made rapid progress in developing new research skills and even made a few friends along the way, that’s just not the case at all. Instead, I walked in, stood at what I assume to have been the reception desk, waited for the tumble-weeds to pass, looked back at the troupe of elderly researchers who were piercing my skull with an icy glare, exchanged a few words with an exceedingly reluctant volunteer and walked back out highly disappointed.

Are all groups like the one I described? I’m sure they aren’t. But the memory of my sour experience was refreshed this week when listening to the latest Genealogy Guys pod-cast, whilst fighting boredom on my long train trip to work.

In the pod-cast, a listener had written in, speaking about his own particularly negative experiences in attempting to make a contribution to a local genealogy group. This immediately had me thinking back to my own experience, and seemingly it fed into the recollections of the hosts, in their travels as well.

Is this a common problem? I’d hate to think that my, or anyone’s next foray into a Historical Society will be met with disappointment.

I was living in a small town of about 15,000 when I faced that clique, and now I’m in a city of 4 million. At least now I’ve got a wide choice of organisations to be potentially shunned by!

Whilst I appreciate that genealogists in their 20’s, as I was then, aren’t exactly a common sight to the typical septuagenarian researcher/volunteer, I still feel that a level of common courtesy and decorum should be extended to all who would venture through such a groups door. New blood and new members are a good thing, right?


Thomas MacEntee said...

John unfortunately what you experienced when working with a local historical or genealogical society seems to be fairly common - at least in my own experience and the feedback I've seen from others.

The same reception is given to those who use new technologies such as social media including blogs in pursuing their genealogy research. I think more societies need to look to examples such as the California Genealogical Society and Library or the Southern California Genealogical Society and see how through embracing technology local societies can thrive and have a national presence.

Janet Iles said...

John, you give a good reminder to all of us who are involved with genealogical societies or historical societies to be welcoming to newcomers, no matter their age. We were all new comers once.

Anonymous said...

I have had the same experience a few years back. The next problem would be trying to get them to move forward with any social networking site. Too hard to do!

Anonymous said...

What was the line in the Steve Winwood/Traffic song?...

"We were all children once, playing with toys.."

I'm familiar with the reception you received. I just acted like a child wanting to learn - and these 'elders' just took to me and showed me this and that and the other; mission accomplished.

I will say that as more younger folks get involved with genealogy and family history, these 'elders' better recognize the spirit and energy that they bring.

They might get a few new memberships out of them!

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Greta Koehl said...

Ah, I wish you were here in Fairfax, Virginia. The Fairfax Genealogical Society is a great organization; the members, including many professional genealogists, are very friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Lots of field trips and events to participate in and they are always happy to have volunteers.

John Patten said...

Thanks for the comments guys. It seems that technology and fear of the new both act to hinder genealogical societies in moving forward, at least in some instances. The problem also appears to be more widespread than I had suspected/hoped.

However, I've decided to give it another shot, and look to join one of my local organisations, at least when I can find the time to do so!

Thomas, the California organisations sound great, and the same applies to Greta's Fairfax group. Here's hoping Melbourne is as forward-thinking!

George, I'm going to have that song in my head all day long now! Haha