Sunday, April 5, 2009

How I Use Technology With My Genealogy

[This post was written as part of the series of Weekly Genealogy Prompts proposed by Amy Coffin of We Tree.  This week's prompt: Talk about the different types of technology you use in your genealogy research. Whether it’s a new search engine, a special application, or anything else “2.0,” let readers know what you’re working with, and how it’s working for you.]

About the time I picked up the genealogy bug, I was already firmly established professionally in the information technology field. So for me, there is no real time when I didn't pursue my technology using some gadget such as a computer or Internet application.

This doesn't mean the way in which I trace my roots is better than any other method. And it doesn't mean - as one might think - that my way is easier. Simply put, it is just my way.

I think over the past two years of blogging about genealogy, writing articles about the use of technology and genealogy, and promoting the use of blogs in the genealogy field have brought me to this conclusion: the field of genealogy is at a cross-roads with two distinct "camps" or "schools of thought."

One group's experience with genealogy is that of attending genealogical society meetings, attending conferences and workshops, visiting local Family History Centers, using the resources at libraries and archives, and documenting much of their findings through photocopies, hand written notes and copies of documents requested from government agencies. This group tends to be very well versed in the importance of source citations, they know how to interact socially with other genealogists, and while technology may be involved in their genealogical pursuits, it isn't the main focus of their work.

Before I get to the next group I want to pause and urge readers to avoid labels such as "old timers" or "old fashioned" or "luddites" when mentioning this group or their methodology. Besides being ageist it really is untrue since I know several people "young of age" who prefer to work with forms and charts more than computers and applications.

The other group's experience with genealogy is almost solely based in the world of technology and many members may only have decided to pursue the search for their family history after already having a strong foundation with gadgets and computers. Members of this group tend to embrace and even seek out new forms of technology, are often called "early adapters" who test out new appliances and programs and then spread the word to others in the genealogy community. They are a social group but socialize at their convenience using various forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter and they are all over blogs and websites - many with more than one of each to their name! Some members will attend local society meetings, travel to genealogy conferences or perform research in libraries or archives but most often will try to do so on the Internet first.

Again, try to avoid labeling this group with terms such as "pajama genealogists" or "young folk" or "genea geeks."  As I've stated in Facebook Is NOT The Domain Of The Young, technology does not favor the young - but we all should be open to learning new things and not let others discourage us. Technology does not necessarily make your research easier - in fact it allows you to access much more information which you then need to read, understand and filter through in order to determine what is or is not useful.

At times I experience great frustration with the fact that there even has to be a division between the two groups. In my mind, I have much to learn from those who continue to pursue genealogy with less of an emphasis on technology. They've taught me the importance of process and discipline, the importance of sources and citing sources, as well as the importance of getting off my duff and meeting other genealogists in person.

And since I tend to affiliate more with the group that pursues genealogy with an emphasis on technology, I know we have much to offer and to teach others who may not feel as comfortable with technology as we do. We need to take time and explain new applications and features. Many of us take a mentoring role with not only those new to genealogy but those new to certain aspects of technology. I take no greater pride in hearing about a recent retiree who can amaze and stupify her "know it all grandchildren" (as one person recently told me) with her use of Twitter. And when someone e-mails me and says "my children are embarassed that I'm on Facebook," I know I've done some good work.

Let's try to get away from an us vs. them mentality which really doesn't serve the genealogy community at all and detracts from our mission to help others trace their own roots. Remember that technology itself is innocent and impartial. It is how we choose to use it - or not use it - that determines how we pursue our research and how we relate to our fellow genealogist.

copyright 2009 Thomas MacEntee


Gini said...

Thomas I like using both methods, I learn from both, and while I am technology challenged as I learn it, I will not allow myself to close any doors to learning no matter how hard or confusing it may be. Just like creating a link in posting, believe it or not, I am still trying to get that down, I may look very dump for having said that but I want to learn and even if I have to keep asking I will do it. I learn so much from you because you get it, you understand where us newbie's come from, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a mentor like you. I have much to learn and look forward to it and I feel we all stand to learn from using the best of both worlds. Thank you Thomas, you are the best.

michael.hait said...

Awesome post! I would like to think of myself as an even mix of both camps. I am 32 years old, and have been actively engaging in both genealogy and computer use since I was about 9-10 years old. Things have changed a lot in both worlds (at least for me), but I try to keep up. You & other Geneabloggers have been a great help on both.

Randy Seaver said...

Good article, Thomas. I address this issue in my first "Genealogy 2.0" column for the FGS' FORUM Magazine due on the newsstands this month. I used more words, tohugh! Had to fill up two pages.