Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Starting June Out Right

Normally this time of year I'm sitting by the pool, working on my tan and catching up on my reading every morning. Not this year. The weather sucks. So I'm inside, bundled up. Forced to do unseemly things such as clean out my file drawers and digital files (photos files, Ancestry Shoebox, e-mail folders etc.)

These are all worthy chores, but they are CHORES. In addition, I need to clean house. My house looks like a cyclone hit it with all the clutter. When I came in from NGS (National Genealogical Society) I had to "hit the floor running" (as my mother used to say) and prepare a lecture for my local FHC (Family History Center.) So all the papers I had gathered at NGS ended up on the dining room table along with the books and papers I used to prepare the lecture. My suitcase remains on the bedroom floor, half unpacked; laundry is almost caught up, but sitting in sorted piles waiting for a turn at the washing machine and my to do list is slightly overwhelming.

So...what to do? Why sit down and write my blog of course.

I have given myself a challenge to write my blog every week for the month of June. That's only four posts; I should be able to meet that, right?  But it seems as if every time I have a great blog idea and am moved to write I'm in the middle of one of those pesky chores, and I just can't stop in the middle of cleaning out my file cabinet, can I? Please give me permission.

So even though I had no great insight to write about and no special theme I sat down to start June off right. I considered writing about the lecture I gave last week. I considered writing about how yesterday (Memorial Day) hit me stronger than usual with memories of my dad. I considered writing about Southern California Genealogy Society's up coming Genealogical Jamboree. I even considered just picking an ancestor at random and writing about them. Then I tried signing into my blogger account and was told my blog no longer existed. SAY WHAT?

Is it like when you don't use your muscles....they atrophy? Is that what happened to my blog? I didn't write in it for more than a week and, poof, it's gone? Or did Blogger feel my last post was too controversial and wiped me out? Did some hacker pick me at random and banish all my hard work? No...just a computer glitch. All is well. Whew.

But it made me realize a couple of things. Number One, how important my blog has become to me and Number Two, how irritated I become when things don't work the way they are supposed to, and Number Three, just how much I don't want to clean up my files.

But, I've started June out right...I wrote my blog.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Well, NGS is over and done with, and although I am exhausted I have a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling about it. I did a lot of things at the conference that I had not done before.

One of the things I did was for the first time was I volunteered to do some of the speakers’ introductions. I loved it. I got to speak to the lecturers for a few minutes before they got down to teaching. Some of them were very friendly and “chit chatted” while some were a little more distant. I didn’t take that personally ….even old pros can have butterflies or are just in “the zone” concentrating on what they are about to present.  As a “transitional” genealogist (one who is moving from hobbyist to professional) I am trying to “rub elbows” with those who are already firmly established as professionals. I don’t do this to have some of their star shine rub off on me. I want to be around them, talk with them and pick their brains to find out what steps they took to get where they are now. I want to know how they handle certain situations. I want to be them when I grow up.

I also would like to talk to professionals because sometimes I feel as though I am a small tasty critter in a tank full of sharks. I want to know how to navigate these shark infested waters.

Make no mistake…. These are shark infested waters. Almost all of the professionals I meet are full of smiles and good wishes. They talk to me and act like they are more than happy to spend a few minutes answering my questions. But sometimes there is emptiness behind their eyes. Their smiles don’t quite reach to their hearts. Do you know what I mean? Now don’t get me wrong. Not all professionals are like this, and I do understand that sometimes, especially at national conferences, they are forced to deal with “fans” or those who want to be their “friends” for the perceived notoriety they will receive by “hanging with the cool kids.”

Beyond that there seems to be some politics involved, as there is in any group. Furthermore, sometimes I sense an almost cliquish atmosphere. You remember back in high school when everyone found the “group” they “belonged” in? There were the pretty people or cheerleaders, there were the jocks, there were the nerds, and there were the “outcasts.” Everyone forced into their “correct” social group through peer pressure and rejection or acceptance.  I hate to say it but I sense a little of that same atmosphere. And here I am walking into it…not sure where I belong, wanting to be friends with everyone; knowing that if you become friends with an individual with one group of people you might be unable to become friends with an individual from another group. A cheerleader will not befriend you, no matter how much you get along or have in common if you are known to be friends with an outcast. It was the same way in high school.

I wish it wasn’t so. I wish that everyone treated everyone else with a sense of equality and respect, but that just isn’t the real world is it?

Now please understand, I am not talking about ALL PROFESSIONAL GENEALOGISTS or even ALL PROMINENT GENEALOGISTS or even ALL CERTIFIED GENEALOGISTS, I am talking about a small few. There are some prominent genealogists who greet you with open arms and make you feel welcome. There are some who include you or advise you without checking with their internal “society meter” to see if you are worthy. But, do I risk being shunned by the “others” for seeking out the “friendly genealogists” counsel?

In genealogy we constantly hear about “the proof standards,” that we are encouraged to use to bring our research up to a certain standard. The bar has been set and we are expected to try and meet or exceed that level. I would like to propose that as professionals everyone should look at their standard of how others are being treated, our professional demeanor and raise the bar a bit.  Let’s ask ourselves; “Am I treating others with respect or condemnation? Am I coming off as professional or aloof and unfriendly? How can I help those who will be teaching beside me in a short time? Am I approachable? Am I giving back…willing to be a mentor…giving advice and encouragement or am I acting as if I belong to the popular kids club?”

Being a professional does not make you “better” than a hobbyist or a transitional genealogist…it makes you experienced. It means you have already swum through those shark infested waters and survived. I hate to think that we may have had an “Einstein” or another Elizabeth Shown Mills in our midst and he or she was treated badly or not encouraged and we are the poorer for it. How many really fine genealogists gave up when they were not welcomed in and nurtured? I think we as a community can do better. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Social Media….Is it a Time Suck?

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Second Life, Blogging…I spend a great deal of my time on the “net” or on my phone keeping up with what’s going on and letting others know what I’m doing or thinking about.

I spoke with a lot of people this week at NGS and at meals, hotels and airports in “real life,” and in the social media world. Many of them were people that I speak with often on one of the social media outlets. Some I had met in person many times before and had added them to my Facebook page as a friend (I friended them…speaking in the vanacular)  at RootsTech last February or NGS last year. Some were friends I know from my blog, they are one of my “followers.” Others I met for the first time and now will become friends with on Facebook or will exchange e-mails back and forth. I also was keeping up on what was going on in the rest of the world via Twitter. Friends that could not be with us at NGS were living vicariously through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and genealogy radio programs.

I find myself wondering what I did before cell phones and computers. I have become a communication junkie. It was not a big leap from knowledge junkie.

I have always been someone who likes to learn. Now I can have a non-stop flow of information at my fingertips. I can attend a webinar at anytime of the day or night. I can read blogs about new technology. I can download an e-book and get my fix. I have also found a wealth of human connections.

Genealogy can be a very quite occupation of solitude. Don’t get me wrong I like my aloneness. In fact most people who know me are surprised to find out, “I don’t like people much.” Unless their dead of course. But those who know me well know that I can only take so much “togetherness.”
But, I am a social butterfly when out in public and on the social media sites. Facebook and my blog have allowed me to “meet” so many people who share my interests. I even have a quilting friend (Hi Rebecca) in Australia. We have never met in person but we “talk” almost every day. I know about her boys, her husband and his recent trip, her quilting and we encourage each other to keep up our running program. Someday I will make the supreme sacrifice and travel to Australia; I hope to meet her in person and I know we will already be fast friends with a connection already firmly established.

That is the power of social media. No, not everyone you meet online will become your BFF but you can make some amazing connections. This week I met one of them.

I have a follower on my Blog named Liz she is also a friend on Facebook. Until Friday she and I had never met in person. But on Friday we hugged and laughed and bonded and acted like long lost best pals. Liz is someone I know I will be sharing a hotel room with someday and we will be hanging out together at conferences; a new friend from another part of the world that I would never have found without the internet and social media.

I have also found blogs, Facebook and Twitter to be wonderful tools to use for my business. I can advertise my services and my blog through Facebook and Twitter. I can blog about what I’m doing in my research and what’s happened at a lecture I just taught. I can communicate with other genealogists about the trials and tribulations of this business and we can pass along hints and tips to make our experience better. I can run into another genealogist at the airport as we are leaving a conference and find out about a new institute to be held next year and then blog about it that evening letting the word be spread around the world. Yes, around the world. I have readers in many different countries. I find that boggling. (The word should probably be changed to Bloggling…can I coin a phrase?)

So is Social Media a time suck? Well, yes. But it is time well spent. I look at it this way. If I were doing business in the days before social media, before computers and smart phones, I would have spent hours a week planning advertising and marketing. I would have made endless phone calls planning out connections; who to room with, who needs a lift from or to the airport, who wants to meet for lunch, and discussing how to make our meetings work better etc.  To coordinate what shift I am to take at the Association for Professional Genealogists booth, or which speaker I was to announce and what I was supposed to say would have been a lot of phone calls as well as mailings. Things that used to take a week to organize now can be done in a day. We can “go to meeting” or share a conference call on Skype and accomplish so much more. I think this makes us better. So while social media can be used for games and other “time wasters” like so many other things it is what you make it. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011


This week a fellow Blogger (actually I would call him the King of Blogs) Thomas McEntee asked the blogging world to answer the following questions concerning genealogy conferences:

"...from the attendees of genealogy conferences:  How do you decide which ones to attend? How far in advance do you start making plans? What do you look for when you take in a conference? Again, not only can you post about what you’d love to see at a genealogy conference, but let us know your frustrations and what needs to change."

RootsTech 2011
I have been attending conferences for a long time. I find them to be a great means of networking with fellow genealogists (hobbyists and professionals) and a fabulous way of learning. My first conference was in Utah held by the Utah Genealogical Association in April of 2004. What a wonderful experience. I immediately became addicted. I met wonderful people, learned vast amounts of information, improved my research methods and came away with knowledge that I had found my path. Since then I have attended every conference I can afford, which is getting harder as the costs of hotels and airfares rise.

I have attended the National Genealogical Society's annual conference, the Federation of Genealogical Society's annual conference, and the annual conference held by the Southern California Genealogical Society. I try to hit those three every year. This year I also added the RootsTech conference and it will definitely become a must do every year.

I also try to attend the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (held in Salt Lake City, Utah) and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University in Alabama. (Held in January and February respectively.) These are not the typical variety of classes offered by the conferences but instead a more concentrated week long focus of study on one subject such as American Research or Advanced Methodology. 

How do I decide which ones to attend? Well, obviously, I try not to have to make a choice. I really like to attend all of them. Each one provides its own special je ne sais quoi, flair, attributes, flavor and opportunities to learn from some of the best genealogy teachers in the world. Something one should take advantage of any time they can. 

Instead of having to cancel going to one of my beloved conferences I instead have gotten a little more creative in saving money. I combine research trips with conferences instead of having to travel to the same area twice (for example I will leave the NGS conference and continue on to Louisiana to do research this coming week.) Or I will room with someone; sharing the cost of hotel room and maybe rental car. 

How far in advance do I start making my plans? At least a year in advance for my calender. I don't want to find I have booked an anniversary trip or a class I am teaching on top of a conference. But often I don't actually register for the conference until the last minute (the last minute of early bird registration that is) because I want to be sure I can really afford it and often I have to be sure of roommates attendance. (Whether or not I have a roommate often determines which hotel I stay at; cheaper hotel if no roommate.) 

Louise St. Denis at vendor area RootsTech
I am an information/knowledge junkie, so what I look for in a conference is NEW information. I recognize that there are always new genealogists joining us and classes that I took two years ago still need to be offered for those who didn't attend. However, I am very glad that the conferences I attend seem to always find new information to convey...not just the same old stuff re-vamped in a new title. (Although I do happen upon some of those every now and again.) 

I love the energy conferences (and the institutes) have. Attending one can really get you fired up. You go home jazzed about genealogy again...just like when you first started. Sometimes a class will provide you with the piece to the puzzle you needed to break through that brick wall. Sometimes, like with RootsTech, a conference can put you into information overload...but in a good way. I'm still working on applying all that I learned there. And the shopping....oh my.

My only frustrations come from cost. I would love to attend as many luncheons and banquets as I can, once a day would be fabulous. The speakers are always so entertaining and/or enlightening. But with the high cost of the hotels, gas, airfare and the cost of the conferences themselves...something had to give...so I have chosen class time over food. I know...for those of you who know me, this is huge. But sometimes the cost of one dinner is the same as one night in my hotel. Guess which way my money is going to go. 

I would also like to see it be a little easier for outstanding speakers (like Lisa Louise Cook, Thomas McEntee, and other newcomers) to break into the national circuit. Let's face it...the majority of us who do genealogy are getting a little long in the tooth. Having younger, hip, tech savvy speakers at the conferences will likely attract younger genealogists. They are out there. They just don't want to sit and listen to some old geezer talk about land records all day. They will eventually understand the worth of the information the old geezer has...but we got to get them involved first. Some of these "new" outstanding speakers may not have CG or AG after their names...but do devalue them because of it. Let them speak. You might learn something. (And they may decide that having that CG or AG is a worth while thing.)

Since we're talking about speakers...sometimes it is very hard to pick between two or three great speakers. I think Jamboree has the right idea in that it is going to offer some of the classes to be viewed after the fact from an archive. I would love to see more of this. 

Oh, and one more thought...

I would also like to see a lot more coffee.