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. 


  1. Could not have said it better! Great post.

  2. Good points Kim! I could tell some of the speakers were genuine, down to earth people. But there were a couple that walked so fast out of the room and did not say hello when spoken to. I hope that people read your blog and make a determination that when he/she gets to be a professional (or whatever level) that he/she treats all with the golden rule!

  3. Great post, Kim. And I agree with you... I have found the vast majority of genealogists to be warm, giving people; however, there are always a few in every professional group or workplace that seem to be insecure or maybe threatened by newcomers. I do know that you were not trying to have an extended conversation with anyone right before they made a presentation. No matter how busy or stressed, if you are going to be public figure, and believe me, if you speak at a national conference, you ARE a public figure if only to other genealogists, you cannot forget your "fans." Be grateful to have them.

  4. Kim,

    I have never been to a national conference so I can't speak to what you are talking about. My experience has been with local and regional conferences.

    I can see both sides of the coin, being a speaker myself. I'm sure there is some aspect of cliquishness. That's inevitable no matter what industry you are talking about. And there are some people who are just aloof whether they are speakers or not. I have run into a couple of them and they are just aloof in general at any point when you meet them. But I have not met too many people like that.

    Part of what makes a professional speaker "professional" is that they turn up and give their talks to the best of their ability no matter what. Some of them maybe be going through a divorce, caring for a parent with Alzheimer's or struggling with a teenager with big issues. People like this may have a hard time coping with others socially but feel responsible to fulfill their professional obligations.

    Of course there are the speakers that are shy and others who get nervous before talks. I am always friendly with people before talks but often I like to use that time to "get in the zone" as you mention. The best time to talk to a speaker is one on one after the Q&A session of a talk. Though you may have to wait your turn to get face time.

    I'm not saying that what you are describing doesn't exist. I think in order to continue my own happy view of the world I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. If after I meet someone 3 times and they still give me the same impression, then I would say "yes, that's how they are." Otherwise I will hold off on deciding.

    I do think a national conference can be a tough place for some speakers. The stakes and the pressure are the highest in that environment. They may feel their reputation is on the line.

    Again, I'm not saying what you have described doesn't exist but I think the best alternative is to take the high road and give people the benefit of the doubt. What other choice is there really?

  5. Good post. I am considered a professional and my arms are open but I have seen the politics as well. But just so we are on the same page - this is not the only "industry" where it applies. It is a human trait to compete unfortunately.

  6. I just take them as a teaching lesson of how not to be in life. They are everywhere not just in genealogy. As someone who worked with the public every day sometimes it's hard to be turned on all the time. I suspect conferences for speakers are the same. It is a skill to be a public figure and engaging all the time, it can be tiring for some, for others it comes naturally. It's not an excuse, they shouldn't be there if they can't deal. Like I said, note to self -how not to treat your fellow human being. Don't waste too much time thinking on them they clearly didn't give you a second thought.

  7. Hi Kim. You take is interesting. As I posted on Facebook, I think everyone needs to remember that genealogists are just people, and come in all kinds of characters: some outgoing and able to chat anytime, others, extremely preoccupied with upcoming talks, decisions to be made in board meetings, people to talk to before those board meetings, etc.

    I worry that you are portraying the professionals as divided by a rift of snobby vs. friendly, and I have just never found that to be the case. And it wasn't long ago that I was a brand new transitional.

    When you say, "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?" I fear you are misjudging what is going on.

    These people are not entertainers, but teachers, essentially, and we are there to learn from them. They do not regard the audience as fans, but as students. The entire set-up is arranged so that we can learn from them in lecture format. Everywhere they go during the conference they are either lecturing, running/attending board meetings, volunteering at a booth or two or three, possibly working on client work when possible. So when they have in-between time and are approached by people they don't know they may not have time or energy to chat. Especially towards the end of the conference.

    The snob factor just doesn't exist in the community as a whole. If one or two people happen to be snobs they should be considered individually: they do not represent the greater field.

  8. This was a very thought-provoking missive. I think it gives much credence to the way we all come across.
    I, too, have felt very much the "outsider". I have not published. I have not spoken at a national conference. But, in my little area of the US, I am much sought after for the smaller societies. And, that's just fine. I love these people that work so hard to keep their societies going. I go early to set up and already find people lined up to talk and pick my brain. I end up staying late for the same reasons.
    And, it's okay with me. If I have not reached every person in that room, then I feel I have failed.
    I have submitted proposals for the larger conferences through the years, but not one has ever been accepted. It seems as though the same ones are always on the ticket - the popular ones. At this point in my life, I have stopped trying and will just continue working with the little societies I have grown to love.

  9. Very well said Kim. I've had this experience most notably at one "group" function and, though still a member of this group, I have not participated in their gathering again. Beyond that, I haven't experienced the divide, but I have heard others express the same thing you have. In other realms, it seems to be, the more scholarly (the mind), the less heart. And though other people sense it, I don't think the scholars realize it. We'll have to remember this when we're the pros!

  10. Excellent post and very well said, Kim.

  11. Very well said. I'm only a friend of the geneologist community and not a professional, but I do see your experiences in many settings. I've found that there is truly not a "safe haven" for this type of behavior; that it permeates many professional and social groups. Coping and learning to work with many personality types is definitely an assest, but when it comes down to it no one can fit into all categories. Do it your way and the clients will follow!