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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ignorance: The Biggest Threat to Family History


This has been a busy week for me, especially in terms of writing and speaking about my profession and my passion: genealogy. So far:

and it is only Wednesday!  Well, this is how life is for me during October which is National Family History Month here in the United States.

Neither Wind Nor Snow Nor Fire . . .

To borrow and modify a phrase from the United States Postal Service Creed, as I've been busy and focusing on preserving your family history, I started to think of the various threats to not only one's own family history, but to the genealogy industry in general.

We can all come up with a list of various threats including fire, flood, poor archival practices, and even data loss. But even all these threats put together don't equal the destruction of the biggest threat to family history right now: IGNORANCE.

Ignorance and The Threat to Genealogy

For all the blog posts, websites, books and media stories about how to scan your photos and documents, how to preserve items using sound archival practices, etc., what the genealogy community needs to confront is the damage done by ignorance. In what form does this damage take place? Consider some recent developments:
The common thread here, it seems to me, is the involvement of parties, persons and players who don't want to do their homework, who want quick answers, who want to propose short-sighted solutions instead of a long-term remedy, and basically, let ignorance rule over rationality.

Sadly, we've become a society not only of shortcuts, but one in which "he who shouts loudly enough, even using falsehoods and misstatements, can win the minds of the public."  To get a taste of what I mean, read the heated discussion over the Three Valleys Museum's cemetery walk here on their Facebook page.

What Is The Answer?

I don't have an answer or a set of answers.  I just have more questions:
  • Is it my genealogist's perception and perspective as a dedicated researcher that demands someone actually put some time and effort into finding facts before proposing so-called remedies? Is it too much to ask?
  • Is it an individual duty to combat ignorance in the genealogy field or do we all need to take time, look up from our books and keyboards, and spend a five minutes or an hour a week letting our friends, family and even strangers know why family history is so important?
  • Is this a recent phenomenon or were our ancestors also just as ignorant about their own history?
I'm not sure I'll ever find the answer in my lifetime, but for me, the best way to combat ignorance has been through education. It has been the mainstay of my family and my ancestors. You want to improve your status in life? Get educated. You want to understand how something works? Read a book or ask a question. You want to be more tomorrow than you are today? Learn, learn, learn.

There will always be folks ignorant about genealogy and family history. I just pray that years from now, we don't have to work so hard to combat that ignorance.

© 2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

3 comments:

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

A well thought out post on a very important subject, Thomas. Thanks for bringing this topic up here on your blog.

It has been my life's work (with many years to go, God willing) to, as you say, let "family and even strangers know why family history is so important". I believe that many of your readers will say the same.

I hold out hope that the availability of information and resources online and the activity of genealogists within social media outlets (thanks to your urging) will be a positive force to counteract the ignorance we are seeing. I look with hope to the time "years from now" when we will have seen a turn away from the predominant mindset we see today, and we will both still be neighbors in the blogosphere.

Family Curator said...

Thanks, Thomas, for the timely reminder of the ever-present threat to accessible records. In my own experience, in just the past four or five years, I have seen records moved and access becoming more limited. This doesn't bode well for current genealogists or for future researchers, and is a subject we cannot ignore.

Family Curator said...

Thanks, Thomas, for the timely reminder of the ever-present threat to accessible records. In my own experience, in just the past four or five years, I have seen records moved and access becoming more limited. This doesn't bode well for current genealogists or for future researchers, and is a subject we cannot ignore.