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Monday, December 20, 2010

WHAT IS THE WORTH OF A GENEALOGY BLOG?

I read this quote over on Martin Hollick's Slovak Yankee blog the
other day and it's been gnawing away at me in the back of my mind
ever since. It's from page 157 of The American Genealogist magazine:

"The only qualifications for a Fellow are the quality and quantity 
of his or her published genealogical work, usually compiled 
genealogy, not abstracts or methodology.  At the meeting this
 year, it was proposed that "publications" include those online. 
The Society had decided quite a few years ago that digital/online 
publications did not qualify as permanent contributions to the 
field.  At this year's meeting, much was said on both sides of the 
question: Online publication is becoming increasingly common 
and increasingly excellent, but it remains fluid and its permanence
is uncertain."

The 'Fellows' are the Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists.
I might be off by a few years but I believe the Internet has now been
around for nearly twenty years, so I think the question of how
permanent it is has been answered. There's quite a few personal
or family genealogy websites out there, and while there are many
of dubious distinction, there are also many that are well documented
with citations and sources. Is a scholarly, accurate work of
genealogical research to be discounted as a proof of a person's
qualifications to join a genealogical organization simply because it
appears online rather than in print?

This seems rather shortsighted to me. True, websites can disappear
but so can books and articles. But in this age where nearly everyone
writes with word processor programs it's commonsense practice
to backup your work and it's easy to provide a printed copy of a
site's content. In an age where many genealogy societies are faced
with aging, shrinking memberships, it might be more prudent to take
a case by case approach rather than to employ a blanket condemnation
of a commonly used medium.

Which brings me to the question posed in the title to this post: what is
the worth of a genealogy blog? There are several programs out there
now that can turn blogposts into book form. If I were to take selected
posts from "West in New England" and print them into a book for my
family and friends and had some copies leftover, would a genealogy
society accept them for their library? Would the purists and traditionalists
recoil in horror that printed geneablogs were being added to collections
simply because they are blogs?

Now understand, I'm not saying I'd be upset if a society politely refused
my proposed contribution. I already know what my blog is worth to me
personally. It's a creative outlet for me to explore and discuss my
family history and to make contact with relatives and other members of
the genealogy community.

But I do wonder how the geneabloggers' efforts are viewed by the
wider genealogy community.

How about you?

17 comments:

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I agree with you, Bill. I am sorry to say that I've never belonged to a genealogical society, but I've always felt I could benefit from one. However, if the standards are set so high that they can't see the benefit in the internet, I'm not sure.

lindalee said...

Like you, my genealogy blog is a creative outlet for well over a decade of research, travel and documentation. I am not a professional genealogist...just someone who has devoted a portion of her adult life to finding her roots. Those stories that I have researched....the source material is included as well as photos and scans of documents. I guess in the end, it is for my family and those who might be interested. A way to share information with far flung cousins. My vote goes FOR the worthiness of genealogy blogs.

Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

For me, the starting of my blog was to write what I know and trying to decide where to go in my research. I suppose it was an outlet for my frustrations as a beginner.

At that time I knew nothing about where I could find information. Next, I found the other bloggers and after reading what they wrote it gave me insight on how to proceed with my own.

I would like to print my blog, as you mentioned, but do not know how to go about the procedure.

My siblings are not interested in research but are interested in what I have found.

Who know perhaps some descendant, yet to be born will find it and will be amazed what Aunt Claudia has done.

Jenn said...

I wonder what they think about print on demand? It's a published work, not necessarily from an online source, but may not contain an ISBN or other "official" published status.

I think someone is behind the times...and these days, the times move rather quickly!

And how is a blog - originally conceived as an online journal - any different from the multitude of published journals/private diaries available in book form? It's just being published in a different (and more importantly - as it appears to the Fellows - instant) format.

As you stated, there are shrinking memberships all around. By providing these limitations in their qualifications, the FSAG are only hurting themselves and their current members.

Personally, my blog is a creative writing outlet, where it just happens I can share what I know, what I've found, and some of my more stupid moments (if not them all!). It's also helping me to define my research goals - both on an individual level (i.e. birth for such-and-such, burial for blah blah, etc.) and on an overall field (how far I want to take my research, professional education, who I want to research, etc.).

I love finding new blogs (genealogy or otherwise), because I love reading what others have to say and learning about new people, places and things. Which is, really, no different than learning from a paper-bound, published work.

Just my two cents! Jenn :)

Carol said...

It just might be too early in the AM, and I am still slurping down my first cup of java, so, my brain cells are not fully functional,

but, mmmmmm, it seems to me that there are a lot of local genie societies that are begging for members.

Speaking for the local society I belong to, they take all members under their wings, new researchers, some seasoned researchers, researchers all.

They don't care if you have published a book, booklet, or even a group sheet, I believe there are 2 members that actually have published.

They don't care how you published your family history, if you want to donate a copy (tied to the county prefered, but, not a steadfast rule), they will take it.

I would hazard to guess they might even accept your publication even if it does not meet certain scholarly qualifications.

I am going to fall back to what is becoming my standard response to a lot of different "situtations" in the genie world.

Do it for one person: YOU!

Source it for YOU, so YOU can go back and find that source again, cause you will need to. That means sourcing every single fact you add to your data base and source it good enough to be able to recreate/refind the source.

If you have a hankering to write for the scholarly publications, have at it.

If you have a hankering to publish for other reasons, please include those sources, cause when you are gone to the other side, the sources will be important to those that follow in your genie footsteps.

Do it for YOU! Oh, and to answer Bill's question, how am I viewed by the wider genealogical community, mmmm, I am doing it for ME, I hope they enjoy, if not, I will continue, cause I do it for ME.

How's that for the ME generation?? LOL

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Bill, I don't feel that my blog is meant to be a "scholarly publication." It is designed more to be "cousin bait," to lure potential family members with the information I need out of the shadows and into the light. ;-)

I used to try to source everything I published, simply because I thought I was supposed to in order to "legitimize" my work. After all, if I saw someone out there making claims about "my family," I would immediately want to know their sources... and would probably write them to ask. Which takes me back to my point of cousin bait. If I remove the sources, then potential cousins have to CONTACT ME to get the information they want. There really is a method to my madness (no, it's not just madness).

That being said, I am in no way trying to downgrade the worth of a genealogy blog. I'm saying that MY purpose in writing a blog is not necessarily to "be scholarly." Just because I don't, doesn't mean I can't. It means that I choose not to.

When I decide to write something "scholarly," I promise that I will be a good girl and properly source/footnote everything.

I also read Martin's post, and my thought was, what about online publications like "Shades of the Departed," or other digital magazines which are not distributed in hard copy? Are those not scholarly simply because they are not printed on paper?

Bill, your blog is one of my faves. I hope that is "worth" something. :-)

And Claudia, look into Blurb.com and Blog2Print.com. Those are 2 that immediately come to mind for printing your blog.

Martin said...

Define the Internet and then I can tell you how long it has been in existence. As for what we commonly think of as the world wide web, it is only 14 years old now. For the first two-three years, it was dubious if this platform, rather than all the ones that can before it, would succeed.

As for the assertion that there are places on the Internet with "well documented with citations and sources" can you please name two so that I can critique them? Thanks.

BTW, you can't join this organization, they ask you to join.

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Personally, I think the DAY OF THE GENEASNOB has come and gone with the re-emergence of the family story. I give a high-five to the worthiness of genealogy blogs!

Bill West said...

Martin

Here are two that I think are very well done

http://www.megalink.net/~caronfam/mosesdunham/index.html

http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~richards/Richards2-p/index.htm

I'll try to respond to the rest of your comment later. It was a heck of a busy day at the bookstore and
I'm not as spry as I used to be, soi I'm a bit exhausted tonight.

Greta Koehl said...

As many of these responses indicate, blogs that start out as "cousin bait" evolve into creative outlets. The satisfaction of expressing what genealogy means to us and the enjoyment of corresponding with fellow genealogy bloggers come to be seen as legitimate ends in their own right. Blogging and "hanging out with you guys" has become an important part of my genealogy experience. The genealogical pursuit has many dimensions: scholarly, creative, technical, social, and more, and different dimensions become more important at different times. It's important that we learn how to document our research, but that's not the only thing that we learn from one another. I hope you do put portions of your blog in book form because I believe anything that is worthwhile, informative, and enjoyable should be available in different forms, both to ensure preservation and to be available to wider audiences.

And did you know that the word verification for this post is "deneg," which is the genitive form of the Russian word for money? Just thought I'd put it out there ... you know, to enhance the educational value of your blog.

hummer said...

My vote is with all of the above. I can't say it any better. Blogging is increasing my knowledge of better genealogy research and sourcing. It also has increased my family's interest in genealogy. Which is my personal goal.
I enjoy making friends and finding family along the way.

Martin said...

Unfortunately, the comments cut off the two URLs that you showed. I did attempt to look at them. The second one for Moses Dunham, does not admirable job with citing each specific genealogical event to a primary source. Sadly, though, the author's research is poor and two major mistakes leap out: John Dunham's wife was Abigail Barlow not Ballou and Alexander Carpenter was of Wrington, Somerset not Wrentham.

The other URL was two diaries and not compiled genealogies, so I'm not sure what you wanted to show there.

These discussions always get waylaid and morph into something much different than the original posters (that would be you and I) mean it to be. Such is the case with many of your commenters.

I was never talking about genealogical blogs, yet the three or four bloggers who quoted my blog, including you, moved the discussion to where it shouldn't have been in the first place. Consequently you get nuts like Lisa Wallen Logsdon spouting about things about which they know nothing showing they haven't passed reading for comprehension.

Bill West said...

Martin,
I forgot that the second site is a bit difficult to get around, Here is a specific page from the site:

http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~richards/Richards2-p/p4.htm#i222

In the interests of full disclosure, the owner of the site is a distant cousin but I've had very little contact with him.

I didn't move the discussion. My original thoughts about the worth of a geneablog were sparked by the quotation from your blog. Many of the responses have been aimed toward those thoughts.

In your first comment you mentioned that the world wide web has only been in existence for about 14 years. Being a bookseller, I know that there are many books and some publishers as
well as magazines that have had a
shorter existence. Times are changing and I am having to adjust to how trhe book industry has changed. Genealogical societies are going to have to face the necessity of change as well.

As to your last point. please see my following post.

Chris said...

John Dunham's wife was Abigail Barlow not Ballou

Her name was Abigail Ballou. I refer you to Robert Leigh Ward's "The English Origin and First Marriage of Deacon John Dunham of Plymouth, Massachusetts" in volume 71 of The American Genealogist.

Martin said...

The Richards page you posted doesn't cite to primary sources, it cites to secondary sources. It wouldn't be published in a scholarly journal.

Chris--have you actually read the article in TAG 71:250? If so, you'll see it disproves the Ballou/Billiou claim. See the Great Migration Begins I:602.

dee-burris said...

I have blogs (two of them) because I love to write. My genealogy blog encompasses seven years of continuing research on my primary and allied families. In addition, I have hosted my online family tree at Rootsweb and get weekly contacts about it, in addition to five others I have hosted there for dear friends.

I wouldn't claim to have it all right. But that really has nothing to do with the mode of delivery of the information. There are several published books out there - a couple of which are quite old and have places of honor at a county genealogy association in my state - that have perpetuated a myth about one of my family surnames that persists to this day. (My branch of the Callaways, however interesting and romantic the notion, are not descended from Daniel Boone. Not.)

Blogs are online journals - diaries, if you will. We certainly use excerpts from diaries written long ago to support genealogical claims, and many of those diaries have found homes in genealogy associations, as well as family history departments of universities all across this country.

The edge that the genealogy blog has over those diaries, in my view, is that we can converse - almost in real time - with the diary owners today, asking questions about sources and getting responses that further dialogue.

Genealogy blogs are worth their weight in gold. If a genealogy society or association does not recognize that, then I would not be surprised to find those particular organizations may not be around much longer.

Excellent, thought-provoking post.

Shasta said...

I think all mediums of communications should be acceptable. Any source that provides the information that you want or need is a valuable one. If a source tells you the correct answer, it is a legitimate source, even if it isn't properly documented.

I can tell you my name, and you have to trust me that it is mine. If you look at my birth certificate, you'll get the wrong name. Which one of us is more accurate, I contend it is me, who knows what I call myself and what others call me. And yes I have legal papers which give you the name I use, but you can't find them, it doesn't make ny name any less true.