The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started this blog post back in November, but put it on the shelf. Thomas MacEntee’s recent post (see below) has inspired me to post it, with some small changes.

This past spring the world discovered that, at some point in the past two or three years, there had been a significant change in the way news is delivered and spread. Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, and the United States learned of his death–not through television news or CNN or a Presidential press conference–but through Twitter. The microblogging “social” website had scooped all of the traditional news outlets.

This is not the only evidence that Web 2.0 (as it has traditionally been called), the “social web,” has caused an incredible paradigm shift in many areas of life. Even my grandmother is on Facebook!

A similar paradigm shift seems to have occurred within the past two years in the world of genealogy.

Signs of the New Paradigm

The first mention of this change was in a post by Joan Miller written this past spring, shortly after the first RootsTech conference. On 15 April 2011 Joan posted “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies” in her LuxeGen blog. In this post, Joan wrote:

We are the New Somebodies.  Yes, in our industry we Genea-Bodies are the New Somebodies. Why?  Because a Nobody could become Some Project’s biggest cheerleader. Just look at the royal treatment the Official Bloggers received at Rootstech. (I was one).  Jay Verkler, Anne Roach, Paul Nuata et al knew what they were doing when they engaged the Genea-Bodies. We Genea-Bodies have a voice.  A collective voice.  A passionate voice.  And we talk about our passion. We blogged and tweeted and Facebooked our little hearts out about Rootstech.  Because we wanted to; because we felt the cause was warranted. And in part, because we had been noticed.  We had a job to do.  We were reporting on Rootstech! And not just the official bloggers, but all of us Genea-Bodies. We became Rootstech’s biggest cheerleaders because we cared and we were engaged.[1]

At the time, this blog post, and a comment on it by professional genealogist Marian Pierre-Louis, inspired a long discussion about professional genealogy and its place within the larger genealogy community, among other topics. This discussion also directly inspired me to resurrect my long-neglected blog (formerly called “Tricks of the Tree”) as this current blog.

Yet it took several months for me to realize the full impact of what Joan was saying.

On 15 October 2011 the genealogy website announced that it had commissioned a duplication of a seminal 2007 survey conducted by The site then invited five genealogists to comment on the survey results: David E. Rencher, of FamilySearch; Randy Whited, a member of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Genealogical Societies; Amy Johnson Crow, CG, a professional genealogist and genealogy blogger (formerly Amy’s Genealogy, etc.); Thomas MacEntee, of Geneabloggers; and Caroline Pointer, author of the For Your Family Story blog. In all of their announcements about the survey and the accompanying “Genealogy Roundtable” of blog posts, described these five as “five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”[2]

I doubt it is coincidental that three of the five genealogists chosen write popular genealogy blogs. This is a perfect example of the paradigm shift in genealogy.

The Old Paradigm

If you are not familiar with the American Society of Genealogists, here is a little background:

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was founded in 1940 by three distinguished academicians—Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Meredith Colket …. An honorary society, ASG is limited to fifty life-time members designated as Fellows (identified by the initials fasg). At the time of its founding, nothing existed to certify competent genealogists nor was there a method to honor significant achievement in the genealogical field.

Election to the ASG is based on a candidate’s published genealogical scholarship. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.[3]

Among other accomplishments, the American Society of Genealogists founded the National Institute for Genealogical Research (NIGR) held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D. C., in 1950, and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) in 1964. They also publish two prestigious genealogical journals, The American Genealogist and The Genealogist. Past Fellows of the Society include such legends of genealogy as Donald Lines Jacobus, Milton Rubincam, Harry Wright Newman, Dr. Gaius M. Brumbaugh, Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., Noel C. Stevenson, Richard Stephen Lackey, and Marsha Hoffman Rising.

As noted above, there are always fifty Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. Some of these names are instantly recognizable by most genealogists: Elizabeth Shown Mills, Christine Rose, Helen F. M. Leary, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Thomas W. Jones. These and the other Fellows, both past and present, are the most influential genealogists in United States genealogy history.

The rise of a genealogist’s career to become a Fellow often involved writing and publishing extensively, a long career in client research, frequent lecturing, and, in more than a few cases, revolutionizing some aspect of research methodology. Since 1964, this also usually entailed achieving the status of Certified Genealogist. Unlike most societies, ASG is not an organization that anyone can join. To become a Fellow, one must be nominated by a current member and then accepted by at least 80% of the voting members at the annual meeting. In other words, these are the genealogists that “the genealogy community’s top thinkers” consider “the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”

Do you cite the sources that you use? Thank members of the ASG.

Do you research the neighbors and associates of your ancestors, using cluster genealogy? Thank members of the ASG.

Aside from the five highly-visible Fellows named above, though, how many of the fifty current Fellows can you name? Do you recognize the work and accomplishments of John Frederick Dorman, Peter Wilson Coldham, George Ely Russell, or Henry Z. Jones, Jr.? [HINT: They are all currently-living FASGs.]

How about the names DearMYRTLE, Thomas MacEntee, Dick Eastman, or Randy Seaver? [HINT: They are not FASG, CG, or AG.]

The paradigm shift has occurred based on the exponential growth of the online genealogy community. Many new genealogists are learning to research by reading blogs.

Geneabloggers have become viewed as “experts,” without following the traditional path followed by earlier generations of genealogists: submitting a case study to a peer-reviewed journal like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, or The American Genealogist, or getting certified through BCG or accredited through ICAPGen. (In other words, prove your expertise by allowing your research to be judged by other experts.)

The new paradigm is that the most influential genealogists are those that are most skilled with social media, not necessarily those that are most skilled at research. This is not to say that any specific GeneaBloggers or Bloggers-in-general are not good researchers. From what I have read on their blogs, the skill level of bloggers runs the gamut. Among the geneablogging community are the greenest of newbies and the most experienced of professionals. Quite a few professional genealogists (myself included) and Certified Genealogists (myself included) also blog.

I am proud to call myself a “GeneaBlogger.” The geneablogging community is a perfect representation of the genealogy community as a whole.

But is this really what we as a community need?

Do we need experts that represent us, or experts that are more skilled than us? Experts that we can learn from?

Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a good thing or a bad thing?

On 14 December 2011 Thomas MacEntee of the Geneabloggers blog and online radio show wrote, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?” In this post Thomas writes,

When I first got started in the online genealogy community, I was too concerned with how bloggers and others appeared to vendors as well as other entities.  I’m sure they thought we were rambunctious, sometimes out of control, and sought to destroy rather than build alliances. I sometimes focused too much on how we looked to outsiders.[4]

Almost single-handedly Thomas has led the charge in gaining respectability for genealogy bloggers. To be sure, there were blogs and bloggers around before he got started in his quest–folks like DearMYRTLE, Dick Eastman, and others. But Thomas has been a true geneablogging evangelist, and not only raised the visibility of smaller bloggers but also brought bloggers together as a community.

From where I stand, the Genealogy Paradigm Shift has both positive and negative aspects.

As noted by Joan and Thomas, the online genealogy community–Geneabloggers, and the denizens of Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life, as well as other sites–have a voice that is being heard.

The community has been mobilized to promote genealogy conferences and websites and software programs. The community also works to inform each other about issues like records access, especially the recent changes to the Social Security Death Index.

Genealogy blogs can also be used to educate about research techniques, experiences, etc. This is the main goal of the blog you are currently reading, as well as many others.

Thomas Macentee and many of the other bloggers are also active in the offline genealogy community, in organizations like the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the Association of Professional Genealogists, as well as hundreds of smaller historical and genealogical societies worldwide. Many of us started as genealogists, before we were “online genealogists” or, as Thomas phrases it “hi-def genealogists.”

A new generation of genealogists has already started to be born. They are not genealogists first and online genealogists second. They will be raised under the new paradigm, and may start by thinking that “everything is online.” Even once we dispel this notion, we will have to deal with another issue that is far more frightening.

The “online genealogy community” that everyone is so fond of is replacing the traditional local genealogy community. While the GeneaBloggers website lists a few thousand genealogy blogs, with about a dozen or so new ones every few weeks, genealogical societies across the country are literally dying from a lack of new members.

You might ask, so what if those old local societies disappear? We have the GeneaBlogger community or that Facebook group to support us.

Moral support, yes–definitely. Research support, far less:

  • GeneaBloggers do not generally scour every cemetery in a specific county and publish full listings of the gravestones. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not abstract all of the obituaries of some small county newspaper from the mid-19th century and publish them. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not maintain genealogical libraries containing decades of work on local families. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers cannot go back to 1965 and reproduce the resources that were transcribed by the local genealogical society before that big hurricane or tornado hit and destroyed everything.

These resources can only remain available as long as we continue to support the societies that provide them.

Every single one of us, as genealogists, lives somewhere. Are you a member of your local genealogical society and/or your ancestral genealogical society?

I would like to ask–even plead–with other geneabloggers to devote at least one post to a local genealogical society. Not the big ones like the National Genealogical Society or the New England Historic Genealogical Society, but a county genealogical society. Describe the society–its meetings, its accomplishments, its publications. If you are a member of more than one local society, write a separate post about each one.

And if you are not a member of a local genealogical or historical society, please join one. It can be the one where you live, or one on the other side of the country, where your ancestors lived 200 years ago. But pay your dues, write for the newsletter, and help these societies stay alive.

The future?

Many bloggers might think to themselves, “I’m no expert. I never claimed to be one.” But to a new genealogist who stumbles onto your blog because it came up in their Google search, you may be viewed as one. Though writing a blog feels like writing in a private journal, this is not the case. Blogs are public. Geneabloggers are quickly becoming the public face of genealogy.

The online genealogy community needs to recognize this. We need to join the genealogy community as a whole. This must necessarily move beyond simply joining your local society. Treat your blog the way you would treat anything else done publicly. Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional, or anything like that. But at least cite the sources that you discuss in your blog post. Try to learn new techniques and apply them to your research, then write about what you learned. Not only will your ancestors thank you for that, but so will those new genealogists who look to your blog for guidance.


[1] Joan Miller, “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies,” Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog, posted 15 April 2011 ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[2] Michael Katchen, “Survey shows family history knowledge declining despite growing interest,” blog, posted 15 October 2011 ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[3] “The Society,” American Society of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[4] Thomas Macentee, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 15 December 2011 ( : accessed 16 December 2011).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 Dec 2011 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

47 thoughts on “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?

  1. A thoughtful post. I think that eventually some of the FASG folks will realize that just as the Gutenberg Press revolutionized the world way back when, the internet’s social networking tools are viable methods for getting their expertise out to the world. First case in point – Elizabeth Shown Mills new .com site.

    • I don’t think that there is necessarily a divide between those who think blogs are good and those who think they are bad. Elizabeth and several other FASG do read and comment on blogs from time to time. This is why I call the current phenomenon a shift rather than a division. I agree that blogs are definitely a viable way to publish research, and I feel that we should all be doing this very thing (as both you and I already do).

      I hope that in writing this post, I can inspire people to remember that the online genealogy community should be considered a welcome addition to the genealogists’ toolbox, but not transplant the offline work that needs to be done to support the genealogy community as a whole.

  2. Great post Michael and I really think that you were able to accurately encapsulate the paradigm shift over the past two years.

    With any change, there will be issues, resistance, and scrutiny. Many know that I’ve advocated that “walk down the balance beam” as I put it . . . no radical changes that alienate participants or dishonor their past contributions.

    As I’ve said before, this truly is a time for shepherds not sycophants. If anyone wants to build a social media presence to compliment their other genealogical achievements, I know there are plenty in the genealogy blogging community who are more than willing to help.

    And, as bloggers we need to bring this online presence into the local level as you advocate. We need to get people out into the archives, libraries and societies.

  3. I find this a thoughtful and forward-looking post. Recognition of the “paradigm shift” is important, but so is continued recognition of fundamental concepts and practices. There are two themes here: (1) the “paradigm shift” cannot (nor should it) be undone; let us embrace it; and (2) let’s not allow the foundations of the discipline be washed away.

    Nobody should be surprised that the “shift” has affected genealogy. Today, individuals may be their own broadcasters, investigators, reporters, publishers, technicians, health diagnosticians, wholesalers, retailers, schools, and anything else by using the right technology. Some will abuse their good fortune to live in such times; but on the whole, it’s positive.

  4. Michael,

    I also agree that this is a very thoughtful post and shows the changes within the genealogy community. But, there are things that some of the societies really need to take a look at if they want to see more people become members.

    I feel that one of the problems with some of the local societies is that most of the blogging community is viewed as the young people. They say they want you to be part of their society and yes we would love for you to volunteer, but when you try to volunteer for positions that have been sitting open on the board, they are then refilled by the person who gave it up. It is almost like they know we are the future of the society, but are afraid to let us help them get there.

    There are many societies without any true online presence. We need to see more than a website. You need to have facebook and twitter. That is how the information gets out there, it is where we first look for anything.

    Not to mention that, many of the societies want you to mail in your application. Many people I know do not carry checks anymore. While in Springfield, I wanted to join my local society and could not because I did not have a check or cash (the ATM was out of service). To me, this is not the way to bring new “blood” into your society. I few years back, when I had more of a disposable income, I would join societies because they made it easy for me to do.

    Finally, when you are a society at a conference and someone asks you what you can offer them as a researcher, do not reply “where do you live” and then tell me you have nothing for me because I am not local to you. If that is the case, why waste money coming to the conference. Have a reason to be there and want to talk about what you can do for both local and distant members.

    I will stop with my ranting and know that I am here to support them and help them through change. But, they need to give us this chance to do so. I have blogged about a few local societies and library groups in my area and will continue to do so.

    • Thanks for your comments.

      Herein lies the problem: Genealogical societies are only “they” and “them” as long as “we” and “us” view them that way. One cannot complain about a society not having an online presence if one has not joined the society and volunteered to help create the presence. Not all genealogists have the same skill sets. Website and social media site creation/maintenance is a skill set rare among the over-60 crowd that may spend far more time in local libraries and archives than online. If you can explain to them the benefits of having a frequently-updated website and a social media presence (that is, more visibility = more members = more money), and express your willingness to do so at no cost, then I guarantee you that not a single person in the society will object to you doing so.

      Also, you cannot expect to join a society and immediately become President or Treasurer, etc. As with any other organization, you may have to start at the bottom and get to know people first. Show that you can get things done, and they will be happy to hand you more responsibility. But some of those in leadership positions may have been among the founding or early members. They might not want to hand the fate of “their baby” to someone they just met. Would you?

      • I agree completely. I just want to say again, that I have joined my local society and I have offered my assistance to that one and others. I do not expect to immediately become the president or anything that higher ranking. I just think that there needs to be acknowledgement for those who do try and are having a hard time getting the “in”.

        And no, I probably would not want to hand over my baby to someone I just met. But, if I was asking for help, I would not turn it completely down either. I know that I am not the only one that has had this issue and we are working together to make those changes.

      • Believe me, I know the feeling that you are expressing. I cut my “professional” genealogy teeth in Maryland, a state with a few dozen different genealogical and historical societies, including a state historical society and state genealogical society, county societies for most of the individual counties, a nearby chapter of APG, a few regional societies, and several ethnic societies like the three Maryland chapters of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and societies focusing on Germanic and Jewish genealogy, among other groups. In other words, a great state with a lot of support for researchers.

        Last year I moved to Delaware, a state with only three counties and exactly three genealogical societies statewide. Late last winter I attended a meeting of one of the societies, and attempted to introduce myself to various members. I was completely brushed off. The other two societies are about an hour north of me and an hour south of me, so attending those meetings are a little less likely, no matter how much I might wish to do so. But I do maintain memberships in the Maryland state and several Maryland county societies, since that is where I conduct most of my research anyway, as well as several other state and county societies where my ancestors lived. I cannot be active in all of them, but I still contribute with my fees (at the least).

        My response to your last comment was not directed at you specifically. I simply meant to note that dealing with an offline community may not be as easy and democratic as is the online community. The online community has no one leader, but individual societies do have leaders. There is a lot more politics involved, as with everything else in the “real world.”

  5. Excellent thoughts, Michael.

    I’ve always considered myself as a “town crier” or “journo-geneablogger” – trying to alert the genealogy community of new software, new sites, new databases, providing commentary, etc.

    I know that I am not an expert in research, although I have a fair amount of experience in using certain record types and online databases. If ESM is a 10, I’m like a 3, I think. But, as you point out, geneabloggers might be considered experts if they’re what a novice finds.

    I agree with you that geneabloggers as a group encompasses all experience levels (what about FASG? Are any blogging?) from beginner to expert.

    However, not every genealogist even reads blogs (the NEHGS survey said only 5% follow more than 6 blogs, and 60% follow no blogs. And that was based on an email newsletter survey that required going to a website.

    • To my knowledge none of the Fellows blog. But many of them are quite advanced in years (in that over-80 group) and probably will not start doing so. However, there are numerous credentialed genealogists who do blog. Among CGs, I can name not only myself, but also Paula Stuart Warren, CG; Barbara Matthews, CG; Susan Farrell Bankhead, CG; J. Mark Lowe, CG; and certainly several others. These are just those that I can remember from the top of my head.

      The NEHGS survey was very telling of the Paradigm Shift. (And now I wish that I had remembered it when I was writing this post). If 60% of genealogists who responded to the email survey follow no blogs, then that means that 40% of this same group follows at least one blog. If the same survey had been conducted 2-3 years ago, I bet that number would be about half that or less. More than 5 years ago, and I bet it would be in the single digits.

      For good reason, genealogy blogs are supplanting some of the other means of communication among genealogist. As this and other cross-blog discussions have proven, blogs can be akin to the old academic standard of publishing essays with conflicting views in journals. We each have a voice. We have both an opportunity and responsibility to shape the way the online community is used externally and how we use it internally.

  6. Pingback: Are bloggers the new “experts”? « A Worthington Weblog

  7. Read this and said, “Wow”, to all the comments made by Michael and those he quoted. It has given me alot to think about and make me want to do better as a researcher and as a blogger. Great thoughts and insights for us to consider.

    • My thoughts exactly. I have been sitting in the background not wanting to ‘put myself out there’. But I know I have a lot to offer – I am one of the over-60’s that does have experience in social media. I have only just scratched the surface in reaching out to fellow genealogists and family members. This article has given me the ‘kick in the pants’ to get on with it!

  8. Your readers are likely the mix of new and old genealogists you mention, and your excellent post goes a very long way to making us all understand the shift. We are in the midst of history! As a writer, a faithful society member, and a board-certified genealogist for over 30 years, I leapt at the chance to blog, often inserting case studies and research “back stories.” Those of us with more research (and analysis) experience owe it to the community to assist in raising skill levels through education and volunteering. The opportunities are endless.

    • I apologize that I completely forgot to mention you in my response above about CGs who blog. I follow your blog as well, but it has been a few weeks since I caught up on my blog reading.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  9. Thanks for the thought-provoking posting. I’m not sure bloggers are necessarily any more “experts” than, say, newspaper columnists. Some may be, but they’re all more visible thanks to the internet, and the medium is the message.

    There’s more than one shift happening – well underway.

    The demise of another genealogy society was posted just as I started to write this. In your plea for bloggers to support societies, something I do on my blog, you list things that genealogical societies do and GeneaBloggers don’t. Are those the things society members are looking for?

    Many are the things that folks today are happy to pay a subscription to a company or organization to provide online – something like 1.7 million Ancestry subscribers. We mostly didn’t get complete transcriptions of census records until the companies did it; we didn’t get the information becoming available from digitized newspapers; the Internet Archive and Google are making many digitized books available online. And they’re providing it in a more convenient and timely manner than most societies.

    That doesn’t mean those things aren’t appreciated, just not the essencel.

    What people want from a society is face to face communication. There’s an interesting quote in the Steve Jobs biography “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”

    If social media could do it all why would anyone go to RootsTech?

    Blogs and social media augment the face-to-face, they don’t replace it. Go to any good FHS meeting and listen to the multiple conversation underway before and after the formal session. What can your society do to enhance that communication?

  10. I’m a bit slower in jumping into the blogging world – less than a year. But, I’ve had many of the great teachers before me that led the way. Many of the bloggers I have come to respect and admire are not “professionals”, in the credentialed sense of the word. But, they have great expertise to add to the field. We are all teaching each other in the hopes that some of the “sloppy genealogies” of the past will not be repeated.

    Thanks for a great article!

  11. Regarding the divide between genealogists who follow blogs and those who don’t…I joined a local society this summer and have been blown away bloth with how friendly and passionate the members are and with the fact that they seem to use an entirely different internet than I do. Most are reasonably computer savvy, are on facebook, use and find-a-grave, but don’t seem to know anything about the social genealogy web — no blogs, no, no my heritage, no genealogy friends on facebook, no podcasts. I sometimes feel like I’m speaking a foreign language…

      • Not a clue! I figger I’ll just keep bringing these things up in conversation as I volunteer at the library and maybe down the road a bit offer to do a presentation or two.

    • This is another sign of the times. The “social web” is nothing more than a means of communication. There are even many other genealogists who are active in one facet of the online community, but not in others. They may read a few blogs, but are not on Twitter or Facebook, etc. Personally, I do not use Geni or MyHeritage. I have no need for these tools.

  12. Great thoughts Michael. Really the online world and your local society are great compliments to each other. We need both. We need the face to face interaction and the support and camaraderie that you find at your local society, and we need the reach and the instant convenience of the support that you find online. In both worlds there is room for seasoned professionals and newcomers. And ideally both worlds should be welcoming and inclusive. Like John said, ideally they can augment each other.

  13. Pingback: No “genealogical community”? « Planting the Seeds

  14. Several comments:
    1. Interesting post, Michael. Many points that encourage replies.
    2. I work in higher education, and it the observation that the current millennium generation is way ahead of the academy. I believe it is predictable that as the current generation find the desire to trace their family history, the further engagement of even more types of social media is more likely than not.
    3. Why do we blog? For all the different reasons there are bloggers. We each have a different reason. Some just to provide a diary of their work for their immediate family; others provide thoughtful articles like this one that engage others in comment; mine is about the thought process of obtaining the BCG certification. others? …well, you get the idea.
    4. Certain media is suitable for different purposes. I believe the blogger can educate but the media does not lend itself to the posting of cemetery transcriptions.
    5. I think there is a role for the newbie to blog. Nothing would have been more affirming to me to have some one who was stumbling over some of the same issues that I did and work together to resolve them appropriately.
    Thanks, Michael

  15. I enjoyed your post very much. I reside in the Netherlands, but I’ve gained extensive knowledge of Norwegian immigration mid-19th century to Story Co. Iowa by researching my wife’s ancestry. That specific knowledge and expertise is pretty much useless to my local society in Barendrecht, the Netherlands, but I’m sure my research can benefit others, as much as I benefit from other peoples’ research. That’s why I started blogging; it’s a way to connect to other genealogists, amateur or professional, to see what I can learn from them, and to give something back myself.

    I think think there is a need for local societies to present themselves better online, and you’re right in calling upon the blogging community to help make that happen, as they are already familiar with establishing an online presence for themselves. And it doesn’t even have to be your own local society.

  16. Great post Michael and wonderful to see the discussion continuing. I don’t consider myself a “top genealogical thinker” but I do have a passion for technology, social media and active and productive genealogical societies. My personal belief is that the failure of a genealogical society is not the fault of genealogical bloggers or other online communities. The online communities are simply serving as a replacement for what is lacking locally. For societies to thrive and to continue their vital mission of being local resources, they will have to fully embrace social media into their core makeup. To do otherwise is to become irrelevant.

    • Thanks for commenting, Randy. I do not mean to say that the failure of a local genealogical society is due to the existence of any online community, blogging or otherwise. However, we must recognize the importance of these local societies and do our part to make that they do not fail. If a local society does not have a strong online presence, it is probably because none of the active members have the ability to rectify the situation. This is where the online community must step up to the plate. The online community is great, and I love being a part of it, but we cannot allow the local societies to fail because we focus solely on the online community. As I noted in an earlier comment, the online community needs to stop viewing offline communities as “us” and “them.” Local societies are comprised of genealogists, just like us.

  17. Reading the comments here, I get a sense that the genealogy societies could better benefit by listening and taking some cues from genealogy bloggers.

    That comes down to relevance. Are the societies relevant anymore? For that matter, is the BCG certification relevant to today’s genealogist and family historian? Are we asking the right questions? LOL

    What do today’s genealogists and family historians want? I’ll wager that they want answers or guidance to their questions and concerns. They may not be necessarily interested in joining any society. That’s old school. Perhaps they want fellowship. Much of today’s fellowship is through social media (Twitter, FB, Google+, etc.). The BIG TAKEAWAY here is that social media is driving face-to-face meeting. Many folks are meeting online before they do in 3D.

    As important as genealogical standards are, should today’s genealogists and family historians be hammered with the old strictures (you must do it this way or it’s not ‘GENEALOGY’) when so much of today’s families don’t follow the traditional profile of the pedigree chart? Do the governing bodies of the Genealogy World need to adapt and change with the times?

    Oh, BTW; is it just me or does the idea of the 50 member only The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) seem a little creepy in an elitist ‘secret society’ kind of way? Are there any minorities, gays, lesbians, transgendereds, non-traditionals, blendeds, etc. in that fellowship? If not, will there ever be? If so, then GREAT!

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

    • What do today’s genealogists and family historians want? The simplest answer here is the most relevant. They want to know about their family history.

      To do this, you of course want to be sure that you are researching the right people. This is where the genealogical standards, especially those espoused by the BCG, come in. They are designed to ensure that one’s research is as accurate as possible. The techniques and methods of genealogy, from searching for records to analysis of information, were created by these “old school” genealogists.

      Another necessary part of researching family history is having access to records. This is where the genealogical societies come in. Very few bloggers or Facebook groups or Twitter tweets produce anything even resembling this. But genealogical societies from the county to the national level have nearly all published newsletters containing queries from other researchers in the area, abstracts and indexes to records, educational articles, and often other items of interest.

      In other words, without the offline genealogy communities, the online genealogical community cannot exist.

      • I respectfully disagree.

        The online community can definitely exist without the offline community. There are plenty of printed books in stores and libraries to get info on techniques and methods of genealogy. there’s help within the software we use. there’s online forums and such. There’s even your blog!

        Part of my rant comes from the offline societies, including organizations and vendors, that are NOT welcoming to the entire genealogy community. A simple remedy would be to embrace this new wave of genealogists and family historians, learn about their concerns and challenges, and groom the emerging leaders from their ranks!

        Yes! You are absolutely correct; today’s genealogists and family historians want to know about their family history. They want to know about their family. Alex Haley made that clear, to all of us, back in the 1970’s. Too bad he gets slammed for questionable research methods. It’s the greater good he should be remembered for. I digress.

        We’re probably on the same side of the coin, actually. We are experiencing a new way of thinking about genealogy and family history. The industry standards for research must be upheld. We just don’t need to be dependent upon the offline community as much as we once did. The gatekeepers must change with the times or they’ll become dinosaurs.

        Michael, I applaud you for this conversation!

        Peace & Blessings,
        “Guided by the Ancestors”

    • This has been a superb discussion. In adding my own thoughts, I won’t address the “society” issue, because society management has never been something that revs my motor. However, I have been “doing genealogy” since I was a teenager, which means I’ve seen it cycle through a lot of growth periods in which some have declared: “We have now arrived at the NEW genealogy. The Luddites had better get with it before they turn into that stone they’re still carving on!”

      George’s first post pointed to a plaint we often hear—that genealogists are told they “must do it this way or it’s not GENEALOGY.” It seems to me that the misunderstanding here lies not in *how* genealogy is done, but in the matter of *standards* for achieving reliable conclusions about ancestors many people share. George also pointed to this in his second post, when he added: “The industry standards for research must be upheld.”

      While there *is* a standard of proof, surely no serious genealogist would contend there is just one way to “do genealogy.” The successful genealogist employs many different tools, materials, and methodologies to achieve that standard. We use software, cameras, and notebooks of both paper and electronic ilk. We use the Internet and libraries and archives. We use books, both manuscript volumes and published ones. We use obscure files and public databases. We use microfilm, digital images, and even those much-maligned “online trees.” If we neglect to use any of this, we may fail to find the chinks in our brickwalls—or we may reach a wrong conclusion because we don’t have all the evidence.

      George is also right in pointing out that “So much of today’s families don’t follow the traditional profile of the pedigree chart.” An emphasis upon pedigree charts may be still alive and kicking at the online sites that encourage “trees,” and they may always be needed as a visual outline of our work, but the equation of “doing genealogy” with “compiling charts” is definitely an outmoded concept.

      On the other hand, I would argue that the shift away from pedigree charts actually began 35 years ago, when the spirit of the American Bicentennial coalesced with the publication of Alex Haley’s novel. The Bicentennial sparked an interest in past lives and _Roots_ triggered a public awareness that our national history was created not just by the rich and famous but also by the poor, humble, and forgotten.

      That shift away from “gathering names and dates to put on a chart” to the more labor-intensive concept that every ancestor has a story to tell, if only we’ll make the effort to discover it, was a paradigm shift indeed. It was a powerful step forward for both genealogy and society. After all, the more we know about individual lives and social conditions in the past, the better we understand our present and the better equipped we are, as citizens, to shape a better world for our children.

      George is also right about the importance of software as *teachers.* We are blessed with conferences, institutes, and weekend seminars, as well as brick-and-mortar classes, home-study courses, and online programs offered by societies and universities. But, I’d argue strongly that *software* has done more to “teach” new genealogists than any other entity. Most newcomers find software long before they find societies, or understand the value of formal study, or even realize that standards do exist. It’s the software that first shows them “what to do” and it’s the software-user communities that help them understand why things are done that way.

      All things considered, my take on the issues Michael raises falls into the basket Craig tied up neatly in just two sentences: “Recognition of the [latest] ‘paradigm shift’ is important, but so is continued recognition of fundamental concepts and practices. There are two themes here: (1) the ‘paradigm shift’ cannot (nor should it) be undone; let us embrace it; and (2) let’s not allow the foundations of the discipline be washed away.”

      The one thing that puzzles me, though, is the reference to “gatekeepers.” What kind of gate bars anyone from “doing genealogy”?


      • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, Elizabeth.

        And, despite a little confusion about what I meant by certain parts of this post, I also wanted to again acknowledge Craig’s perfect summary of the post, which you quote at the end. A few people have commented in other blog posts that they felt that I was disapproving or somehow blaming bloggers for changes that I see as negative.

        Quite the contrary, I have spent literally hundreds of unpaid hours helping to build the online genealogy communities through blogging and social media usage, since 2006. I have long embraced the paradigm shift, but, as Craig stated, and you reiterated, I do not want to “allow the foundations of the discipline [to] be washed away.”

        Merry Christmas!

  18. Pingback: My Thoughts on Genealogy Societies & Blogs « Generations

  19. Michael, I’m coming late to this conversation, but I took the time to read through all the comments here. First, I’d like to say that you make very cogent statements regarding your view of the genealogical community.

    A little over a year ago, I was introduced to someone on Twitter through a friend who shares a love of coffee. And guess what? She’s a genealogist! What’s more, she lives less than an hour away from me. And we began to talk about genealogy and how it’s changed in the last few years. So I decide to re-start the research I began 15+ years ago. I was blown away by how much this Industry, as my own (I’m a Consulting Archivist), has changed in the last 5+ years and it renewed my interest in becoming a Professional Genealogist.

    I mentioned this to my Twitter friend and AT HER URGING, I started a blog. I went to not one, but TWO different local society meetings. At the same time, I tapped into a group of genealogy enthusiasts of all different levels on Twitter. And this is where I divert significantly from your opinion of the paradigm shift. I HAVE MET, IN PERSON, 3 OF MY GENEALOGY TWEEPS, 2 OF WHOM LIVE IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE COUNTRY. They have urged me to join local and national genealogy groups. Several of us are signed up for the ProGen Study Group. We have a large (10+) group who will be going to NGS in May.

    The off-line and on-line genealogical communities are as mutually exclusive as we make them. I believe Terri O’Connell mentioned the challenges of local societies and whether or not they’re accepting of ‘new’ members. Some local Societies are wonderful groups working together to provide genealogical resources to anyone who wants them. However, if the group IS an exclusionary one, and I’ve seen this first-hand, what can we learn?

    The on-line genealogy community is the most excepting non-professional and Professional group I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. The knowledge transfer among this group is astounding. When I’ve had questions regarding citation, or where to locate a record, I simply ask the question on Twitter. And, just as any good researcher and/or professional does, I verify my source. So, if ‘Joe New Genealogy Fan’ sends me an answer, I weigh that against an answer a Professional Genealogist posts.

    I am a Professional Archivist and have been for nearly 7 years. I do not have an MA or an MLS. There are those among the Archival community who believe that because I don’t have that ‘piece of paper’ that I am not a Professional. I am very good at my vocation, and I take pride in that. An Education does not a Professional make. And just because someone has professional credentials doesn’t mean they are good at what they do. Let’s not forget that either.

  20. Pingback: Open Thread Thursday: Defining The Genealogy Community | GeneaBloggers

  21. Great discussion – as were the posts where Marian responded to your post. I posted in response to her 2 part follow-on. One thing I noticed is that there is a great deal of thoughtful commentary here and other other sites and I wonder how we tie it together (thanks Thomas MacEntee for making this the topic of Open Thread Thursday).

    Those of us online and offline need to discuss what our needs are as well as what we are willing to do to help out (both online and offline). This is a two-way street – involving individuals and Societies. Oftentimes we want something – research assistance, seminars, webinars, books, other publications, an online presence (in a blog, on Facebook, at Twitter, Google+) but we do not want to give something back.

    I also feel that It is hard to keep up with all the social media. At times I wonder how people get any research done in light of the various social media updates. How do we put that all together and not be redundant? How do we move Societies into the 21st century? RootsTech, webinars, the ability to get together online (hangouts, skyping, etc.) is great but how do we harness it? Lots of questions – how do we arrive at the answers?

  22. An observation from someone outside your shores:

    “Do you cite the sources that you use?” Yes, I learned to cite sources when I wrote my university history dissertation, long before I started researching my family history.

    “Do you research the neighbors and associates of your ancestors?” Yes, because it is the logical, indeed the obvious, thing to do when looking for information.

    I’ve never heard of the ASG.

    • Thank you for the input from outside the United States. My post was immediately concerned with the U. S. genealogy community, but your post certainly raises another important issue. While the old offline genealogy community/ies were far more bound by national borders, the online genealogy community is quite global. I have a number of genealogy friends in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

  23. Pingback: Fab Finds in Genealogy for the Week of 25 December 2011 | 1 Ancestry 2 Little Time

  24. Two categories of people that benefit greatly from the online genealogical community are mothers of young children and youth. Neither of these groups are able to run around visiting society meetings and conferences very much. Nor do they have much time to devote to those groups. Both rely heavily on the online genealogy community. But I think that even though they are right now held back by time and circumstances, both groups will, by participating wholly with the online community for now, be able to better benefit the face-to-face community when they are able to participate more fully in the future.

    Another thought that comes to mind…is a Skype/GoogleHangout conference, face-to-face or online?

  25. Pingback: Follow Friday: More on the Genealogy Paradigm Shift « Planting the Seeds

  26. Pingback: Links, 1.04.12 « The Ancestral Archaeologist

  27. Pingback: My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift « Planting the Seeds

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