When I was first online in 1995 I watched the Internet take off in an astronomically fast upward spiral with regard to genealogy. I started keeping track of my bookmarks for genealogy, which at that time printed out on one piece of paper. Within two years of the launch of Cyndi's List the total went from 1,025 to well over 26,000 links. And that is in the infancy of genealogy online. By the 3rd anniversary the site had more than 20,000,000 visitors to the front page. Clearly, the Internet was popular with people who were interested in their family history. And that is when the nay-sayers started their Internet-hate campaign. Some of the things I heard or read on a regular basis:
- The Internet is a fad.
- The Internet is going to kill libraries.
- The Internet is going to kill genealogy societies.
- The Internet produces junk genealogy.
- The Internet encourages junk genealogy.
- The Internet isn't for serious genealogists.
In my opinion, what the Internet has done for genealogy has been a wonderful thing. Supposedly genealogy is the second most popular topic online. The Internet has made it easy for long-lost cousins to find one another. And it's easier to learn, to publish, to share, and to move forward in our research faster than we could have done in the past. This also means that more people are interested in genealogy now than before computers and the Internet. More people find it accessible. Prior to this it was the hobby of retired people and those who had the time and money to do a lot of traveling for on-site research. The Internet opened up research to people who were on tight budgets or housebound for a variety of reasons. Younger people and stay-at-home moms or dads can now spend time on genealogy. It is now a hobby for anyone that has an interest in learning more about their ancestors.
So, how do we take the next step to encourage people to become interested in genealogy? When I started in genealogy in 1980, in Washington state, I had no idea that there were genealogy societies or libraries with genealogy collections. I worked in a very small vacuum in the Pacific Northwest, with no money and no car to drive. It took me several years to learn about where to go and what to look for in my research. My first exposure to genealogy beyond my small world was the media. A syndicated newspaper column by Myra Vanderpool Gormley. Through Myra I learned about genealogy books and magazines, genealogy libraries, genealogy societies, and that there were actually large groups of people out there who were also interested in this unique hobby. Myra's column told me that there was more out there. Myra's column, because of the nature of a nationally syndicated newspaper column, didn't teach me everything I needed to know to turn me into the world's perfect genealogist. My expectation wasn't that I would learn everything I ever needed to know just by reading her column. But it did keep my interest alive and it prompted me to go look for more. My Grandma Nash & my Aunt Daisy gave me my first taste of family history. It was Myra's column that let me know that there was more to it than just compiling names and dates. If it wasn't for Myra, I wouldn't have gone further.
And with that I come to the point of this article. Television is good for genealogy. And I'm so tired of hearing the nay-sayers when it comes to the television programs Who Do You Think You Are? and the Genealogy Roadshow. In both cases genealogical research for the people featured on the show is presented in a one-hour time slot. There is no way to fit everything a person needs to know about how to do research for________ [fill in the blank] in a one-hour show. So, it isn't a reasonable argument to say things such as:
- If I had money to travel all over the world, I could do that too!
- Celebrities have it easy.
- The show misleads people by making it look too easy.
- Wouldn't it be nice to have a clerk just hand you the documents you need without any work?
- They are just handing a bunch of stuff over without telling them how to do the research.
- They make it look like you can find these things without any work.
- They aren't teaching them anything about genealogy.