Sometimes genealogy can be a solitary pursuit. If you happen to be (as Anita in our office often says) the "keeper of the truths" in your family, you may be the only one who gets excited about paging through census records for hours on end, tromping through overgrown graveyards, or traveling 300 miles to visit the county courthouse. All of us who research have probably all had the experience of sharing our latest discovery, only to see the eyes of the person listening glaze over. It happens.
That's why you need to visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake. This was my first time, and even all the praise I'd heard about the facility didn't prepare me for the delightful surprise of walking in, looking around, and realizing that every single person (sometimes as many as 600 on the library's five floors) was there to work on their genealogy.
The sense of community there was palpable. Some people sat at the rows of computers, searching intently through the FHL catalog or other websites. Others scrolled through the thousands of microfilm reels available for perusing. (The hum of cranking film was a common sound.) Once the desired images were found, often researchers would take them to the ScanPro 2000 to save them to a flash drive. Still others browsed through the reference books on subjects from reading Polish church records to family histories from all over the world. And during all of it, I saw and experienced support and bonding. Occasionally someone would exclaim over a discovery, and others would listen intently to the find, and at other times, spontaneous conversations would break out as people next to each other shared their research paths. Hundreds of library volunteers were there to assist with technical and research support. It was a remarkable experience.
That community feeling continued during the sessions at RootsTech. Many of the keynotes, as previously mentioned, spoke to what genealogists what might expect in the future. While excited about innovations, one of my first thoughts was: "Please don't take the hunt away." While improving upon the capacity to link online records for the same person together is great, one of the reasons that genealogists keep coming back to look is the joy of uncovering things for themselves and being able to piece the puzzle together. I overheard one attendee saying "This profession is the closest I can come to being a detective," and blogger Randy Seaver, who sat next to me at Friday's keynote session, said "the fun and learning are in the journey." So I hope developers will keep that in mind as they continue to create--don't hand it all to us in a nice pretty bow, even if you can. Make us work at least a little for it!
I also got to be a part of multiple discussions about societies and their relevance, especially when genealogy companies continue to grow and expand and put many more records online. One idea that many of us in society administration seem to share is that one of our most important roles is to help people make sense of what they're finding...to help them figure out how to put together the puzzle pieces. Every state and county has its own unique quirks, and societies can benefit their members by helping them learn them, as well as teaching them what repositories and records exist, and how to use them best for their research.
In addition, we can help grow the community through our programming, by making sure we offer opportunities for researchers to meet, talk, and share their research--so others can find those kindred spirits who'll get as excited as you when you make a discovery. What kind of programs would you like to see from us in the future? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know. And mark March 21-23, 2013 on your calendar...the next RootsTech will be here before you know it. --JH