20 October 2009

Not everything in genealogy a bed of roses?

As a result of my trip to Quinte Branch of OGS last Saturday I learnt of an article "Your Genealogy: Approach with Caution" published in the September/October 2009 issue of Family Chronicle magazine.

The article's first paragraph states the author's view that "it (genealogy) is a serious hobby." It continues by making a comparison to golf, but fails to acknowledge that if only serious golfers played the game there would be far fewer courses. Golf finds room for players of all aptitudes and dedication. Teens, retirees, businessmen and women, and once a year players in charity events participate, as well as pros. Golf professionals don't feel threatened by duffers, neither should professional genealogists and genealogical societies. Instead we should welcome the genealogical duffer as increasing the demand for resources to be made available and seeing the business opportunity in helping and educating them.

The article discusses "three problems that I fear will get worse in the future."

First "Terrible Genealogies." After lamenting the fake and mistaken genealogies that can too easily be found and spread via the Internet the article proposes a "rule amongst genealogical writers, editors and speakers that an article or talk that uses the word "Internet" or "web" also uses the word "proof" or "citation."

That sounds a bit like a rule in golf that you shouldn't be able to sell a three wood to someone without also selling "driver" lessons lest the buyer use it incorrectly.

Experienced genealogists know only to use information as a clue, something to investigate and accept or reject according to your own good judgment. The information may come with a citation, which aids the assessment process, but even without a citation the information is still a lead to investigate. The inexperienced given such information will likely find themselves landing in the genealogical equivalent of bunkers and water hazards. If they want to continue experiencing the hazards will be motivation to take advice and lessons.

The second problem in the article is "Identity Theft." The article states that "genealogical information on living people is a significant component of identity theft." How significant? There is no citation or reference. Is it a significant enough component for the police to make speaking to family history groups a priority in their public outreach? I suspect that the exchange of personal information through social networks, totally unrelated to genealogy, is much more significant.

The third problem, the one the article uses as many column inches to explore as the other two combined, is "The Free Lunch." The bulk of this discussion revolves around a situation the article author, Fraser Dunford, Executive Director of the Ontario Genealogical Society, is facing regarding an online index, and records, for 60,000 insurance documents in the custody of the Society.

He writes in the article "I firmly believe it is a fundamental responsibility of genealogical societies to acquire, keep, and make available, data sets such as this." However, that goes beyond the OGS mission statement www.ogs.on.ca/home/structure.php. Is this mission drift one reason why OGS fees are escalating?

The article also states that "this one small data set has cost the Ontario taxpayers about $25,000, the members of my society nearly $5,000 and will incur an ongoing annual fee of several hundred dollars (cost of space to store the documents.)"

He explores funding options and asks "If we think taxpayers should pay the bill ... are we willing to let politicians determine how and when genealogical data is available?"

For "politicians" the article might have said "our elected representatives."

They already make that type of decision regarding all the data held in government archives. They also make decisions that fund hockey rinks, football facilities, tennis courts, recreation centres, day-cares and numerous other facilities I don't use. Fortunately they make similar decisions in favour of genealogists, the most recent of which in Ontario is purchase of the Ancestry Library database to be available in all libraries across the province. Perhaps OGS will tell us whether they oppose that decision made by politicians on how to spend taxpayers dollars?

It may be that OGS made a mistake in deciding to archive the insurance records. Do they have, and could they afford, the facility needed to store them in perpetuity in properly controlled environmental conditions?

As for the more general question of there being no free lunch, users of Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, the Internet Archive, FamilySearch, FreeBMD and numerous other similar websites know what they pay. For an extended discussion of how this free lunch is possible download the book FREE, by Chris Anderson. It's free as an audio book at www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-07/mf_freer.


Anonymous said...

"If we think taxpayers should pay the bill ... are we willing to let politicians determine how and when genealogical data is available?"
If federal or Ontario privacy legislation governed access to the IOOF applications, I'd be able to get my grandfather's application as he has been dead for over 50 years. But OGS rules say that it has to be 100 years after the event.
Unfortunately OGS shows no signs of admitting that getting into the repository business was a mistake. They are talking about providing more "benefits" of this nature.

JDR said...

The September issue of family tree Magazine (UK) has pertinent article about an organization that decided it was better to deposit originals to an archive rather that attempt to preserve them themselves.

"We feel that our collection is best deposited in the local county record office where it will be catalogued and stored in accordance with strictly laid down conditions and accessible to all who are also able to benefit from the knowledge of those in charge who have been trained in archiving skills. Local facilities can often change or even disappear, but the designated record office is there to protect community archives for all time.

Without the regular donation or loan of documents to record offices across the country, there would be less historical information easily available to the family and local historian. The majority of these records is unique and irreplaceable. By making such records publicly available both local people and those further afield can experience and enjoy their histories and better understand their world and their place in it. So, if you have only a single document or a collection of documents in your cash and would like to in short they are correctly preserved and made available for others to see, why not talk to your local artist who will be pleased to advise you about the research value of your document and if it is suitable for placing into the archive and securing its safe future for all of us to enjoy.