Second anniversary of my blog – sharing and learning in community with other genies around the world.

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.Today is my second anniversary of blog-writing. It’s been a fascinating journey and one which has taken me on a different path from what I originally anticipated. When I began I wanted to share information on “my” Dorfprozelten immigrants, try to attract anyone with Broadford or East Clare ancestry and share some of my family history research and a little bit about living in the Top End of Australia. I was totally naive about genealogy blogging and didn’t even know Geneabloggers existed or how many genealogy bloggers were out there sharing their research, skills and knowledge.

My first year was a “toe in the water” year as I was still working full-time, unsure about my posts, and not devoting much time to the blog. After finishing work this time last year I ramped up my blog presence and thanks to people like Geneabloggers came to realise just how many fascinating blogs were being written. Tips from other bloggers like Geniaus and then RootsTech 2011 also expanded my techno skills in this area. In those early days, comments from fellow bloggers like Carole Riley inspired me to keep writing and let me know I wasn’t writing into a vacuum.

After two years, I’ve found that it’s the comments from fellow bloggers that I value most of all and so I also make an effort to comment on the various blogs I read. I’m not sure Google Reader is such a good idea because I now have a long list of blogs I look at in varying detail and some I read faithfully every post. :-)

My most popular single post has been my Dorfprozelten page about the immigrants from that small village on the River Main in Bavaria, Germany. It’s been a great meeting place for people with ancestors from there, and there’ve been wonderful times when I’ve felt a bit like a match-maker connecting linked families. A big bonus! I’m considering splitting this theme off into a separate blog in 2012 and adding more of my research.

I’d love to have heard more from people with ancestors from anywhere in East Clare (from the Limerick/Tipperary border across to Ennis) and especially Broadford, but this hasn’t been as productive as the Dorfprozelten page.

This year I’ve participated in the series designed by Amy Coffin, 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History as well as the Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Memories. The topics have made me dredge my memory for things that have been mentally filed away for years, so it’s been a great opportunity to revisit them and document the history. My main motivation for posting on these topics has been to leave my own history for my children and descendants so I will be combining these posts into book form (Olive Tree Genealogy has some tips here). It’s also been great fun to do some of the geneamemes that have come through…inspires me to think about what I might do differently, what skills to add to my repertoire and consider which things I want to include vs which I don’t. I also had a crack at a geneameme myself, Beyond the Internet, with the goal of highlighting just how much genealogy information is still off-line and what can be found there.

A while ago I posted on Open Thread Thursday about The Benefits of Blog reading and Why I blog, based on my experiences over the past two years. It’s been a great journey and I’ve gained so much from being part of the online genealogy community – even more valuable to me as I live away from many of the resources and learning opportunities others take for granted.

To all my followers and occasional readers, a HUGE thank you! You have become my online community and it’s your visits and especially your comments that make blogging so interesting and keep up my enthusiasm levels. I look forward to “speaking” with you again in 2012.

RootsTech -Bewildered and Bemused -but resolved

After listening to five of the seven online video-streams, I was thoroughly bewildered by all the choices: so many strategies, so many concepts to absorb. If I felt like this after such a small smattering of talks, I can’t begin to imagine the impact of listening to all the sessions live. Or the thrill of meeting delegates from so many places. It must have been incredibly stimulating.

So why am I bewildered and bemused?

Having started my research in advance of the digital era my records are a mix of hard-copy, written notes, digital files, hard-copy or digital photos, super 8 film, video film and so on.

Where to start with ensuring its all preserved, put online, kept up-to-date and accessible for future generations? How long will that take (how long is a piece of string)?

A prevailing assumption throughout the talks was that everyone’s research is predicated on recording our family stories and I’m sure that is the intention of every family historian. But how successful are we at doing this? The very bower-bird habits that make us love the hunt for new clues, names and locations, tends to inhibit us from actually documenting our stories….we’re never really “finished” on this trail of ancestors, so we can’t write/record it, can we? This is possibly our greatest weakness as we collect our maze of information which may be indecipherable to even our closest kin if we don’t draw it together.

Lynn at The Armchair Genealogist http://www.thearmchairgenealogist.com/ has a great blog to help anyone kick-start their family history: to paraphrase Ancestry “you don’t need to know what you’re going to write, just start writing”. Again the strategies are important, but getting started is the first, most important, and somewhat scary step. Lynn has also challenged fellow family historians to commence their project this month, and even though we’re half way through February, there’s nothing to stop you beginning now, using her posts to help you along.

Each of the RootsTech speakers I heard challenged us in different ways:

1.      To include newbies in our enthusiasm for our obsession, sorry, hobby.

2.      To ensure we keep us with technology, and ensure our own archives remain accessible to the new technology

3.      That we need to have a web presence if we want to spread the word about genealogy generally but our own family research in particular

4.      To volunteer to digitise or index records for all to access

5.      To maintain the security and integrity of our records

6.      Get our stories “out there”

  To respond to Carole Riley’s twitter challenge (@CaroleRiley):

My own take-home messages from the video-streamed sessions were:

1.      The importance of actually recording our family and personal stories, for current and future generations: that’s what all the online resources are provided for. Blogs do provide a great way of sharing our information.

2.      The importance of keeping our digital archives in multiple locations, selecting the right format to use, and to review and update the format regularly. (A lot of work in this one).

3.      The potential influence of family historians on archives and libraries and in particular the digitisation of records.

RootsTech – Bedazzled

So RootsTech has come and gone for 2011. I wonder how many genies will schedule a trip next year and, for those who can’t get there, will the organisers make the video stream more widely available even on a user-pays basis. I’d certainly be willing to pay for the opportunity to see it from Australia despite the challenge of waking up at 1am to see some.

Although I was only able to attend online, I gained a lot from these sessions and these are some reflections.

BEDAZZLED

Genealogy is a brain-stretching and challenging hobby which we all do for love or fun, or we’d have long since moved on to golf or tennis. On this point I agreed with Curt Witcher. However I disagree that people won’t do activities which don’t bring them immediate success or cause them too many challenges. I think the many genies out there who’ve been pursuing their research for anything between a few years and a few decades are living proof of our determination. We’re some amalgam of bloodhound (pursuing clues wherever they may be), bower bird (collecting any snippet of information that illuminates our family stories) and puzzlers extraordinaire who whoop for joy when two puzzle pieces lock together.

These attributes are no doubt part of why everyone had so much fun at RootsTech: it seemed like a giant genealogical lolly shop with new information, new strategies and innovative technology to help us expand our histories.

Barry Ewell gave a fascinating talk which could only scratch the breadth of preserving our family history by digitising documents, old Super 8 films and videos, as well as music on 33s, LPs and 45s or cassettes.

He also highlighted there were two branches of our research we should consider: our own personal history and the history of our ancestors. We need to be selective and preserve the “photo”/document etc that best represents the person and event.

The need to have multiple copies, stored in different locations is apt considering recent events in Queensland. A recurring theme was to ensure we kept our documents up to date with changing technology. Barry also offered to send a link to the full presentation but as yet my request hasn’t come through, so I’d be interested to hear from others if they’ve received their link.

Curt Witcher’s talk challenged us, in essence, to welcome new researchers to our hobby by letting them into the sandbox before sandbagging them with rules about white gloves, citations, and procedures. I still disagree with the Ancestry slogan of “you don’t need to know what you’re looking for” as I imagine people happily building trees filled with branches and twigs who have no actual relationship to them and claiming a BDM because it’s the only one online. I also disagree that citations aren’t important –how else to allow others to follow the same path, validate the data, investigate the same archival source, or acknowledge the research contributions of others. This should be an early lesson once we’re all in the genealogical sandpit together.

There were challenging concepts for genealogical societies, too, as Curt said that most new researchers are not society members: a warning call to ensure that they have a comprehensive online presence so those 21sters are tempted to visit and join their society. Curt told us that change is an opportunity not a difficulty –nothing new there –but have all societies taken that on board?

Josh Taylor’s talk on PDF documents opened up a world of challenges and opportunities in terms of preserving, sharing and maintaining the integrity of our family history documents. So many new tricks and skills to incorporate into our research strategies.

He talked about the role of Facebook and Twitter as 21st century diaries which can incorporate a lot of family and personal history. This will be lost if we don’t move quickly to extract the stories.

Brewster Kahle’s talk on Personal Archives was fascinating and received great audience support. His credo that “everything” should be available free online resonated with people. His company clearly demonstrates the “copies in multiple places” strategy with duplicate centres in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Alexandria, as well as its commitment to democratising information and making it available world-wide.

Some pivotal take-home messages from his talk were:

  1. Genies are the major users of public libraries
  2. We need to upload our memories ie ensure the life history in our minds is accessible to others, either family or the broader community
  3. Genies could be the pioneers of pushing the process of freely-available, digitised records
  4. That we have an obligation to make our histories available to our children on the internet as they are not going back to libraries (still not 100% convinced on that topic).
  5. Wayback is a great resource for finding archived websites: I’ve been using this for years without knowing it was attached to the Internet Archives.
  6. We can find old movie clips, radio shows etc on their site (I used Old Time Radio last week without knowing it was theirs)
  7. We need to be able to learn the stories of our ancestors and ensure they’re accessible to future generations
  8. We need to ensure we’re recording our own stories for our descendants.

So at the end of the conference I was bedazzled by the wonders that had been highlighted and felt like a very happy bower bird with a nest full of bright, shiny blue glass. However I was also bewildered and somewhat bemused, of which more anon.