walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

a bit more about that society v blogger debate

Recently, I stumbled across this and mentioned it:


This is a response to something that was making the rounds of genealogical blogs; you
can track back at will.

One portion of this post really caught my attention:

"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."

I knew about FindAGrave for months; I stumbled over BillionGraves today, which in turn led me to Interment.net and Names in Stone. These are all efforts to herd genealogical cats who may or may not have it in them to join a genealogical society and, if they do, to participate in a society-led effort to document a graveyard -- but who maybe can produce some pictures of gravestones and cemetery entrances, possibly some obituary information, maybe some GPS coordinates, etc., and give them a venue to pour out their genealogical heart and soul. Given that the top 50 contributors to FindAGrave each seem to have over 100K memorials, there's some evidence that trawling the vast sea of amateurs can at least drum up volume. And honestly? Given the difficulty of identifying and finding genealogical societies in one's local area or area of research, a consistent web presence that is meaningful nationally and internationally is not to be sniped at. Is this something bloggers do? I don't know. But it's not something being sponsored by genealogical societies, either.

The obituary abstraction thing I'm still wrestling with. While there are for-pay obituary resources, they tend towards Really Really Recent. There was the short-lived Google Newspapers thing, and there are other historical newspapers archives, focusing on obituaries which have been OCR indexed (and boy, don't mock that. That is uber-cool. Fulton County, New York has a site of scanned newspapers that is amazing). Again, however, _finding_ the society product is non-trivial.

The library issue I'm lukewarm on. Access to this stuff is difficult, because there are few copies and you have to travel. The digitization process isn't being done by historical societies (and there has been some blogging about that, too) en masse, and to the extent that ancestry.com is providing tools to do so, societies are looking at a difficult choice in sharing that information through that mechanism.

I suspect that a lot of the people who really value genealogical societies and the work they have done over the decades (centuries?) are guilty of a kind of filtered or selective memory. I don't mean that they're forgetting the social stratification purpose served by many of these societies in the past (I don't think anyone has managed to forget that). I mean that societies have edited their collections and their work product over time as they recognized there were problems -- the result is a heavily curated mass of data with a lot of internal consistency and external validation (or at least that doesn't have a lot of external evidence that would invalidate it). What's going on in blogs and on websites like geni.com and ancestry.com and so forth has not had that kind of curation. The obvious errors rankle and make it hard to take it seriously as a research base.

Worse, the online stuff is amplifying the inaccurate printed genealogies of the past.

On the other hand, a lot of really good online work is happening: search engines make it possible to troll for ancestors and collaterals in material that would have been impossible to read through in any number of lifetimes. Armed with a sufficiently unusual name, it has become possible to track at least some people no matter how improbable their movements -- and to trace their activities in newspaper accounts of petty crime, not just their mentions as bearers at a funeral.

I'm still thinking about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the volunteer/local/small organization vs. the online individual + crowdsourced (volunteer) and/or corporate (whether for money or for religious purposes) infrastructures. I'll probably be thinking about this for a long while.

In the meantime, I signed up to do some transcription over at FamilySearch (that's the LDS non-profit) after realizing the ancestry.com operation required a PC (at least as near as I can tell). I should probably describe that, but I think the kids are about to arrive.
Tags: genealogy

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