Sunday, September 02, 2007

More on the Issue of the Internet Biographical Collection

Consider this UPDATE #7 of my "Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations?" post of last Tuesday.

The issue of the Internet Biographical Collection hasn't gone away, and I don't think it will for a long time. And that's not a bad thing. I consider this past week a pivotal "moment" in the timeline of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession.

No matter how you feel about it, no matter where you stand, for me this matter highlighted these main points:
  • * Genealogy--especially the type in which individuals utilize the Internet as a tool in their research--is no longer a one-way street. We've been hearing for some time that interactive genealogy, best seen in the examples of genealogy blogs and using wiki sites such as Geni, WeRelate, and Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy (just to name a very few type of examples), is the new future of family history. Those that are researching their family trees are no longer willing to sit back and let the major genealogy websites dictate what they believe the masses need or want. Researchers want to give their input. And, again, that's not a bad thing.
  • * The pen (or keyboard, in this case) is mightier than the sword. When we blog, people listen. And we can use our words to effect change, for better or worse.
  • * Genealogy is not a static discipline. It is in the process of shaping and being shaped by all the players involved.

Most of my readers know that I have two teenagers and that I also work with teens at a middle school. We have 630 students currently enrolled at our worksite, and while I only directly teach a very small percentage of them, I am in daily contact with many of the other students as well. My experiences during the past three years as both a parent and staff member have radically changed my focus, my interaction and relationships with this age group. Teenagers are different than children. They're not going to stand passively by while you give directions, and then follow them. They want to know your reasons, and that still might not be good enough for them! You can't force them to do what you want. They're becoming adults, and they need your understanding and respect, while you do your best to guide them to make the best, most responsible decisions and meet their needs and wishes.

At the risk of completely offending all my readers, in the following analogy I am going to liken non-certified genealogists--those of us who do our research as an avocation, not a profession--to young adults in a traditional family whose two parents consist of the professional genealogist and the major genealogy website. In my mind's eye, I see the professional genealogist as "Mom" who is adamantly reiterating the rules and expectations to her teens: "Fasten your seatbelt to keep yourself safe, get to bed on time so you won't become ill, do your homework first and then you can enjoy TV", etc. "Dad" in this analogy is the major genealogy website: "I worked hard and spent a lot of money on this (car, furniture, vacation, you name it). You need to respect the work, time, and money I put into this, so you are going to follow the rules I make for it." And then there's the young adult: "You aren't listening (to my needs...they never say that last part, but that's what teens mean by that)! That's not what I want! You didn't ask me! You are violating my rights! I'm not a little kid to be bossed around! I have something important to contribute to this family!"

Every player in the above scenario is speaking the truth and has a valid point. Each needs to be listened to and respected, and in turn be the listener and give respect to the others. Professional genealogists are there to safeguard the discipline of genealogy. Without standards, there is chaos. We well know the saying that "genealogy without sources is mythology." The history of each of our families deserves to be researched and written with the best methods and the highest standards we can attain. With that in mind, the pros need to understand that the rich stories of the individuals in our family tree--and even the legends--have a legitimate place in our research. Lists and reports of names, dates, and places, along with footnotes and citations are not what will perpetuate the history and pride of who we are as a family to our descendants. The good that we do for family history and genealogy needs to be acknowledged by professionals, too. Not all of us amateurs are "family tree climbers" or straight-on-back (SOB) researchers! Many--if not most--of us are attempting to do things the correct way.

Major websites provide us with opportunities that none of us could afford individually to access and acquire records or indexes of records that can expand our knowledge of who our families are. We need to respect their terms and conditions and realize that while they may be profiting from our subscriptions, the majority of that money is spent obtaining more records for us, the users. In turn, these major websites need to acknowledge that we are not passive in our use; we want to have a voice in what is available to us and to be acknowledged. We don't want to be dictated to, and we desire to be respected by being consulted on things that affect us directly and personally, even if legally there's no reason to.

As researchers and genea-bloggers, we are coming into our own. There's a place in this family for another adult. "Mom" and "Dad" need to realize and respect that, and help create that place for us. Our role, then, is to act responsibly by using good methodology in our research, citing our sources; by respecting genealogy websites' terms and conditions; and by learning the copyright laws that protect our own work. As genea-bloggers, it is important that we speak up (as we most certainly did!) when we feel that our rights--or even the respect we deserve--are being violated. We need to communicate with professional genealogists and major websites. But we need to remember that behind the faces of the APG or Ancestry.com or any other groups that represent professional genealogists and major genealogy websites are individuals just like us, with feelings and desires and plans.

I once wrote that a blog is "a place of opinion, passion, and emotion, and it is personal in that it is 'owned' by the author, who has complete freedom to express his or her opinions, passions and emotions." It is still true and I still believe it. However, we will be listened to with more respect and credibility if we do not let our emotions and tempers get the best of us while we are communicating our needs and wishes. I say this having learned the hard way about using my blog as a ranting platform instead of as an effective communication tool. You can be right in everything you say, but if you say it in an offensive way, you will not effect positive change. I'm proud to report that nearly all of the genea-bloggers who wrote on the IBD issue did so appropriately, and I'm not trying to be critical of my fellow bloggers here. This is the second major hot topic to stir the online genealogy world within the last eight months and I think I am safe in predicting it won't be the last. For those of us (and I'm definitely including myself!) who tend to blog before we think through the full consequences of what our words may do, let's remember to take a deep breath and step back for a moment when the next hot topic arrives. Let's ask ourselves what resolution we desire, and then work positively toward that end.

Just as the look of the traditional family is changing, so the field of genealogy is changing us and vice versa. We need professionals and the major database websites, and they need us! For the good of all involved, and for the good of genealogy as a discipline, we need to communicate effectively and be responsible towards and respectful of the others.

I encourage my readers to visit the blogs mentioned in my previous post on this topic (check the updates at the bottom of the post) for other bloggers' continuing perspectives and readers' comments on this major issue. These are the movers and shakers in the genea-blogging world, and their opinions and research on this subject are well worth reading.
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