2019: The Year of Sharing

Reflecting back on 2018, I’m happy to report that I accomplished a lot more over the course of the year than was conceptualized at its inception. This is not to brag, but rather, a revelation when considering the beginning of a new year. I have come to the conclusion that it is much healthier to identify our successful changes of the previous year, and look for opportunities to expand growth, instead of identifying areas of failure that need to be altered. In other words, we have a tendency to issue resolutions as declarations that are inflexible and too finite to encourage success. Which, in the long run, spells out our defeat even before we begin. If we, instead, look for hopeful themes to help or encourage our growth, then this should be enough to elicit positive change over the course of a long 12 months.
When looking at the growth of 2018, there was no resolution to drive the change, but an openness all year to identify areas susceptible to change, which were actually within my power to change. I knew a healthier lifestyle was priority one, but instead of hitting the gym like a crazed fitness junkie, I started taking walks every day as the weather permitted, and making better food choices consistently. I lost almost 20 pounds, gradually, and even with the weather change, I have not gained anything back, and will gently continue my efforts to get out more, and look for opportunities to enhance this healthy alteration; Being gentle with myself, and not harsh when I take a break or indulge in a guilty treat – celebrating by encouraging myself to continue the good work, instead of internally chastising for a missed step. This approach is also a good rule of thumb concerning our research efforts – be gentle with ourselves, and celebrate our accomplishments along the way.

Another area that caught my attention in 2018 was the amount of clutter in my home. With each house cleaning session, I made a point to throw away or remove via donation, a small amount of items which held no further meaning, neither intrinsic nor sentimental. Over the course of the year, I made 5 carload trips to Goodwill, and disposed of 7 large trash bags of paper junk. The end result: I was finally able to settle all of my family archives into their proper housing containers, and should any emergency occur, I can lay my hands on a few small boxes with the most important items. Now, when someone asks for a copy of a photo, I can go right to the proper location and digitize at will.

With the above accomplishment that evolved over the course of 2018, and while preparing similarly relevant material for my talk at RootsTech in a couple of months, I am mentally able to move on to the next phase in this transformation. The limited nature of time and the familial value of what I have been entrusted with have directed the next offshoot of growth – a prioritization of sharing. It is the natural progression of putting things in order. There is no longer a hindrance in the area of superfluous pieces of random material obscuring the vital or irreplaceable elements.

Welcome to 2019’s theme: Sharing.

But what does a lifestyle of sharing look like?

A sharing lifestyle is fluid and looks for a variety of sharing opportunities. My upcoming session at RootsTech is called: Past Forward: Tech Tools & Strategies for Sharing Family History Through a Consumable Genealogy Plan. Without giving too much away prior to the session, I have learned so much about the brain and how it consumes information. As family historians, one of our goals should be an aim for retention. What can we pass on that will be retained and therefore passed along to the future generations? This concept of “consumable genealogy” is my new driving force when sharing family history nuggets.

As I move forward in 2019, looking for various ways to share meaningful and engaging chapters of my family history, I will strive to be open to multiple platforms, and learn adaptive lessons from engagement. What can I learn from the perspective of others in my family? How can I package consumable pieces of family history in such a way that sparks the lazy muscle that sits between our ears?
Step one for me is to get a bigger handle on my scanning/digitizing progress in order to have material ready to package for sharing. While I have scanned a portion of my collection, there is much more that needs to be done, and sharing along the way will drive my efforts. Conversely, as much as I strive to produce the mammoth 500 page family history someday, I vow to not wait for that moment to begin my sharing. As Charlotte Brontë once said: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness.” And if we replace the word happiness with ‘family history’….. Family History quite unshared can scarcely be called family history! With so many tools out there at our disposal to share our genealogy love, there has never been a better time to live with sharing as a driving force.

Happy New Year, from…

PSA: Facebook Genealogy Groups – Proceed with Caution

As much as I hate to say this, it’s time we get smart and vet our memberships to Facebook Genealogy Groups. Just this morning I was scolded and publicly shamed in a very popular Facebook Genealogy group that contains over 16,000 members. My crime? Asking a poster (within a comment string) to consider sharing her state specific story with our state historical society publication – which happens to be a free educational resource for all – created and hosted by a government archival/artifact repository. Good grief!

The ironic point of this interaction, is that I always double check the group rules before posting or commenting – because every group can be VERY different. In this case, they only prohibited advertising services or products “for sell” [for sale]. As a non-profit, free educational resource, I was in no way soliciting anything that resulted in a profit – nor was I even advertising – it was a suggestion at the bottom of a very long comment string.

But here’s how they handled this situation. They removed my comment and then made a new post calling me out for this shameful behavior. Most group admins will take down a comment or post and quietly message the offender – unless this was a repeat offense, or a problem they keep having with many others. Nope. They instead chose to publicly rebuke my “offense” when in fact, I hadn’t violated anyone’s rules. The admin of the day stated that I should have known better, and continued to lecture that I was ignorant of standard “netiquette”.

Unfortunately, my apology and clarification that this was not in their rules (because, you know, I researched their own rules list) simply fanned the flames, and it was apparent that, just like Caesar, the offense was declared, judgement and punishment were handed out and no words of defence would be accepted. So let it be written, so let it be done! Sorry folks, that is an environment that is contrary to the world of kindness I know to be genealogy.

Many of you have witnessed this scenario before as well as become concerned over Facebook abuses in all forms reported in the news. In fact, several users have already left Facebook due to these reports.  Over the years, I have embraced Facebook due to the engaging groups of collective advice and dialog. Many of the groups are wonderful! However, I have also witnessed conversations turn ugly in the blink of an eye. Facebook is a place where many people feel it’s OK to be hateful to one another, bully and insult one another, and demonstrate the very worst of humanity.

But let’s take a closer look at genealogy groups in particular.

The good:

The best genealogy groups are usually topic or location specific. Local genealogy groups by state or county are research/dialog rock stars! They provide invaluable insights to those of us who are out of town – a true “pay-it-forward” kindness in the form of “boots on the ground” volunteers. It is apparent that they love their community and want to share the historical/genealogical love. I have been the recipient of many acts of genealogy kindness from these research angels, which demonstrates the goodness and kindness of the genealogy community, and why Facebook is still a place to get some rock-solid advice and assistance.

The not so good:

The least helpful groups out there are usually too broad in focus to provide much more than cute memes and a burgoo of stories that might be fun, or might be silly, but do not provide much educational advice or meaningful dialog. Their topics are so various that following along becomes mentally exhausting, with little educational meat to show for your efforts. In worst case scenarios, the atmosphere turns toxic, with rampant criticism, insults, shaming, bullying, which often begins with or is encouraged by the behavior of the admins.

Lessons & Takeaways – please evaluate your membership in FB genealogy groups based on these helpful Tips:

  • When you become a new member, take a really close look around before engaging with the other members. Read all group policies or rules FIRST before commenting OR posting ANYTHING! Also, be sure to read the comments below these rules – they can be very telling. In the group that bullied me this morning, there was a telltale comment from another victim that had simply posted a small story about a relative that had died, which included a link to the obit. As she was grieving, she didn’t notice the link included a Go Fund Me section for family assistance. She was apologetic, but it was clear from the conversation that the admins would not back down on their rebuke. As she was clearly sad after losing a loved one, this admin behavior was particularly mean spirited. Of course, I didn’t see this until I started poking around after my own rebuke.
  • READ THE ‘ABOUT’ PAGE! This is vital to getting a feel for the intent behind those who created or admin the group! Unfortunately, once I began digging into the About section, I discovered an advertisement about their new magazine they created as an offshoot of the group. Which leads me to believe they were not upset that I broke an invisible rule – but rather upset that my comment pointed Kentucky researchers to a free educational publication. They clearly viewed my post as content competition, and hid their bullying behind tech shaming and absolutism.
  • Go over the admin list, their genealogy backgrounds, and their past interactions among the group. I have been a FB group admin many times in the past, and I can tell you it’s a thankless job with many hours spent wrangling trolls and  herding cats. But if the admins have no genealogical educational/professional background and they are truly hobbyists that do not help educate others, walk away quickly or their rule police will haul you away at any perceived infraction! Also a red flag: When they declare the group to be a “drama free zone” they’re not talking about themselves – just you! The admins can be as dramatic as they like, and you have no power against it – so again, leave quickly!
  • Review previous conversations – is the group helpful, encouraging, educational, and welcoming – or are they simply opinionated without educational substance? Might I remind everyone that false trees and unsourced genealogy is the modern scourge of genealogy – if we don’t surround ourselves with educational groups, we don’t grow. And with the fictional trees that have flooded online databases, these types of groups can contribute to the problem with their proliferation of unsourced advice.
  • Bye, Felicia! How many have seen this dismissal used within FB Group conversations? You will often see this used to dismiss anyone who chooses to disagree with the collective, or more importantly, the admins. The person who dares disagree, and voices their contradictory opinion is dismissed by the group as irrelevant – either just before they leave the group willingly, or are ejected. Make no mistake, this too is a form of bullying. It has become all too common among the hive mind of FB Groups. Whatever you do, do not upset the admins or the most powerful group participants! They surround the lone voice in order to silence it – rejoicing in their victory once the voice has been removed. Just like the Borg mind – Resistance is futile. The moral of this point in the story: once the group dislikes your contradictory stance, just leave. They aren’t worth your time – find a welcoming place that fosters a healthy collaborative environment. Oh, and just a reminder that healthy dialog includes diverse opinions.
  • And as a supplemental point to the above, defending your actions or even trying to apologize will not be of any help. Admins who enjoy the power too much will not listen and would love nothing more than to vote you off the island, regardless of whether your words make common sense. I had one person remove a post in an abandoned historic structures group because it listed the address, which was against their rules – but the property was for sale! The realtor wanted the address publicized to drum up interest and save the property from ruin! Despite this reasonable exception, the admin loved their power more than saving a historic property, sending a clear signal that they would never listen to reason beyond their own, so I just quietly left the group.

In Conclusion:

I know this post will not be popular – as it reminds us that even roses have thorns – and ignoring their presence does not prevent us from getting stuck. It is high time we recognize the other heinous part of Facebook beyond the privacy breaches: the bullying and abuse of power to silence diverse thought. More importantly, when the genealogical community has a hard time being civil to one another in this environment, it’s time to reevaluate our participation! Life is too short and the research too long to treat others in this fashion. There are so many wonderful Facebook Genealogy Groups out there – but proceed with caution and BE SELECTIVE – be kind, and if they throw you to the wolves, dust yourself off and find a healthy, welcoming genealogy space.

Happy Researching, Y’all!