27 July 2012

Join the Club

"No man is an island"- John Donne

We all need a little help from time to time. I've said it before, but it always bears repeating: you will not know everything about a time period, war or culture. You will need to ask for help from others. More than that, you will need someone to be your sounding board. Someone to bounce ideas off of and come up with new avenues of research. Occasionally, you are just going to want someone willing to give you a little "Geni-dance" when you've overcome an obstacle. We've all had that moment when we feverishly share our findings with family only to be met with glazed eyes and maybe a comment about finding new ways to spend our time. Where can you find a place to feel at home?

Are you an in-person type? There are genealogical and historical societies that you can visit in person. They can have a specific location, ethnicity or time period focus. As I've said before, I've not become a paying member for the ones in my area, only because my personal research doesn't center near me. However, I do go to their seminars and have sat in on some meetings. So how do you find a society in your area covering topics you need? I was able to find a pretty comprehensive directory online, but in any case you can google maps and usually find something. Many have membership requirements, so do your homework. Is this going to fit into your budget? Will you really show up enough times to make it worth it? What do they offer as far as resources? Do you like the people? As often as you can, sit in on a meeting or class and see if you even feel like you belong. It doesn't matter how good the resource if you aren't going to feel comfortable taking advantage of it. The meetings I've sat in on for my local historical society were nice. Some ladies brought cookies. Most of the meeting was about the finds they had made in the last month or where they were stuck. I was the youngest person by at least 20 years. I stood out and I didn't like that. On the other hand, I've been to the meetings for the state genealogical society when it's in a county near me and really enjoyed the guest speaker, resource access and diversity of people. I've made some great contacts and keep in touch with many of the folks I've met during those meetings.

What about online options? Well, there's the genealogy sites that have their own forums. If you remember my blog on message boards, you know you should be using these anyway. They may hold the key to your mysteries. These are messages left by living (at least at time of posting) people who share your interest. Forgetting to check in on the boards is a genealogical sin. I know what you're thinking, "Oh, but those are only for queries and stuff, I won't be able to make friends." Silly goose. Not only can you find cousins here and start regular contact, but many sites host a "coffee corner" that is for the specific purpose of aimless chatting. It's not real time, but it's a place for those with busy schedules to keep up with people who share their hobby.

Then there are Google and Facebook pages and groups. I'm not going to spout off a list of pages to visit. Every society seems to have one. Every company devoted to genealogy has one. Usually they are found on both Google and Facebook. Anyone with any desire to run a group "their way" can start one, so the options are limitless. It all comes down to that netiquette rule of lurking on a page before jumping into the conversation. Try a few out. Spend a couple of days just finding out how the page works. Who posts the most? Who has the most/best answers? How active is the group? Is it so busy you can't keep up or is it like a ghost town? What is the overall experience of the group? Will you feel left behind by a gaggle of "experts" or do you think you'd be the warden in an asylum? How do they treat new people to the group/genealogy in general?

One last thing: Is it an open group where even those not a part of the group can see your posts? That may be a good thing if you want to find potential cousins, but bad if you want to share information about your searches that your family/friends may not want to know has been discussed. If you post on a public page for a company (like Ancestry.com) anyone who ventures to that page will see it. Your posts and comments will show up in your timeline (and consequently your friends' newsfeeds). Anyone can comment on your posts. I can't tell you the number of times I've been on Ancestry's page (or any company page) and someone makes a complaint about the company. Fans chime in with their two cents in defense of the company and suggest fixes or a new attitude from the complainer. The complainer then comes back with "I was just asking Ancestry (or other company) and didn't need to hear from you!" That's what a customer service number and email address are for. You've done the Internet equivalent of shouting your grievance in a public square and expecting only a response from the one guy out of a hundred. In an open group, someone has to join the group to respond, but not to see what is written. So you are giving out information and sharing photos with a lot more than just the members of that group. I've already covered privacy a couple of times..... is your privacy covered?

So maybe you want to check out a closed group. On Facebook, that means a description of the group and members are seen, but posts aren't. How do you know it'll fit you? You just have to try. And that's why lurking is so important. You don't want to join a group, share your photos and tell your stories only to find out that this group has people with ... boundary issues.

***Warning*** Shameless shilling to follow ***Warning***
I watch many pages and have joined and left many groups on genealogy. I have two closed groups and one open group I am a member of that I adore with all my heart. I'd like to take a moment to introduce them to you:

Genealogy Speaking- This fantastically fun group is run by my friend Tina. She has games like "What is it Wednesday" where she shares a photo of something and you guess what it is. Currently we are wrapping up the Surname game where we are given a letter of the alphabet and post all the surnames we are researching that start with that letter and where they are found. A few folks have found new relative connections that way. She also gives tips on new sites to try, books to read, etc. Just a very active and friendly group. "No drama except ancestor drama" is her motto and it's wonderful. This used to be an open group, but became closed so people could share more information without offending family.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree- My friend Loretta started this group. She is the author of the blog by the same name. This group is also very active, but it's more about camaraderie than games. You will find most of the most active people on the Ancestry Facebook page on this group. We share tips and tricks for better genealogy. But, and I must warn you, this is where steam is let off about a myriad of frustrations. I like this group because you can say what you please. Mad at your aunt for destroying photos? Let it out here. Can't believe the number of people complaining about Ancestry being expensive? Neither can we, share it here. Want to vent about something, but aren't interested in calling anyone out, we'll listen. It's not about being mean, it's about connecting on a visceral level with your fellow genealogist.

Ebay Genealogy- This one is by my friend Gail and I've linked to it before. This is an open group that researches Ebay and Goodwill for family history heirlooms and attempts to connect them to living family that may be interested in them. It's a great bunch of people who are really enthused with saving these small bits of history. I like that, being a Facebook group, you can search previous posts to know if there's anything that may pertain to you. I also really applaud their efforts to find people on Ancestry trees that match so they can tell them about these family bibles and photos that could be just what they are looking for.

I've joined quite a few groups and left quite a few too. I leave because I don't fit in, it's not active enough, it's too active, my experience is too far above or below the average and leads to misunderstandings on both sides...... these three have really hit home for me and the women that run them are true genealogy gems.

I just hope they can forgive me the extra traffic I'm sending their way :)

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