RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More on Methodology vs. Name Chasing

In my last post on this subject, I opened the issue by discussing the importance of peer-reviewed journal articles in the genealogical community. Now, it is time to talk about what this means to the average run-of-the-mill genealogists who could care less about what any one with letters after their name thinks about. What is more, what about the average part-time or barely interested genealogist who is unaware of the greater genealogical community at all?

Genealogy is like any other human social organization. There are class distinctions. There are those throughout history who have tried to abolish class distinctions for a variety of reasons. But it seems to be the nature of human society to form classes. These can be based on family, wealth, education, political influence, or whatever, but they exist and we have to deal with them. If we are by chance, birth, education, or wealth, in one class, we might actively resent or even hate those of some other classes. We also cannot deny that, to some extent, this class system exists in genealogy. What is slightly different about genealogy than with social classes in our communities, is that many in the genealogical community are not even aware that these genealogical classes exist. It is only when you claim membership in one of these classes that you become aware that others do not belong to your class and therefore you can begin to make "judgments" about their abilities and especially about their right to "join your class."

In most social classes, there are those that claim to be at the "top" and those who, usually by default, are at the "bottom." In the United States, supposedly a classless society, we have an extremely stratified society based on wealth, race and family. Anyone who believes they belong to the "high society" in their community can always find someone with more wealth or position that makes them feel inferior. Such is the nature of genealogy also.

There are those who, for a variety of reasons, consider themselves to be part of the exclusive, genealogical equivalent of high society. There are others who are not aware, of course, that these people exist or that there is anything like societal classes in genealogy.

When we use a term such as "name chasers" we are, in effect, creating a class and putting ourselves into the class of those who are not "name chasers." What we generally mean by using such a term is that the person is less educated about the "correct" genealogical procedures than we are. Labels are not usually helpful in eradicating class differences.

Even if the class considers itself to be "beneficial" and is attempting to help those not in the class to gain entry, the very act of defining the lower class, creates a problem.

OK, now can we, as genealogists, try to minimize the underlying class distinctions? Umm. It might work and it might not. In some cases, acknowledging that there are such distinctions is helpful but sometimes it only engenders resentment and class warfare. Sometimes we cannot change our "class" because we lack the opportunity to do so. I would suggest that we make sure we have established ways for people to move from one class to another in genealogy, if they become aware and wish to do so.

From one standpoint, bloggers are classless and very inclusive. From another standpoint, they are undisciplined rabble who are not worthy of consideration. There is no real distinction between methodology and name chasing, the only difference is that of a level of education and sophistication concerning research techniques and objectives. Who in the genealogical community is at the top and can dictate what is and what is not "valid genealogy?" Who is the ultimate role model? Do we want to have a more rigid class system or not? Let's think about that before we give labels to classes of genealogists.


3 comments:

  1. It is interesting to watch how "organizations" seem to evolve. When milk testing and weighing was introduced to dairy farmers to help them determine which cows were most profitable, it was a godsend. Then came marketing. Those cows that were more profitable had offspring that could be merchandised, which of course led to cheating. Somehow we all want to be a bit more elite even if we have to promote ourselves. Hollywood was not satisfied with awards given by viewers of movies, they needed the Golden Globes to honor each other. Thanks for your message.

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  2. I hear the term “name chasers” as if it’s a bad thing. I’d like to share my take on it. Have you given any thought to collecting behavior, or the psychology of collecting? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_of_collecting

    When you speak of chasing names I can’t help but feel a little guilty myself, although over time I gradually feel inclined to “know” these people further—what my ward family history consultant calls, “putting flesh on the bones”. Everyone collects something, but I’ve noticed that after a while it’s not how much of something I have, but it needs to be the best of that something. In the context of genealogy, It’s as if I moved from a place I would term as “quantitative genealogy” to a place of “qualitative genealogy”.

    To illustrate my point, my Father-in-Law has a collection of 30+ classic cars and I think it’s the craziest hobby ever, but he does it because he enjoys it and he’s sophisticated enough to know what is of value and what isn’t. Maybe the community needs to refocus the issue to how people can create a higher-quality “collection” (the horror).

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