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  • Writer's pictureJulie Wilmot

Sharing Knowledge is Vital

Sharing Knowledge is Vital

Education is something many Americans take for granted. You turn five, you go to kindergarten, time flies, and, before you know it, you’re graduating college. Many of my ancestors never went to college. Some didn’t graduate from high school. They worked in lumber mills, which was, until the last twenty-five or thirty years, considered a ‘good’ job in Northern New England.

Trade, craft, and manufacturing jobs aren’t common anymore. I distinctly recall watching a television show with my woodworking-loving husband one night called “A Craftsman’s Legacy.” The man being interviewed noted that he was willing so share his knowledge of his craft, but that many craftsmen prefer to keep their skills to themselves.

Are we, as genealogists, any different? I truly believe that part of our job as genealogists is to educate people about genealogy, but I also believe that many of us don’t. Why should we? Why does it matter?

Family history makes me happy. I like researching my own ancestry and the ancestry of others. But, if I’m researching for a client, and I’m not telling them how I’m coming to certain conclusions, am I really doing my job?

We all (or we should all) be citing our sources. That isn’t the same thing as taking the time to explain to a client why we believe the things we believe. We should be doing this because, at some point, our clients may continue researching and discovering their ancestry on their own. If we don’t educate them about what we do and how we do it, they’re going to make mistakes.

While I appreciate and offering users the ability to build family trees, I hate the family trees themselves. I can’t tell you how many clients say to me, “I found this on Ancestry and everybody has it in their tree.” That’s all well and good, but if no one has any sources attached to their tree for you to examine, you shouldn’t be indulging in blind faith when it comes to genealogy. If the sources are there, you need to examine them on your own and come to your own conclusions.

Genealogy is complicated. It takes creativity, diligence, and the ability to look beyond the easy answer to find the right one. If we aren’t explaining to clients what the difference is between an online family tree and vital records, census data, church records, land records, probate records, etc., we aren’t helping them to the best of our ability.

The same theory could be applied to our peers, amateur or professional. Someone told me once that they thought private genealogists could only survive by finding a niche that needed to be filled. I disagree. We need to educate ourselves about new regions and new difficulties to promote our own creativity and develop new abilities. Part of that development is not being afraid to ask our peers what they know about new regions or unfamiliar sets of records. Asking, and receiving a heartfelt, honest response might save you valuable time and energy.

Genealogy has taught me many things: minute amounts of German, Italian, French, and Portuguese; the ability to think creatively; and patience, among other things, but I believe the most important thing researching my ancestry and the ancestry of my clients has taught me is that hoarding knowledge helps no one.

If you’re interested in learning how to research or having Twisted Roots develop a research plan for you, please contact us. We’d love to help you by sharing what we know.


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