Friday, October 4, 2013

You're Watching Genealogy Roadshow Wrong

Another genealogy television show, another round of comments online about how the show doesn't reflect how genealogy really works and is doing a disservice to new genealogy recruits.  Aside from the obvious response, which is that watching a real genealogist doing "real" genealogy would be a lot like watching grass grow, I think there's another way to look at this:

Those critics are watching it wrong.

They are assuming that the goal for the genealogy community is show people how rewarding it would be to be genealogists.  They are assuming that we want lots of new genealogists.  I think they're wrong.

Think about your own family and your own genealogy hobby.  Do you honestly want a lot of members of your family to become active genealogists?  Really?  Do you really want to share your files?  Your online tree?  Looking forward to the meeting where all 12 cousins want grandmother's family photo albums...and have 12 different ideas about how to digitize and display them?

I don't.  I think that sounds crowded.  In my ideal genealogy world, I have a few genealogy buddies, at a nice 2nd or 3rd cousin distance, each of which is also working on one of my major lines.  It would also be nice to have someone in the next generation of my closer family who looks like they can take over my research when I'm gone.

What do I want from Genealogy Roadshow?  I want it to model great family conversations.  I know that when I make a major discovery, my family doesn't stand around a table waiting expectantly for the great reveal...but wouldn't it be great if they did?  I don't expect Genealogy Roadshow to turn my family members into Kenyatta Berry...I want it to turn them into Kenyatta's audience!

I also want to use it to train myself to do a better of job of communicating my research to my family.  Think of the way they structure that conversation:  One simple question, a bit of context, maybe a tree, a couple of original documents and photos, and an answer to the question.  No long narratives about research methods.  No points for tree size.  One or two stories per session, strongly tied to the interests of the audience and, if possible, with an emotional payoff.  Since it's a new show, some segments are more successful than others...and I think we can learn from that, too.

Of course, more genealogists would be a good thing in a general sense.  More researchers = more money for records access and preservation, developing cool tools, and helping to dust the genealogy library. I'm exaggerating to make a point.  Mostly.

But it would be cool to have an audience act like that, wouldn't it?