Aug 232011

Last Sunday our pastor developed an interesting theme during his sermon. The theme had its origin in Episcopal Priest Rachel Hosmer. If a Sears Catalogue (remember them from the “old days”) arrived in the mail offering up a variety of Jesus models, which would you choose?

After reflecting on the theological questions he raised, I started thinking about a Sears Catalogue offering a variety of models (actually caricatures) of genealogists. Depending on where your research is heading, which kind(s) would you be likely to order? Please note: none of my ‘tongue-in-cheek’ musings are designed to reflect any specific living, practicing genealogist or family historian. (You know the line: “the names have been changed to protect the innocent…” and “Your secrets are safe with me.”) If truth be told, there is some of each of the following in me:
  1. Albert Einstein model (the academician): The Professor has been teaching genealogy to a couple generations of budding genealogists. He is up on the latest methodologies, search engines, social media, certification processes, and much more. His only shortcoming is that he tried researching one of his ancestors 6 years ago, hit a brick wall, and gave up the actual practice of genealogical research, replacing it with webinars and conference attending to bolster his teaching. His blogging replaces his need to do genealogical research. After all, the academic world is about “publish or perish.” His next book on genealogical methodology is at the printers, as we speak.
  2. Marian the Librarian model (the archivist): Marian never leaves the stacks of the library (except for inter-library loans). She loves to read the published books of family history and the chapters of local city and county histories that record the cherish memories of citizens who were “an asset to their community, beloved by all, and dearly missed by family and friends.” She believes that “if it is written in a book, it must be true.” She has gathered all these stories about her ancestors that she can find. She is disappointed, however, that more of her ancestors haven’t been recognized and honored in a like manner.
  3. Indiana Jones model (the archaelogist): The quest for artifacts runs strong and deep in his genealogy. He will go to the ends of the earth to discover the kinds of cars his ancestors drove, the stoves on which they cooked their meals, the clothes they wore, the tools they used on the job, the construction of their homes and the heating systems in them, the kinds of streets that ran in front of their homes, the timepieces used to tell time, and so much more. It’s O.K. to discover some information about the ancestors themselves, but that kind of data takes a back seat to the really important “stuff” of the artifacts they left behind.
  4. Margaret Mead model (the cultural anthropologist): A variation of the Indiana Jones model that stresses “the older, the better.” She is less concerned about the data that helps tell an individual’s story. More important to her is the information about the societies in which her ancestors lived. What were the social patterns of the day? How did people migrate to and from family homesteads? What did the German-Americans living in Youngstown, Ohio, do on a Saturday night? What about the Polish-Americans and Italian-Americans there? Whether or not her ancestors participated in those activities is only of secondary importance.
  5. Frank Buck model (the hunter and tamer): He loves the hunt. He will spend hours in dusty county court-houses or hot, humid cemeteries pursuing his quarry – an ancestor’s deed or birth certificate or divorce decree or naturalization papers. He would never take his prey to a taxidermist so it could be mounted and displayed for all to see. Instead, all his records go into the center ring where he will attempt to tame it. You’ve seen how he works, going from one piece of wild data to another, poking a chair at it so it won’t overwhelm him. When the data all seems tamed, it is time to return them to their individual cages so that the performance can be done again for the next show. Lots of beautiful looking data, but all of it wild… never to be truly tamed and domesticated.
  6. Amelia Earheart model (the test pilot): She loves to fly high so he can see the “big picture.” She loves mapping sites all over the world. She has a problem with Google’s Street View because it gets her too close to the action. After all, she reasons, genealogy is about the distance between us and our ancestors. Once she got close and discovered that her Grandfather was a very bigoted person and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. That revelation too, too real; so she soared back to the heights… back to the big picture… promising never to get bogged down in sordid data again.
  7. Ambrose Monk model (the hoarder): Ah, don’t you just love the Ambrose model. He has every edition of every newspaper published in his city during his lifetime. He has a copy of every photo taken by members of his family, two generations back. He has pedigree charts and family group records for thousands of near and distant relatives. While he knows where each document is, when he is gone it will take decades to organize the data in a retrievable way so that it can be viewed by subsequent generations of family or utilized by other genealogists.
  8. Cinderella model (the fairy princess): As a youth, Ms. Ella, was fascinated by the family stories that were told again and again – “her materal great grandmother was a Cherokee princess;” “her paternal great grandfather came from Poland and the people at Ellis Island changed his surname to something more American-sounding;” “there is a great treasure waiting in Europe for members of her family, once they can prove their descent from the Grand Duke;” “her father’s birth certificate (listing his birth date as 7 months prior to his parent’s marriage) is a mistake by the State Department of Health and Statistics;” “grandma has definitive proof of their family lineage back to Adam and Eve.” She is working hard to gather the material that will substantiate these stories that she knows are true, because they are told with great sincerity by all the members of her family.
  9. Steve Jobs model (the technogeek): The most important thing about genealogy for the technogeek is the equipment he uses. He has an iPad; a mini-laptop; a Flip Pal scanner and a VuPoint magic wand; a 2Tb external drive; 10 memory sticks; cloud storage accounts with Mozy, Dropbox, and Carbonite; three GPS-enabled digital cameras; a smartphone containing every geneology app; and a desktop computer loaded with the latest versions of RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, The Master Genealogist, Gramps, Reunion, MAC Family Tree, and other software. He regularly spends 4-6 hours each day on his genealogy, with only about 10 minutes actually devoted to gathering, storing, reviewing, analyzing and assimilating data.  After all, the “grunt” work of genealogy isn’t as much fun as playing with all the ‘toys.’ 

 Anything here ring a bell for you?  Do you see a caricature of yourself or someone else?  And why is it so easy to fall into these traps of over-functioning in one area of our genealogy, much to the detriment of other aspects of our genealogical work?  Any models (caricatures) that you would like to add? 

  7 Responses to “Sears Catalogue of Genealogists”

  1. Absolutely brilliant. (And I love that you know who Ambrose Monk is.) I think we're all going to do some soul-searching after this….

  2. Greta,
    Thanks! It was fun??? to look at my / our 'darkside' and then make it bigger than life. Gives a kind of perspective…

  3. What a fun post!

  4. Great post! Created lots of fun things for me to consider!

  5. At Randy's (and your) request, how about:

    Celebrity Fan Model
    This researcher is only turned on by famous names that match his own. A celebrity in the entertainment world is an easy target where an extra ancestor can be added, since a number of them invent their own backgrounds anyway. He has skills for attributing children to long-dead historical figures who can’t defend themselves. Best of all, some of them had a coat of arms he can mount over his fireplace.

    Name Collector Competitor
    This family historian wants the most … the most ancestors, the biggest tree, the most names. She zips through databases faster than a speeding bullet, attaching new names willy-nilly. Dates and places would only slow her down. Her software program groans with the burden. An unselfish sort, she widely shares the results of her game whether you want them or not. She’s a winner.


  6. Thanks for a thoughtful and amusing post. I think I must suffer from a multiple personality disorder as I fit into a number of your boxes.

  7. Fascinating – and yet I'm not really like any of them. Like Geniaus, I'd need to take little bits out of several to come close to the real me.

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