Thursday, May 24, 2012

Applecart: Thoughts on volunteerism

Unfortunately, in discussions with high profile genealogy bloggers at RootsTech 2012, via telephone, email and most recently at NGS2012, there has emerged a realization that some of our readers quite simply have become very demanding of our volunteer time. We are fielding requests from folks who assume we do this as a full-time paid job. People have come to expect immediate, personalized attention that's not within the scope of our work. And they expect us to do things for them for free.

Lately Ol' Myrt has noticed people posting unkind things like "Where the heck is the .pdf handout for that freebie webinar?" Without regard to my time or web server space, they've been demanding that I put a webinar in my archive on their time schedule.
I say demand, because the emails are sent and resent. These same comments are pasted to my blog and on my Facebook email or Facebook page. I've had to learn to ignore this peculiar form of harassment, since the majority of my DearREADERS are very kind and appreciative of the work that I do manage to accomplish from time to time.

I've thought long and hard about how to address this subject Ol' Myrt considers worthy of your attention.

Most genealogy bloggers are not employees of big corporations like the well-respected Kimberly Powell of the most popular blog provided by the New York Times. Some genealogy bloggers like Barbara Mathews, CG are employed by others to do research. She also writes in blog format to express additional thoughts about family history. Lisa Alzo recently gave up regular full-time employment to take on her speaking and writing about genealogy full time. 

Some writers like Dick Eastman are retired and devote countless hours sharing genealogy info online. I'm in this category, in that I no longer teach at the local technical institute, but do speak publicly from time to time in person and regularly in Second Life and in my DearMYRTLE workshop webinars.

Arguably, most genealogy bloggers are self-employed, usually out of the industry, and yet elect to spend their precious volunteer hours putting pen to paper. OK, make that fingertips to keyboard.

"If you want something to get done, ask a busy person." I hear ya, but I think we can all agree there are limits. In my case, I actually took classes to learn to say "No". Yet, out of the goodness of their hearts, I've seen genealogy volunteers over-extend to the point of exhaustion. Yes, volunteers must learn to draw the line at X number of volunteer hours per week, and not feel guilty when expressing that fact if asked to do more. But shouldn't we also adjust our level of expectations and not demand so much of our volunteer genealogy bloggers?

There is much buzz about social networking of late -- and it's impact on an individual. Psychologists are advising people to turn off their electronic devices and be present to family and friends instead of, say,  texting at the dinner table. Personally, I live a pretty open life. Most folks who know me and Mr. Myrt follow our travels and research experiences on Facebook and in my blog. Other genealogy bloggers choose a more private life, and that is sometimes perhaps a little bit wiser.

Let's step back, and realize  since 99% of the genealogy bloggers out there are volunteers, we cannot press them to post on a routine basis, tackle our personal technology challenges or bust through our ancestral brick walls. 

YES, we should have healthy dialog to improve our research methodology and encourage each other when reporting our successes and, yes, our failures. But let's not confuse a blogger's openness with the 24/7 tech support provided by some major freebie genealogy websites like That organization has over 10,000 volunteers on standby to handle family history questions in about twenty different languages.

Genealogy bloggers come to the blogging table for a variety of reasons. It may be to honor an ancestor by chronicling recent research, or it may be to share how-to information gleaned in the process. In my case, Ol' Myrt here loves spotlighting the wonderful things other people are doing on and off the net to make it easier for folks to find info about their ancestors.

Let us remember genealogy bloggers are people too. They've got real life concerns and pursuits. Family, health, travel, education, friends, and quilting (in my case!) come immediately to mind. 

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Information from itsdescription page there is shown below. Commons is a freely licensed media file repository.
If our goal is to achieve a happy life then it behooves us to place these various pursuits in perspective. Sometimes our priorities may shift, but to the genealogy bloggers out there, let's not let those pushy readers upset the applecart.

I pray I don't even inadvertently upset someone else's applecart.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont