Sunday, December 14, 2014

What does Ferguson teach the genealogy community?

From #MuseumsrespondtoFerguson posted by Linda Norris in the uncataloged museum blog: "As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums."

How about rephrasing this for the world of genealogy?
"As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement African American genealogists have responded to the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We I believe that the silence of other museum genealogists and genealogical organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums genealogy organizations."

Yesterday, I read with sadness George Geder's LinkedIn post titled People of Color Absent from Legacy Family Tree [Webinars] in 2015 where he writes "There are so many gifted People of Color genealogists and historians out there that if they aren't part of the conversation or consideration at Millennia, then this is just another sign of exclusion for my people. There's plenty of that going around in and outside of the American genealogy community. Keep all of your products; I'm moving on."

So what can I do personally and professionally to bridge this divide between People of Color and the rest of us?

Last night, via cell I wrote to 13 eminent genealogists, most of whom I have known for many years. We have seen national and regional genealogy conference calls for papers come and go. I've sat in on society board meetings where annual conferences were planned, and it was like pulling teeth for someone on the board to obtain permission for an African American or a Jewish track. YES! This is happening in the supposedly enlightened 21st century. Regarding these 13 dedicated professionals, who happen to be People of Color, I wrote:
With each of you, I've witnessed first-hand the insights shared in your presentations. It pains me to see this divide, and I don't know how to impart this to the typically European-ancestored program chairs for nationally-ranked genealogy conferences.
In searching for answers last night, I suggested a robust break-out "webinar"series, perhaps via Hangouts, to raise awareness that yes, People of Color espouse the same Genealogical Proof Standard in research methodology as we all hope to employ. This morning I realized the People of Color situation described by George Gedder is similarly expressed by genealogists in the UK, wanting DearMYRTLE's MGP Study Group2 to take on a UK slant to become relevant to UK researchers. My response then was "I cannot rewrite Dr. Jones' book. Do you have something equivalent in the UK?" Our compromise was to study Dr. Jones' book, and internalize his methodology concepts using examples from panelists' personal UK research.

Last night, I offered to speak to Geoff Rasmussen of Family Tree Webinars* suggesting a new series. I've always seen Geoff as a man with a kind heart, and I feel he would be saddened to hear of George's concerns. I know Geoff is already putting in over 40 hours weekly on the current webinar lineup, most of it behind the scenes. However, it was only last month Geoff announced the addition of Marian Pierre-Louis as a new host to handle additional nighttime webinars. With two hosts, Family Tree Webinars is using Millennia Corporation's GoToWebinar account only a few hours each week. My suggestion would be to hire an experienced broadcaster, a Person of Color, to host 4-8 webinars monthly. This morning I think back on how many contracts are forged by personal recommendations. I should state that the work of the 13 eminent genealogists eclipses anything I may have accomplished at this point, it's just that perhaps I know Geoff better and may open new lines of communication.

No one person knows it all. When tracing African American ancestry, one relies on specific record groups unknown to people of other races, colors and creeds. Were I to find a new genealogist struggling with identifying a possible slave ancestor, I would refer him to any one of the 13 eminent genealogists without hesitation. These individuals are among the finest researchers and educators in the African American genealogy community.

We all turn to experts in specific areas of genealogical and historical research. Craig Scott, CG is my go-to man for his expertise with US military history and National Archives (US) records research. Judy Russell, CG is known to many as The Legal Genealogist. I've recently hired Angie Bush as my DNA consultant, quite simply because I don't know enough to make sense of my DNA results. If a new researcher with Jewish ancestry joined one of my hangouts, I'd refer him to JewishGen and Gary Mokotoff. For Welsh ancestry, my pick would be my recent ISBGFH course instructor Darris Williams, AG.

It's about the exclusion of People of Color from top level main-stream genealogy conferences on and off the Net and what are we to do about it? There is much to discuss and we all need to be part of the conversation. My suggestions are humbly submitted as first attempts to do more than think the impact of Ferguson is the concern only of African Americans and African American genealogy organizations.

Hoping to bring this discussion out into the open, I just want to be part of a solution, and not part of the problem. What are your suggestions? How can our local genealogy societies, Family History Centers and historical associations embrace diversity?

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

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* Although I have presented successfully in the past, DearMYRTLE is not in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars 2015 lineup, as I simply didn't submit formal offers to present. Had I submitted, I may not have been selected if other 2014 presenters garnered more webinar CD and associated book sales.