Sunday, March 30, 2008

Genealogy Manners

Genealogy Manners
Originally posted Tue, 1 Feb 2005

Not meaning to put myself in the position of becoming the "Miss Manners" of genealogy, ol' Myrt wishes to relate her reaction to a terrible breach of propriety among family members. We were in the genealogy department of the library in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. What happened would curl any one's hair-- however thin at this late date.

Whilst your humble writer was perusing index books and comparing them with the database on her laptop, a terrible scene ensued between a 50ish daughter and her 80ish mother. When the unfortunate interchange had concluded, Ol' Myrt was so moved as to attempt to provide reassurance to the elderly woman.

This dear woman had become frustrated by attempting to read microfiche of an old city directory for the first time. She got up and asked her daughter for advice. The daughter literally stormed over, pushed her mother back in the chair and spoke in loud, angry terms. The mother's questions concerned their regular page placement on the microfiche compared to the chronological arrangement of pages in a printed city directory. The daughter very literally yelled said "If you will be quiet, I will tell you!"

What followed were disrespectful, unkind comments about how one reads microfiche either across or down. She then ordered her mother to look for every one of the family names. The mom quietly stated that she was overwhelmed with just looking for one surname. The daughter stomped off and said "Fine, do whatever you want. I'll get this all done myself, then."

It was impossible for anyone in the entire department to avoid witnessing this unfortunate conversation.

Looking up from my book across to the older woman, ol' Myrt here stated "I think you are doing a wonderful job." She smiled, and replied thank-you. For additional support, the researcher sitting next to her explained that sometimes the pages skip around, and are not in perfect order on a microfiche. However, within minutes, the elderly woman left, obviously overcome by emotion.

And the moral of the story is -- be kind to everyone you meet.

This goes beyond the boundaries of genealogical research, but is especially important for family historians. I have been guilty of almost the same infraction, though obviously on a much lighter scale. Years ago I invited my stepmother to join me in a research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had previously identified 78 microfilms that might mention her ancestors. It took me half a day to realize that while I am accustomed to searching 14 hours a day, with 2 short breaks and lunch, most newbie researchers are not. My step-mother's slower pace at first frustrated me.

Then, by some fortunate bolt of lightening from above, I realized that if she were to enjoy this ancestral quest, it needed to be done on her terms. I needed to relax, and enjoy the process and not worry about getting a tremendous volume of results. After all, hadn't I just succeeded in getting one other family member into the genealogy research mode? Why ruin it?

It goes without saying that the position of family historian can be a pain or a joy to our living relatives. It all depends on our attitudes about sharing information. There is a reciprocal relationship between the amount of kindness we employ when asking for copies of old photos and documents and the positive response from the non-genealogists in our families.

And what does it accomplish if we locate one tidbit of information on an ancestor, but alienate our living relatives in the process?

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

© 2005-2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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