Monday, December 15, 2014

Ferguson: Geoff's response

Yesterday's blog post, What does Ferguson teach the genealogy community?, prompted conversation among several groups in chat, Skype calls, comments to George Geder's original LinkedIn post and to Ol' Myrt's post. With permission, I enclose Geoff Rasmussen's response to George:
George, thank you for your comments. As host and scheduler of the webinars at, below is how speaking proposals are submitted and evaluated for our webinar series.
  1. At the bottom of the website is a link to submit a speaking proposal. 
  2. Each year, I invite current and former speakers to submit proposals for the next year. 
  3. Speakers send me recommendations for other speakers. 
  4. Potential speakers email me directly. 
  5. At the request of our viewers, I try to match a speaker with a requested topic.
If I had received any proposals from persons of color for our 2015 series, they would be evaluated in the same manner as all other proposals. 

This year, requests from viewers were made for locality-based topics of New Zealand, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Ireland, England, Wales, as well as general topics like scrapbooking, technology, Pinterest, analyzing evidence, genealogical proof standard, DNA, mapping and more. 

Gender, ethnicity, or nationality are not factors for me when evaluating proposals and selecting speakers. 

Having said this, I have learned from your comments that I can be more proactive in reaching out to potential speakers who have not submitted proposals. 

I’d love to do a series on African American Genealogy. 

One of my favorite speakers, Angela Walton-Raji has previously presented some of our most well-received webinars on the topic. See her recordings at: I’ve always said that with Angela, you can “hear her smile.”

Other webinars, although not advertised specifically for People of Color, have covered the topic well. The first one that comes to mind is Marian Pierre-Louis’ “Researching Your Connecticut Ancestors” at

Excluding topics or speakers because of the color of one’s skin has not had a place nor will it have a place in our webinar series, and I welcome the submission of proposals and participation from anyone on any genealogically-related topic.

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

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Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
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  1. With all due respect, Mr. Rasmussen's suggestion that they do a "Black Track" is not only offensive but it's also racist, and is similar to comments made by the organizers of the Jamboree following the 2010 event when I commented that of the 64 speakers in attendance, only one was black (me). We do NOT want to be pigeon-holed into speaking on black topics, because that implies that we are not qualified to speak on topics that do not involve the genealogy of black people. We want the same thing ALL genealogists and speakers want -- to be respected for our expertise on a wide range of topics regardless of our ethnicity.

    I understand that you open your events to anyone, but it behooves you to be more aware about the large segment of the potential genealogical community you're missing if you don't receive input from qualified speakers of color. This is where it is, in my opinion, your responsibility to do outreach in this regard. The history of this nation is quite colorful, but when the history is told, the contributions and histories of the Chinese, Japanese, Africans and Native Americans (and others) are often marginalized or simply dismissed as not important. If I want to find a Japanese speaker to present a workshop or two about the internment of Japanese in the U.S. and Canada, and what records might exist to document them, it's not very hard to find one (it's called "Google"). Or, if I want to find an expert about the Chinese Exclusionary Act and how easy/difficult it is to get access to documents using the FOIA, again, it's not hard to find one. Et. cetera ...

    My point, quite honestly, is that you gotta want to do it. If you're happy with having a lily white series of Webinars, then just keep doing what you're doing, and I wish you the best. However, if you truly want your series to represent and express the vastly diverse community of people who live/lived in the U.S., then you need to take steps to make this happen. This is YOUR choice, and to use the excuse that "If I had received any proposals from persons of color for our 2015 series, they would be evaluated in the same manner as all other proposals..." is nothing more than a cop-out.

    In the genealogical community, aside from the ever present racism, probably the greatest barrier preventing people of color from participating is simply nepotism. The same speakers make all the rounds of all of the same regional and national events, over and over, year after year, because the organizers make it a point to give these spots to their buddies. It doesn't mean that these speakers are not qualified but, quite honestly, some of them are simply boring, speaking in monotones, no energy, very little audience interaction, their workshops are just snooze fests, but they speak at event after event after event. As a speaker with excellent speaking skills (patting myself on my back), and after being rejected from event after event after event, year after year, I just gave up, as did many other speakers of color, figuring that I'd never make it into the "cool" crowd. So, when we see your event listed, can you understand why many of us might not even bother to waste our time to submit?

    Legacy has an excellent opportunity here, to START to change things. It will be just one step, and many more steps will be needed, but Legacy, the ball is in your court. No "Black Tracks," no "Asian Tracks," no "Separate but Equal," just full inclusion, blinders off, scope broadened, reaching out to include those who have been systematically excluded.

    I don't know which is worse -- to be intentionally excluded, or to be overlooked because we're invisible.

    I wish Legacy all the best with this series of Webinars and hope that it only gets better with age.

    1. I think you could suggest I am pigeonholing the folks I mentioned in my original blog post where I said (under "Specific Research Expertise") :

      "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."

    2. Geoff Rasmussen didn't say he was going to do a "Black Track" he said he'd "love to do a series on African American Genealogy."

    3. On Facebook, Angela Walton-Raji has reported "Sharing an update here. Geoff Rasmussen has responded to recent issues and is putting time and energy, and is working to have a series of webinars in 2015 that will involve people of color. As soon as the programs are confirmed they will be announced.

      Next year 2015 is a milestone year for the nation, and this will be one of the first times that the critical need to address this milestone will be addressed in the genealogical community outside of the African American community. This opportunity to celebrate the spirit of Freedom in the year 150th year of Freedom is welcomed and hopefully as the Civil War's end changed the trajectory of the nation, the genealogy community will respond, as all of our ancestors became part of a stronger place."


    4. Pat and Lisa, I think there is a difference between pigeon-holing, and seeking niche experts. I don't believe it is racist to seek experts in African American genealogy (many of whom are Black) or have a series on African American genealogy. After all, we also have series on German genealogy or Irish genealogy or Native American genealogy -- these are all areas where specific skills and knowledge in specific record groups are necessary. Separating and highlighting them is not, I don't believe, problematic.

      What I think IS a problem--and I think maybe this is what Lisa is speaking to--is when specialists in Irish or German or Italian genealogy are also more broadly accepted as all-around genealogy experts, and are included over and over in large events and conferences and educational programs as general experts and role models in the field of genealogy in general. And yet I can't think of a *single* POC genealogist who is known and respected in that way and who teaches or leads non-POC-specific genealogy courses, webinars, workshops, etc.

      What is so tragic about this to me is that a skilled African American genealogist MUST also be a highly skilled all-around genealogist in methodology because AA research is so difficult. Additionally, the majority of AA genealogists also have European ancestry, so it's not as if their research doesn't apply to those of us white genealogists. We go to lectures and webinars on methodology led by Warren Bittner even if we don't have German ancestry and even though his case studies largely are in German and German-American records. So why wouldn't it make sense to have a prominent POC genealogist lead such a course?

      As someone who isn't behind the scenes in any of these events, I can't speak to what's going on that this isn't happening. But I do think that unintentional bias must play a huge role in it. When those in a perceived "inner circle" of genealogists continue to (again, unintentionally, I'm sure) see POC genealogists as POC genealogists instead of expert genealogists who specialize in POC records, then there is unintentional exclusion happening, whether or not those genealogists are submitting proposals etc.

    5. DearEVA,
      Thank-you for the distinction between pigeon-holing and seeking niche experts. The topic of "unintentional bias" is really the crux of the matter.

      What can we each do to overcome unintentional bias?

  2. Hello Geoff,

    First, let me say thank you for your response. I have appreciated and respected your work from a distance for some years now. I hold you in high regards. Again, thank you.

    Before going further, I would like to make a distinction. When I mentioned Millennia in my post, I was thinking of the corporation and not any particular individual.

    When some of my People of Color colleagues directed me to the website with the 2015 roster of presenters, I was struck by how non-POC the ‘wall’ of faces appeared. Some of my colleagues went further recounting the multiple times they submit papers and proposals, over the years, and get denied or ignored. I took that to mean for 2015 and years past.
    I also took it mean other genealogy entities (NGS, Rootstech, etc.) as well. Given this heightened level of frustration from some very gifted POC genealogists and researchers, particularly African American, I decided to write my post.

    If you say you didn’t receive overtures from any POCs, then my inferring that 2015 was implicit in the complaints needs adjustment. I stand corrected. However, the spirit of the concern goes unchanged.

    In a perfect world, gender, ethnicity, nationality, orientation should not be factors in evaluating people. However, we really cannot avoid it in this country. We all have to look at demographics and make sure we have made reasonable attempts bringing diversity to our projects. That way, no one gets unintentially left out.

    I feel that American history cannot be truthfully told without input and stories from African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latin Americans. These POC groups have been denied, excluded, and marginalized from the beginning of this nation. I say this, to say that American genealogy follows American history. These POC groups need representation and need to be included, and at the table. If not this table, then at another table.