11 July 2013

Towards a More International Genealogy Community -- guest blogger Thomas MacEntee


by guest blogger Thomas MacEntee

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook concerning a posting at the Upfront with NGS blog; its subject matter covered how we treat each other as colleagues in the genealogy community. I’m all for getting along and I even have a lecture dealing with how to interact and engage with others called “Playing Nice in the Genealogy Sandbox.”

Yet. one aspect of collaboration where I admittedly have had a blind spot is the concept of being more international and less US-centric in my outreach efforts.

“The Ugly Genealogist” – Is There Such a Thing?

The term “ugly genealogist” is derived from the similar “ugly American” which could be traced to the title of the photo above in 1948 and then later a book made into a 1963 movie starring Marlon Brando. Some even say that the term could be traced back to Mark Twain in his work Innocents Abroad.

Albeit somewhat overused, the term has come to pejoratively mean someone who is overly ethnocentric when interacting with others, specifically in situations involving travel abroad or interactions with those from other cultures.
When you attend a genealogy conference, do you only talk about the way you research genealogy, your own techniques and the methods used in your own country? Or do you seek out sessions and exhibitors who bring a different flavor to the genealogy table?

More and more conferences are international in scope and bring together genealogists from all over the world. In addition, more genealogy vendors are aware of this, prime examples being Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage. Just look at how each of these companies are reaching out with multi-language versions of their websites, software and even blogs. Educational content makes allowances for how each culture might view genealogy and family history. 

Why Should I Have To Change?

Have you ever thought about where you would be, personally and professionally, if you dug in your heels and just stuck with the 1.0 version of a changing technology? Like the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar? Or perhaps overheads instead of digital slides for a genealogy presentation? There comes a point when change is not a choice but a matter of progress and survival.

Certainly, being more aware of your international colleagues in genealogy is not a make or break situation. Yes, you can continue to function as you always have, but just think about how many other family historians you could connect with and how much you could learn by making small changes.

As I see it, embracing change does not detract from my love of my home country or its traditions in any way. It also doesn’t mean I have to agree with the way others work or live. It just means I need to be more aware of the world outside my back yard and how I fit into it.

Very often, even increasing awareness means taking risks and the fear of failure. A recent example for me was a Google+ hangout with a group of genealogists in Madrid. Not only did I need to brush up on my high school/college Spanish, but the event time was adjusted for the MadrileƱos who tend to stay up late (meaning 11:00 pm their time and 4:00 pm my time!). I could have begged off from this opportunity because I was afraid of looking foolish as I stumbled over words and feared I wouldn’t connect with my Spanish colleagues.

The experience was thoroughly rewarding on many levels, including the ability to find out what motivates genealogists in Spain. I didn’t know that there are more males interested in genealogy in Spain than females . . . a reversal of what I see here in the United States or other countries. I also learned quite a bit because I was open to learning and experiencing new things and a different culture.

Go International – Tips and Tricks

I’ll be the first to admit that transitioning to new ways of working and writing isn’t always easy, even for a “change embracer” like me. I also don’t beat myself up over it since I realize it is a process and that change does not happen immediately. I will make mistakes and I know that my colleagues will give me some leeway as I learn how to be more inclusive. Here are some areas in which I am currently focusing my efforts and some tips from my own experiences:

·        Use international date formats. Most countries use the Day Month Year format as in 1 January 2013 rather than January 1, 2013 or 1/1/2013. Luckily most technology from Smartphone settings to genealogy database software can adjust these settings for us. I’ve recently embraced this standard for blog posts and in my writing.
·        Be aware of customs and traditions. This is not an easy one, but there are many resources available on the Internet and in print. Personally I am always fascinated with the customs of my colleagues in other countries and how they got started. Be curious, do research and don’t be afraid to ask questions of your international colleagues.
·        Let technology handle some tasks. Don’t feel that you need to translate your work or adjust everything. Example: when I write for the UK market, I use American English and let the editor make adjustments using the Language feature in Microsoft Word. I also take advantage of tools like Google Translate to help me decipher other languages.
·        Know your audience. If you are speaking to or writing for a group that has genealogists from all over the world, include examples that cover several cultures. Example: for a recent webinar on finding living persons for a Canadian genealogy society, I made sure to not only include Canadian resources, but also research privacy laws in Canada.
·        Be open to feedback. Don’t be instantly offended when someone asks you to make allowances for non-US genealogists and their practices. Discuss their motivations and understand the opportunities available in making adjustments. Keep an open mind and one that is open to new things and new cultures.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Photo: Ugly American by Constantino Arias via MediaWiki Commons. Public domain.

Bio: Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.





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