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Us vs. Them


I feel the need to clarify some things based on yesterday’s post Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit? It appears that in some blog post comments and in social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter that an “us vs. them” attitude is being perpetuated or, worse yet, that I am trying to perpetuate such attitude.

There have been comments by several bloggers that we are no longer a community, that “things aren’t like they used to be,” that genealogy blogging was better before professional genealogists got involved, etc.  This is crazy talk as far as I’m concerned and here is why:

  • At some point, as a community, we have to deal with some of the issues involved with genealogy as an industry and a profession. To not do so is the same as sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending that the issues don’t exist.
  • Never have I undervalued the contributions of those who don’t want to pursue genealogy as a profession.  The majority of GeneaBloggers members pursue genealogy and family history for personal reasons. Note that I am trying to avoid the use of terms like “amateur” and “hobbyist” since they often come across as pejorative.
  • The backlash I’ve seen in the past two days only reinforces my initial fears for having this discussion.  It has to be safe to have this discussion and I’d rather see it out in the open where everyone can add their voices.
  • I started out as a “personal” genealogist and to follow my passion and to build a profession I migrated to professional genealogy.  Some would make it seem that I’ve betrayed the community in doing so. I disagree. My roots are still with the genealogy blogging community but I’ve also tried to serve as a role model for those who, like me, want to pursue a career in genealogy and family history.
  • The community has changed. Period. And I think it has changed for the better due to some hard work from many, many people in the community. Most of you know that I’m a forward looking guy – the only time I look back is to research my ancestors or the ancestors of others.  I don’t live a life of regrets, I live in the moment and I believe the future holds fascinating truths and gifts for all of us. For too many years the genealogy community has refused to look at its future and to embrace forward looking ideas. I refuse to be part of that thinking.
  • I am uneasy when words like “them” and “riff raff” and “outsiders” are used. I don’t like it when I hear things like about “these new people” and “how they can’t __________.” You fill in the blank. I keep reminding myself that these are the same words people used against my ethnic ancestors when they settled in certain areas and weren’t made very welcome. People come into our community bringing certain ideas and skills that get added to the great collective pool of wisdom.  It is through interaction and conversation that we determine what fits and what doesn’t.  It isn’t by telling people who belongs and who doesn’t.
  • “Who made you the leader of the genealogy blogging community?” is a question that occasionally comes my way – usually in a backhanded comment rather than right to my face.  This question has popped up a lot in the past two days.  I don’t see myself as the leader.  I’m very happy to turn this whole mess over to someone in a New York minute, believe me, because some days it is not worth the hassle. When you have an hour or two I’d love to dump on you and let you know about the dark side of running a site like GeneaBloggers.  How about trying to arbitrate blogger conflicts and getting folks to just “play nice?” Seriously – I deal with at least two conflicts a week where I shake my head and have to keep telling myself that I’m an adult and that this is fun.
  • Should there be other genealogy blogging communities? There already are – take a look on Facebook and other social media.  If you want to start your own have at it – I will fully support you and your efforts.  I think more communities is better actually. I’ve been approached to start several sub-communities including one for just professional genealogists as well as regional versions of GeneaBloggers (one for the UK, one for Europe, one for Australia, etc.). I am seriously considering these options but I don’t want to cause a fracture in the overall community. I’d like these to be “neighborhoods” as a few have deftly commented over on Facebook.  I live in one of the greatest “neighborhood” cities in the world – Chicago – and at 3 million people while it isn’t perfect, we do all get along and get things done. Maybe it is time we start looking at GeneaBloggers in neighborhood mode.
  • And finally, believe it or not, GeneaBloggers is not all about me.  Yes, it has been a vehicle for me to progress with my plans to become a professional genealogist. Some have made it seem that it is part of my evil plans for world domination.  Seriously. The truth is that back in early 2009 I started and snagged the domain name because some big players in the genealogy industry were sniffing around and making inquiries. I wanted to have a fair and level playing field for genealogy bloggers rather than have the concept co-opted by a genealogy vendor.

And again folks THIS IS MY OPINION. I realize that some may look to me as a leader in the genealogy and genealogy blogging communities but like any other blogger I still from time to time put into writing what I believe about certain issues.  This doesn’t make it right, this doesn’t make it wrong. What it should do is cause readers to think and perhaps comment and carry the conversation forward in a constructive manner.

Just like a television, if you don’t like what you see you can turn the channel. Or you can voice your opinion.  What I don’t expect are people stomping away in anger, leaving backhanded comments and insults on social media or other blogs and the like. This is what children do.

So, I will be continuing with the Genea-Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) series this week. I’m not going to let a few negative voices deter me. We need to have this conversation. We need to move forward. It is your decision, dear reader, as to whether or not you want to move forward with us.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

33 thoughts on “Us vs. Them

  1. Thomas,
    I appreciate your message and am encouraged by the forward-looking comments you have presented. The fact that some don’t want to face changes in the World is always there. Thanks for your inclusive nature and your willing to lead when necessary. The Genea-opportunity discussion is relevant and timely. Thanks for leading (following) this chat among friends and colleagues.

  2. Well said, Thomas. I appreciate all your efforts for us GeneaBloggers and will continue to reside in this community. I may be more active within my neighborhood in this ever-expanding community, but that’s because I just never venture very far from home 🙂 Thank you again.

  3. Your progression is called “growth”. Hopefully we all continue to grow. I know this is a high maintenance site, and I applaud all the work you put into it. This site is the reason I started blogging and continue to enjoy blogging and doing my little part. I for one, love this group and all its participants and am shocked to hear of such dissention. There will always be squeaky wheels 🙂
    So stay happy and enjoy what you do!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  4. Thomas, thank you for the many hours of selfless service you give to the whole genealogy community. I believe in the law of abundance and not the law of scarcity. I believe that there is plenty of room at the top. I know you and many, many others give of their time and resources with little compensation and often little thanks. Can I just say, I notice and I am grateful. We reap what we sow and eventually the rewards will come. No one will be cheering louder than me to see you and all the others who offer their best efforts to improving the gen community rewarded financially too.
    I know negative voices tend to get the attention and notice and I recognize that bringing balance and reason are important – but let’s be nice while doing it. I hope you and everyone trying to make a living doing what they love, is able to just that! The rest who want to do it just for love – do that too. Peace my friends.

  5. I am a personal genealogist because I love it, and this is why I have occasionally thought about pursuing it as a profession (we all hope to make money doing something we love and are passionate about). In part, this is because you have helped to provide information that can further all of us. You have posted on your education and certification experiences, you have created a whole wealth of information on integrating technology into genealogy, and while you are not the only blogger to do so, you have consistently supported new bloggers by helping them get started and introducing them to the community through your networks. This is what makes you a leader…generously sharing information and encouraging others to come with you. Thank you for choosing to be such a positive influence on the community.

  6. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “the community has changed.” So true! I know that the genealogy community is not the same as it was even five years ago, and your natural leadership has made adapting to those changes a very smooth one for so many of us.

    Thank you for all that you do!


  7. Maybe my definition of “community” is different than other people’s, but in my community, people argue. They talk things out. Sometimes things get heated. That’s how issues get resolved.

    I’m not even sure who’s really mad at whom here, or why. I suspect there’s more than one thing going on, and they’re all getting mixed together. That’s another advantage of clear communication; it prevents a whole bunch of people from thinking you’re talking about THEM when you’re not.

    If I’m talking about you, you’ll know it, because I’ll say so. If you don’t believe me, just as the guy from that new search engine.

  8. Thomas,

    Thank you for the many things that YOU DO. I’ll add, and this is just my words, for us.

    I don’t know if you started the Genea-Blogging community but you certainly have moved ‘us’ forward, to have us use the tools that are available to us.

    I consider myself part of that community, thanks to what you have made available to me. I follow many other Genea-Bloggers on a daily basis.

    Why, to learn.

    I barely consider myself a genealogist. Hobby-est, probably, but I want to learn how to do Family Research and to share my experiences with others.

    I have seen many of the Us vs Them blog posts recently, including a couple where folks are ‘leaving’ the community. I am sad about that.

    Might this dialog be ‘growing pains’, as the community grows?

    I appreciate each of the blogs that I follow. I learn lots from each of them. It doesn’t matter to me if the Blogger is a Professional or someone like me.

    If there are links or if the blogger earns some income from the Blog or links from the Blog, is not important to me. In fact, I have made some purchases from some of those links. Mostly because of the content of the Blog. I want to learn more.

    I even travel to meet some of the Bloggers, have attended conferences because of the Blog (and Blogger).

    I recently joined two Genealogy organizations based on the above. I am willing to support my “teachers”. I have no intention of going “pro”, but one of the organizations was the APG. I consider that my “dues” to support the Genea-Blogging community.

    If I were to find a Pro, I know where to go. If I want to expand my learning for my hobby, I know where to go.

    Thank you, and the many other Genea-Bloggers who are part of this community in encouraging me to continue my research and providing me with the tools to do that.


  9. I noted yesterday that while I’m new to genealogy blogging, I’m not new to blogging, nor to genealogy. It just took me an extraordinarily long time to realize the two had met. In other blogging communities (parenting, crafts, scrapbooking, etc) I have not seen the same issue of making money. It’s actually a NON-issue. Mommies who can make an extra buck with an Amazon link or crafters who refer special tools are supported and smiled upon. We clap for them. So why is it that genealogists won’t clap for one another doing the same? I find it fascinating. And I’m very thankful for this genealogy community that you’ve helped create. It’s welcoming and wonderful.

  10. I don’t think it is a bad thing that we are becoming neighborhoods – as long as we remember that we are all united by the fact that we live in Genea-Blogging Land. Because we do.

    I’m grateful that I don’t know who is offending who or saying back handing comments. I don’t see a problem with people getting passionate about the subject (we are passionate people after all) but we need to still respect one another.


  11. Thank you, Tom, for opening the door to this conversation and keeping GeneaBloggers the kind of forum where we can all learn from each other and discuss issues such as this with respect for other points of view.

  12. Thomas,

    You have facilitated a huge growth in genealogy-related blogging and the use of other social media. I, for one, appreciate your hard work and your support to bloggers of all levels of experience. I believe that one must be open to ideas and comments that are intelligently conceived and those persons who are supportive and nurturing in this larger genealogical community. As with postings on message boards and mailing lists, I see all levels of experience expressed. Likewise, I see postings by persons who are petty and argumentative. However, it is only through intelligent and polite discourse that we can all grow and develop our skills and strengths.

    The “Us vs. Them” mentality screams closed-mindedness. That mindset most often belies ignorance, and it also fosters untruths.

    There is no place for confrontations and name-calling in any community. Having lived in Chicago for 24 years, I am well aware of the “city of neighborhoods.” You are correct that somehow all the neighborhoods interact and contribute to a great city. Your idea of genealogy neighborhoods is right on point. The genealogical community consists of people descended from national, regional, ethnic, religious, and other groups. We are a hugely diverse group who share a love for the hobby – or profession. We should all contribute to the positive advancement of genealogy and promote good training and positive support to one another.

    I agree with you that everyone has choices and, if there are some who don’t like what they see, they are free to “change the channel.” The “negative Neds and Nellies” should funnel their energies in a positive manner or depart in another direction.

    Bravo for your courage in addressing this situation in such an honest way. Too many have kept quiet for too long. It’s nice to see your discussion and the comments of other thoughtful members of the neighborhood.

  13. A “community” is a great deal like a “family.” I agree with Kerry Scott – sometimes the discussions are heated and people argue. Things get messy. The important thing to remember is to be respectful, and to engage in any conversation, discussion or argument with civility. This simple behaviour is oftentimes missing in everyday life, in our political discourse and sadly, it may have moved into the genealogy community/family.

    Civility is a version of the golden rule – treat others the way you wish to be treated (perhaps better!) and assume the best, not the worst, in others. Most people will live up to your expectations.

    So how do we put out the welcome mat and be civil in the genealogy community/family?

    First, everyone needs to take a step back and take a breath (and perhaps another).
    Second, think about your comments, posts, tweets, etc., before you hit the send button. Although technology has put us all in touch, we still need to moniter our own behaviior – so err on the side of being civil and commenting with respect and regard for everyone else out in our community/family.
    Third, have a bit of a thick skin. Don’t take every comment personally or immediately assume someone meant their comments in a negative way. I have run into this a few times ~ if the person reading the post would assume that comments and criticisms were meant constructively, then they would not take offense so easily.

    Just two more thoughts (and then I will get off my soapbox) –

    There is plenty of room in our genealogy community/family for everyone AND for everyone’s specials talents and gifts. Everyone brings something different to the table. The more blogs, ideas, webinars, articles, etc., the BETTER for all of us. I am constantly learning from every other blogger out there – thanks ever so much!

    Every single one of us should be striving to be PROFESSIONAL with our genealogy. Whether we engage in genealogy for our personal interest or we wish to make a living at it – we should all strive to do the highest quality work, have the highest ethical standards, continue to educate ourselves, and give back to the genealogy community/family.

    I am thankful for all the trailblazers and innovators out there – happy to see technology take off in this field, happy to see WDYTYA excite newbies, happy to learn from webinars, conferences, and seminars, happy to go to genealogy society meetings, happy to visit libraries and archives, happy to meet such great people on my genealogy jaunts. Come on everyone – let’s get happy and thankful!

  14. How do the people who are pissing folks off know they are pissing folks off if no one tells them?

    Because I’m reading all of this, here, on Facebook, and elsewhere, and there’s all of this talk about “people need to be nice” and “people need to watch what they say” and “people are being mean” and whatnot. But since no one knows who each person is talking about, no one knows whether they need to correct their behavior (or, alternately, decide that they don’t care that people are upset with them).

    For those who are upset with someone—have you emailed that person and said, “When you wrote _____, I was offended because _____?” Because if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. You might find that the person wasn’t talking about you at all, or meant something else entirely, or was reacting to something you knew nothing about, or was frustrated, or just plain didn’t think. You might be able to resolve the misunderstanding, or you might find that you are just going to go ahead and dislike each other.

    But all of this “some people are mean” and “there are those who suck” and whatnot are, in my experience, the sorts of things that create factions and splits far deeper than just about anything. They result in a flurry of PMs and emails that say, “Does she mean me? Is he talking about me?” and a million hurt feelings…and often, the person you’re actually talking about has no clue that you’re talking about them. Your bullets hit everyone BUT the target.

    I’m not mad at anyone. If anyone’s mad at me, email me and tell me so (and why), so I can either apologize, explain, or tell you to bite me. Otherwise, other people’s fights are really none of my business.

  15. Well, I left my computer for a few hours and I have no idea what just happened here. I do know that conversation is important for change and change is very important to our growth. We of all people should know that change is an integral part of our history. If we stay respectful and open to everyone’s thoughts we will come out the other side a stronger and even more unified community. Thanks Thomas for your efforts!

  16. Well in all neighborhoods, there’s alway a gang and hence a gang leader 🙂 But don’t worry, you are doing a great job as the de facto leader of misfits!!

    I see it not in terms of “communities” but more in the area of “interests”. Both you and I have interests in Northern NY but not everybody else does. So far I have no interests in professional genealogy but that could change later.

    No matter what “interests”, “communities” or “neighborhoods” we reside in, we still have the same love of genealogy and family history and a little common courtesy among the groups should always be appreciated.

  17. Thank you, Thomas! Just a little over a year ago, you made a newbie genea-blogger feel very welcome! You’ve supported us, taught us, shared your new info with us, and cheered us all on.

    I, too, am a personal genealogist, and I’ve been in that ‘community’ for many years, ever since a group of experienced genealogists got me started with their GENEROUS sharing of experience.

    I’ve ‘preserved’ a lot of family history, taught others how to get started, shared into whenever I could, and taught others how to get started. And that is what I like about the nicest and kindest genealogists, they are kind, thoughtful, and sharing people who help those around them, instead of pointing fingers and saying “us” and “them.”

  18. As a fairly new genealogy blogger, I can only say that I’m really glad that this site exists. It has helped me find ideas and resources that I might not have discovered on my own. Sometimes a blog is the only place I have to share my enthusiasm that I just found 3rd cousin Whosit on the 1870 census!

    I respect that for many people, genealogy is their business while for others it is a consuming passion which creates profit only in the sense of knowledge and information. Either way, I think both communities are well served here. I’m very glad this place exists, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to be even a tiny part of a greater whole.

  19. Hats off to you, Thomas! I appreciate the hours and hours of work you never get paid for and fully support you and anyone who makes a good-hearted effort to make money consistent with who they are and what they love.

    People who are passionate about a subject can usually deliver the best and most valuable content and resources to others. Money, to me, is a neutral currency that helps us meet our basic needs and allows us to continue to share with others.

    Whether people monetize their efforts or whether they don’t is their personal choice. I appreciate people’s contributions either way.

  20. Greetings Thomas,
    A big thank-you for addressing this situation. Every community has its leaders, supporters and nay-sayers. In order to move forward, community leaders make things happen. Same here in the Geneabloggers community.
    Keep on keepin’ on, Thomas!

  21. Back in the day I was a professional bowler. True story. I wasn’t a touring pro, like the guys in the PBA, I was a regional pro, and only bowled in the PBA tournaments when they came close by.

    I never made enough money in tournaments to even pay for the entries or expenses. But I loved to bowl! I loved the challenge, everything about it. I made a little bit of money coaching others, and I made the most money bowling pot games (gambling). Not enough to live off of, but enough to support my activity well and a little bit more. Touring pros are able to make it a career, God bless them!

    There are lots of kinds of bowlers from the once a year recreational bowler to the twice a week league bowler to the touring professional, and dozens more in between. Was there ever disparagement between kinds? Sadly, of course. But there was much more admiration!

    The one thing that was NEVER claimed was that one kind or another were not real, genuine “bowlers.” I guarantee you some people do not “do it right.” Some don’t even follow the rules! But they were still bowlers, and with a little encouragement, coaching, and education could become better bowlers. And everyone, and the sport, would be the better for it.

  22. I absolutely love the bowling comparison in the above comment!
    From the perspective of a professional genealogist, I do not look down at all on even the newest hobbyist. I am extremely proud that I have the knowledge and experience to help those that are just starting. Sometimes I wish that I could go back to the beginning of my research and do it all over with some of that knowledge (or even the knowledge of its existence). And there are quite a few times that I wish I could just stop worrying about being a professional and go back to just researching my own family.
    Communities such as the Geneablogger community simply did not exist in such numbers and strength 15-20 years ago. Sure, there were communities of genealogists, but very few beginning genealogists had the ability to learn about these communities before the Internet grew into what it is today.

  23. Right on man! I’ve watched you for many years and seen the blood, sweat and tears. Don’t let a few nay-sayers detract from reaping the benefits of all your hard work. Isn’t most of the screaming about the screamers anyway?

  24. Just think of Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted:”

    “He drew a circle that shut me out-
    Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle and took him In !

    Thank you for all you have done and all you do for genealogy-minded folk everywhere.

  25. Thanks for being there Thomas. I had no idea there were nay-sayers in the crowd. I cannot imagine how anyone could miss how much good will you’ve developed in our group. We were lone bloggers in the wilderness, and you helped galvanize us into a more cohesive unit. We are now a strong lobbying group.

    Myrt 🙂

  26. I’m still lost as to why people are offended by anything. I left blogging for a few days to do research, and I come back to read Apple’s post about how she is offended by these “geneabullies.” And she’s not really the first person I’ve heard mention this in the last year or so. So I’m kind of confused because I’ve never encountered a geneabully. I don’t subscribe to any professional mailing lists, which is where I hear they lurk, so maybe that is why I don’t know anything. However, I have a feeling that they are less of a reality and more of a myth created in the minds of insecure people. Insecure is not a word in my vocabulary, and I do take my source citations very seriously (in my database; not on my blog because that would take some of the fun out of blogging). Maybe that’s why I feel lost in this whole discussion. I would be the type of person to get hung up on a period or semicolon in my own source citations, but I realize that not everyone is like that, and that’s okay.

  27. Thomas – I love you, but don’t tell my husband! You and I spend Friday nights together (on Blog Talk Radio). We’ve also spent some time together in the afternoons. I can’t tell you the last time my husband and I went out on a Friday night! I better fess up right now – he’s a pilot and he’s never home on Fridays. He’s actually based in Chicago, and if you are flying American, you probably spend more time with him than I do!

    Seriously, thank you for all that you do. I appreciate all of your hard work.

  28. Cindy

    Actually I only fly American Airlines but I won’t tell your hubby about us! And just wait for today’s announcement . . . there will be a new radio show on Saturday afternoons at 1pm Central starting this week, April 23rd.

    For some reason I’m humming, “Me and Cindy Jones, Cindy Jones, Cindy Jones . . . we got a thing goin’ on . . .”

  29. Thomas, thank you! I know how hard you work. No-one can please all the people all the time, but most of us really appreciate what you do. Great article and great comments! As a relatively new member of the great Geneabloggers community, and having done personal research since 1974 and paid research since 1986, I do have some thoughts on the topics currently being discussed, so I will be adding my ten cents worth. Watch for it on my Genealogy Leftovers blog sometime on the Easter weekend.

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