20 February 2018

"If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Writing this blog can sometimes feel like exactly this statement. I can put a great deal of thought and consideration into writing a post, BUT if I don’t find an appropriate venue to get this post to spread across the internet, then does it have value? Is blogging about writing what one feels and/or experiences, or is it about the desire to be heard, and possibly understood? 

I don’t have the answer to this philosophical thought experiment (question). I do, however, have anecdotal experiences that demonstrate the dilemma of ‘writing for the sake of writing’, posting the entry on a Norwegian genealogy Facebook Group and being told, by an Administrator, that ‘it’s not an appropriate post’ or simply deleting the post with no explanation. It’s both frustrating and humiliating / humbling.

Genealogy vs. Family History

I read a blog post titled What is the difference between Genealogy and Family History. Nathan Murphy (a blogger on FamilySearch.org) posted it in August 2013, yet I find it relevant today. He spoke of an action that took place on June 2013, in which Wikipedia merged two Wikipedia articles (“Genealogy” and “Family History”) into a single article titled Genealogy. But truthfully, are they the same? I think not.

This is my opinion (belief, conviction, sentiment, etc.): Genealogy is the building of a family tree or pedigree, using printed records/sources (vital records, census entries, city directories, passenger lists, newspaper articles, etc.), that shows how one generation is connected to the next. Some have referred to this as building the skeleton.

Family History , on the other hand, is the study of the genealogically proven family AND their FAN Club (friends, associates, and neighbors). Family history is ‘putting meat on the bones of the ‘skeleton’. It aims to understand the lives our ancestors lived, beyond just who their kin were. Family history is, in essence, the social history of our ancestors. Family history incorporates genealogy, but genealogy is not the end game.

The End Game

I’ve been engaged in both genealogy and family history for the past two decades, both personally and as a volunteer at a number of libraries, archives and similar institutions. With the advent of Facebook (started in September 2006) and my discovery of various Norwegian Genealogy ‘Groups’ found on Facebook, I’ve noticed that there appears to be a disconnect between ‘doing genealogy’ and ‘developing a sense of one’s family history.’ It has been my experience that people often begin with what I call ‘bagging the ancestors.’ That is, building a family tree ‘as far back as possible,’ resulting in statements like “I have over 10,000 people in my family tree,” or “I can trace my family back to Moses,” or something similar. I get that they are proud of this achievement, but for me it seems to be a fairly shallow result. I see that approach to research as ‘a mile wide, an inch deep.’

It’s not my intent to put these researchers down, but that is not the way I choose to reflect on my family’s ancestry. I want to put ‘meat on the bones’ of my ancestors. I want to understand who they were as individuals, how they interacted with their surroundings. What they thought, experienced, witnessed, observed, and even dreamed about. Why did they take the actions they did: immigrating, moving across the country, choosing one neighborhood over another, building their chosen craft / occupation? How did they happen to fall in love and marry (or not marry) their partner in life? What did they teach their children, or even the neighborhood children? Who did they interact with: their grocer, their doctor, their minister, their friends, their bosses, their enemies, etc.? What made them tick? These are the stories that I desire to ‘tease out’ of the materials that I explore.

This goes far beyond just transcribing a document in a foreign language or interpreting a vital record. It’s digging deeper to understand these people’s lives. This involves researching and reading contemporary records: journals, diaries, books, and newspapers, for example. It’s building an arsenal of information that helps to understand these individuals within their social history.

To this end, I’m launching a new Facebook Group about Norwegian genealogy and family history, which allows and even encourages the discussion and sharing of resources (finds, discoveries, etc.) that help to build one’s ‘family history.’ This group is not exclusively about Norwegian genealogy, but instead about Norwegian-American Family History. I will continue to be a member of the various Norwegian Genealogy Groups (see list below), but I am encouraging others to join this new Group as well.

It’s not my intent to be ‘mean spirited’ or in anyway to denigrate the existing groups, but I can see how this may be viewed. I’m hoping that if you see the advantage of this ‘new group,’ you will join it and encourage others to do so as well. I hope you will find the posts and discussions to be meaningful and useful in building your family history story. I see it as a place free to discuss books, articles, journal pieces, diaries, etc. To suggest, to hypothesize, to inquire about the life of our Norwegian-American ancestors – beyond just the facts.

To learn more about the group, or to join this new Facebook Group check us out at NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN FAMILY HISTORY. 

I look forward to making your acquaintance and/or friendship.

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