Doing the Genealogy Twister Game
Having been involved with genealogy in one way or another for a number of years, I have become a firm believer that genealogy is more than a hobby. I began researching at a very young age and have since become a genealogy librarian with a strong background in archives, museums, and libraries. As a professional, this can be a difficult field and reminds me at times of the game Twister: one foot planted in the genealogy circle, one foot planted in the librarianship circle, one hand above me in technology, the other below me on archives or history or social sciences or some other area. To say that genealogy relies heavily on other areas of learning is an understatment as it is an extremely multidisciplary field!
Is genealogy really just a hobby?
What I have found more interesting (and increasingly bothersome) over the years is that genealogy is consistently referred to as a hobby. The field is branded as a hobby by researchers, historians, genealogists themselves, and those outside of genealogy that really do not know what it is about. There are many times that I hear genealogy librarians and self proclaimed professional geneaoligsts refer to the field as a hobby. Many probably use the term for lack of a better word or lack of a definition of what it is that genealogists do. Some probably do view it as a hobby. However, this belief can have lingering and catastrophic effects such as lower funding for local libraries and organizations that support genealogy collections, limited access to records on a all levels, and other fields looking down their nose at those "name collectors". Perhaps, I am one of the few concerned by this.
Genealogy as a hobby is a poor image to display. Really, the term hobby implies that it is non-essential, it is an extra, a nice thing to have. Why continue to fund something or provide access to records when it is just a bunch of people doing a hobby? Now genealogy cannot compete with the physical and medical necessities of life. However, genealogy does provide ready access to private histories of families that created nations. As families settled, grew, and moved, they created communities, buildlings, and participated in important events that define individuals, groups, society, and culture. The individuals and family groups of genealogy left an imprint in history. Sometimes discoveries made through genealogy research can change the history books! Also, genealogists as a group of people provide grass roots efforts for any number of projects and areas. The point being that there is so much more to genealogy, the term hobby cannot possibly give credit to what is accomplished.
Genealogy is a Research Method
Let me plead to your inner advocate and ask that genealogy be no longer referred to as a hobby. When looking at the ins and outs, genealogy can really be called a research method. A simple comparison of the scientific method and genealogy may help provide an understanding of what is meant by this.
Science usually calls for some sort of empirical data that rests on results, however many fields in the social sciences have adapted some form of a scientific method for the purpose of research. What is common among all of them is setting goals for questions, gathering information, hypothesizing, testing, anaylizing, drawing conclusions, and perhaps publishing results.
Defining questions and gathering information from sources comes naturally to most genealogists. Where was grandpa born? What happened to his first wife? These are examples what questions genealogists ask even if they are not aware they are doing it! Genealogists use libraries, archives, websites, and DNA for information. Some genealogists may hypothesize about the answers to their questions and use specific sources such as a book or manscript to test that hypothesize, then they can analyze their findings and adjust tactics as needed. Finally, genealogists can draw conclusions from all the activity and perhaps publish their findings with a periodical, journal, or a blog. Genealogists do this everyday as part of normal activity.
The Genealogy Brand
What genealogy needs is a cohesive brand that provides an understanding of what genealogy is and what genealogists do. This may be difficult given that the genealogy community is loosely defined. However, with prime time programs such as Who Do You Think You Are and the Ancestry ads among others, genealogy is being given an opportunity to show itself to the general public and other fields of research. What many are experiencing in the information profession is a resurgence of genealogy and family history that has not been seen in quite a long time. From those with a passing interest to those with a long standing passion to those with an affinity for documenting local history, there is much that maintains interest. These occurences are advantageous for promoting genealogy as a research method.
There are many reasons why we as genealogists should move on from genealogy as a hobby. In fact, I have written an entire paper on the topic (to be published soon). Since many would not want to be bored with the details in the paper, let me simply say that genealogy is at a pivotal point. Promotion of genealogical research methods and benefits of the field to other disciplines is a must for genealogy to continue to thrive and to be taken seriously. In order for this to be acheived, the word hobby must be eliminated as a definition for genealogy.