Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WDYTYAL--My observations about British genealogists.

I'm going to get a little bit out of chronological order here. I'm going to tell you in the next blog posts about the great genealogy conference we just went to--Who Do You Think You Are Live in London England. I learned so much there that we as American Genealogists need to make note of. Then after a few blog posts to that effect--I'm going to go back and tell you more about what we found when looking for Trefusis. It was amazing and hopefully by next week I will have gotten my mind around it all.

These observations are just that, observations I personally made while talking to the consumers at Who Do You Think You Are Live. I recognize that these are sweeping generalizations, and are only based on my experiences, not any formal sampling of the genealogy community in England. However every observation I make here I observed consistently in many people as we were talking to them at our booth at the conference last weekend. I do think we are in a unique position to analyze these differences since we constantly see the actual genealogy files from people all over the world, and when we are at conferences, we are talking to people specifically about the research they have already accomplished and how to best print it out.

British genealogists are archive oriented while American genealogists are Internet oriented. It seemed that for the Brits that I talked to, doing genealogy online was a second thought. In fact, an amazing amount of the people we talked to did not have any of their information digitized, I would estimate 40-50% of the people we talked to had nothing but hand written research. The rest had entered their information into genealogy Internet sites. Only about 10-20% had anything in a genealogy software. They all knew what a gedcom was, they just didn't see much reason to use one other than to get their information back out of a genealogy website. I think Americans have to do their genealogy online because they are so far away from the records. But unfortunately I'm told that the Brits aren't any better than we are at citations. Their genealogy stands on the archives, but neither one of us are any good at documenting it. Darn.
British genealogists are not name collectors like Americans are. In America we have people come up to us at conferences consistently and ask if we can print, 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 names on a chart. (we can, our record still holds at just over 30,000 people which took 600 feet of charts). In England the consistent question was, " you probably can't print my file it is 200, or 240, or 260 people. When I showed pictures of some of the large charts we do in my lecture, I was met with some really strange looks.

British people didn't seem to be sharing their research with cousins or looking at the research of other people. Of those who had their information online, it didn't seem that they were looking for other people's research, but rather more documents to tie in. There was no name collecting going on that I could see. Again, I was never once approached by someone wanting to print out over a thousand names. I get approached about that in the states all the time and there isn't a conference that goes by where we aren't approached about printing 8,000 to 20,000 names at least a couple of times.
British people seem to be obsessed with getting the whole picture. Over and over and over again we were asked about charts showing all the brothers and sisters in a family, showing all the descendants that come from several ancestral lines, or all-in-one trees. They were not interested in the straight ancestral lines. They wanted to see all the lines and all the families.

British people are very localized in their research unlike Americans who have to know lots of different localities. In America we have to get our ancestor back over the ocean before we can do much. And then when we do we often have ancestors from several different countries. In my parent's generation you were talking about maybe 1-3 different countries because the immigrants had usually married within their own culture. But in my generation you are usually talking about 3-6 different areas of research and that will double again for my children's generation. We are a melting pot, and in being so, American genealogists have to learn to do research in several different areas. For the most part, British genealogists are dealing with one country, maybe Ireland or Wales or Scotland, and all of the records are treated the same. Even within the states we have 50 different ways the records have been kept. So genealogy is just a much harder scholarly research endeavor in the states, even though we aren't as inclined to be do the real research into the real documents but rely on compiled genealogies more.
In all, I think the British people are very very lucky to be so close to the record repositories and to live in a culture so closely tied to the past. I came away feeling that America is highly new and quick and flashy and disposable. But more on that to come...
Coming up next:
  • What has caused the excitement in England and why are they able to have so much interest in genealogy?
  • Differences in Marketing between the British and Americans
  • What the Americans need to learn from the British about how to hold a genealogy conference.
  • Janet Few--Harnessing the Facebook Generation--a fabulous lecture I got to go to.
And then, once I've processed it a little more, I can't wait to show you what I found at Trefusis.


Banai Lynn Feldstein said...

I recently learned that the British still pay by the minute for Internet access, so that could be one thing holding them back.

I also now better understand some software I recently tried out. It was completely British-centric, almost not allowing for entry of records from outside of the UK at all.

It's interesting to hear that they like to research sideways and find the siblings and cousins, but sad that they didn't seem to share it much. I was contacted by a distant English cousin who shared only enough to connect herself to the family I had already researched, but she was also worried about privacy issues online. Again, that probably goes back to their reduced use of the Internet. If I didn't use it much, I wouldn't want my information on it either.

Nice insights. In America, we're very US-centric about everything, so it's good to learn sometimes about the rest of the world.

Randy Seaver said...

Very interesting observations, Janet. Thanks.

I can hardly wait to hear about Trefusis!

Nicola Elsom said...

This makes fascinating reading for a British family historian. I'm most shocked by the low number that use genealogy software - if that is correct I wonder if it is connected to the age profile of the researchers here.
Regarding Banai's comment above, certainly most people I know have always on broadband internet, but I can believe that some are still using dial up.

Anonymous said...

I thought the difference in focuses between the two countries was very interesting. I just taught a class last night that someone asked if there was a chart with siblings. I didn't think there was, but you would know, is there?

Janet Hovorka said...

We absolutely can do a chart with siblings. We do that all the time. You can send any file to and we can help you with it.