In defining the Genealogical Pursuit, Transylvanian Dutch said, "Many of us, I believe, would argue we're doing it so future (or current) generations will benefit from our work." I had the title of this post on my little stickie of future blog postings for weeks, and that thought seemed apropos. I've been thinking about why I do genealogy and how I should leave things for my nieces and nephews.
I am scanning photographs and I hope to put together a blurb book with the photos and explanations of relationships for each of them. I think photographs are cool and something that only the three generations before me could really pass down. They are a relatively new technology (about 160 years old). In any case, it took me several years to assemble those photographs (and yes, long before the Internet), so I would like to pass them down. I think that's easily done and something anyone would appreciate. It's just plain human curiosity to look into an ancient photograph and see your nose or your eyes on an ancestor's face. But photographs are heirlooms. I also have several items from ancestors that I will have to think about leaving to someone. Which reminds me that I don't have a will anymore.
But the genealogy stuff, I'm not so sure about. I've never researched either of my two brothers-in-law's genealogy because I thought that if my nieces and nephews were to be interested in genealogy, half of their ancestry would have been already done by me. So, I wanted to leave half their ancestry as a mystery. That contradicts Elizabeth Shown Mills in her YouTube which implies she's done everyone's genealogy that's connected to her including her mailman. However, there is still all the stuff I've done and all the trees I've killed that sit downstairs in large filing cabinets.
Partly, I've written some articles, so that's one way to leave things for the next generation. Whether anyone will ever read the articles or even find the articles in the future is anyone's guess. But what should be done about my own research. And why should I think future generations will even be interested in it? Certainly my parents and my siblings aren't. And they never have been. The only thing more boring than bringing up genealogy to a non genealogical audience is showing family home movies. You either get it or you don't. I think it's extreme hubris on the part of genealogists to think our work will benefit anyone but ourselves. I do this for me and no one else.
This dawned on me when I was constructing the large notebooks of original documents and I needed to figure out where to place documents for women whose names changed several times over their lifetimes. Finally, I decided to put them exactly in alphabetical order by whatever the name was. Whoever looks at it will need to figure out who is who. And if they really are interested in genealogy, then it won't be very hard.
I've been trying to find a link or video to a woman who did a show on WGBH (the PBS affiliate of Boston) some time back. It was a "stop feeling stressed and live" type show. She had a great line about caring so much about your good china all your life, and then when you die, your kids sell the china and go to Maui on a vacation. That pretty much sums up my take on genealogy. We can all work and work, but after we're gone, it could all end up in the trash bin. And since genealogy is unique (only my two sisters share my exact ancestry), it's not like it has a wide usefulness.
So, what to do? Write a book? Too much work, too much money (there's a reason they call it a vanity press). I was thinking of putting everything on a memory stick and giving it as a gift. The tricky thing is the timing. My nieces and nephews are ages 9 mos. to 13 years. I hope I can wait 10-20 years, but who knows? I'm already looking into various branches of Michael's family to pass along heirlooms to collateral branches that will have descendants. For now I can procrastinate, but someday, I will have to downsize my living arrangement and genealogical items will be high on the "I don't need this anymore" list. I have toyed with donating the whole thing to a genealogical society as a manuscript collection. The only problem is, I don't see the usefulness in the collection. It only makes sense with the computer files in tandem with the paper.
I'm not so sure genealogy will ever catch on, no matter how many TV shows they do. Eventually most documents will be online. However 99% of people will do a few searches and accept whatever they find as the truth. A few hearty soles will do more, no different that we who didn't accept what was written in books. Most people accept things on faith and don't think twice. How many times do you click on the footnotes of a Wikipedia entry? Does anyone look up the footnotes in a historical work, other than a historian? So, why should we think that future generations will research further than the first Ancestry.com tree that they find?