In Which I Sentence a Whole Bunch of Genealogists to a Game of Angry Birds

In Which I Sentence a Whole Bunch of Genealogists to a Game of Angry Birds

by Kerry Scott on 4 January 2012

genealogy train wreck

Well hello there, long-neglected readers. Nice to see you. Happy new year and whatnot.

The past few months here at Clue Wagon Worldwide Headquarters have been eventful, and one of the byproducts of that eventfulness is that I’ve had quite a backlog of emails, blog posts, and social media stuff to catch up on. I’ve been working on doing that in the past few days, and I have to say: Holy Crankypants Batman.

Is it me, or is there a lot of angst in the genealogy world lately? It seems like everyone’s mad about something, or offended by someone, or upset one way or another. I’m not sure if I’m seeing this because I’m reading a whole bunch of stuff at once, but it’s kind of a bummer. I don’t really get it.

I am especially flummoxed by angst over genealogical societies. Here is my philosophy on societies: I join the ones I think will give me something I want. If they do, I keep paying my dues. If they don’t, I don’t renew. That’s it. I can’t recall a time when I’ve gotten particularly upset one way or another. In fact, if they suck and I don’t renew my membership, that’s money back in my pocket. I win either way.

There are certainly circumstance in which I’ve been a member of an organization that I thought needed some improvement, but that I still felt were worth joining. In those cases, I sometimes volunteer to help improve things. Other times, I wait around and hope that other people improve things (the latter is, sadly, my default position lately, because there are only so many hours in the day). Either way, though, I don’t really get upset. Maybe I’m an apathetic Gen Xer, or maybe I’m lazy…but I just can’t get excited about this stuff.

That’s why I’m always a little freaked out by how passionately angry some folks can get over what their society does or doesn’t do. Even if we’re talking about a professional society…I mean, are people confusing a professional society with the profession itself? Because those two aren’t the same thing. If you’re sitting around waiting for your professional society to make your job more lucrative or more fabulous or respectable, you’re screwed. Go out and make your own job lucrative and fabulous and respectable by doing awesome work. Then you won’t have time to argue about the society…plus, you’ll be so successful that the rest of us will want to know exactly how you did it. This is called “political power.” Then you can cram your views down people’s throats all you want. Except you probably won’t, because you’ll be too busy raking in the dough. In your infinite fabulosity, you’ll also have figured out that if you piss people off, they stop listening to you. This is called “political savvy.”

I’m down with caring about your society and your profession. I’m down with working constructively to improve things. I’m especially down with working together to change laws and prevent dumb new rules from being passed in the first place.

But I’m not down with having all of this be such a large source of anger and frustration for so many people. Most of us come to genealogy from other fields or as a hobby…which, either way, means it should be at least a little bit fun. I left my old line of work in part because I was tired of dealing with nonstop conflict 12 hours a day. Why would I want that in my new one? Why would you?

DISCLAIMER: The title of this post comes from my oldest child, who is six years old. A couple of weekends ago, I walked downstairs to find her teaching my husband to more effectively play Angry Birds. She looked up at me and said, “Daddy is a crankypants, so I’m uncranking him by teaching him to play Angry Birds. It’s totally working!” I have no financial connection to the Angry Birds people. I actually think it’s a pretty dumb game. In fact, this same child tried teaching me to play it too, and I couldn’t get into it, because I feel like both the pigs and the birds are jerks, and I just want to go watch TV and let them fight it out while I watch people fight on Listservs instead. Anyway, although the Angry Birds people are not paying me a dime, I’ve gotten a few dimes from other people back in the days when I blogged more regularly. I’ll be talking more about that in an upcoming webinar, which I’ve very cleverly titled How to Make Money From Your Genealogy Blog. Check it out.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo Graham January 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Welcome back, Kerry, and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more of your infinite fabulosity in 2012 :-)


Robert January 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Boy, does THIS ever sound familiar . . . .


Kerry Scott January 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Dude, you have no idea. I am beginning to think that every professional association has this same fight.


Judy G. Russell January 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Kerry, every group I’ve ever been involved with — “professional” or not — does this. People who are threatened circle the wagons, and people _feel_ threatened for so many (often perceived and not real) reasons. Our motto when things get all confused has to be “this too shall pass.”


Yvonne January 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

So good you’ve survived all the transitions! I’m with you…drama is Wayyyyyy over-rated! My New Year’s resolution is to eliminate it completely.


Taversoe January 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Indeed. Angry Birds is way, way better than Angry People (or even Angsty People). I’ve been on a break from the blogs, apparently lucky for me. Guess I’ll go back to playing Birds for a little while longer.


Kristin January 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I agree about the drama however what I really want to say is, I’m so happy to finally click on a “subscribe via RSS” button that actually works! I’m still trying to figure it out but so many lead to a dead end.


Roxanne Richardson January 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Some people aren’t happy unless they’re hanging by their fingernails from the ceiling and frothing at the mouth.


Harold Henderson January 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm

This discussion occurred a few years ago on an earlier iteration of the Association of Professional Genealogists list. This time around IMO the conversation about strategic planning for the future has been much more civil and constructive than before, in part because board members have participated rather than standing aloof. That said, when a profession grows and matures, the process isn’t always pretty. Folks should feel free to avert their eyes. But in a world where so many people and politicians think the road to security is paved with closed records, where most of us have a lot to learn, and where professional marketing can be a real headache, I don’t think we can do without an open, proactive professional organization.


Kerry Scott January 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I definitely agree that the active participation of both incoming and outgoing board members has been a HUGE improvement over previous rounds of this discussion. I was also very pleased to see the member survey in my in-box this morning, because I’m concerned that there’s a disconnect between a noisy minority and a silent majority…but the only way to know for sure is to ask everyone.

My concern is that this is boiling down to that old choice between being right and being effective. It doesn’t matter what great discussion points are made if people are tuning out, and what I’m seeing is that a lot of people are doing just that. On Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, and in private, I’m seeing people say, “Oh, I stopped reading those messages” or “I just delete the messages.” You can’t have an important discussion of a chunk of the population is tuning out because it’s a free-for-all (and it really is…no organization I’ve ever worked with has deep discussions without some protocol, some rules of engagement, and some way of shutting up the repetitious ones so other people can be heard too).

I think one thing that makes this worse is that it takes place via email. I’m not sure this is true for everyone, but I get a couple hundred emails a day, so I am predisposed to be frustrated when someone makes the same point via email multiple times in a span of a few hours. Anything that causes my email box to add 100 new messages over a major holiday is bound to make me cranky. The fact that it takes place via email also gives APG no real way of moderating a discussion, or measuring what the impact is. If this were happening on a blog (or even a forum), APG could measure exactly how many people are REALLY tuning out. If traffic spikes on one topic or drops precipitously on another…well, that’s certainly one way of gauging the membership’s real level of interest or perception of the degree to which something is or isn’t a problem. It’s also much easier for those of us who have day jobs, little kids, and other responsibilities to keep up on, because there are more effective tools for managing blog reading than for email. Email just piles up and makes dinging sounds when you’re trying to work. That’s cranky-making.

As a practical matter, I’ve noticed that the blog posts on these topics tend to be slightly more civil. I don’t know why that is, and it may just be my perception, but I think people feel more comfortable expressing views (especially unpopular ones) on their own turf. The email discussions seem to ignore the blog ones entirely, and I find that to be a strange disconnect (in a community that already seems to have plenty of divisions and factions).

I definitely agree that we need an open, proactive professional organization. I just think that there are ways that we could achieve that by ensuring that everyone is heard and that no one is monopolizing the conversation. I’m not exactly what you’d call conflict-averse, but most people bruise more easily than I do, and I’ve learned from long experience that if you let people get bruised, they stop listening to you. I’d rather be heard than be right (most of the time, anyway).


Brenda January 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm

You’ve done it again, Kerry! I agree that civility has been (mostly) shown in the discussions but I don’t agree that anger was a big factor. Aside from all the rhetoric and repetition, I too wonder–not so much about why individual blog posts have been ignored, but–whether members of the Geneablogging community have a place under the APG umbrella. To be sure, some of us are cross-overs but many bloggers may not be aware of APG and would conceivably be interested. Who reaches out to whom?


Kerry Scott January 5, 2012 at 9:07 am

I think that because bloggers are fairly interconnected, it’s unlikely that there is an awareness issue. There’s a lot of overlap in our respective Google Readers, so folks are aware of the existence of APG. It may or may not be a fit for them (depending more on their genealogical/professional goals than anything else).


Connie Sheets January 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm


You bring a valuable perspective, as always. I agree about the “free-for-all” (and I would add “cart before the horse”) nature of the conversation, which is why you saw at least 3 people with strategic planning backgrounds trying to point that out, each in a unique way. But I didn’t see much anger or incivility this time around. As someone who may have been perceived as monopolizing the conversation (although I hope not), I did not see a lot of repetition in the discussion. I did see a lot of different perspectives; some similar, some not.

I also think we may, to some degree, be having a generational issue here. I blog a bit and I read several blogs, but I find them nearly impossible to use for interactive conversations (yes, really). Yes, I use a reader, but I’m still running all over the damn place trying to figure out who posted what regarding which topic currently under discussion. A mailing list is centralized; it’s also usually democratic. But this is Kerry’s blog (and I have Connie’s blog, which no one knows about but that’s another story): I feel differently about posting a comment on an individual person’s blog than I do on a common, more democratic, equal playing field like a mailing list. And don’t even get me started on Google+, Facebook or Twitter. Those are the most disorganized conglomerations of mostly timewasting, duplicative and sometimes way too self-centered material I’ve ever seen in my life (there, I’ve said it).

I’m guessing you know something about “social media” that us non-to- minimal users don’t. I, for one, would appreciate the education, on my own turf (and by that I mean a mailing list rather than my personal blog). For example, where ARE the civil blog posts on this topic that I’m missing? I don’t recall any specific to what was being discussed on the APG list, and I thought I was reading a high percentage of “the” bloggers to follow.

And turn off that “ding.” It makes e-mail much more palatable.


Lisa Wallen Logsdon January 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hahaha! I’ve never played Angry Birds but I LOVE that disclaimer!!


SuEllyn January 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Well stated! But, I’m sorry to say, I’m finding this more and more all over. Not just in genealogy or “societies”. Everything is high drama, everything is in an uproar. We’re teaching customers that whatever they want is everything they “deserve” and then some. Being polite and reasonable is becoming too uncommon. Hostility and turmoil is taking over. I wish I could point to a single cause and eliminate it but I’m with an earlier commenter – I can at least try to avoid becoming a part of it and ignoring what I can.
Good luck to us all!


Harold Henderson January 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Kerry —

Thanks for airing these issues in another forum!

I love the idea of a moderated, focused discussion. I’m not sure there’s time to implement that before the board meeting at the end of this month. But I would promote it as another way to get good feedback.

I find that I have more patience with people who disagree with me completely than I do with those who turn up their noses at the discussion per se. If APG is only a social group, then such discussion really is out of place no matter how civil it is. If APG is a professional group, then such discussion is healthy and necessary (although as you suggest there are probably better ways to manage it). Professionals should recognize this and deal with it. Nonprofessionals should avoid it. The fact that people are being turned off by thinking about the basics of our organization and our profession may say more about them than it does about the discussion.


Kerry Scott January 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I would like to an APG blog that is the focal point for these discussions. I really think they would be far more productive, and I think it would increase the number of people who participate (and also encourage those APG members who are not participating in the blogosphere to venture in, at least to read and discuss).

I think people (some people, anyway) are turned off not by some of the delivery methods and agendas more than the discussion of the profession/organization, but I can’t speak for everyone. All I know is when people are THAT mad, it’s wise to change your approach. It doesn’t matter if they’re wrong for tuning you out; it only matters that they are.

It took me many years of being in HR trying to get people to do things they didn’t want to do (even though they should) to figure this out. When I realized that I had to find ways to make people hear me even when they hated my message, I was far more effective (and we got sued a whole lot less).


NoOceanInKansas January 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I agree with the original post! IMHO, a lot of the “drama” is driven by pro genealogists who are trying to differentiate themselves from each other and get their names into the blogs/discussions to market their webinars/books/blogs/DVDs/what-not. I agree, I join a society to further my research. If they don’t deliver, I don’t renew. End of story. Genealogy is a hobby for me, so my take on the whole thing might be off base.


Celia Lewis January 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Such a normal process of growth and development… whether it’s a kid or an organization or agency or volunteer group… ups and down, in-group and out-group, communication challenges and more. But it’s life, and we can decide to do what we want with the problems in the process, including moving on to something more fun. If it’s not at all fun, why on earth continue -? Great blog, Kerry.


Greta Koehl January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I haven’t posted anything on this subject because I love my local genealogical society. It is run by awesome people and has lots of wonderful, active members. I know there are some genealogical societies that aren’t fabulous, but I don’t want to sound all smug and “nyah-nyah”-y.


Cheryl Cayemberg January 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Yikes! I’m a little behind on my Reader…now I’m afraid to look! Welcome back, Kerry. It’s always good to read your humor! Now it just needs to rub off…or people can learn to play angry birds, I suppose.


Polly Kimmitt January 4, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Great post, Kerry, and great follow-up comments, too. I liked your idea of an APG blog that discusses this stuff, especially as it will draw some genealogists into the blogosphere. The good aspect, I guess, is that some people are very engaged. But a mailing list is such an impossible way to have a real discussion on a complicated subject, and as I said today, the ideas of just a few people get repeated over and over so it seems that many people feel that way. APG has had surveys before, but it’s definitely time for another. Can’t wait to see the results, if that silly server ever stops crashing.


Kerry Scott January 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

I am really hoping that the silver lining to all of this overdiscussion is that people are fired up to complete the survey. Surveys are only good if people actually answer the questions.

Based on what I’ve seen and heard recently, I’m convinced that the board is listening. That’s half the equation. The other half is that people need to say what they want, without a lot of rhetoric or anger or drama.


Laura Aanenson January 5, 2012 at 5:28 am

HERE HERE!! Welcome back Kerry and thank you for putting my thoughts into words that made me simultaneously nod and LOL. I started working on my family tree (yikes – 30 years ago!) because it was fun, interesting, and exciting. Emphasis on FUN. It’s especially fun when I learn how about a new resource or become more informed about history etc.

Whenever a discussion/controversy (such as the recent one) tries to suck the fun out of it, I have to put my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA at the top of my lungs. The world is full of disappointments people. Get over it. It’s also full of wonder and discovery and funny moments and friendly people. Let’s start the new year with a new attitude.


Elizabeth P January 5, 2012 at 6:12 am

I engaged in the discussion, for better of for worse. Being trapped in the car as a passenger with just my I-phone in the beginning of the debate probably didn’t help. Not an andy birder, but I’m back to words with friends, that will keep me out of it!

Forums are good, as long as you have to log in and identify yourself. I used to moderate a forum and you would get the same IP address debating “both sides” just to stir the pot and get people riled up. Anonymity is not a good thing.

Love your blog, glad to see it back!


Laura Prescott January 5, 2012 at 7:04 am

For the record, there is, and has been, an APG blog. Of course, it never really took off. In a volunteer organization, it would be great to have someone with your skills, insight, and humor tending that blog, Kerry.

It’s probably not a good idea for me to place this here since the APG blog is in a rather pathetic state, but maybe it will generate some interest with someone, somewhere who wants to take it over and make it work.

Thanks for a great post. You’ve been missed!


Kerry Scott January 5, 2012 at 9:14 am

If it ends up on a self-hosted WordPress blog, I can help (provided we’re talking a few months into the future, not now, because now is already full to the brim).

I actually think that the entire APG site could be on a self-hosted WordPress blog. They’re much easier to maintain, and there are enough experts out there (because the platform is so popular) that you can hire help at a variety of price points, which is good for an association with only 2K members and only $65/year in dues. I don’t know how you’d do the member directory on that platform, but that’s because I’m not a tech expert, not because it can’t be done.

A self-hosted WordPress site allows you to have both static pages and blog pages. It’s more flexible than you think, and you definitely don’t have to be a tech expert to use it. If and when the board (or whoever) is ready to talk about that, let me know.


Janell January 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I run a WordPress website – and ditto how much easier it makes things! I’m not a frequent blogger so the pages on my site outnumber my blog posts…by a lot. So WordPress isn’t just for blogs anymore.


Susan Tiner January 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I can’t comment on high drama in genealogical societies but do agree with SuEllyn that high drama seems to be pretty pervasive in all kinds of professional and social organizations.


Kerry Scott January 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I think so too. I wonder why that is?


Margaret E January 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Your daughter is so cool. Angry Birds can be annoying (to me), but if it helps uncrank a daddy (or perhaps it’s the daughter’s instruction that’s doing that) then hooray for Angry Birds!

I was so excited to see your post! Happy New Year!


Whitney January 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Thank you for such a refreshing post! I love the point that you make that many of us come from other backgrounds and that genealogy is a second career for lots of us who wanted to leave the “rat race” of other professions. I think far too often it’s hard to turn off the criticism, and that makes the community no fun to interact with.

We should all learn a thing or two from your infinite fabulosity, your wit and your practical way of dealing with things. I recently was reminded that we all really have only two options – we either accept what’s happening or we can change. And the change is usually something that we have to make for ourselves because it’s nearly impossible to force an unwilling party to change. Oh how much simpler would things be if we were all able to subscribe to that philosophy?! Too bad our subconscious minds aren’t as amenable all the time. ;)

Glad to see you posting again, I’ve certainly missed your good humor!


Susan Petersen January 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

BRAVO, Kerry! It’s time we stop talking/writing/philosophising about genealogy and get back to DOING it!


Jill January 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Ah, reading your post and comments helped me understand where all the ruffled feathers are. I’m just doing family research for my own pleasure and don’t pay much attention to the professional issues that get discussed. But I’ve been wondering why I’ve only seen blog posts that respond to the controversy, never any of the arguments themselves. Now I discover it’s on a listserv. Well, until you’ve been on a listserv with editors who are compelled to go innumerable angry rounds on the serial comma or whether internet should be capitalized, you’ve really missed something. I think listservs lend themselves to troll wars and the hardening of opinions and positions.

As to why this happens in professional associations…the same reason cliques develop anywhere.


Richard January 13, 2012 at 1:06 am

How refreshing. Love the website, love your comments. I left a corporation to work full-time on my genealogy website after several years of working in the evenings/weekends – don’t need all that rubbish. Good for you!


Eileen Souza January 14, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Happy New Year and welcome back. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. In one of the comments you said: “The email discussions seem to ignore the blog ones entirely, and I find that to be a strange disconnect.”

I can answer for me. I was os busy reading my hundreds of emails that I just found time to read my hundreds of blog posts. I am only to the “Cs.”


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