WHY BELONG TO A GENEALOGY SOCIETY?
This discussion is enriched by a very recent thesis by Jennifer Kathleen Matthews Land, “From Gravestones to Google: The Impact of Internet Adoption on Genealogists’ Information and Communication Behavior,” (PhD thesis (Information and Library Science), University of Alabama, 2012). She addresses the issue of internet impact from two theoretical perspectives: the notion of a community of practice as a way of discussing linkages between genealogists through their common objectives and methodologies, etc. The second, “Diffusion of Innovation” theory, looks at adaption of new technologies by users as a patterned response with various impacts and consequences.
The thesis surveyed about a thousand members of various user groups within the Ancestry.com discussion groups. It was done electronically and the questions paralleled ours to some extent, but emphasize questions of the utility of on-line sources for research and the communication. Her findings are summarized as follows:
“Two research questions framed the investigation: How does use of online genealogical resources impact genealogical research? How do online genealogical resources support interaction among genealogists? The study found that the Internet has influenced the frequency with which genealogists engage in research. The majority of users conduct genealogical research at least three days per week; prior to Internet adoption the majority engaged in genealogical research no more than twice per month. Users assigned high ratings to the Internet for usefulness and ease of use, although they assigned lower ratings of confidence in accuracy to materials obtained online than to those obtained offline. The Internet has added communication methods such as email that supplement the methods available before Internet adoption, and users reported more frequent communication with other genealogists than pre-adoption. Participants currently encounter other genealogists who are unwilling to share information with similar frequency to the number of pre-Internet encounters. The numbers of people who willingly share information is unreported. Because communication has increased and the rate of unwillingness has stayed relatively constant, the number of cases of information sharing appears to have increased.”
Many things can be discuss in this very interesting thesis, which is more or less restricted to U.S. based genealogists; but one of them is not genealogical societies. The few references are either in the deeper historical past, or in the references to various earlier publications. Users were asked about membership, but it was not discussed in the thesis, apparently of little or no importance.
So, has the internet replaced the genealogical society and the archive? Most of the respondents to the survey indicated that archives were seldom used and genealogical societies were not seen to be very relevant. Instead, new-age genealogists are smitten with the on-line resources without troubling to think about where those records come from. And, while there is little discussion of the range of archival sources, there is a lingering distrust of material that exists in only digital form.