Thursday, 9 June 2016

United we Stand

Unity and collaboration is an important part of what we should be doing as genealogists or community historians. There are two aspects to this - how can a united front help the cause of the historian and how can a study of history promote unity within a community or family?

Access to a world-wide audience can give today’s historical research a completely different complexion to the research of the pre-internet era. Group projects can be undertaken by those who never physically meet. Take, for example, my recent writing project Remember Then:women’s  memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own. I engaged with women from three continents, who contributed their memories of the period 1946-1969, so I could write a social history of the period. They provided me with a range of memories that would be very difficult to collect if I had to rely on face to face contact. The scope for collaborative research is infinite. Databases can be added to by those working in distant locations. There is a recent proliferation of apps and software that allow collaborative timelines, biographies or family trees to be created. Group participation makes for more detailed and comprehensive research.
Local historians can accomplish far more as a group than one person can alone. This is not just an issue of time. Each person will bring their own specialist interests to the team and can enjoy working on the aspect of community history that they enjoy best. Someone who has a fascination for ancient earthworks may not be the right person to conduct oral history interviews. Team work brings greater and more focused results.

Family history is often likened to a jigsaw puzzle. If you work with others you may find some of your missing pieces. Sometimes we are all too keen to hang on to ‘our’ research but sharing really does have its benefits. This emphatically does not mean wholesale grafting on other people’s family trees to your own, probably as a result of a helpful ‘hint’ by the genealogy subscription website of your choice. It means having a two way discussion about the results of carefully conducted research, or about personal memories or memorabilia of common interest.

Unity of course is power. Many strange things are happening to heritage, to archives, to online genealogical data providers at the moment. If you want to campaign for the retention of an archive facility or changes to an online data provider’s system, then there may not be safety but there is certainly impact in numbers. Joining together in an organised way is far more likely to bring about change than a lone voice in the wilderness.

Finally, a study of history can bring about unity. Creating a community archive can bring a community together, as they explore their shared heritage. Family history spawns renewed contact with distant family members, it may lead to family reunions, it may help to unite the family. It can be a way of inspiring young people to take an interest in their past. All in all then, uniting in groups of like minded people can be beneficial to historical research and engaging in that research can bring disparate individuals together with a sense of common purpose.

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