Sunday, March 27, 2011

A genealogist and an archivist walk into a cemetery....

No...this isn't the start of a good joke. Instead, it may be the start of something more wonderful.

This past week, I had a lovely networking meeting (aka "tweetup") with a genealogist colleague I met through Twitter. We decided it was worth getting to know each other off-line because we keep bumping into each other online, our interests intersecting in many places. We were thinking of meeting for coffee. However, one of the main interests we have in common is visiting old cemeteries. I suggested we should meet at one. My companion later laughed while were examining gravestones and told me that she herself had almost suggested a graveyard tweetup, but decided not to because she thought that I might find it too strange. Indeed, on my drive down, I told one of my closest, non-history professional, friends that I was heading to a business meeting in a graveyard. She responded with silence on the other end of the phone. And since that particular friend is rarely silent, I know that she must have been thinking some strange things about me!

But, when you feel comfortable bouncing loony ideas like cemetery meetings off of someone, you know that you make a good match. For me, big and sometimes strange ideas have usually led to big and exciting developments. My brain is twisting and turning with ideas about how my new genealogist / house historian friend can mesh with my archivist / cultural heritage professional self. The idea of bringing together the people who care for historical resources and the people who use them in some kind of collaboration is exciting. We often sit on opposite sides of the fence, so to speak. Archivists, curators and librarians are seen standing guard over materials, providing access to researchers such as genealogists. But I think that the more we share ideas, the more we strengthen ourselves and the study of history. Whether caring for records or pouring through them looking for specific information, those who come in contact with the materials spot information and learn things  that can help others with related history promoting goals. That's a good thing. Our professions, in my opinion, should meld together to help us all elicit multi-faceted views, descriptions, and critical ideas about historical materials.

The stories we can discover in a graveyard, such as this of
family members that died within days of each other, are
backed by historical records and the research of those in
diverse history fields. We have more in common than
we realize on the surface. Our professions bring together
diverse community knowledge.
I live north of Boston. My colleague lives south. We met half way in the lovely town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. She and I chatted about gravestones as one aspect of material culture. The landscape on which a graveyard sits and the houses surrounding it are one part of a community story. The records about the people in the houses and those buried at the cemetery are sitting up the street in the historical society and town clerk's office. The people who visit the graveyard, the stones themselves, their carvers, and the people who repair them provide more dimension to a community story. Though as history professionals we have each chosen to specialize in an aspect or two of that story, we are each adding to the same community tale. A graveyard was indeed a perfect place to focus on the similarities between a genealogist and an archivist. Combining our strengths will help us and others better understand the resources we collect, seek, and make available and will open up new avenues for developing the stories that one can build from those resources.

Right across the street from the cemetery was a coffee shop. After our jaunt among the stones, with chilled insides, Marian and I sat and chatted over a cup of coffee. It seemed to be a nice traditional way to warm cold March hands after a fun untraditional meeting.

So how can archivists and genealogists collaborate? This is how some of my colleagues are re-thinking the relationship between archivists and genealogists.

David Ferriero - National Archivist of the U.S. at the Federation of Genealogical Societies on the genealogist as a citizen archivist

Aprille C. MacCay - "Genealogists and Records: Preservation, Advocacy, and Politics" - genealogists as allies for archivists

Gail Redmann. Archivists and Genealogists: The Trend toward Peaceful Coexistence

1 comment:

  1. It would never occur to me to think meeting in a cemetery would be weird at all. I've had family members come for a visit and one of the places they want to go is to the cemetery to see where someone was buried. Not exactly what you were talking about, but when you get 'comfortable' in cemeteries it's not an issue. I'm happy for you it worked out with your meeting.