Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflection on genealogical collaboration

I wanted to take a little bit of time to reflect on what I have learned about genealogical collaboration in 2016.

What it is:
  • Working together with another human being
  • Trusting others enough to share your ideas, thoughts, and theories with them
    • learning what to share, and finding the best way how to share it
    • discovering boundaries of what is and is not appropriate to share. I have lots of thoughts. I can’t possibly share all of them with everybody. Or rather, there is only one human with whom I should consider trying to share all of them. And even then, there are some thoughts better to be kept private. Basically: curating my mind is a process that involves both figuring out what to display, and what to censor. And that is normal and okay, and I can still simultaneously maintain my free spirited, blunt, genuine personality. I think this is really a “life lesson” that adults end up learning. Maybe if you spend a lot of time in the professional world, you learn it sooner than if you are in “Babyland.” I’m happy to learn it at all.
  • Real collaboration requires both giving and receiving, a push-and-pull relationship. A different metaphor: it is a two-way street. Basically, I have helped a lot of people. And while there is always something to be learned from these teaching experiences, I do not really consider them to be collaborative. It is more like me being a mentor, a guide, or sometimes nothing more than a walking, breathing google proxy. These experiences often help me in ways that are very real, but most of the time it is facets of my life that have nothing to do with genealogy. Things like: learning patience, empathy, how to talk to older generations, how to explain things in a simple way, how I do NOT want be, etc. Because they have nothing to do with building my genealogical tree, or expanding my understanding of my ancestors, I do not consider the work to be collaborative. Beneficial yes, collaborative, no.
  • Listening. Collaboration means that you listen to what the other side says, and you consider it before you respond. I think I collaborate much better in a written context because it forces me to spend time thinking and crafting a response, whereas orally I usually just think out loud. It is not as well crafted, and I usually do not spend the kind of time analyzing and poring over the other side’s thoughts.
    • Collaborating with nonnative English speakers forces me to “listen” very carefully so that I can really understand the ideas that are being said.

What it is not:
  • It is not possible to collaborate well with every human being. It is not even possible to communicate with every human being, let alone trust them enough to want to share a piece of your soul (your genealogical writing) with them!
  • The only two collaborators with whom I have successfully and consistently worked on my Czech genealogy both found me, and both times it was through the internet. Is it a coincidence that both of them did the finding? Probably not.
  • Family members are (or can be) great as genealogical sources, but they do not necessarily make good collaborators. I am very lucky to have a distant cousin who is kind, patient, and a great listener.
  • But you cannot bribe, lure, beg, or otherwise force people to be a good genealogical collaborator.
  • Genealogy collaborators have to share your locality interest. Otherwise, they’re mostly just friends with patience who tolerate and vaguely understand your goals on a broad, philosophical level. But they can never be true collaborators unless they can compare apples to apples, or in other words, Czechs to Czechs (as opposed to Czechs to Irishmen).

Why it is helpful a priceless treasure to collaborate with awesome people:
  • I know that I have a lot to learn, and I learn better from communicating with humans.
  • I enjoy feeling a strong sense of validation from efforts that can otherwise seem futile or pointless. It is very useful to have the encouragement that I am going in the right direction, or the warning that perhaps I am not, and should instead try looking at xyz.
  • It is very motivating for me to try harder. I work much, much better when I write for humans than when I write to the black nether of the inter-webs. I love humans!

Some ideas for moving forward:
  • I really enjoy learning about all of my ancestors. But the truth is that I am particularly partial to my Czech ancestors. Not my British Isles ancestors, not my American ancestors, not even my Texas Czechs - but my Czechs. I really love them. There is no set of records I enjoy more than old Czech records from the 18th century. I don’t know exactly why. And even though these records are often really difficult and frustrating for me to read, still they are the most meaningful, the most interesting, and by far the most fun.
    • Therefore, I need to surround myself with people who know more than I do about Czech genealogy and history.
    • As illustrated above, I need to either find them...
    • ...but more likely, I need to attract them to me.
    • And one glaring detail: I need to learn Czech so that we can actually communicate. Though most Czechs I know speak English, it goes a very long way for me to at least make an effort. I think it is appreciated on their end, and I also think that it is absolutely necessary for certain key potential relationships.
    • The area of my tree I want to explore and learn about are unlikely to be known by English speakers.  However, most Czech speakers also have Czech ancestors.
  • I can’t find collaborators, and I suppose even if I could, I would not really want to. It seems like the best genealogical collaborators are attracted, not found. But if everyone used that logic, there would be no genealogical collaboration, so therefore I will continue to selectively seek out interesting people with whom I can collaborate. I think it will involve more effort on my end to read Czech genealogy blogs, Czech history books and articles, and reach out to my other distant living Czech relatives, or Czechs in general.
  • I can be happy with the collaborators I have. I was happy before, when I had no collaborators. But I am much, much, much happier now, and I feel like my learning has grown exponentially. I do not want to go back to where I was, working alone in a closed room. But I can be happy now, even though I perceive the potential for collaboration is far, far greater than these two relationships I already have.

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