Saturday, May 11, 2013

Of the Making of Many Webinars There Is No End

Genealogical webinars have proliferated in the past year or two. One can attend multiple webinars in a week; sometimes even on the same day. Recently I discovered that I had somehow managed to sign up for two webinars that were scheduled at the same time and was forced to choose between the two. (I actually think one of the webinars may have been rescheduled to the conflicting time slot.) Is all of this good? Or is it a distraction?

I have come to a conclusion that it is both. We need to learn as much as we can about genealogical research, but it becomes distracting when we overdo it and don't leave time to hone our skills to research.  In the old days, we set aside a week or two to attend genealogical conferences and/or institutes. We learned from the experts and went home to practice what we had learned the rest of the year.

In today's environment, we could attend so many webinars, listen to so many podcasts, spend so much time in Second Life or Google Plus with other genealogists that we would have little or no time to spend researching. Furthermore, I've been quite disappointed in several of the webinars that I've attended. I have often attended some on a topic such as a geographic region in which I've done little research. I expect to come away with some great tools and tips for researching in that area, some things that are unique to that area. The disappointment comes when the only things shown are resources that are the same as those available for other areas of the country. The presenter has completely failed to discuss any unique special collections, the state laws that may have influenced the records, etc. I'm frustrated because I've just attended a webinar that ran for 1.5 hours or more. It has been a total waste of my time.

We often decide to sign up based on the topic or description, without knowing the intended audience level. I'm grateful that APG has jumped into the webinar arena, offering some that are for those of us who are more advanced in research skills.

King Solomon must have felt something similar as he wrote sometime in the 900s B.C., "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecclesiastes 12:12b, NIV)

I believe that I get far more from a conference experience than from a webinar experience. When we attend a webinar, most of the time we are on mute. We hear the speaker, but it comes across as flat and one-dimensional because interaction is limited. I'm easily distracted, especially if a webinar is more basic than I had hoped, by other opportunities readily available to me on my computer -- Facebook, working on my own genealogy, reading blog feeds, checking out what others are reading on LibraryThing, etc. I am much more likely to pay attention in a more traditional setting. This is not to say that I will not be attending webinars at all. I'm just going to be much more selective in the future about which ones I decide to attend. The ones offered by APG will probably receive first consideration because they have consistently been useful. Others that incorporate case studies or promise to offer something to advanced researchers will also receive consideration.

At the recent NERGC held in Manchester, New Hampshire, I attended a session about Chinese genealogy. I've done very little Chinese research. I have read a book written in the 1980s as part of a series of ethnic genealogy how-tos for young adults written on the topic. I have also spent a little bit of time looking through census records of some of the Chinese who settled in the Mississippi Delta. However, I really knew very little on the topic. I knew that it would have fairly low attendance. There were a handful of us in the room, maybe 5 or 6. I suspected that none of us in the room had done very much with Chinese research. We were able to interact with the presenter during her lecture because of the small size of our group. It ended up being one of the best sessions I've attended recently from the standpoint of learning something that might be useful. Some of the things that came up in the course of the lecture are things that someone might not have thought to ask in the question and answer section at the end of a webinar.  Will I use what I learned at the session? Maybe; maybe not. I will have some notes that will assist me if I do have the opportunity to do so. If I did not have other projects and commitments, I'm certain that I would be finding one of those Mississippi families to try to research to try to develop that skill.

I know that I'll be receiving lots of "You missed your webinar" messages over the remainder of the year, but that is okay. I'm simply managing learning and research time in a better manner for me. Others may need to spend more time "learning." My approach requires having the funds necessary to make the trips. Those who cannot budget for this may need to spend more time in webinars. My only word of caution is that one should not spend so much time attending webinars that one neglects to spend time digging through records, documenting their finds, and writing the reports needed to discuss the evidence and provide proof for  conclusions.

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