“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
Steve Jobs, on “leadership and innovation”
In genealogy’s first 150 years, visiting the NEHGS research center in Boston or other repositories were the principal means of finding original and unique family history materials. “Back in the day,” painstaking efforts to find and record genealogical information was the norm: card catalogues, index card record-keeping, charts speckled with notations, and, of course, many seemingly insurmountable brick walls. While several of those tried and true resources remain important, it is amazing to think how far we have come in recent years!
With the enormous capacity of Internet databases and social networking venues, research has never been as close to our fingertips as it is today. One can simply type in a name on content-rich web sites, including our award-winning AmericanAncestors.org, and presto, potential results present themselves in seconds. Impressive, but I underscore the word, “potential.” Unfortunately, many data sources downplay, if they mention it at all, that an entirely separate (and very large!) layer of research, namely expert analysis of data, ultimately leads to reliable, historical truth.
When an NEHGS member interacts with us after building a family history solely with Internet searches, we inevitably end up “killing off” false ancestors. In the trade, we call these genealogical missteps “former ancestors.”Sadly, today we see more of these inaccurate lines being widely recycled elsewhere than at any time in the past. To help solve this problem we share our expertise so that true history is determined and recorded with proper sources. The two key words in this process are interact and share.
NEHGS is committed to a forward-thinking, user-focused approach to discovering and authenticating one’s family history. Complementing our growth to over 50,000 members, registered users and Facebook friends, interacting, consistently and meaningfully, remains core to our work and bolsters our leadership position among nonprofits. While thousands of members meet with our experts around the country at events and on tours, technology has enabled our personal sharing of knowledge to go well beyond the confines of physical travel. The success of our Capital Campaign has led to investments in more and more personal online interaction. Our very busy Online Genealogist, David Allen Lambert, is a prime example. We were the first institution in America to take one of our professional genealogists and make him a fulltime “online genealogist.” Scores of members ask questions and receive helpful and constructive replies from David every day. A wonderful strategist, David is available for questions through our website, by email, telephone, our Facebook page, or by mail. Fully understanding the challenges and road blocks inherent to the field, he is here to help our constituents better navigate their family history research journey.
While David continues to lead this type of interacting and sharing, he is not alone in this effort. Marie Daly, our Library Director, now frequently answers Irish research questions posed on Facebook. And new and important resources for Jewish genealogy are now available to our members through an exclusive collaboration with the American Jewish Historical Society. The innovations go on and on. NEHGS is abuzz with activity and our staff members travel the country to meet with our members and friends to share their expertise broadly. As many of you know, these education programs take place in the form of research tours (throughout the United States and beyond), seminars, and lectures. We have plans (to be enabled by the Capital Campaign) to offer these incredible experiences in a virtual and interactive setting via some new online tools.
To lead these increasingly popular opportunities to learn from the experts on the NEHGS staff, it is my pleasure to announce that we have concluded our national search for our next Director of Education. Leah Walczak will be joining us from Historic New England (formerly SPNEA), where she is currently Museum Operations Manager. With Bachelor and Master Degrees from Cornell and Syracuse, and advanced historical studies in the United Kingdom, her background also includes an impressive track record of programmatic management. We are very pleased to recruit someone of Leah’s caliber to our team and know that you will enjoy working with her on future programs.
Whether it is a visit to our research center in Boston, a virtual conversation with David Lambert, or participation in our expansive educational offerings, NEHGS members are making transformational strides in documenting the histories of families in America. With over 70% of our $50 million comprehensive capital campaign committed, we have already invested this philanthropy in endeavors that advance all your diligent work. Together, we are reaping the fruits of such generous investments.