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Genealogy + online skills + teamwork = ???

So, while this post is not specific to Chinese genealogy, as I am writing it as part of an exercise for my grad program, I realized after a little thought that it is absolutely relevant to Chinese genealogy.

Some background: I am beginning a graduate program in Library and Information Science. As a newbie, I am getting acquainted with all sorts of electronic and online communication tools, and learning how to be present without being face to face in a physical classroom.

Soooo, am I a good online student? Yes and no. According to online student readiness assessments from San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science and San Diego Community College District, I am in the mid to high range of readiness for online studies. The two assessments vary. SJSU’s is an open-ended questionnaire meant for reflecting honestly on not only my technical skills but my personality characteristics, while SDCCD’s is a quiz that has multiple choice answers yielding a score. I believe SJSU’s is a more accurate way to gauge one’s online student readiness, due to two particular characteristics that no amount of technical skills can infuse: time management skills and self-motivation. These two are my weak spots, to be honest. The SDCCD quiz did not pick up as keenly on these necessary characteristics. I do get my work done, but I have been known to be quite a procrastinator. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to avoid this behavior. Time management and self-motivation are parts of the same animal, one must motivate oneself in order to manage time well and not slug off until it is too late. I tend not to be the greatest self-motivator, and that adds to my spending my time doing less important tasks while deadlines loom ahead. My husband tries to give me pointers to correct this bad behavior (he is a teacher and an anti-procrastinator), and I take a while to get used to consciously changing my behavior. Slowly but surely.

The other aspect of the online student environment is teamwork. On this point, I love teamwork, when it works. I enjoy contributing to a group of equally driven and knowledgeable individuals to create something larger and more dynamic than what we could do individually. I don’t believe in the kind of teamwork that achieves the same product as something I can put out myself, I think the point of teamwork is to produce something greater. That being said, I know that not all people feel the same, and that is when I think teamwork does not work. In a lecture given by Dr. Ken Haycock, I recognized the aspects of teamwork that I enjoy that he attributes to successful teams. These include clarity of expectations, good communication, productive use of conflict, and commitment, among others. I tend to go in to teams with high expectations of everyone, and the unspoken idea that we should all be committed to an excellent product. I realize now that this is not something I can expect, rather it is something that needs to be vocalized and agreed upon by all team members. I’ve been disappointed on many occasions in the past when I’ve worked in a team and I could not understand why certain members seemed perfectly content with minimal contribution and blasé attitudes about what we were trying to achieve. This was because we did not clarify our expectations when we started our project, and so our sense of commitment was all over the place, and we had no way to control our product or keep each other accountable. I have found that (usually), when I work with more mature individuals (as in more experienced their fields of work), I tend to have better teamwork experiences. I tend to become frustrated when working within a team of extremely varying skill levels; I feel like “I’ll just do this myself rather than trying to explain it to you.” This is also a trust issue, which Dr. Haycock also points to. Teammates must trust in one another to do their individual tasks in order to have a successful team. When I don’t trust my teammates, due to their lack of experience or any other issue, I feel like being in the team with the person is verging on useless, as I feel compelled to pull more weight or insert myself in to more tasks than necessary in order to maintain a quality product. I think this is largely the perspective Enid Irwin takes in her lecture about teamwork, as she calls it a “monster.” Teamwork can be a monster when not everyone in a team is collaborating equally, and taking a backseat, or if one or more members of a team are afraid and let it affect their attitudes toward the team and project. Ms. Irwin emphasizes the need for each teammate to take the attitude of pro-activeness. If a person is not contributing, he is destroying, according to Dr. Phil. I can see this to be true, because lack of pro-activeness and lack of contribution makes dead weight in my book, and no one like pulling dead weight. I’ve realized that in order to be a better teammate, I should vocalize my own goals and expectations, ask my teammates for theirs before I start any project, and this will save a me a lot of stress in the long run.

So, how does this all relate to genealogy? Well, genealogy, especially Chinese genealogy, is not something that one should do on his/her own. Genealogy always works better when one has collaborators, or teammates. And genealogy tends to work very well if you utilize online tools and hone electronic/technical skills as well. Sure genealogy gives me plenty of work to do on my own, but I can get it done a lot more quickly when I use other people’s help. Online forums are a great example of this; if I am stuck on a genealogical brick wall and I’ve tried all my old tricks to no avail, I will ask a public online forum for help. The key to getting good results is knowing who and where to ask. One of the best, most knowledgeable and respectable “teams” of people that help others with genealogical research questions is the Siyi Genealogy forum. I absolutely love the contributors to this forum. It is comprised of people from numerous countries, all with varying degrees of expertise or curiosity, different language skills, and different backgrounds in terms of their relationships to their individual Chinese histories. The members of the Siyi forum are respectful and very willing to teach those who have little or no experience in the realm of research, as well as help people who have done all they can but are still stumped.

Another example of collaborative genealogy is While I used to like this site much better, it is still decent. Geni is place for hosting your family tree online and inviting your family members to join the tree and build it together. Many times, when I have added more relatives as I dig further back in time, I will get a message that the person I’ve added is also present in another member’s tree, and ta-da, I can tap in to a whole other source of research. At that point, one can choose to compare similar or matching profiles, and if they are indeed the same person, the trees can be “merged.” Because this is still the internet, and there is no way to know for sure how accurate everything really is, you will want to do your own source-checking before just merging anyone. There are plenty of inaccurate trees on the web! However, when you get in touch with someone whose tree is backed up with legitimate first-hand sources, you will be happy you’ve found a potential collaborator or teammate, and genealogy becomes more than a search for dead people, it can be a new relationship with long lost relatives or otherwise enthusiastic researchers. The one aspect of Geni that I do not care for at this point are the differences between “Pro” account holders and regular/free user accounts. Pro accounts cost money, kind of like a subscription. Pro users are able to use more tools than regular users, including infinite possible additions to trees, while regular users are restricted to certain number of generations out, and the ability to merge matching profiles, something regular users cannot do. This point is anti-collaboration, in my opinion, but Geni wants to make money somehow, so there you have it. I have found a few amazing people on Geni, who are really on the same boat as me in their desires to create and fill in a deep and valuable record of our families’ histories.

Teamwork and collaboration, no matter what the subject matter is, can make for unexpectedly rewarding experiences.


One response »

  1. I very much appreciate your thoughts about teamwork as it applies to genealogy! For all the time I spend on genealogy research, I never thought of it in terms of collaboration. But of course, that is exactly what family history embodies.


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