I am sure we all agree that 2020 has been a strange year. COVID-19 has moved from being a viral condition that had it’s focus on the Far East of the world and many of us, likely did not consider it back in December 2019 as a issue that would effect us. Our focus was likely on the festive season, with cooking, grocery shopping, present buying and then the wrapping of gifts.
Fast forward to the early part of 2020 and the focus was shifting, across Continental Europe and beyond. By the time early March arrived there was mentioning of COVID every day in the news, as the numbers of infections and sadly deaths rose and rose. Towards the end of mid March, the Prime Minister of the UK hit the pause button and we entered a lock down.
My neighbour recently commented to me that when it snows there is an silence that descends on our neighbourhoods and that same silence arrived with the lock down, she then said did I know what she meant? I agreed, I did know what she meant and I too had voiced something similar to my nearest and dearest, though I think he was not really interested!
Having entered the lock down, our focus shifted, mine certainly did. In fact in March I was teaching the new surnames course for Pharos Tutors and Teaching, Practicalities of a One-Name Study. The course concluded and I gathered my notes and tutor papers, returned them to the bookshelf and entered a note in my diary for July, when I wanted to do a review and make edits, ready for the next intake of the course in October.
Meanwhile, family history societies around the globe were cancelling meetings and gathering. There was a degree of uncertainty on how long any restrictions would last, but in the main, many societies made the decision to cancel events. For some organisations, they immediately moved events online. Others though were slower in doing so, not in reaching that conclusion, but getting the practicalities organised and doing work behind the scenes, testing platforms like Zoom and making decisions on what type of account they should purchase. There is quite a steep learning curve if you have never been involved in online events as an organiser.
If COVID has taught us nothing else, it has meant that genealogical and family history organisations have needed to evolve, in order to maintain a presence. In the last five years many organisations have been seeing a decline in their membership numbers. The meetings that local genealogical groups organised were still being attended by many members, but nowhere near the numbers of ten or 15 years ago. The decline probably due to the internet, but that is not all. Lets go back a step or two, as I make some general points.
When I began researching in the late 1980’s I was, without doubt one of the youngest at any meetings I attended. Genealogy was always considered something undertaken by those who were retired and perhaps, in the majority it was mostly, 30 years ago. The internet changed those demographics. Now, if you were retired 20 years ago then the likelihood of you wanting to attend evening events being 20 years older is perhaps slim. Perhaps genealogy is now, quite literally a past time, rather than a pastime. If that is the case then perhaps membership numbers start to decline. Organisations in countries where there is huge distances, the USA and Australia were probably the most likely to embrace online events earlier than the UK organisations.
I belong to a number of genealogical societies, of which none in the UK provided any online facilities in the format of meetings and webinars. The Guild of One-Name Studies began delivering webinars in 2018, with COVID there has been an increase of organisations taking advantage of platforms like Zoom and I am personally delighted. It has meant that I can participate in online discussions or attend presentations organised by the Society of Genealogists (SOG), amongst others. Indeed, my two surname talks that I was due to deliver in May at the SOG were understandably cancelled. The SOG then embraced the online world and I delivered the same presentations in early June, with another scheduled for later this year.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
My glass is always half full, so whilst the world of COVID has been truly devastating in terms of the global casualties of the pandemic, deaths and the economies, it has provided an opportunity to those family history societies to rejuvenate themselves and for those out of area and housebound members, amongst others to interact with the society, even if on a small scale.
It has also provided opportunity for researchers to rejuvenate their family history. Revisit old post it notes, data extractions from online providers and catch up on the filing and organisation of their work. I’ll be back talking what I did, genealogically speaking in a future post.