Rockstars and Unsung Heroes

It is that time of year again when John Reid of Anglo Celtic Connections has the unenviable task of running a poll to find the ‘rockstars’ of the genealogical world. Every year a few people mutter about it being inappropriate or it being unfair because those who are most active on social media usually do best. Let us think about this. Yes, I suppose it does strike a little of reality TV shows but the poll was started to help societies and conference organisers find good speakers and I would challenge the critics to think of a better way to do this. I know of and indeed in the past have been instrumental in compiling, lists of speakers. Sometimes these require nominations before you can be included. Imagine the scenario: it is the committee meeting of the Blankshire family history society Mr Most Boring Speaker in the World has been chairman since 19hundred and frozen to death, basically because no-one wants to stand against him. ‘Oh,’ he slips in under AOB when everyone wants to go home, ‘it is ok for you to nominate me for this speakers’ list again this year isn’t it’. There is no question mark there because this isn’t actually a question. No one dares to demure. His nomination goes through and he is there on the list again. ‘Rockstars’ may not be beyond reproach but it is effective and it does what it is meant to do.

Yes, people who are active on social media do tend to do well but perhaps this is because today’s ‘rockstars’ need to be able to enter this world and it could be argued that social media is part of being active and helpful and a star in the modern genealogical firmament. I always encourage people to vote, which is embarrassing as my name is on the list and I am really rubbish at self-promotion. Of course I do this because I hope people will vote for me, it wouldn’t be honest to say otherwise – I am after all just the tinsiest but competitive. Primarily though, I do it because I want people to vote (whoever they vote for), that way the competition is more valid. There is no kudos in coming first if you win with five votes, three of which are from your parents and your cat (NB especially with this year’s tightening up to prevent multiple voting, cats are not eligible to vote). Most importantly, I want people who actually understand the family history world to be the ones doing the voting. I wish there was a way of excluding votes from mates down the pub and only allowing these who are members of genealogical or historical societies, or at least involved in family history to vote but there isn’t. The only way to counter the votes from the uninformed ‘mates’ to is encourage the genuinely knowledgable to vote, people who have heard the nominees speak, have read their books, who follow their blogs and so on. If people vote for me I want it to be because they genuinely feel I have made a valuable contribution not because I’ve asked them to and they have no clue about what a family historian actually does.

The names on the list are for the most part, internationally known. Each year I like to also pay tribute to the less well known. Those who keep small genealogical societies going. Those who give freely of their time to someone who comes wandering round their local graveyard looking for ancestors. Those whose telephone rings when a speaker has dropped out at the last minute and yes, they will go and talk to a dozen people for very little reward. Of course some of the ‘big name’ nominees do this too but there are many whose names will never reach this list but without whom the family and local history worlds would be the poorer. You can only have people at the top of the mountain if there is a solid base underneath. If you are part of that solid base then I thank you.

So yes please vote and encourage others to do the same but vote for those who you feel genuinely deserve it. Those whose writing make you feel informed or entertained or both. Those whose talks you will go to just because it is X speaking and you know you will enjoy it, even though you have no interest in the topic. Those who are generous with their time and expertise and not just after the financial rewards. Vote because you understand what these people have given to the family history world. If that means you vote for me, well thank you but if you are involved in family or local history, or history per se, please vote for someone (or several someones) and help to make this competition valid and vote to make your genealogical rockstars the ones who do well.

Thank you John for organising this once again. As ever, I am honoured and humbled to be on the list.

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