Interview with Shmuel-Aharon Kam
Shmuel is our Curator from Israel. He has been a Geni user for a long while now, and he has a lot of insight for us.
How did you get into genealogy in the first place? Have you been able to share all of your hard work with the members of your family?
I caught the genealogy bug pretty early. As a 6th grade student, I was too damn smart-aleck AND lazy. As this was the 3rd year with the same awesome head-teacher, I knew him well. We were studying Genesis, and he gave us the classic homework question: “List the 10 generations from Adam to Noah” (Genesis 5). Having done that, I thought to myself “I KNOW this guy. Next week he’ll ask the follow-up question ‘List the 10 generations from Noah to Abraham‘.” So, I went and listed those as well, and then it became a game, seeing what I could dig-up. So I actually came to genealogy from the “wrong” end of the tree, starting with the roots.
Do you have any profiles or projects that you’re particularly fond of? What about them makes them special to you?
[...]That would be the Biblical Tree Project. That’s my passion (some would say obsession). I have been working on it, for over two years now, and rather like the results. Considering how so MANY pantheons (Sumerian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, you name it, we got it) and sources (Bible, Quran, Mormon) got dragged into this earliest part of the tree, the name is rather a misnomer, but as the Bible-Tree was what I set out to work on, the name just stuck. This project also lets me interact with people from those many faiths.
Closer to home my grandmother, Ruby Kahn, was a Rothman. Her family came to the USA (from the Ukraine) This being a rather uncommon name, I created the Jewish Rothman Family project. I’m convinced that most American Jews with this name are relatively relatives. Pre-immigration [to the USA] Family history was very much a taboo subject in my extended family, and post immigration the family just disbanded. So if I can push this one project forward, I’ll be overjoyed.
How has being a curator changed the way you use Geni? What are you focusing on these days?
Not much really. It does remove some road-blocks and make it much easier to help others, which is cool. The temporary tool to “unclaim” historical profiles that peopled “owned”, enabled us to finally handle about 100+ abandoned or unresponsive copies of the Biblical trees, so we’re now down to about 10 (from 250!).
I’m still mostly concentrating on the “Biblical” Tree. I make occasional forays into later periods. I like to make Master Profiles out of prominent figures that I know of. Lately I HAVE actually managed to break through some “brick walls” that have been blocking my own tree for years.
If you could add one feature to Geni in the next year, what would it be? Why do you think it would be so important?
A feature that I feel Geni will REALLY need in any case, is the ability to identify while a user is working that they are entering historical profiles that already exist in the table. The system would then cut them short, and connect them to the existing profiles. As fast as Curators can clean up the duplicates in the historical tree, we can’t compete with millions of Geni users, banging away, constantly entering new profiles! So if a user goes and enters a new copy for George Washington, then the system needs to identify that, before he gets around to entering George’s entire family.
What are your thoughts on the state of Geni discussions? Are they moving in the right direction? What aspects of them help you get things done?
I think that the discussions can be very important to Geni, especially the larger community aspect of it. I’ve seen people do amazing things with discussions, like get people involved in various efforts, help each other with physical access to resources. Presently between 60 and 80 Public Discussions are started every DAY. As this feature improves, I’m sure that number will grow. I think this overwhelms many users, who probably click the “show only discussions I follow”. This means they will never discover discussions that they WOULD follow, if only they knew about them, missing out on the whole concept.
So what we need, is on one hand the ability to group Discussions in topical folders and tags, and on the other hand to maintain the highest possible level of exposure. Creating folders would do this, for example by putting all of the problem/help topics out of the “main” flow. Much like a regular forum does.
Many thanks to Shmuel for letting us in on his thought process.