Interview with Geoffrey Trowbridge

Posted January 12, 2011 by Geni | 2 Comments

This week we interviewed Curator,  Geoffrey Trowbridge .

Geoffrey, you have been a Geni user for about a year now. In this short amount of time, you have added well over 16,000 profiles and have become a Geni Curator. What has this experience been like for you?

Silly as it may seem, I first discovered while searching for a means of displaying my pedigree chart on my Facebook profile.  (Sadly, Facebook no longer allows customized content on profile pages… but that’s a whole different can of worms.)  I was impressed by Geni’s collaborative features, such as the ability to merge common profiles in different trees, with the intriguing potential to eventually link everyone in the world.  Granted, Geni wasn’t the first site to offer such a feature.  I had dabbled on a few years prior, but their implementation was confusing and lacked the necessary user interaction to ensure that merges were accurate.  Geni entrusts their users to make informed decisions and gives them the tools to facilitate the process.

Based on your Pedigree site one might infer that you have been researching your own genealogy for quite some time now. How long ago were you bitten by the bug and how has collaborative genealogy helped you with your research?

I’ve always had a passing interest in family histories, but I didn’t begin to research my lines in earnest until around 2003, when a distant cousin emailed me with questions about my close relatives.  Sadly, all of my grandparents had passed away a few years prior, and I deeply regret not having recorded more of their anecdotal knowledge when I had the chance.  Luckily, the growth of online resources helped me to make quick discoveries, piquing my interest very early on.  Within the first few months of my searching, I had documented a complete lineage back to the Capetian dynasty.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without utilizing the painstaking research of others before me.  The Internet is an indispensable asset, putting data at your fingertips that once required extensive travel and endless hours poring over old books and microfilms.  Don’t get me wrong; I still get a thrill going through dusty old document registers in a courthouse archive, but an online database is so much more efficient!

Now that you have had the great opportunity to work with so many other genealogists from all over the world, do you ever see yourself being just a solo researcher again?

No, because the world being a fairly large place, going it alone just isn’t practical.  Even without the benefits of Geni’s web-based teamwork, I’ve received indispensable help from other researchers via email, message boards and even the good old-fashioned telephone.  Having said that, I’ve had my share of negative experiences as well.  I’m still amazed by the folks who post their data online and then become enraged when other researchers utilize the data, as if they have some kind of copyright ownership of my ancestors’ birthdates.  Certainly your sources should always be acknowledged, but that is for the purpose of documentation, not reverence.  Genealogy should never be done for recognition or personal glory; it’s for your own edification, and for those with whom you share a relationship, no matter how distant.  We all need to work together toward a common goal.

What are some of the hurdles you have experienced when trying to clean up the Big Tree? How might others new to the site assist the Curators with this great task?

The decision to suspend import of GEDCOMs, while perhaps a bit stringent, has accomplished the goal of stemming the flood of duplicate entries in the historical parts of the tree, which was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome.  Much work remains, and users certainly can assist by watching their notifications and completing merges on their own managed profiles.  They can also join any projects in which they may have a particular interest.  But perhaps most of all, users can assist simply by understanding, acknowledging and supporting Geni’s stated goal, which is the creation of one universal tree.

What are some of the benefits Geni offers and how would you like to see people use the site in the future?

I’m not sure if the site administrators will embrace this analogy or not <grin!>, but I like to refer to Geni as “the Wikipedia of Genealogy.”  All users are invited to contribute, to collaborate and to review each other’s work in an open forum, and with the ability to merge and link common information (and to provide documentation, as the data is only as reliable as its sources) the net result is a massively comprehensive and surprisingly consistent public resource.  My hope is that more new users, even those with just a passive interest in genealogy, will embrace Geni’s vision and participate, by submitting their own family histories and by encouraging their own friends and family to do likewise.  Then perhaps one day, “Everyone’s related” will be more than just a slogan—it will be a fully documented fact!