Saturday 17 March 2012

Something for the Weekend 2

Once in a while – and quite possibly every weekend, eventually – BI-Gen will take a break from the world of family history news and wander into other areas. This new ‘Something for the Weekend’ feature will give myself and others the chance to vent their spleens with an opinion-piece, to recommend a product or research technique, or to simply show-off their expertise! Who knows what will find its way onto the blog? If you’ve an idea, run it past me.

Guilty Pleasure

Am I the only genealogist who considers my pastime a ‘guilty pleasure’? It could just be my retiring personality, but every time someone asks whether I have “a hobby”, I twist my face ever so slightly and begin skirting round the subject.

‘Well, I do like a bit of history’, I’ll begin. That’s OK, I reckon, as most of us like a bit of history from time to time. Even my wife, who hates history (and especially my history books), occasionally shows a bit of interest in the subject when something catches her eye on the telly – and she has, after all, been likened to Adolf Hitler on more than one occasion.

‘Yeah, that’s right, history. Especially local stuff. You know,’ I then offer optimistically. This usually works, as everyone seems to have a little snippet of local folklore to pass on to impress you – which they will then proceed to do in some half-cocked way.

Keen to curry favour, you indulge their well-meaning banter, before adding from the corner of your mouth: ‘Genealogy, actually.’

A moment’s hesitation, as the term – and meaning – of the word ‘gynaecology’ runs through their simple little mind.

‘Ah, genealogy. That’s, erm, family history, right?’ they cleverly deduce. You nod sheepishly, before they continue, ‘Yeah, my, er, auntie dabbles in that, I think. Funny old sort, she is.’ Pause. ‘Aren’t you a bit … young?’

‘I, er, suppose…’

‘Never been interested in it, myself. You see the match last night…?’

Which is why I never bring my hobby up in polite conversation. You know, like someone who may not like to admit to having a criminal record, a history of mental illness or voting for the Lib Dems at the last General Election.

But why are many of us so coy about being family historians? And is it any different from being a hobbyist in any other field?

Youngsters are, I think, a little embarrassed at participating in what is perceived as being an ‘old man’s game’ – and pre-retirees aren’t supposed to have time for academic interests, anyway. Or could it be that being obsessed with one’s own personal heritage is seen as being overly self-centred? Many folk are so shockingly uninterested in their own history that it seems to genuinely upset them when you reveal your awful secret. It’s happened to me several times: I get blank looks, raised eyebrows and the occasional expletive. It can be an ice-breaker, yes, but it can also kill a conversation dead. It’s a chance you take.

But all obsessives are the same, aren’t they? Trainspotters, birdwatchers, computer geeks, those who love fishing, gambling, partying, even – all utter bores when they get onto their specialist subject. And over-enthusiastic genealogists are no different. Their light brush with academia seems to give them a full-of-themselves attitude which marks them out as instantly disagreeable.

And thus are we all so cruelly tarred.

Which is why self-conscious little me doesn’t like to be asked what his hobby is. And, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone.

Mick Southwick

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