Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Defining the Genealogical Pursuit

Lorine McGinnis Schulze at Olive Tree Genealogy Blog asks if Genealogy is a Hobby.

It's a question that gets asked every so often.  She points out, unless one makes their "living" from it, or it's at least a major source of income, it fits the dictionary definition of 'hobby':
An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.
Some may question whether they do this primarily for pleasure.  Few would undertake the research involved if they didn't find the research pleasurable.  But that doesn't mean we're doing it primarily to receive pleasure.  Many of us, I believe, would argue we're doing it so future (or current) generations will benefit from our work.

I don't read a good book thinking future generations will benefit from me falling asleep each night with a book in my hands.  The primary, if not the only, reason I read is because I receive pleasure from reading.  Reading is a hobby for me.  (Book reviewers get paid to read books, and for them reading isn't a hobby.)

Stepping aside from this argument, the dictionary definition is what linguists call the "denotation."  However, there is also the 'connotation.'
Connotation is a subjective cultural and/or emotional coloration in addition to the explicit or denotative meaning of any specific word or phrase in a language.  (Wikipedia)
 Even those who feel genealogy fits the dictionary denotation of 'hobby', may feel they don't like the 'colorations' society has placed on that word.  So they may seek other choices.  Where to seek them?
Thesaurus: a book of words and their synonyms
So I looked up Hobby at

(* indicates an informal usage)
amusement, art, avocation, bag*, ballgame, bit*, craft, craze, deed, distraction, diversion, divertissement, endeavor, enterprise, entertainment, fad*, fancy, favorite occupation, fun, game, interest, job, kick*, labor, labor of love, leisure activity, leisure pursuit, obsession, occupation, pastime, pet topic, play, project, quest, racket, recreation, relaxation, schtick, scheme, scene*, shot, sideline, specialty, sport, stunt, task, thing*, trip, undertaking, vagary, venture, weakness, whim, whimsy, work, zoo
Then I looked up Obsession
attraction, ax to grind, bent, bug in ear, case*, complex, compulsion, concrete idea, craving, craze*, crush, delusion, dependence, enthusiasm, fancy, fascination, fetish, fixation, hang-up, hook, idée fixe, inclination, infatuation, jones, mania, monkey*, must, neurosis, one-track mind, passion, phantom, phobia, preoccupation, something on the brain, sweet tooth, thing*, tiger by the tail
and Quest
adventure, chase, crusade, delving, enterprise, examination, expedition, hunt, inquest, inquiry, inquisition, investigation, journey, mission, pilgrimmage, prey, probe, probing, pursual, pursuit, quarry, race, research, seeking, venery, voyage
Remember: Since the thesaurus doesn't know the exact context for which you are using the word, it will provide you with a list of words/phrases with similar meanings.

My own personal preferences from the above:

Labor of love, Quest, Compulsion, Pursuit, and Adventure all seem to fit for me.

However, I have a joy for puns or wordplay, so the choice of undertaking has a certain appeal.


Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

The best to you in your quest for ancestors, fellow adventurer!

Martin said...

I would argue that you derive pleasure from knowing that your work will help future generations. [I'd also say that that is a big assumption. Kids and grandkids may fall in to the "i don't care about family history" category and all the work could be lost anyway.

Genealogy does fit the definition of hobby, but hobby sounds trivial. Building models is a hobby. I liked the term avocation that was mentioned on the other blog. I have a vocation and an avocation, which is genealogy.

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Thank you for doing all this John. As the person who made the original comment over at Olive Tree Genealogy in "It Boggles My Mind", I still prefer to call it my "life's work". And it IS my life's work because I've never had a career, unless it was being a full time mother. I suppose what you wrote about not liking the colorations society places on the word "Hobby" hits the nail on the head for me. In my mind, it's almost demeaning.
"Life's work"....that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

John said...

Martin- your argument reminds me of Mark Twain's argument that there is no such thing as altruism, because the purpose of altruism is to make the doer feel good, which makes it a selfish action.

Additionally, from that argument, since I derive pleasure from the paycheck I receive, any second paying job I pursue becomes a hobby. Since the primary purpose would be to derive pleasure from a second paycheck.

I realize kids, grandkids, etc may not be interested, but by publishing the information (electronically or in print) I get around that problem. I have already been thanked by distant cousins for my research.

Greta Koehl said...

I was just thinking about that "for the future" aspect today (this question also got my interest and I'm still mulling it over). I'm in the "avocation" camp. I admit that I'd do it even if it provided no benefit to anyone, but I do hope that some day people will enjoy and use the results of my research.

Cynthia Shenette said...

I guess I sort of think of myself as a memory keeper, family historian, or family detective. I don't really believe that my work will, as Martin said, " future generations." Much of my family genealogy has already been researched and compiled, probably by better genealogists than me.

I'm interested in the what and why of family research. What was it like to live in occupied Warsaw during WWII? Why did my great-grandmother become the fourth wife of my much older great-grandfather? For me, asking what and why puts my ancestors' lives in perspective and makes the research process interesting.