In part 4, I talked about some general categories of conspirators both intentional and unintentional, internal and external. With care and feeding the conspiracy gains a life of its own. Fear maintains it across time and allows it to continue well beyond its usefulness. By its nature, it can manipulate otherwise nice enough people, into doing some pretty weird and awful things.
People are at the heart of the problem and also, strangely, the only real solution.
It’s About People and Always has Been.
I’ve been wanting to approach this subject for a long time, sort of taking bites at the edges in all my various posts, but not really reaching the center. I’ve written and deleted at least four different versions of this over the past few years. I just never felt I was getting it right. Too dark, too offensive, too personal, too weak, too whiny, always too “something”. I’m still not getting it right, but hopefully I can get it done in my own haphazard way. The reason I’ve struggled so much with this is people. People! Your people, my people, our people, people I haven’t met yet. I want to document the things I’ve experienced in my own voice, but what will this do to people? What will people do to me because of it?
Since these posts are really just me, talking to myself, you’re getting only my perspective. If you’re in some ways like me, then you’ve probably seen many of these aspects of genealogy. How you handle them may be very different, but you’ve probably at least seen them. I’ve seen a lot of people express their feelings about some or all of these challenges that I’ve mentioned. I didn’t always agree with how they handled it, but I did have to acknowledge the struggle.
If you’re not like me and haven’t run into these things, good! That is how it’s supposed to be! Hopefully though, at this point, you can see how a fun hobby or even a very directed personal search, can be derailed and sent spiraling off on a strange journey through barriers, pits and traps or even through the dark heart of a conspiracy.
Technically, it’s not a Technical Issue.
You may notice that the issues are not really technical. All of the issues, challenges, traps and deceptions are there because of the human elements in genealogy (genetic or otherwise). The systems we have in place may exacerbate the problem, but then those systems were put in place by other humans. We may all complain about the tools available or the technology that is over our heads, but the thing that will bring you to a full stop is always people. People make genealogy hard on so many levels.
I often talk about people causing me problems in frustration, but I think it would be more healthy to talk about people causing problems as a matter of course. Speaking about the struggles with people as a basic part of genealogy might help other people not be so frustrated.
I think, in general people don’t like to talk about the hard parts of this search very much. People have their own interests. They may really just be looking for that walk in the park experience (and why not?). No one wants to get pulled into a quagmire of deception, they want to fight the good fights, have some easy wins, validate a few things and not get into a lot of grey area muck-raking or needy personal agendas.
The Only Thing We Have to Fear…
In genetic genealogy circles, we do talk about issues with people, but to me it seems like we don’t talk about them as a basic part of the process. We usually tackle the technical barriers the companies put in place. We lament those that do not participate with us. We scheme to find better ways of drawing people out, but we can’t really seem to get a grip on the thing that made these people hide in the first place.
We don’t have good tools to combat the fear that people feel.
The fear of finding things that are “unwholesome” is one reason consumer DNA tests are illegal in some countries and why people might stay away from genetic genealogy altogether. No one wants their DNA to contradict their paper proof. This is a matter of identity!
That fear to test causes anxiety for people who want to see DNA testing flourish (like me). The best thing for the market, testing companies and the testing pool, is warm and fuzzy outcomes. Having more people test increases the likelihood of success in identifying ancestors, known or unknown. Our DNA tests are only as good as the other people who have tested. We need them and their results whether we’re walking in the park or hacking through the jungle.
People, who are already afraid to get into the testing pool, need us all to be Disneyland versions of ourselves so that they will feel safe getting in. We all need more people to test so there is a good amount of pressure there not to scare off the tourists. The irony is that people are so terrified of having any experience they might consider negative, that the testing companies (who need to make a profit on this) have put intentional barriers around them to keep them safe and separate. The barriers, in effect, make the tests less useful and many times absolutely useless for genealogy.
Fear has forced testing companies to be helicopter parents ensuring that their DNA testers have safe but meaningless interactions in a harmless fantasy world. So we can’t rely on the companies to combat this needless fear. Their financial interests will drive them to put bumpers on all the sharp edges to the detriment of real research. To defeat the self-fulfilling prophecy of our conspiracies we will also need to defeat the fear of the conspiracy itself. We need to take its power away so that people are not afraid anymore.
We Can Be Heroes.
I think, the best mystery solvers have some technical knowledge. They understand the concepts. They have some good tools and know how to use them. They have a lot of patience but their greatest asset when dealing with DNA testing is that they really know human psychology. They know people. In genetic genealogy, like I said, your test is only as good as the other people who have tested. You will always need other people to share information with you to make any sense of what you get back from the testing company. So, knowing people and how to work with them or around them is the best skill you can have.
I’m not one of those people. I’m terrible with people. I really am..just awful. I’ve thought about lying to people and saying I have some impairment that makes me terrible with people, but I wouldn’t be able to keep up the lie. I have no good excuse for it.
Those of us that are not good at wrangling people DO need more people to test so that we can compare ourselves to them and ALL of us can find our way together. I don’t mean just any old people either. We need brave people, adventurers with that spirit that allows them to walk in where lesser people fear to tread. We need heroes willing to shout out so that we in the jungle can follow their voices.
We need more heroes who will allow us to be honest about the facts instead of comforting.
We also need to be heroes for other people. For every one of us toiling away in despair with our machete, there is someone tangled in the vines who wasn’t even given a blade to cut with.