Thursday, August 6, 2009

Genealogy Through A Wider Window

There is a great post over at Olive Tree Genealogy about how reluctant (or should I say obstinate?) some people are about actually walking away from the computer and doing genealogy research the old fashioned way. I agree with her completely about how frustrating those people can be and I am ashamed to admit it, but I use to be one of those people.

I came into genealogy in the late '90's when the internet was becoming a more viable resource for genealogy information and research. In fact, one of the things that roped me into genealogy was an article about the USGenWeb project. Since online genealogy was the "hot thing" at the time (as I guess it still is), it was what introduced me to genealogy. Not long after, I learned about Family History Centers and the collections most libraries have for genealogy. But, I was lazy, new to genealogy and going outside my home for information just sounded like too much work (keep in mind that I was about twelve at the time). During this time, I WAS one of those annoying people that would post on boards and mailing lists whining about my brick walls and demanding instant gratification. When some kind person would suggest offline resources I'd just balk and write them and their suggestion off as not feasible.

Then I stopped being twelve, got serious about genealogy and got off my duff. I can tell you right now, that was the best genealogical decision I ever made! Think it feels great to take down a brick wall through Ancestry or FamilySearch? Try actually working for the information, driving from cemetery to cemetery in 110 degree heat, slaving over microfilm and books, then you'll know what happiness really is when you hit pay dirt. Actually going out and researching made me see genealogy through a wider window, it made me appreciate genealogy and other genealogists and it taught me valuable research skills (though I've only just recently mastered the microfilm reader!).

Now, when I see people doing what I use to do, ignoring offline resources, it annoys me and makes me sad because they don't know what they are missing. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people who are coming into genealogy these days are doing so thanks to ads by online sites. I don't think these people have any idea just how much richer the resources are offline and that for real results, most of the time you have to put in hard work and leave your computer. Go to the genealogy section on Yahoo! Answers, or any of the message boards and mailing lists and you can get a real idea about what the general mentality is amongst newcomers to online genealogy. Everyone wants free, fast, instant information about their family tree. I don't mean to slam newcomers, I just think that advertisements from online sites mislead them into thinking all the answers are online and at your fingertips and that there is no need to leave your home which just propagates the bad mentality Lorine wrote about. I think those that get into genealogy like I did, through the internet, break down into three groups. Those passionate about genealogy will branch out from just online resources, like me. Those who get into it because it is a fad, will quickly leave when they learn they can't find everything online. And then there is the middle group who are interested but not enough to actually do offline research. Sadly, I think the middle group is the fastest growing...

UPDATE: as I'm writing this one of the new commercials for Ancestry just came on TV. It is the one where the guy is talking about how his father always wanted to know what his mother looked like. So the son went onto the Ancestry site, found a census record and before he knew it, he had all this information and pictures of her (I know I always find TONS of pictures of my ancestors when I am looking through census records...). Thank you for this commercial Ancestry, you just proved my point.

UPDATE 2: See my response to the hostile remarks I got for this post here.


  1. Hi Leah

    Loved your perspective on my Genealogy Rant! You raised a good point about inexperience being part of the problem for some researchers.

    Maybe we can reach them in time!


  2. Leah,

    Thank you for your perspecitive and kind words. I, too, agree that the hard work is the best work for genealogical research. But I'm new to this, and I'm concerned about the sheer cost of doing that research. How does one get docuements like birth certificates without paying the cost?

    I've just started compiling my family tree. Within 2 months, I've included 180 + persons on the tree. To have documentation of birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc., would cost around $10 per document in my local county. To then get documents from remote counties would then include postage.

    Could you devote a blog entry to this issue? As a newbie, am I missing a valuable yet free resource somewhere?


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