Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

February Ruminations

I enjoyed watching a few of the webcasts from the RootsTech conference. It was interesting to hear about some of the issues being considered on the frontier where the techies and the genies come face to face. In the last decade or so, the development of technology, along with genealogy's embrace of it, have made astounding changes in the way we research, and in the ways we share and preserve our data. I don't think any of us who started our research the old-fashioned way would want to give up the newfangled methods that allow us to pursue our passion in pajamas.

And it's easy to see how the technologically-inclined among us are lured by the convenience of the internet, and by the expansive capacity of cyberspace, and by the amazing science behind digitization. This is the way of the future, we hear. Digitize, digitize, digitize! And back up! Not once, not twice, but three times, and update your back-ups when the technology changes or every three years, whichever comes first. Password-protect it so the bad guys can't get it. Tell someone where you've hidden the password, so they can. Oh, if only your ancestors had done that! Imagine the happy dance you would have done when your complete genealogy appeared before you on a computer screen!


Consider this: when you're watching Who Do You Think You Are?, have you ever thought they've made the research look too easy? Have you ever thought, hey, the celebrity didn't seem very excited (I recall someone saying this after the recent Tim McGraw episode)? Well, what if the scenario were this:
It's the last game of a hard-fought season, and an athletic team (the Blue-Blooded Ancestor Hunters?) suddenly finds itself short by one member. Six players are required; they have only five. You're asked to fill in, even though you have no knowledge of the game. That doesn't matter, they assure you, the real team members will carry the ball and do the scoring. All you have to do is stand where the coach tells you to, and be counted. Some sort of reward is offered--fame? fortune? undying gratitude? some skeletons for your closet?--so you accept the deal. The team wins the game, and the highly-coveted blue ribbons are passed out to everyone on the team, including you. Tell me, how meaningful is that blue ribbon to you? Isn't it pretty much commensurate with how much you've invested in the game?
Some people do genealogy because it's part of their religious practice. Some do it as a vocation. Many of us do it as an avocation and, oh, how we bristle if our pursuit is reduced to the lowly status of a mere hobby! No matter which category we fit into, though, I'd be willing to bet it's the thrill of the hunt that keeps us going, and that tantalizing prospect of another happy dance possibly just minutes away.

I started out doing genealogy the old-fashioned way. It was kind of like going big-game hunting. You had to go someplace to do it; you had to learn how to hunt; you had to plan ahead for your trip; you had to pack carefully and be prepared for anything, or nothing. It was an adventure.

The advent of digitization and online availability of records has made it a lot more like shooting fish in a barrel. A search engine, a name... BANG! Oh, look, another dead ancestor... no, two... three... But the number of records extant is finite. Sooner or later, all the fish in the barrel are gonna be floating belly-up. How long will it take? Another generation or two? When the barrel is passed on to your descendants, how much happy-dancing will there be when there's naught to do but dip out a couple thousand barcoded belly-up fish? How many of your descendants will be passionate about scanning the barcodes to look up those pedigree charts that you're so passionate about preserving? In fact, how many of your current, living relatives are passionate about it now?

The techiest of the techies see the world through tech-colored glasses. Everything, they insist, should and will be virtual in the future. Maybe they're right, I don't know. But I do know that not all people are computer-savvy now, nor will they all be computer-savvy in the future. And not all who are computer-savvy prefer to spend their time in the virtual world rather than the real world. Believe it or not, Kindle fans, some people still prefer a book with paper pages. Some would rather talk than tweet. Some would even... I know this will come as a surprise... some would even prefer to receive a bouquet of real flowers from a three-dimensional boyfriend rather than a virtual-bouquet icon from a Facebook app. Go figger!

In any case, it seems to me that it's a boon for everyone when the big players go digital with their records--and by big players, I mean any organization that has a body of records of the type we all seek as documentation for our family lines. I mean people who are in the records business (whether civil or commercial, profit or non-profit).

As for me, I'm what I would call a micro-player--gathering records (from people in the records business!) that pertain to my own lines only. For me it's not business, it's personal. And I'd be lying if I said I was doing it just to pass down to my descendants. If I can stir up their interest, so much the better, but the truth is that I have a hunter-gatherer gene that's tickled by this pursuit. I do it for the pleasure of the hunt.

I have decisions to make, then, along the way. Should I listen and learn from people with more skills, more experience, more credentials? Of course. Should I be grateful for what I learn from them? Most definitely. I am grateful. It's always better to be more informed. But should I then obediently follow all their advice?

Hell, no! I'm a grown-up. It's up to me to weigh what's been offered and make my own choices. I reserve the right to enjoy and/or employ cyberspace to whatever extent works best for me, along with the right to use real paper. Why? Because at this moment I can reach across my desk and pick up a book that was published in 1884, and it still works. Nobody had to take any particular pains to preserve it, and I don't need anything but daylight to be able to use it. Am I glad there's a copy of it in cyberspace? Yes, of course I am, that's how I discovered it and decided I wanted the real thing. And, yippee!, I was able to order the real thing for $25 and about five minutes of my time online, thanks to technology. Yep, technology is great. But am I gonna digitize everything in triplicate, pay to store it in cyberspace until I die or run out of money, and replace it triennially in case it's deteriorating?

Nope. Not today, thanks. But, reader, if it serves your purpose to do so, you go right ahead!


February Accomplishments

I've been working on books this month, as usual, but have extended my deadline for completing the Stone book.

And in the other column . . .

I still haven't vacuumed yet this year. See, the vacuum cleaner needs a new belt and, while I did order and receive said belt, I am still waiting to see if it will crawl in there of its own accord, or if I'm actually going to have to find my Phillips-head screw driver and put it in there myself. I'm all for giving it plenty of time to take the initiative.


Joan said...

perhaps our vacuum cleaners could marry --- they sound like soul-mates.

O and I enjoyed your Ruminations as well.

Cheryl said...

Great post as usual; you are so on point with your thoughts.

As for the vacuuming - well this will surprise you, me being a Virgo and all, but I just vacuumed for the FIRST time since November myself. Can you believe?

T.K. said...

But, Joan, what then? Would they have a litter of little suckers? Or would they just breed dust bunnies?

T.K. said...

Cheryl... NO WAY!!!

Greta Koehl said...

Well, you have just expressed almost my exact thoughts regarding technology, genealogy as an avocation (and why I love it), and using new applications. I love technology and all of the new possibilities it brings, but I like other ways of doing things, too. I'll eventually get a reader so that I can download and buy on the cheap the books that I might not buy otherwise and don't really have the room for. The ones that are important to me will mostly still be paper. I probably won't ever tweet. I love being able to "hunt" from the comfort of my home, but my first research trip has gotten me hooked on that method, too!

T.K. said...

Greta, on one of my research trips, a county clerk gave me the original marriage certificate of my great aunt and her husband, which they'd never picked up. It's one of my coolest genie treasures (they had no descendants to pass it along to).

On another research trip, I was in the deeds office and when I asked the clerk for a copy of a deed, a passser-by heard the surname I was working on. He took me across the street to meet his wife, who is another descendant of my great-grandfather. She called a couple more cousins, and I was taken on an impromptu tour to see my great-grandfather's old home-place, then to their house to see pictures and such, and another cousin came over and brought more stuff to show me. One of them remembered meeting my dad once in the 1940s when he was in the service. When I asked him about it later, he remembered meeting her too.

I like that we live in a time when we can do both real research and virtual research. It would be a shame, and a huge mistake, I think, to assume that digitizing stuff means that the originals can be disposed of, whether we're micro-players or big players.

Thanks for your comment!

Joan said...

TK, your answer to Greta, about your research trips, gave me goosebumps. What a wondrous experience.

T.K. said...

Joan, I so agree!

footnoteMaven said...

You know how I love your writing, technology, books, and those women wearing glasses. Well. . .

Do I love technology because it makes my life easier in the search for those #$%* ancestors who may remain missing forever? No, I love it because I get to read you and my other favorites and talk to other friends around the world. (Who don't roll their eyes as I speak. Or at least I can't see them if they do.)

I search Google books for the interesting bits of history, but I still buy the hold it in my hand book. (That's why the floors need to be reinforced under my office.)

eBay may be convenient, but it is nothing like sitting on an old milk can going through a pile of cabinet cards searching for a woman wearing glasses in an out of the way newly found antiques store.

So, I'm a hybrid-family history. One foot in the real world and one foot in the virtual future. And I don't find the spot uncomfortable.

Hey, I wrote so much I should probably get my own blog.


T.K. said...

Hey, fM, you can write on my blog anytime. You really class up the joint!

It certainly is reassuring to know I'm not the only one who still appreciates real stuff every bit as much as the virtual goodies!

Sheri said...

TK - perhaps you are not doing enough vacuuming naked. (see my blog if this does not sound familiar). My vacuum is trained to change it's own belt.

Great post and I agree that we need to be able to do what we want with our own stuff!

Greta Koehl said...

Well, T.K., I came back to read more comments (I knew that there would be more on this post) and I'm glad I did, especially your response to me!

JL said...

Great post, T.K. It really puts technology and all our (some of ours) hard (dare I say, at times obsessive) work in perspective.

But, hey, I heard the Vacuum Police may be in the neighbourhood. Shhh!

T.K. said...

Sheri, some girls' beasts will do just about anything to get them to vacuum, possibly on the off-chance that they actually will do it naked. You got one of those. Mine, on the other hand, is a different breed. He has vacuum issues. A flip of the switch sends him into attack mode, and not in a good way! No girl in her right mind would leave any delicate body-parts exposed to his particular brand of attentions!

Greta, I kind of expected to take a beating from this post, but it looks like anyone who might have dished it out has already quit reading my blog. Phew!

JL, yes, you dare say obsessive! BTW, I lost a huge chunk of the day at JLog. Have I not been there before? Sheesh, good thing you left me a comment--I had quite an exceptionally fine time not getting my vacuuming done today!

JL said...

Well! If you're going to say such nice things, visit more often.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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