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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Sunday, July 31, 2011

July Ruminations

I had occasion a couple weeks ago to start from scratch on researching a family. A friend of mine gave me her parents' names and birthdates, and I was curious to see what I could discover online.

Back when I started my research, there was no "online." To get a few census records, it took a four-hour drive to the National Archives branch, and a full day of hand-cranking through reels of microfilm squinting at names in hopes of finding the right ones. Next, vacations had to be planned around going to towns where my ancestors lived to find whatever records could be found there, or you had to mail a request to some librarian or county clerk or whatever, along with a check, in hopes they would find your needed document and mail you a copy when they got around to it. Every nugget of info was so hard-won. It was in times like those that the term "genealogy happy dance" came into being.

So, a couple weeks ago, I sat down at the computer with two names and birthdates in hand, and Ancestry open in one tab and FamilySearch open in another. I had no real idea what was about to happen.

By the end of the day, I had no less than five full generations of my friend's family tree documented with various census records, birth register records, and even a death certificate or two. Wow. I printed out each document, then turned it over and printed out the copied-and-pasted source info on the back. I used old-fashioned paper pedigree charts and family group sheets to build some quick-&-dirty family charts I could refer to as I went along. I also made a document inventory sheet for each direct-line ancestor and marked what documents I'd found for each.

During this process, I had the following thoughts:
  • Wow. Wow. Wow. (rinse and repeat....)
  • Wish I could have made these awesome print-outs right from the start when I was researching my own family tree, with all the source info printed so tidily right on the back!
  • Wish I could have also downloaded image files like these and had them on my computer for easy sharing and easy import to my database.
  • Speaking of which, if I were just now starting my research and my database from scratch, it would be a lot easier to cite sources than it was back in the day.
  • Should I give this to my friend or not? I feel like I've stolen five generations of genealogical discovery, i.e. GENEA-FUN, that she could be having herself.
  • Gosh, it would hardly be 20 years of genea-fun, would it? It wasn't even 12 hours of genea-fun. And really, it was so easily won, and could so easily be redone some other day, and by anyone, honestly, it seems a little less compelling as a pursuit.
My friend has never been interested in genealogy, and she still isn't. I did give her the work I'd done in hopes of sparking an interest, but she decided to pass it along to her genealogically-inclined uncle. He already had the info, of course, but was impressed with the way I'd prepared the documents. 

So, in the end, was it worth the time I spent on it? Most definitely yes! What a fascinating look at the way genealogy has changed in the last twenty years, for better, for worse, and particularly for different! And what a huge level of appreciation I have for all the people who have lent a hand to do scanning and uploading and indexing and all that's required to make records so readily available that twenty years' work can be done in a day.

And most of all, to those of us who did our research the old-fashioned way, before there was "online," I remind us that our labors were not time wasted. It was our interest that spurred the developments that make research a whole different animal today.

But I'm feelin' a little nostalgic for the old-time happy-dance. Didn't it have a little more vigor back then?


Becky said...

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. In some ways, genealogy is "too easy" now - except when you can't find your guy (or gal) in the online records! I cherish the fact that I did much of my research "the old fashioned" way and I really enjoyed the times I did research on-site in courthouses and libraries - getting my hands dirty, so to speak. Research is still fun, online, but like you say - just different.

Carol said...

You sure have nailed this one! I giggled and smiled and nodded my head, yepper! Enjoyed remembering with you, thanks.

Joan said...

TK, you know, sometimes I feel as though I am somehow "cheating" -- and I don't often send for information, unless I reallllly need it -- and never cranked through reels of microfilm. But I have to say, I still thrill to viewing (online) 100+ year old documents that someone has scanned and made available to me. What a wonderful world.

T.K. said...

You're right about that exception, Becky. This whole article would have been different if I hadn't found 'em, huh? LOL!

Greta Koehl said...

It's the "hard-to-find" ones that give me the most joy. I only started genealogy after the change made by online research, but I can still get a thrill from researching the "hard ones" - Smiths in Tennessee and Moores in South Carolina - because the challenge is still there.

T.K. said...

Becky, Carol, Joan, and Greta! I gotta hand it to you for keeping up with your feeds! Do you do it via your Blogger dashboard page, or Google Reader, Networked Blogs, or some other reader, or from your blogroll? My Google Reader is beyond meaningless anymore, there are so many feeds in it.

Carol, I figured this topic would strike a note with my fellow old-timers!

Joan, I know exactly what you mean about that "cheating" feeling, but honestly, I don't think any of us would want to give up the techie advances that make it possible for us to feel that way!

Greta, I don't envy you your Smiths and Moores! After all, I have Kerrs for when it gets too easy, hahaha! Kerrs in Pennsylvania, no less! Oh, yeah.

Apple said...

I didn't start until many records had started to come online but I have done some cranking through film. Easily filling in the names and dates has given me the luxury of spending time to find out more about the lives they led. And I do still have several brick walls that will either sit on the back burner until more records come online or force me to travel far in search of records. A trip to Ireland wouldn't be a bad thing :-)

T.K. said...

No kidding, Apple! We should pack our bags and go before some eager beaver puts all the Irish records online and we have no pressing urgency to go!

JL said...

What I got out of this is that we don't appreciate MAIL the way we used to. Good-old fashioned paper mail. I remember waiting for replies from a pen-pal on the other side of the world arriving by, literally, a slow boat from China. What a thrill when I got one! Now I dread it. It's always bills and don't even get me started on email.

TK said...

JL, you mean you don't want to hear that I've got, at this very moment, 2,559 unopened emails in my inbox? And don't get me started on the wasted paper that the postman leaves in my real mailbox! Almost all of it goes directly into the recycling bin with nothing more than a glance, and that's more than it deserves. But I do have a few friends who surprise me with actual, old-fashioned mail every now and then, the kind with a stamp and real handwriting on the front of the envelope. Still a thrill! :-)

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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