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.
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?