Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Computer skills and genealogy

I taught a class recently at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and encountered a common issue: lack of computer skills. When I was a lot younger it was common for people to not know how to drive a car. My mother and my mother-in-law both learned to drive years after they were married. I don't recall ever seeing my grandmother drive a car, even though she might have known how and had a license. My grandmother would never fly in an airplane but that is another story. It is now a given that almost everyone knows how to drive (oh well, some better than others). Surprisingly, even in our almost saturated computer age, many people have little or no computer skills.

I always maintain that one of the very few things I learned in high school was how to type. I cannot imagine trying to communicate with today's world without the ability to use a keyboard. But there I was trying to teach a class when the student was hunting down each letter on the keyboard. My initial task was to register him for New FamilySearch. Registration requires a login and a password. Think about it, how can you communicate with the computer if you can't type in your login and password? Anyway, the next challenge was the fact that registration for New FamilySearch is completed when FamilySearch sends you and E-mail message confirming your registration. Guess what? He did not have a working e-mail account. Think about how long it takes to sign up for an e-mail account? A few minutes? Not if you don't know how to type.

Why didn't I just give up and send him back to work on his genealogy with paper copies? Well, if you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the only way you can complete ordinance work for your ancestors is to go online. Either you have to do it yourself, or find someone who will sit there with you and type it all into New FamilySearch. In short, at least for LDS members, you can't do genealogy without some rudimentary computer skills.

So, if you do not have computer skills how do you obtain them? Most children in school now learn keyboard skills in early grades. But unless a child or adult has some interest in computers and some self motivation, it is unlikely that they will learn much about the operation of various computer programs without some kind of formal instruction. Most computer users know just enough to get along unless their job or personal interests force them to learn more.

This lack of computer skills presents a formidable barrier to some people's involvement with genealogy. As I taught the class to that man, I could just see the pain in his eyes. He was totally overwhelmed. He was motivated to find out about his family but didn't realize that he was going to have to acquire a whole lot of computer skills just to find out what work had already been done. Although I tried to soften the blow, I could only hope he didn't give up the idea altogether.

Where do you go to learn? You go to school. Just like you would go to a driver training class to learn how to drive, you go to a computer class. Try your local community college, try adult education classes, try finding a friend or relative who would be willing to teach you. Buy a self tutoring typing program. There are a lot of ways to learn.

Hmm. I just realized. If you don't have any computer skills you probably aren't reading this post.

1 comment:

  1. My mother-in-law doesn't know how to drive, and she certainly can't operate a computer. If I didn't know better, I would wonder if the 2 skills go hand-in-hand.

    I taught myself how to use a computer. I had taken Typing in 8th grade on a real, non-electric typewriter (remember those?), so I already knew how to "keyboard" at 70+ WPM. I sat down at a computer and took tutorials, learned word processing, spreadsheeting, database design, web design... all by my little self. If a person wants to learn something, he/she can. He/she just has to want it badly enough to DO it. It's all about the motivation.

    BTW, I'm pretty sure that my mother-in-law doesn't drive because she doesn't want to. Sometimes it's just easier to ask someone else to do it for you. Just my 2 cents. :-)