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

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Taming the tide of digitization in genealogy -- Part Two

Trying to keep up with changes in the digital world pertaining to genealogy is an endless task. But there are ways to profit from all of the documents coming online. My first rule was patience. There is a growing perception among casual genealogical researchers that "everything" they need should be online. My second rule is perseverance. I find people regularly who think that if they don't find what they are looking for in then their search is over.

In the past, new researchers were commonly given a chart showing where to go next.  Here is a link to a chart called "Selecting Record Types."  Even though all or some of the records may be online, this chart is still applicable. Yesterday, I was working with a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center who was looking for an uncle, one of her mother's brothers. She had his name and an approximate date of birth, but seemingly no information on where he lived or died. She believed he lived in Pennsylvania and so that is where we started looking. We found someone with the same name and whose wife had the same name as she remembered, but she automatically dismissed them as unrelated because they were living in another state, Ohio I believe. However, we also determined that part of the family lived in Mercer county. Guess what? Mercer county is right next to Ohio. I couldn't get her to look at the family in Ohio, because "They didn't live in Ohio." She kept saying they lived near Pittsburgh. Well, I finally left her to look through the long list of names that came up on and said good luck.

In finding ancestors, either online or in a records repository, you need perseverance to follow up on every lead, even if what you are finding does not fit into your preconceived notion of where or when the family may have lived. When searching online, be aware that the indexes are unreliable and you may have to look at more records than you think apply just to make sure you aren't missing something that is simply mislabeled. In doing a search in, for example, try searching on the surname only, or try alternative spellings, or search on other family members, or the wife's maiden name. Persevere in trying to locate the record. By the way, the same techniques apply to paper records also.

That same patron also refused to consider alternative spellings of her ancestor's name. She kept correcting me when I suggested that this family might be the one. No, she said, "that isn't how they spelled their name." That was the end of that discussion. I wonder how many years people waste with that attitude?

Perseverance also means that you go back and check to see if any more records have been added online since your last search. Just because you failed to find anything a year ago does not mean that the records have not been added since.

Use the computer's strengths to find the records. Computer programs, by and large, use what is called a "string search" to find any text matching the search terms. Some search engines ignore capitalization, some do not. Some search engines ignore extra spaces, some do not. You have to begin to think like a programmer to actually start having success in finding things online. Just like you need to start to think like a cataloger to find things in a library. Unfortunately, this skill can only be learned by a lot of experience. You cannot expect to sit down at a computer and find what you want unless you have spent some time looking and "getting a feel" for how things may be found.

There is hope in finding records online, but after all is said, remember, that it will be a long time before all of the genealogy records are online and we still need to go to books and other paper and microfilm records for the present.

1 comment:

  1. When I come across customers/clients who refuse to consider alternative spellings or locations I give them the name of the local quilt shop and suggest they take up quilting. They often look at me in amazement - then I explain that by ignoring ALL the options they surely are setting themselves up to "fail". Suprisingly enough most of them reconsider and come around.