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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Give me paper or give me death!

My response is, "Do you really want to be buried in paper?" Some time ago I figured out how much paper it would take to print one copy of my main genealogy file. Estimating about 3 pages per family group record, and taking into account that some of my family group records take over 20 pages to print with all of the sources and including pictures and scans, my best estimate was around 80,000 pages. If I were to print out everything in my file, including the pictures, it would hundreds of thousands of pages. 80,000 pages is a stack of paper more than 13 feet high.

I got thinking about this again after reading a short post by The Ancestry Insider entitled, "Monday Mailbox: Printed Research Guides." (I wish some one would ask me this kind of question, then I wouldn't have to think about what I was going to write). The question involved printing the FamilySearch Research Outlines which are now available on the Wiki portion of the website. The question was, "The state and country research guides have been moved to the FamilySearch wiki. That's a good way to keep them up to date. Unfortunately they've created no way to easily print them. That's a really ill-conceived development. A lot of people like to have printed guides that they can look at when their computers are turned off."

My first reaction was, "You turn off your computer?" Why would you do that? Oh, I guess I have to get back to real life. (Whatever that is). Some people actually do things without having a computer about their person 24 hours a day. (Come on, let's take this question seriously now!).

The Ancestry Insider answers, "Short of that, I think you’re going to be stuck with printing your own. You will have to reset your expectations, settling for a much less desirable solution than afforded in the past. Don’t even think about printing all the pages replacing a hardcopy guide. Be choosy. Print only the articles that you need offline, short term. That’s all I’ve got. Does anyone else have suggestions?"

Yes, I have several suggestions. We had this discussion last night with one of my daughters. The discussion revolved around one of my granddaughter's constant reading habit and the number of books it took to keep it going. Since I have the same habit, only much more serious because of the long term effects, I have to face that problem. The main problem with reading books and research materials on my desktop computer is just that, it is on the desktop and I am not usually reading at my desk, I am working.

The solution, suggested by The Ancestry Insider, was to print off selected portions of the materials you want to read. However, I hope you do not have an inkjet printer because you will soon go broke trying to buy ink cartridges. From my perspective, sitting here in a room stuffed with paper in piles, boxes and on shelves, printing off transitory research documents or interim family group records is no longer an option.

Another solution involves more technology: iPads, Kindles and Nooks. My daughter had seen a Kindle from for the first time and was amazed that she could actually imagine reading a book on the device. For this reason, iPads are an interesting solution. iBooks, the Apple reading application, will also read PDF files. invented PDF (portable document format) to give a nearly universal way to preserve documents for reading online. All you have to do is save or print the document as a PDF and then all of the information will be there just like the original and then transfer it to the iPad when you synchronize it with your main computer and voila! the document is ready to read. Amazon gives the following information about reading PDF documents on a Kindle:

In addition to the commercially available titles sold in the Kindle store, you can also read personal documents on your Kindle (1st Generation). Each Kindle has a unique e-mail address, allowing you and your contacts to send attachments (Word and picture files) directly to your Kindle for a small fee or to your default Amazon e-mail account for free. Please refer to the links below for more information.
Here is a YouTube video about reading PDF documents on a Nook:

Here is another video showing reading a complex PDF document on the iPad:

I realize you are probably saying, but I don't want to read on a machine. Well, my suggestion is that people who say this probably have never tried it. So, if you simply refuse to try it, try to get a wholesale license so you can buy the ink and toner. 


  1. Not everyone has the option to use an e-reader/iPad, whether due to personal choice, financial, or medical reasons. Though it isn't feasible to print everything out, I find I personally can only read from a screen for so long (especially after having used one all day at work). I have an (ahem) reading habit as well, but my library keeps me well stocked...and what they don't have, I can usually ILLO.

    Working from a set of guidelines (proof standard, ngs standards, etc.), genealogy has always allowed its' members to be very fluid about how they research/organize/present their materials, from all-paper to completely paperless and everything in between. Yes, the times change and technology has decreased our dependence on paper, but there will always be someone who wants/needs a hardcopy.

    And really, is a little box any substitute for the feel of soft, supple pages in your hand, whether the lastest bestseller, a children's picture book (babies can't nibble on an ereader like they can a board book), or an old county history? Not for me it isn't...and yes, I have tried a Kobo and an iPad.

  2. I don't print out much any more, but one advantage of hard-copies is the ability of the owner to mark up margins with comments and corrections. I understand highlighting is possible in some file formats, but that's a very limited form of editing (an understandable restriction because of copyright). Research aids are used in ways that go beyond mere reading.

  3. I will eventually wean myself away from total dependence on paper, but for certain things, especially books that I really love and/or use all the time, it's my preference. Eventually more casual reading and resources that I only need to make limited use of will go on an iPad, probably through Kindle app. But I do understand what you have pointed out, that printing all of our genealogy files is just not possible or even desirable.

  4. I am always up for new technology but wonder about it over the years. Will we be on a constant technology update to transfer our records and worry that at some point in time will our files become obsolete and someone in the future be unable to read them?

    But I must admit that being relativly new to genealogy I do not have boxes of files to sort and record.

    I have my electronic files backed up and paper ones too.