There are many ways we are getting stuck on technology. This past week, I was working with a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and suggested that she would find a lot more records than those that were easily obtainable online. I could see her shoulders sag in disappointment. I doubted that she would do anything more in genealogy until she decided to spend the time and effort away from the marvelous machine.I also read the title to a news article about becoming addicted to the Internet. I couldn't help wondering that spending 10 or more hours a day typing into a computer wasn't some kind of affliction.
These seemingly unrelated incidents started me thinking about the real place of technology in genealogical research. I commonly hear statements about how few of the world's records have yet to put online, but I think that most researchers, especially those starting out, have a tendency to ignore any possible record not already online. One indication of this is that the microfilm usage in our Family History Center has plummeted. We used to have more than twenty machines and many of them were in use almost all the time when the Center was busy. We now have less than 1/3 that number and they are hardly used. Has the amount of information online really gotten so great that there is no need to order in microfilms? I think not. Just think about it. The Family History Library has over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. So far, looking at the site in September, 2011, there are about 794 Collections on FamilySearch.org. Granted, some of these collections incorporate a large number of microfilms but let's suppose there are as many as 5000 microfilm rolls represented by the collections now online. That is far, far less than one percent of the total number of microfilm rolls. One percent would be, of course, 24,000 rolls. Maybe that many have been scanned but at 30 minutes a roll, it would require a single scanner 142 years of constant scanning to scan 2.5 million rolls. I know they have more than that number of scanners working, but 2.4 million is a very large number.
Now, think about it. FamilySearch and its predecessor the Genealogical Society of Utah, have been microfilming (now digitizing) records since 1938. What percentage of all of the world's records do you think they have microfilmed in all that time? I would guess a very small percentage since there are huge repositories such as the U.S. National Archives that have barely been started to be digitized.
The point is paper and pencil genealogy is far from dead. Microfilm is still one of the best sources for finding source documents from all over the world. There are still a huge number of documents mustily residing in court houses, church record rooms, and storerooms all over the world. Using only the Internet to do genealogy is like trying to build a house with a power saw. Its a great tool, but only if you have a whole tool room full of other tools to help. I realize that there are a still a lot of people who get out of the computer chair and hit the road looking for ancestors, but I fear that the constant emphasis on how many records are going online is giving some (read a lot) of genealogists the idea that if you don't find what you are looking for online, then you are dead in the water, especially because the court house burned down.
Go to the library. Go to all the libraries. Check out the records in the courthouses, Contact local newspapers for old copies. Look in graveyards. Talk to cemetery sextons. Take to morticians. Check out the local genealogical society's records. Go to the nearest Family History Center and look at their books for a change. Go to a genealogical library. Take a trip to the National Archives. Do you get the idea?
Oh, by the way. Did you see the huge number of records they put on FamilySearch.org this week?
One last comment. No I am not abandoning my computer or the Internet. I think failing to check out the available sources online before you get in your car and start driving is like building a house in a swamp without a foundation. Just don't give up when you can't find anything online.