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

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What is news in the context of genealogy?

Since genealogy and family history are all about historical records, what is really news in the context of genealogy? I have thought a lot about that question the last few months while writing this blog and I have come to some conclusions.

In teaching classes each week, I find that many of the attendees are blissfully unaware of online resources. Frequently, someone will ask for assistance and tell me that they are on their way to some distant location to find out about their ancestors. In the recent past, I have had people on their way to Poland, Germany, Ireland, and many locations in the United States. Now, I certainly wouldn't mind traveling to my ancestors' birthplaces, but I wouldn't expect to find any real genealogical information, other than a photograph or so without a lot of preparation. Its not that I want to discourage genealogical travel, but I do think that it would help the cause of research to know a little bit about what was already available and what might be peculiarly available only at the source location.

For example, I happen to know that there are lot of records available in Rhode Island in the State Archives at the Westminster Street facility and in some individual town repositories. But I am not going to travel all the way from Arizona to Rhode Island on the chance that I might find something I don't already know or couldn't find either online or at a closer facility like the Family History Library. After I have identified very specific research goals, I can then travel to the distant location for further search. I have done this with many locations both in Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and many other locations.

It is a fact that millions of new records are going online every year. Many records unavailable in the immediate past are now indexed and digitized online. Part of the function of genealogical "news" is to make the availability of these new records known so they get used and so people don't spend time and money traveling to find records they could have researched at home.

Another reason for news is to update the technology of computers and the Internet that may impact genealogy and family history. Tools from the iPhone to new Websites and new software programs may all give a little extra help to the researchers. In the past few years more and more genealogists and family historians have been sharing their families online and collaboration avoids duplication of effort.

Every so often, there is some new development, either in technology or software that fundamentally changes the way the whole genealogy world works. Computers in general had that impact, as did the Internet. Now, although the changes might not be so earth shattering, there really are new things happening, like New FamilySearch/Family Tree Project and the FamilySearch Indexing Project with the new records going on the Record Search Pilot. Because of the huge volume of records being added to these sources, they will eventually have a tremendous impact on the availability of records and the possibility of collaboration.

Important developments don't happen every day. Identifying an ancestor after years of research is an exciting event but not likely to affect many more people other than the researcher. On the other hand, the day to day events and changes are important collectively. All of the blogs, tweets and Facebook posts add to the sum knowledge of the genealogical community. Small events add up to major changes.

What I am trying to do is give one small window into the world. I know I can't possibly keep up with everything. But I can do a little bit and add to the whole. Let's all keep on keeping on.

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