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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Technology in genealogical research has its place

If I am scanning old photographs, newer technology is better. It is faster with higher resolution than just a few years ago. If I am searching census records, the new technology that allows me to view images of the census pages online from my home computer is nearly a miracle compared to searching through miles of microfilm. But technology has its place. Unfortunately, not all researchers realize the limitations of the current technology. For example, I now find people who have searched for their ancestors online in one of the large subscription databases, like, and think they are through searching. The same thing happens with FamilySearch and New FamilySearch. I commonly find people who think that all they have to do is look in one database and that is essentially the end of their search for ancestors.

Here are several rules concerning the relationship of genealogical research and technology:

Rule One: Technology is not a substitute for thinking.
There is no software program, Internet site or new tech gadget that will substitute for serious, deep thinking about your genealogical problems and challenges. Many of the newer programs attempt to provide you with expert research assistance. Although, these features may suggest places to look and Websites to visit, they are not a substitute for your own effort and thought. Just because I can load my entire genealogy file on an iPhone or a flash drive, brings me no closer to solving difficult relationship issues. Sometimes the technology merely gets you to the problem quicker.

Rule Two: Technology will fail just when you most depend on it.
Computers, hard drives, digital cameras, iPods, iPhones, scanners and all other mechanical/electrical devices will eventually fail to operate. Storage devices, like flash drives, CDs, DVDs and hard drives can all fail any time. If you become so dependent on technology that you cannot function without it, you will reach a point at which you cannot function at all. Every time you become aware that you are depending on a particular program or piece of hardware, you should re-evaluate your work habits, to make sure you can continue to function despite a catastrophic failure.

Rule Three: Your ancestors did not have TVs, computers, cell phones, scanners digitizers and they still survived long enough to perpetuate your family.
I have to admit that I would not want to give up my electronic gadgets or my Internet connection. Many of the kinds of research I do and the way I preserve my documents involves very high technology equipment. But, I would not die without a computer and I would still be able to do a significant amount of genealogical research. I have been doing research long enough to know that this would be the case. In fact, I miss working in large libraries as much as I used to.

Rule Four: You have to ask the question to get the answer.
Computers do not volunteer information. You have to understand how to ask for what you want from online services and any other technology. Even though a lot of people can operate a computer at a fairly competent level, they may be completely clueless when it comes to doing original online research in valid source material. Properly formulating a question is half of the solution. No matter how advanced the technology, you must still ask the question.

Rule Five: There will always be a newer or faster something, most of time this can be ignored.
Newer and faster does not always mean better. However, change in inevitable. New programs and new sources for information will sometimes mean the older programs and sources are no longer very useful, if useful at all, but this may not always be the case. As an example, there is no need to run out and buy the latest camera if yours is still working and doing an adequate job. Likewise, as long as your computer does what you need done, there is no need to replace it. This does not mean you stick your head in the sand and ignore technological advances, it does mean you make changes to your equipment and programs when you can realize a measurable increase in capabilities. When your perception reaches the point that you believe the computers to be slow, then they have outlived their usefulness.

Rule Six: No matter how easy new software is to use, there will always be someone who cannot understand how to use it.
I am surrounded by people who are, for the most part, entirely adsorbed into the modern world of technology. I am sure our family has well over thirty blogs for example. But I meet people almost every day who cannot operate a computer at all and seem proud of the fact. One nice lady in my class the other day, said, "I know nothing about computers and I am not going to learn." As time passes this type of thinking may become extinct, but now we are being forced cope with those who cannot turn on their own TV programs, much less contribute to the overall world of technology.

My Grandmother lived until I was married with children, but she never flew in an airplane or learned to drive a car in her whole life. Some people just naturally seem to resist change and technology is all about change. Many people my age never learn how to operate any of the new technology at all. They live in a world of technological surprises and often feel constantly threatened. There are probably as many reasons for being technologically challenged as there are people who are so challenged. As genealogists we need to try mightily to overcome technological challenges in order take advantage of all of the extremely useful items and developments that are now appearing.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this article, and am glad that we have the technology, but we also have to think to use it. I am not young, so I do feel stupid regarding new technology, although I sub. to PC World and Smart Computing. Most of my thinking is utilized in writing blogs. Anyway, thank you for this eye-opening article.