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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Looking where the light is

Years ago there was a Bazooka Joe comic where Mort was looking around on the ground under a street light. Bazooka Joe comes up and asks him what he is looking for. Mort replies that he lost a quarter. "Where did you lose it?" Over there! "Why are you looking under the light pole? Because that is where the light is! This last week at the Mesa Regional Family History Center I ran into this same problem, looking where the light is. I was helping one of the patrons look for information on a death date and place of a great-grandfather from Ontario, Canada and I was showing her how to search in the Family History Catalog by place name. We found a book listing all of the cemeteries of Ontario, so I showed her how to find the book in a library and obtain the book by Interlibrary Loan. At this point, she said, "I don't want a book, I want to find the information online. In other words, she didn't want to look where the information was located, she wanted to look where the light was.

It will be a long cold day in August in Phoenix before all of the information in books and paper records migrates to the Internet. One simple reason is the physical need to scan or copy the information. Another problem is the copyright issue, that is, obtaining the rights to put a book or document online. This takes time and money. One example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has somewhere around 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals; 3,725 electronic resources, but they don't have a copy of some of the genealogy books I have in my own library. So even though they have a huge project to digitize those records, they will probably take a long time to get to some of the books I have.

Another example, I have found copies of paper records in cemetery offices across the country. These records usually concern the purchase of the gravesite, the erection of the monument and other issues. Very, very few of these cemetery records have made their way online. One very large cemetery, Westminster Cemetery in Philadelphia (actually Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County) has only 929 internments in Find-a-Grave out of thousands and no record of any of the dozens of Lintons buried in the cemetery. If you want to know about the Lintons in the Westminster Cemetery, you have to go there.

The irony of the situation with the patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center is that there are over 17,000 books, 126,000 rolls of microfilm and 52,000 microfiche in the Mesa Center. All of which were unavailable to this patron because she wanted to only search online where it was easy to find records.  Let's start looking the dark and dusty places.

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