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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Computer Expertise vs. Genealogical Expertise

Before about 1980 law offices in Phoenix were entirely paper driven. My workflow included dictating letters to a secretary (now called legal assistants) and then waiting to see the draft, then rewriting the draft and then having the original typed with several carbon copies. We had boxes and boxes of carbon paper. Eventually, the process changed slightly when we got a very expensive copy machine.

In the world of Court trials, we were constantly worried about the "original" document, whether it be a note, a contract, a will or some other document. I remember standing in court on innumerable occasions requesting leave of the Court to substitute a copy for the original. Many cases were decided on the issue of whether or not we could produce the "original" document.

Fast forward to today. I never do dictation. I type all my own documents on the computer. I haven't worried about an "original" document for some time. We routinely use copies of documents in Court without so much as a comment on the fact that we have a copy not the original. The only Court hearing that are concerned with originals are will probate cases. Our workflow is simple. I type the document. My legal assistant prints it off. I sign the document and she sends it out. The difference is computers. We usually do not make multiple copies, but send the copies by email to the clients and others. Every document that comes into our office is scanned and stored in the client file on a computer. I can look at any document, any time from anywhere. (I wish).

What is even more dramatic is that all legal research is done online. I used to spend day after day at the law library. I haven't been to a law library, except to use the restroom, for years. Just recently, the Maricopa County Superior Court ordered that ALL pleadings and documents had to be efiled, that is electronic copies not paper copies are filed with the court. The days of standing in line at the filing clerk are also almost over.

Now, if these types of dramatic workflow changes have come to a traditional and very conservative profession like law, what do you think genealogical research will be like in a few years? If you want to know how conservative the law is, look at your personal will, if you have one. Then look at a will written in the 1600s, notice any similarities? Yep, we are still using the same language. I still know lawyers who cannot type and do not use a computer! But they will die off soon.

Right now in genealogy we are in the same transition, but for most, they are still struggling with the change from a paper based system to a computer based system. But where is the balance are computer skills going to be the deciding factor or will genealogical skills still predominate? Will there ever be a balance between the two?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently began an initiative to involve the youth, with their computer skills, in the world of genealogy. They have a new website called Youth and Family History. One of the areas emphasized is that the youth can help "older" less computer literate people with their online genealogy. Obviously and appropriately, much of what they talk about is religiously oriented, but the core idea here is that younger people have the computer skills to "do" modern or post-modern genealogy.

Last time I checked despite the hoopla and ads on TV, genealogy hadn't gotten any easier. It is still a difficult and very complex subject of study. By the way, so are computers. With respect to the youth, I think older people tend to mistake game playing and texting ability for true computer skills. It is true that some youth have complex computer skills, I just don't happen to know any and I know hundreds of young people through our Church's youth programs including Scouting. I have taught dozens of genealogy classes to huge groups of youth and in every class there are usually only one or two young people that have more than very rudimentary computer skills. Who will move genealogy into the 21st Century? Right now, in my opinion, it is not the youth. Many older people who know very little about computers are impressed with a younger person who can plug in devices and turn on a TV or video game. Big deal. What has that got to do with doing research online?

For the time being, the lawyers who don't know computers can still do some law, but not for long. How long will it be before the same thing happens to genealogists?

OK, I ran out of time. I guess I will go on with this subject. I am starting a huge scanning project of local cemetery records so I might be a little slower than usual in posting.

1 comment:

  1. This is a comment on the ideas behind this entire series.

    I am a middle-level computer user (I began in 1982 with the Timex-Sinclair at home and moved to an Apple IIe — with it's "whopping 64 K memory" at the office and then at home in 1984.) At that time my boss credited me with "single-handedly" bringing our department into the computer age. She exaggerated, but I WAS enthusiastic and I wasn't terrified. Also I was in my late 50s and female, upsetting the idea that computers were the domain of young males.

    My point is that for a half century I had done my thinking on paper; I still do. I don't write easily, so I draft my blogs on paper, then do a rewrite in a word processor, and a second rewrite as I copy this into my blog program. (Then I copy-edit the blog.)

    I wasn't able to get truly started with my genealogy search until I had a good software program. I use online facilities as much as possible and scan paper findings, city directory entries, and so on into the computer as fast as I am able to do so. I am beginning to learn to use metadata as part of my computer organization.

    In the meantime, I feel more secure with paper copies that I can pull out and consult. I may never outgrow this feeling; I am now in my 80s and paper has ruled my life. I AM saving things to computer before I make the paper files, but I cling to the "security" of paper.

    Please be easy on us "old fogies" who cling to what we have always known.

    Thank you for an interesting series.