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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Card and name hoarders

Two seemingly unrelated events triggered my thoughts about similar problems. The first was an article in the local East Valley Tribune about hoarders. The article entitled, "Hoarders pile up danger for East Valley emergency crews" discusses the problems encountered by firemen and policemen when they try to enter hoarders' houses. Here is a quote from the article:
Dozens of animals housed in cages or boxes with waste accumulating. Stacks of newspapers and magazines that date back several years. Boxes of books blocking hallways.
Wads of plastic grocery bags, many filled with trash, by walls of crushed cardboard beer cases and empty cans that reach to the ceiling.
These are just a few of the items that firefighters from around the East Valley have encountered in the homes of hoarders, a term recently made more familiar through reality television shows such as "Hoarders" and "Buried Alive." It's an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder people live with as they accumulate and surround themselves with an overwhelming amount of stuff.
Looking at my piles of genealogy documents and other boxes of stored records from businesses, I can utterly relate to all this.

 The second event is the announcement of a new form for the Ordinance Cards used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while doing proxy ordinances for deceased relatives in the Temples. How could these two events be related? It is not such a stretch as it might seem.

In my volunteering at the Mesa, Arizona Temple, I often see hundreds of Ordinance Cards a week.  Now, to understand, in small part, the issue, I have to go back a few years. Beginning in 2007, FamilySearch began to make the website available to members primarily for the purpose of preparing Ordinance Cards for the members' use in the Temple. This action replaced the earlier program called Temple Ready. The cards produced by the old, now completely abandoned, Temple Ready program are only slightly different than the ones produced by the New FamilySearch program. The detail is that the newer cards have a Person Identifier Number, a unique number for each individual in the New FamilySearch database. The Mesa, Arizona area started using New FamilySearch exclusively to prepare cards in early 2008. Temple Ready was discontinued and no further Temple Ready cards have been prepared now locally for about four years.

Elsewhere in the Church these older Temple Ready cards were still being used until about 2010 or so, but now, Temple Ready has been replaced everywhere in the Church. So what is the problem? I still see Temple Ready cards in use regularly at the Mesa, Arizona Temple. I have seen people with brief cases full of cards. In talking to members of the Church, I frequently hear about drawers full of cards. It appears that the hoarding instinct is alive and well in those doing genealogy. It just manifests itself in a slightly different way. The irony of the announcement concerning the new card form, a minor change in the format, is that it may well be that the Temple Ready cards will continue to surface for the rest of my lifetime.

This may seem like a minor problem, but it is symptomatic of a deeper problem with genealogists, that is, name hoarders. To those afflicted with this disorder, it is necessary to have tens of thousands of names in a database, regardless of whether or not the information is accurate or even plausible. I have written about this issue from time to time, but it keeps coming back to me every time I see someone with a huge stack of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of Ordinance Cards. I am also reminded of the problem when I listen to someone tell me how they have over 100,000 names in their genealogy file as if having the names was the ultimate goal of genealogy. I am not talking about mammoth files per se,  but about the acquisition of names for names' sake. I view this as the same insecurity that motivates the hoarders with their houses of used fast food containers.

The purpose of Ordinance Cards is to assist in the performance of the ordinances in the Temples. Once the ordinances are completed, the cards serve no other function since the record of the ordinances is kept automatically by the New FamilySearch program. In any event, whether the completed cards are kept or not is of little consequence. It is the issue of hoarding printed cards where the ordinance work has not been done that is the problem.

Now, I am a collector. I have been collecting things since I was a small child. I have collections of stamps, coins, books, records, sea shells, and quite a few other things. How is a collector different than a hoarder? There is a very fine line, but I think the difference is partly in the identity of the items collected. Hoarders cannot differentiate between useful, valuable items and junk. Collectors are looking for specific unique items with some intrinsic value. Here lies the difference between name hoarders and genealogists. Genealogists value each name, not just as a name, but as a gateway to individual's lives. Accumulating names has no real value and for the most part, the names accumulated by hoarders are equivalent to the used fast food cartons and crushed cans of the house hoarders.

I recognize that there is no way to address this problem with the hoarders themselves. But perhaps, if you or someone you know has this tendency, you might, through love and kindness, help them to overcome this challenging problem. 


  1. Hoarders are people that haven't been seen by the neighbors for a while and the rescuers find their mummified body crushed under enormous piles of junk.

  2. As a non-LDS member I can't easily relate to "name-collecting" but sure can agree on wondering about the fine line between genealogical collecting and hoarding. In my waning years I'm trying to deconstruct my physical files with an eye toward 1) preserving that which will be of interest to my kids/grandkids in the future and 2) what I will need to keep should, between now and "then," I find a majorly-enticing clue and need to reference my collected (hoarded?)research papers for a possible great discovery!

    It's an all-but-impossible task. Yes, everything I have discovered is somewhere on the internet, but not all the clues, old letters, p/c'd lists, etc. that I can't bear to part with. I want to have everything in fine order, in interesting format, when I exit this world. I especially do not want to think of my kids coming into my office with a dumpster and downloading the contents of my file cabinet while uploading a "farewell and good riddance" toast of champagne, which is likely to happen if I don't get it right.

    There is a truth that says shortly after throwing anything away you will need it. I'm not dead yet, and though I'm trying to winnow my files while I can still think straight, it is a really hard decision to make: "Keep?" or "Toss?"

    The writer knows his or her words are like natural-born offspring - and it is so hard to even get rid of the superfluous ones. The genealogist is faced with much the same thing - these papers are my family members and which can I safely dispose of?

    For me the secret is a plan, a plan that must be worked just like a diet if it is to be effective. I devise each year's plan, and then do it. This year I'm taking the physical files pertaining to the Davis family and with an eye toward major condensing, hopefully evaluating realistically how that file will appeal to future family eyes and yet still be of help to me now if the brick wall suddenly develops a crack.

    I've got the next family lined up when the Davis' are done. This should keep me busy for a few years! I don't think I'm a hoarder, but....

  3. I keep the ordinance cards as a backup. As an example, I found three or four names on my new FamilySearch list waiting for ordinances already received years earlier. I was able to find the ordinance cards, scan them, send them into FamilySearch support and have the ordinances recorded properly. However, I have since scanned all my cards so I don't have to keep the hundreds of cards stored physically.