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

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beyond Help

During the Colorado Family History Expo and between the classes that I taught, I sat at the "Ask-the-Experts" desk to help anyone with questions. I guess I would rather characterize the name as "Ask-the-Experienced" because I am not sure what constitutes an expert. I always remember the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who got a certificate signifying that he had some brains. Anyway, I had some very pleasant experiences talking to people about their genealogy and one rather unpleasant experience.

A person came up to the table where I was sitting with a list of dates and sources about an ancestor who lived primarily in the 1800s. The person claimed to have a positive identification of the ancestor in the 1870 U.S. Census. She was searching for birth information in the early 1800s. I noted that the Census showed that the ancestor was living in a particular place at a particular time and suggested a search of local newspapers. She sniffed that she had already searched the newspapers. I was quite surprised because that is uncommon. I went to the Library of Congress Chronicling America site on my computer and searched the database showing the newspapers published in the county during the time her ancestor lived in that area. There were 39 newspapers, 21 of which were actively being published during the time the ancestor was alive.

At this point, she became very offended and began to protest that these newspaper could not have anything about her ancestor. I was beginning to wonder what she was talking about. She wanted to know if she could search the papers online? I suggested several places where the newspapers were available online, including right there in the Library of Congress website. But I showed her how she could click on any of the papers in the list and get a further list of all of the repositories where the newspapers were located, including the state historical society where the ancestor was living. At this point she became visibly offended. I had the temerity to suggest to her that she look in county newspapers for her ancestor and actually go to the state to search!

I suggested she call the repositories to see what arrangements they might have to view the newspapers. At this point she was starting to put away her papers and glaring at me. I tried to show her a sample search by pulling up a newspaper article about one of my own ancestors. There was the name of my great grandfather, identified as a farmer in a small town on a specific date. She continued to glare at me and said, what was I supposed to do with just a name in the newspaper?  I started to explain that having a date and specific location gave the researcher the possibility of finding school, land, probate, court, and many other records, not to mention looking further in the newspapers.

At this point she put away her things and without so much as a goodbye stomped away. I am always so sad when that happens. She was apparently expecting that I would push a button and hand her a birth certificate or something. I suppose I could have handled it better by asking her what she expected to find, but she had already said that she had been looking for years and so apparently didn't consider looking for additional information necessary.

I really think that some people do not get the whole idea of doing research and are beyond help.


  1. Oh dear - definitely beyond accepting good advice. I think you are right that she thought you would have a miracle for her and save the legwork! :-)

  2. I think you offered this lady some amazing help and that she should be very grateful for it. How I would love to visit your booth! Research is just that - RESEARCH. The internet is making things so easy for us today. The thought of actually having to go on a search for something not obtainable with the click of a button is beginning to become obsolete. I love my computer, but give me the joy of the actual document and the smell of a musty old library or courthouse any day! I fear these treasures are going to be lost to us soon.

  3. Your final sentence summed it up quite well! The sad thing is that she had free, experienced, knowledgeable help who gave her very good direction and assistance and she threw it away. Now that is SAD!