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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I am getting old fast. What can I do about it?

My somewhat usual disclaimer: If you are younger than I am, I do not expect any sympathy. If you are older than I am, do not expect any from me. If you are a lot younger than I am, remember to respect your elders and be kind. We got here in old age simply by living a long time and are not really at fault for our condition. The fact that some of us are genealogical fanatics only makes being old a complicating factor. If you are much, much younger, don't try to laugh off old age. It isn't really very funny, TV to the contrary.

In the past three days, I have presented 10 separate classes for a total of 10 hours of teaching. Not surprisingly, I got very tired and had to take a recuperative nap to keep going. There was a time when I could have taught twice as long with absolutely no effect and not needed a nap. I can probably chalk up my current lack of stamina to a lack of physical exercise and incipient old age. But in looking around at the genealogists in my classes, I see that most of us have the same issues. We are not as young as we once were and will likely have to learn how to pace ourselves.

So how do we do genealogy and at the same time cope with creeping old age?

I decided to put my answers in the form of resolutions which I will likely promptly forget, but need to be made.

Resolution No. 1: I resolve to get up and walk around the room at least every hour to make sure I still can. 
I have been reading some horror stories of the effects of prolonged sitting and perhaps they are true. If they are, writing on a computer for 12 to 14 hours a day is probably puts me in the critical risk category.

Resolve No. 2: I resolve to try to remember all of my grandchildren's names at least once a day. 
I have 32 and it takes about 30 seconds or so to run through all the names. This is is my check for incipient dementia. Although usually about half way through the list, I remember something I have forgotten to do or come up with another blog topic and get sidetracked out of the whole task and end up back at the computer writing furiously.

Resolve No. 3: I resolve to do more of my own genealogy in the future. 
This really doesn't have anything to do with growing older per se. It does however have a lot to do with how much "time on target" I still have left to do the work I need to finish or get mostly done. If you are not familiar with the term "time on target" you probably did not spend as much time in the Army as I did.

OK, enough of that. The real reason for this post is the background question of how to involve the youth in genealogy so that there is a new generation of genealogists that will carry on where we leave off when we all check out one way or another. As I looked out over the people yesterday, that was one of my many thoughts. Each of these people, to a greater or lesser extent, is going to spend time accumulating some genealogy about their families. What will happen to all that work when they (and we all) die?

I know that in some cases this is a matter of very small consequence both to the individual involved and the individual's family. This would be the results if the information consisted primarily of copies of easily obtained documents and a minimal pedigree that could easily be reconstructed from online sources. But what about the core of the real hoarders among us, including myself and many other I know about. We have mountains of paper and huge complicated computer files. A very few of us have collections of documents and paper that deserves preservation in a formal archive, library or other repository, but for the most part those of us will less well connected pedigrees have documents valuable to only future family members. How do we face the oceans of antipathy towards genealogy, built up in our families and those surrounding us?

I did a quick mental count and I would guess that between my wife's genealogy papers and my own, we likely have close to fifty banker's boxes of paper and more than 3 TBs of scanned documents and photographs not to mention all the stuff I have online. I am sure that there are many out there with more or similar piles to deal with. This is a major ongoing issue and needs to be addressed in an organized and consistent manner. There are social, legal and other consequences that are very much unresolved and unaddressed in both our families and our society at large.

I would propose that this subject become a regular topic of discussion. I don't know if we need to form yet another group online, but all aspects of the questions facing our genealogical community and the ongoing transition of genealogical data from one generation to the next is an overriding topic. Let's suppose that FamilySearch and other organizations were successful in awakening some degree of interest in "family history" or whatever among those of the younger generation. What are the young people going to do about the mountains of paperwork they inherit from us? Throw it in the nearest dumpster? Do these young people really want to face organizing and curating mountains of paper, especially if they don't even know how to read the cursive they are written in?

Does FamilySearch and the rest who are in the process of engaging the youth have some sort of idea how they are going to keep from losing their present legacy of genealogists by abandoning basic research skills in favor of modified online computer games aimed at engaging the youth in genealogy?

Maybe it is time we acknowledge the fact that the stories, photos and documents that the youth are trying to put online are coming from the efforts made by a vanishingly small group of old people who are now being abandoned to their devices in an effort to engage the youth. Maybe we need to focus on preserving these important accumulations of documents in the possession of old folks like me across the world in addition to and as the basis for having a new generation of young people who can do more than play computer games.

The challenges consist of really serious legal, social, organizational and cultural issues that are presently only being discussed in the periphery of the genealogical community. The question is simply this:

How do we preserve what we already have in the way of our genealogical heritage including paper, digital and oral history and still add younger adherents to the genealogical community? How many of the young people at RootsTech 2014 or otherwise went home and called their grandparents to tell them they would like to help with all the genealogy they had? I am still waiting for mine to call and none of mine went to RootsTech 2014. Will the same thing happen to my genealogy records as happened to my Great-grandmothers' records? That the records were neglected for two generations until I found them and partially preserved them? Yes, I too was once young and clueless. Fortunately, I started this epic journey into the world of genealogy while still in my 30s and didn't wait until I "retired" when all of the documents and photos would have been permanently lost.

OK FamilySearch and all you others out there. Listen Up. What about all the huge amounts of data you already have out here in genealogy land? What are you going to do about it? Youth are great. Involving the youth are great. But are they going to have to redo everything that has already been done simply because old genealogist are no longer worth worrying about? Are we all in favor of dumping the old guys in favor of the computer game generation? Can't we both work together to accomplish the work we need to do?


  1. Love this topic - I think about it often! I will inherit my parent's family history records, which are plentiful - but my children will not want to dedicate a room to preserve the books, letters, photo and boxes of family records. I need a plan, so let's keep the discussion going!

  2. Did you notice that most of the attendees at RootsTech2014 were wider and thicker than good health would suggest?

    1. Yes, the present rather rotund blogger included!

  3. It was your class at the Family History Expo in Colorado Springs last year that brought this matter to my attention, James. I've felt almost panicky about getting my research scanned and online for my descendants. I don't have the volume you have, but I have more than my only son will want to drag home. Two boxes is one box more than he wants or his wife will allow. I'm disappointed, but I do understand. I will need to take apart my 3-ring binders each dedicated to ancestors and scan them. I'm uploading all of it to Dropbox and backing up many places. Hope I live long enough to get that done. But I don't know what you'd do with the volume you possess, James! By the way, I LOVED this article because it's on my mind daily. Thank you for writing about this.

    1. That is one advantage of FamilySearch Family Tree, because it is not fee based, the information will persist despite loss of the payments. There are other options also, publication is one of them and donation to a library or other institution in another.