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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More Unanswered Questions

Some years ago, I posted a short list of some of my unanswered questions. I am here to report that over the intervening years a few of those questions have become irrelevant or outdated, but the rest are still unanswered. Since that blog post, as they say, a lot of water and few other things have gone under the bridge and now I have a lot more unanswered questions.

I am still starting my classes by asking those in attendance if they have any questions about the known or unknown universe and I am still getting the same blank looks from those in the class. I am not sure now if they are weighing my sanity or just don't have any questions. But usually, after a few minutes of thought, there are a few questions. I do have a lot of questions and, as I mentioned in the old post, some are serious and others not so serious. Here go the questions for today. But in this post, I am going to expand on these questions somewhat.

1. Why am I still writing this and my other blogs?

Comments: I am still observing a decided change in the amount and content of blog posts about genealogy. I have decided that there is only a limited number of new and interesting topics to write about and most bloggers seem to get discouraged in coming up with new material to write about. As you can probably guess, I don't seem to have that problem, but some ideas and topics do get recycled regularly. Genealogy is rapidly changing with the technology and the times and there aren't a lot of things you can say on Instagram or Twitter that are going to maintain the interest of those now becoming more interested in the topic.

2. How many genealogists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Comment: With many things in our world, technology is affecting lightbulbs. I am pretty certain that my grandchildren will not get this question at all for the reason that they may never see a lightbulb replaced.

3. What happens to all the microfilm in the world when there are no microfilm readers?

Comment: See. I told you that some of these questions were serious. Unfortunately, you will have to figure out which ones are and which ones aren't. Microfilm needs a specialized machine to be read. If you have visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, you may have noticed that the number of microfilm readers has dropped considerably and their use has also dropped considerably. Microfilm readers are mechanical devices and they will ultimately break down. I have been hearing reports for some time now about the lack of replacement parts. How will we access the microfilm that never gets digitized without readers?

4. Where is Carmen Sandiego and who were her parents?

Comment: You can probably guess that most of my real questions revolve around the impact that technology has had and will continue to have on genealogy and genealogical research. Perhaps, as those who grew up with computers, get older, the issue of the effect of technology will become about as obvious as the effect of automobiles on American culture. You might not be aware but Netflix is considering releasing a Carmen Sandiego series. Perhaps Netflix will do a series on genealogy?

5. When was the last time you went to a major genealogy conference?

Comment: OK, I realize that this question does not really follow the rules of my own game. But it is a serious question and not a silly one. With another session of #RootsTech 2018 coming online, I might note that for every major genealogy conference still being held, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of online webinars. It is not a trivial observation that some of my own webinars from the BYU Family History Library have more views than the entire attendance at a major genealogy conference. There are still a number of good reasons to go to a major genealogy conference but maybe no longer a need to go. I think the promoters of the larger conferences are struggling with that reality.

6. How does genealogy compete with cats and dogs?

Comment: This is another really serious question but rather obscure at the same time. We have been doing presentations at the BYU Family History Library and posting them on for some time now. We have garnered some respectable numbers of views compared to the rest of the online and video producing genealogical community but compared to many of the "popular" videos on YouTube, we are definitely small potatoes. An instructional video about how to fix a faucet can get more views in a few weeks than all of our 300+ BYU videos in three years. The reality is that genealogy is a pretty obscure subject. 

7. Can genealogy survive online family trees?

Comment: No comment.

8. Why do governments keep trying to protect the privacy of dead people?

Comments: One of the recurring topics in the genealogical community is the actions taken by various governments and governmental agencies to restrict access to genealogically important records. In some cases, this is an attempt to rewrite history, but mostly it is a ploy to get more revenue from selling us back our own family's information.

9. If I reach a brick wall, can't I just make up the rest?

Comment: At this point, I realized that my questions really were all serious. I guess I don't have much silliness in me today.

10. If a genealogical record falls in a forest, does it make a sound?

Comment: Here is the answer to the question from Wikipedia:
Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that 'the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.' To this Bohr replied that however hard he (Einstein) may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of an infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved.
That is enough for today. 


  1. Regarding question eight, one reason cited by health department officials (i.e., the people who create the death certificates) is that if death certificates do not have a closure period then the living will pressure doctors to be untruthful or unnecesssarily vague about the medical cause of death. Thus making health statistics generated from the death certificates' raw data less useful to scientists studying disease prevention.

    1. How many times has this actually happened? Most of these types of reasons are excuses or justifications rather than real issues. The issue of accurate reporting is not directly related to the availability of death records.