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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Let's Call It Diligent Digging

I encountered some interesting contrasts this week. As I work digitizing documents in the Maryland State Archives, I see the same lady sitting at the same desk doing research day after day. She spends most of the day looking. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I talked to another lady who came into the Annapolis Family History Center who came in "for a few minutes" to look for a brick wall ancestor who she "had been looking for for years." Hmm. I wonder if genealogy can be done in 5-minute increments or if it takes a little more time than a quick search online?

I have a photo of the card catalog at the Maryland State Archives Reading Room for a purpose. This set of 3 x 5 cards is the catalog for the Archives. I started looking is this vast collection of cards and decided to ask if the contents of the catalog were online. No such luck. Some of the cards have been digitized but the process of finding the records in all the subject categories involves a card by card search through multiple divisions of the catalog in several cabinet sections. When I first looked at the card catalog, I saw that the drawers had surnames in alphabetical order. But then I realized that each of the multiple sections started a new set of alphabetized cards. There are about thirty or so sections. What this means is that if you want to find a document relating to your ancestor, you would have to look through each of the multiple catalog sections individually.

Now, what if you were searching for an ancestor in Maryland? Since we are digitizing the probate records, some of the most valuable records in existence, you are not going to find these records online for a while. But we are digitizing only the probate records for this project and it is taking years with multiple cameras and dozens of volunteers to work on the process. As I was sitting and looking at the books, the card catalog, and the massive shelves of archival material in my view, I became overwhelmed with all the information that was available and the relatively short time I have left in my life to do research.

I am pretty sure that those people who promote genealogy as a "pass time" or a fun activity have ever spent 8 hours a day, five or six days a week looking at microfilm or pulling books off the shelf of a large library. Genealogy is work. It is captivating, challenging, interesting, and rewarding but it is still a lot of repetitious work.

As I talked to the lady in the FHC who ended up spending more than an hour, I outlined some of the records she could start to look at. She was actually far from a dead end or brick wall. She hadn't even looked at every applicable census record much less all of the other possible records that might be readily available. She had no idea of the existence of all the other records that might take time or a trip to find.

Why are we afraid to promote genealogy as work? Why does it have to be easy and fun? Maybe we need to emphasize the rewards that come from persistent dedication and searching for a long time rather than the quick and easy part of the work.


  1. I so agree with you. Why ARE we so afraid to refer to genealogical research as work? Why do we have to keep telling everybody that it's fun and easy? I don't think that anybody who's actually done genealogical research beyond what would be considered the low-hanging fruit would say that it was easy. Nearly all of us would say that it's fun, challenging, interesting, captivating, any number of those types of adjectives and descriptive words. I don't think it's from those who are involved in genealogy that we hear that it is easy. Although, it is much easier than it used to be when considering the amount of records that are coming online everyday, and the speed with which we can now contact courthouses and receive answers from them.

    1. I very much agree as you can tell from my writing.

  2. got to get folks interested in genealogy first, which usually means quick and easy. If I'm at all typical, I wasn't ready to do anything which took a long time when I first started. When the love of the work and the desire to know ancestors or find the lost or provide sacred ordinances gets into the heart, then the hard work is no longer a deterrent.