In researching your family tree, most people will come to a point where geographic location or a lack of digitized resources available online has your research at a standstill. To make a sweeping generalization, for the most part, our families rarely stayed in one place their whole lives and the chances that we, as family tree researchers, now live in those towns is slim. We live all over the world and do most of our research utilizing resources available online. The digitization of records and genealogical resources has opened wide the doors for the potential of tracking down our ancestors from the comfort of our living rooms.
We can now find vital records, census records, military records and much more dating back long before we were ever even a consideration, right from our laptops. This is not to diminish the importance and excitement that on-the-ground physical research can bring us. Just last week, I took a drive out to an old church in Missouri. I was able to page through their records dating back to the early 1800′s, take pictures and revel in the history that I was surrounded by. It is a very exciting feeling seeing and touching what seems like ancient texts and crumbling papers and knowing that this is a rarity since more often than not, the records we get to see are transcripts or scanned to be viewed online. I find these experiences to be exhilarating and a big part of why I enjoy genealogical research so much and why I have such a great fascination (obsession?) with historical documents and research.
It just seems that in our fast-paced, always on the run, every day lives, traveling for the purpose of genealogical research and having the time necessary to fully research and evaluate the resources in these old towns, is nothing more than a “maybe one day” dream, if that. Most of our research, if not all, is dependent upon the information and resources available to us on the internet. After that, we’re left waiting, anxiously, for the records to be put online, or at the disposal of those who are local to the areas that we are trying to research.
I have seen a few different blog posts this week about sharing your genealogical research and or going out of your way to help others in their search for their ancestors. There is little doubt that sharing can be helpful to others and also that it would make you feel good to help someone else out. Karen Bellmer’s post talks about “paying it forward” through sharing the historical and genealogical resources that we find with others. Her article can be found here. It makes sense! As family tree researchers, we have all benefited from the research of others and or the meticulous record keeping of someone. Without it, many of our ancestors would have been long ago forgotten, the records of the their lives lost or destroyed. Someone had to make the record, someone else maintained it, and perhaps someone else found it. Regardless, it is there.
Records, family bibles, letters, stories and pictures that were once cherished by our ancestors are often now left without a home. Maybe a random descendant has them up in their attic or they might be sitting in storage at a local historical society. Regardless, without someone to take care of the, look through them or to digitize them for public consumption, they are merely collecting dust, the wealth of knowledge that lies within them unknown and forgotten. Through digitization projects and historical preservation initiatives, many of these records are now available online and therefore a great asset to family tree researchers now.
What about those that aren’t though? There are an unknown number, a large number, of records that many family tree researchers would treasure once again. They would require someone to dig into the depths of dust in order to even find what is there. Living across the country or even just working full-time and raising a family, this is most likely not an option for you. So, the records sit, collecting even more dust, and just waiting for someone to open them up. They are waiting for someone to relay their stories for those that want to hear them and bring them back to life.
Another interesting post I saw this week was written by Deb Ruth. Her post, titled “Why Share?”, tells of exactly how the internet can be used to share the genealogical resources that she has found with so many others. Through sites like findagrave.com, we can relay the information that we find in our genealogical research with others. Even if no one is looking for them right now, they might be one day. Photographing, documenting and sharing the information she has found via the internet, is a form of preservation. Many might not even know that the records she has posted exist or even know where to look for them. Now however, whenever someone searches for them, they will be there. She could have merely kept the information for her own personal research, but by sharing them, she is helping others that might otherwise never find the information. Her article can be found here.