The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2000

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Technological Obsolescence


Elwyn R. VanEtten

From 1990 to 1996, The Crooked Lake Review published my genealogy lessons somewhat facetiously entitled Genealogy 101-601. These beginner lessons outlined how to research your family tree, starting with your own living room to the various repositories of pertinent family data. It was pointed out that there were pitfalls and it wasn't going to be as easy as falling off a log. However, it would be a FUN hobby.

Beyond this, Steele Memorial Library in Elmira provides one of the finest genealogical collections in upstate New York. As a volunteer in the Genealogy Department with over 7000 hours logged, I have provided the same guidance to countless numbers of searchers from all 50 states. Steele also provided the facility for me to teach a 5-session course 20 times to almost 600 students.

Club program chairpersons always have a difficult time lining up speakers for their monthly or weekly meetings. More times than I have kept track of, I have been a willing speaker on "how to" genealogy. My efforts have not been in vain as I continue to see some of the listeners at Steele or the County Clerk's office using a little of my preachings.

Suddenly, there is a WEB or Internet or AOL or Yahoo or whatever, and guys like me are obsolete. No more looking in dusty files or at eye-straining microfilms to find your roots. No more self-addressed, stamped envelope to send out asking for help nor trips to the local cemetery in search of long-lost relatives. RESEARCH IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE COMPUTER!

Each day I hear amazing stories about logging on last night and lo and behold, there was my entire family tree, all the way back to Charlemagne. No hard work, no pit-falls or dead ends, just the complete family history right there on the WEB. You were an alarmist, telling us it wasn't as easy as falling off a log, because it was.

But, is it all true? Is it documented? Who provided the link that took you back 11 generations? If it looks too good to be true, maybe you should take another look. Other than the paper cost to download the data, it was FREE! According to Aesop, "There is no treasure without toil." Not all data out there in Microsoft land is suspect but the buyer needs to be aware that maybe these roots were never dug.

So, if that throws a little monkey wrench in the form of doubt on your find, don't despair. Sit yourself down and review what we teachers of genealogy told you. Follow the time-tested standards of genealogy research as published by the National Genealogical Society in their December 1997 quarterly bulletin:

1. Research should be exhaustive.Examine every available and pertinent record to reach a reliable conclusion. You are studying human lives and experiences, not just names and dates.

2. Conclusions should be based on original sources of the best quality available. The work of others can be a valuable shortcut but one must track the published details to their origins. The search for truth, reality and accuracy is the foundation for meaningful genealogy research.

3. Nothing should be stated or claimed without an explicit identification of source. "Public knowledge" data needs no citation but we are obliged to support our other facts with reliable evidence.

4. Research must be objective.Exaggerated claims, fanciful notions and what we want it to be have no place in genealogy research. Search it out to prove it.

Do I agree with the title of this article regarding research being obsolete with the explosion of computer genealogy? Certainly not. The computer is another useful tool in tracing your roots. Recognizing its limitations and using the old methods in conjunction with the new should bring you almost face to face with all those relatives that preceded you. The satisfaction that comes from proving your ancestry is the fun of genealogy. A fitting epitaph for the good researcher might very well be "Gone to see for myself!"

© 2000, Elwyn VanEtten
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