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June 24, 2018

The Thrill of the Hunt is Gone... or Is It

When I started researching my genealogy back in my teens, it was sporadic, with years of non-genealogy in between spurts of frantic searching. But then I began researching in earnest in the days I refer to as B.I. (Before the Internet)

I was thinking about it this week. Do you remember B.I.? Before Windows. Before Cyndis List. Before Ancestry.com. Before Olive Tree Genealogy!
Before this wonderful cyber world we know now.

I worked on my computer in DOS (remember, this was also B.W. - Before Windows), and joined a few BBS (Bulletin Board Services). I had to dial long distance from my home to the nearest big city of Toronto to pick up the BBS.

It cost me a fortune in long-distance charges so I would dial in, download the BBS "mail" and log off. Then I'd read the messages offline, respond offline and dial in again to upload (post) my responses. There was a 4 to 5 day lag time between sending my messages and seeing responses. That seemed pretty speedy back in those days.

Snail mail was important, I would pore over queries in all the genealogy newsletters I received. Then I'd write to anyone who seemed to be looking for the same ancestors I was. I waited in anticipation day after day, anxious to see what the next day's mail would bring.

I look back on that as a very satisfying genealogy experience, there was something quite wonderful about the feeling you got when that huge package of material arrived in the mail from another researcher.

I miss that. Now I do most of my research online for two reasons - my health issues and convenience. I love the convenience of online research. I love the speed of finding ancestors online. But I do miss going to libraries, archives, and museums and scrolling through page after page of microfilm.

It's kind of like buying from E-Bay instead of going out to the antique store or junk store or flea market and experiencing that "aha!" moment when you spot a treasure buried under a pile of junk... There's a great deal of satisfaction in slogging through reel after reel of microfilm - unindexed microfilm - and finally spotting your ancestor's name!

Now when I get a package in the mail (which is infrequent as most items are scanned and sent via email), it is for material I already know is coming. I'm not complaining, it's all good and it's genealogy information I want and need BUT I don't have that same sense of wonderment or anticipation as I did back in the days of B.I.

I love the Internet. I would never want to return to B.I. But I would love to have the awe and excitement of snail mail anticipation back again. I think I can be forgiven for feeling a bit discouraged - after all I've been researching for almost 60 years! But I love every minute of it and I still do my genealogy happy dance with every new find. And meantime I'm busy compiling and writing my family history books to ensure my years of research are not lost.

7 comments:

Nancy said...

Thanks for a walk down memory lane when it comes to computers, the internet, and family history research. I began ater than you, at a time when I used a microfilmed index to search for an ancestor in the census. But it was only a short time before I learned that FamilySearch had free records available online. It was all exciting then, but FS didn't have everything online and I learned that there were microfilms I could borrow to look through. When I first began research I did find a few others who were researching the same families I was and once received a thick envelope of papers with descendancy lists, and occasionally a nearer relative who sent photos. They were exciting times, even with the wait. I have less happy memories of microfilm with its resultant eyestrain and mixed bag of success or lack thereof. But still these days I wait for the mail to bring a UK GRO marriage record or a Butler Public Library obituary that I can't find online. What memories!

Kathy Steckelberg said...

I began doing genealogy research as a teenager with my grandmother in the 1970s. We would visit libraries and archives, write snail-mail letters to town clerks for records, and pore through the queries columns in genealogy magazines. Since we were just starting out, there were a lot more eureka moments. Of course, I do wish that I’d practiced proper source citation with those early records! I still have a folder full of notes that I can’t source. I wouldn’t give up any of those memories. But, I also know that, without the genealogy web sites such as Ancestry and MyHeritage, I wouldn’t have discovered my ancestors’ vital records in small villages in Germany and England. I wouldn’t be able to access the Scottish records that are available online. And, while I didn’t dare do a happy dance around the library when I found something, no one is going to frown at me if I do a happy dance around my study at home when I have that eureka moment.

LM Hinds said...

How well I remember DOS, PAF, and printers with roll paper with holes on each side. It was always easier to use my typewriter! I loved scouring the card catalogs in the local Library, Historical Society, Genealogy Society. I loved sitting in darkened rooms with only the whirring of a microfilm reader. I remember the clack of the glass while using microfiche. What a surprise decades later when I realized that what I had seen on the microfiche for my German ancestors was the record I was reading online today. The BEST thing about the plethora of online options is when my Gr-Gr- Grandfathers SIBLINGS descendants FOUND ME ! One from Germany and one from Norway. Norway ???? His sister had 'disappeared' by marrying and moving to Norway. I now have PHOTOGRAPHS of my ANCESTORS and where they lived. PS. I would take a walk through a cemetery anyday over perusing FAG with it's erroneous information eagerly edited by multiple individuals. I have been a FAG photo volunteer for many years and love contributing to someone's search.

Shirley said...

I started researching as far back as I can remember by always asking questions about my family. In my teens in the 60s I started writing down what they told me but only names and dates. I wasn't able to start serious research until after I retired. I did save all the information that my mother had when we went through her things after she died. I found the paperwork for the sale of the house before she moved to an apartment. I didn't find the paperwork for the sale of the farm before we moved to that house. A cousin and I have been sharing information over the past 2 or 3 years. She reminded me that my parents had sold a small farm to them when they sold the farm that we lived on. She said that she would send me a copy of the paperwork. I couldn't believe what else was in the packet when I received it - the paperwork for the purchase and sale of the farm that we lived on since that deal included the small farm, and the paperwork back to the early 1800's for the small farm that they bought from my parents. My father was very family-oriented and fair-minded and likely thought that they should have all of the paperwork that pertained to the small farm since we no longer owned it. If he had not sold that farm to a relative I would probably never have found that paperwork without a lot more work.

Marian Koalski said...

I miss the camaraderie at the local LDS Family History Center on Tuesday nights, as we sat in the dark and turned the cranks on those microfilm readers. Usually there were a half-dozen of us who came each week, plus a few others who dropped in or could only come occasionally. We researched in different countries and states, but we shared each other's excitement when someone found that long-sought record or the unexpected one.

Although I worked pretty intensely during my two-hours-a-week opportunity, I learned a lot about genealogy and history just waiting for the doors to be unlocked. Someone explained why she was ordering microfilm of Polish Catholic records in order to find her Jewish relatives. Someone else explained that, although she could read Danish, she needed to work on her German skills for the time periods when a German-speaking government ruled her ancestors' part of Denmark. That group was nearly a genealogy club in itself.

RonNasty said...

Wow, you're really showing your age there!

You may have come across my father's cousin Bill Swinarton. Bill was also into genealogy from an earlier time. I only got started researching myself because Bill mailed me a copy of our family tree when my grandmother passed away. Sadly Bill passed away 16 years ago, and I never got the chance to thank him for all the work he did or to pick his brain on our shared history.

Keep on truckin'!

Karen Tomblin said...

I loved this article. It was a reminder of how far we have come. I remembered all of it, including the thrill of the mail delivery. Thanks for sharing.