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August 6, 2009

Genealogy Rant (Pet Peeve)

Why do some (many?) genealogy researchers think that all genealogy information on their ancestors can be found online?

I see it all the time. Someone posts on a mailing list
"I can't find my ancestor, he's my BRICK WALL! I have been searching for 5 years and I've looked EVERYWHERE!!! Can anyone help me?"
More details emerge and you feel quite excited because you know where this researcher can find the records they want!

So you respond. You explain that the records he/she needs are found in the Whatchihoogis Archives in Watchihoogis USA (or Canada or...) You add that you've used these records personally and they contain a wealth of information. You give them a URL for the website for the Whatchihoogis Archives so they can find out how to order the records on microfilm or how to go there in person or how to obtain a lookup from the Archives.

You sit back expectantly, basking in the knowledge that you just helped someone crack a major block in their genealogy. You know how happy that person will be and what a loud THANK YOU you'll receive.....

But that's a fantasy. In reality, 9 times out of 10, what do you get? A loud "I went to the website you gave me but those records aren't online!"

You explain that not all genealogy records are online. That researchers may have to go to the source, that is, the Archives or the Library that holds the records. They may have to (gasp!) do some of their research the old-fashioned way - out of their computer chair and off to a Library or Archives where one must use a microfilm reader. Or a book!

You remind the mailing list poster that he/she has had this "brick wall" for several years. That the records in question are not likely to go online in the near future, if ever. You suggest that breaking down that barrier might be worth checking into how the records can be accessed.

At this point I have actually received emails that say "What good does that do me? Guess I will just have to keep looking" And a few days or a week or a month later, you spot the identical query from this person posted on several mailing lists
"I can't find my ancestor, he's my BRICK WALL! I have been searching for 5 years and I've looked EVERYWHERE!!! Can anyone help me?"

The reason for my rant today is that lately I've been running into this a lot. In fact one researcher I corresponded with in my attempts to help, mentioned that he'd been posting on mailing lists with his query since 2000. Okay that's NINE YEARS! Would he not at some point realize it's time to get up from his computer and get out to the Archives that holds the records he needs?

How can we as genealogists educate others to the fact that no genealogy research can be completed by using one resource only. There are so many other places where we need to search! The Internet is a wonderful resource, it's incredible how much data is online and more is coming all the time. But there are still other physical repositories - Libraries and Archives and local Museums - where scads of information on our ancestors lies waiting to be discovered.


Annette Fulford said...

Great post, Lorine. Sadly, this is a fact of life in this age of technology. Some people create their own brick walls by not accessing records that are readily available, but not online. Most of my favourite finds are the ones that have not been found in databases online. I am far more excited about a discovery when I have to locate something that is off the beaten track. Where would I be without interlibrary loans? Who knows.

The Grandmother Here said...

Rant on! We all needed to hear that! Thanks!

Becky Thompson said...

People in our society have adopted an attitude of "Show Me" or worse yet: "Do it for me", in large part. I'm not pointing fingers, it seems to be a cultural change. (My very humble opinion). We want it to "pop out" at us so we don't have to READ anything. That's my biggest pet peeve.....people don't want to have to READ anything anymore. Not even the computer screen, the software manuals, the instructional handouts, the visual lessons, the guide books, etc. READ has become a '4 letter word'. Ok, I'll stop my own ranting now.

Amanda E. Perrine said...

Excellent rant! I am amazed that people only want to find information online. I feel so much more like a genealogist going through books and microfilms, than easily finding something by searching Ancestry. Maybe if they tried going out into the world, they would, too.

Patricia A. Rogers said...

Good for you! I have seen more and more of these posts of late - people looking for the easy way. When I tell someone the on-line data is only as good as the transcriber and they should check the originals I have visions of apoplexy at the other end! The mere thought that they have to do something other than copy and paste sends them over the edge. Thankfully the good researchers out number them!

Jennifer said...

I think perhaps a distinction needs to be made between a genealogy "researcher", who is willing to look offline for resources, and a genealogy "accumulator" who cobbles together only what can be found online.

Some of this, too, has to do with the background of the individual. I have noticed from my own extended family that the "researchers" tend to have a little more experience in research and project management (perhaps have college degrees or did extensive research in their professions). Amongst my cousins who are "accumulators", I honestly don't think they have the knowledge of how to plan and handle the more complicated process of contacting repositories, ordering records, etc. that offline research requires.

I guess what I am saying is yes, some people are just lazy. But some people really just lack the skill sets required to do or manage offline research. I think it can seem very daunting to them, so they avoid it. In this case, the brick wall is really themselves, which, as you point out, they frustratingly refuse to see.

Norm Prince said...

Oh my, the world is so much against me !!! I can not click a mouse and find the answer !!! Actually I look for any way to get out of the house and into the books, records, reels of data or cemeteries for a great change of pace. The computer is fine at times but it just does not have that great, old musty smell that many books have in the basement of some old public building. Just today the local library called about an inter-library loan book I had requested and I also learned that a town about an hour away has some more data waiting in the court house as well as some stones in the two cemeteries which will fit with some of my clan. I feel for those souls who have not found such enjoyment.

Linda Hughes Hiser said...

Microfilm is one of my best friends!

Jennifer said...

I am so tired of everyone's online GEDCOMs citing their sources as someone else's GEDCOM. Get off your *&*& computer and do some real research, and quit copying everyone else's GEDCOM. And it seems that "everyone else" has not done any research either. Overall, I think some people are just not as serious as others when it comes to research. Though I'm not quite sure why they have the nerve to call it a brick wall. Seems kind of silly to me.

BDM said...

(but it will have to be said over and over ...:-)

Anonymous said...

The most annoying example of laziness I have had is someone copying photos of my much loved grandparents, who lived all their lives in England,into their own web site finally killing them off in the USA.

Diana Ritchie said...

What a great post! I was laughing out loud at parts of it because it sounded so familiar.

I think the other thing people miss when they limit themselves to the computer is the chance to see the place their ancestors LIVED. It's an experience that can't always be put into words, but somehow I just feel I know more about them when I see the places they lived.

Craig Manson said...

There's nothing like a good road trip!

Geolover said...

Lorine, this is a classic post, very well said.

I have had exactly the same experience, with some responses quite angry that I did not hand them the answers or at least provide on-web citations.

It does not seem to shame the brick-wallers to note that what is on line free for them has been painstakingly transcribed by valiant volunteers. A note that it all depends on how much they want the information seems to be invisible.

And since you have so long been one of those valiant volunteers, please accept my gratitude.

GrannyPam said...

I became hooked on real research by touching real records. I agree that those who don't visit libraries, archives, courthouses or other holders of original records are losing out. As we try to help, some of these people may grow into real researchers, using all the tools available to them.

Too bad, I say, for the ones that don't learn from the help you have generously offered. Hopefully others have taken your sage advice to heart.

Charles said...

I do research for the local genealogical society and I see a lot of this also, but at least some people are looking for help that is not online. Some people need to be taught what is available offline. The internet is good for this, you can find those archives, hours they are open and maybe what the archives holds, too bad few use these types of resources.

Ken Piper said...

While I agree with the rant, let me speak from a different prespective as well. I live in California now, but was fortunate enough to raise my children in upstate NY. I took them on vacations to visit where the ancestors lived in New England and Virginia to the point I probably traumitized them for life regarding genealogy. On these trips I hit local records, libraries and grave yards. The trips yielded much.

But by 2000, and upon returning to California, my work commitments forced me to put the research on hold for seven years. I just could not spend the off time to travel that far any longer. Two years ago I decided to make a new effort and was so surprised of the advances in records imaging available on the Internet.

I still work long hours and use my vacation time to visit my kids & grand kids - not remote research sites. But to be honest there is so much information - records with images - that in the small time I have available I am kept busy. In the last 2 years I have accomplished more than the previous 30 - by that I mean more detail filling out the lives and personalities of my ancestors.

On-line is not a substitute for on site for those rare dusty records. But I search and re-search creatively to get past the errors of the transcribers and it has been rewarding. I do local cemetery stomps on weekends for my California relatives, though. Although not true research in a cemetery, the trips have left me to ponder some things I have seen and I have done further searches for information yielding some amazing stories.

I do agree with the other comment regarding the citation of Gedcoms. The proliferation of misguided information is maddening and while another person's file can be a guide to further records search, it drives me crazy when you have 25 people misquoting a fact that was correctable and could be disproven fairly easily.

The California Genealogical Society has its "Tip of the Iceberg" poster and I whole heartedly endorse getting out to do research. It is just sometimes very difficult to blend in with a heavy work schedule.

Disclaimer: I work in new product development at a networking company in Silicon Valley. We just love them big downloads requiring more Internet bandwidth!! Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Come on all of you - give some of us a break here. I have flown from Texas to Iowa & South Dakota twice in the past few years and need to go back again and again. I have paid for flights, rental vehicles, hotels and eating out. I leave out with my computer and at least 25 map quests and drive all over from Sioux City, Ia to Sioux Falls & Yankton, S.D. by myself and I am in my late 60s. I have only been in genealogy for 3 years and am averaging $750 per year for what has been a passion for me since I retired. I am loving it, but at times the travel by myself is scarey in strange places that I have not been since I was a child. I forgo other luxuries that I cannot afford from my S.S. check just so that I can sit in libraries and court houses looking for information but no matter how many times I go by the time I am home again there is more info I need. I am so thankful for the Sioux City Library and all of their tremendous help with obituaries, etc, when I at least have some sort of a time frame and the $6.00 fee is most affordable. I also have to travel to Arizona and Arkansas for relative information there. So please understand my comments in the polite manner that I have tried to post this comment. And thank you as many of these commemts I read are most helpful!!!

Kathleen O'Hara said...

Some of us are "accumulators" subsisting on what's online until we have the time and funds to get ourselves to some dusty libraries and archives. I've been at genealogy a year (clearly just the tip of the iceberg regardless of what research methods you're using) and there's so much online that between work, school, weekends full of family events, and repositories that are often only open during business hours, 99% of my research has been online. I know it's not ideal, and I'd never consider anyone a brick wall given my circumstances, but were I to be pointed to a distant repository as the place to find the info I was looking for, my response would be along the lines of "Thanks. Wish those records were online, looks like they'd be helpful if I could get my hands on them."

That said, I've got my fingers crossed that I'll have 2-3 days to visit real repositories in the next couple weeks while I'm between jobs!