Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genealogy Research Then or Now?

In my "olden" days (way back in the mid 1970's) genealogy research was performed vastly differently than it is now. Was it easier then or harder compared to the resources available today? Let's take a look:

In 1976 when I began genealogy research, I used a steno pad, a supply of pens, my car to drive to and from various repositories and good, ole elbow grease. I spent hours in the Mt. Clemens Library genealogy section sitting before a microfilm reader spinning records upon records of my paternal ancestors. I visited the Burton Library in Detroit periodically also searching for paternal ancestral information. I copied all these records into my steno pad. I visited local cemeteries and took photos of gravestones, read records in cemetery offices and recorded information in my steno pad. I made trips back and forth to Berrien County to stand in the Vital Records division of the County Clerk's office and copied record upon record of my maternal ancestors, visited cemeteries there and actually visited with cousins of my grandmother to ascertain more information. The furthest that I traveled was either to Bay County or Berrien County, each no more than several hours away from my home at the time in the Detroit suburbs. Total money spent on these endeavors was minimal other then (very low) gasoline costs. I was able to learn the ancestral villages of the majority of my 8 major surnames going back to my great-grandparents. It was fun, exciting and very rewarding.

In 1980 I began inputting my information by typing, on a manual typewriter, all my data into the LDS genealogy forms which were the premier medium at that time. I lived in a very small apartment at the time and remember my card table/kitchen table which served as the place I ate and the place I typed.

In the mid-1980's I began mailing away for vital records mainly from the Michigan archives. Costs at that time were $2.00 per record and I amassed binders full of data on each of my 8 ancestral surnames. I followed advice in the Genealogical Helper magazine at the time and crossed the ocean to Germany finding records and information on my ancestors from that country. True it took weeks, sometimes months to get results but the bonuses were exciting with envelopes in the mail with German stamps. There is no excitement like seeing a personal letter from a church in the (then) DDR with information on a 3rd or 4th great grandparent taking my research back to the 1700's.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Now we have personal computers, scanners, the Internet with Google and a wealth of genealogy sites and information at our fingertips to be accessed in private in our pajamas with instant results and gratification. We can scan old photos and restore them with great photo software, we can access European archives through Ancestry.com and other sites, some with hefty fees, others free. We can order microfilm records from the LDS and read them at a local LDS stake and find records upon records of interest to our research.

The best perk to this century of resources is the possibility of connecting with others researching our same surname or, even better, finding long lost relatives. That is huge and cannot be minimized. I, myself, have had great success with finding relatives in Germany who share my interest in our mutual family line. This can't be beat.

Is it better and easier now to do genealogy research than it was in the 1970's and 1980's? I don't know what the answer would be. There certainly were benefits to getting out in the field and trekking to find records, waiting for results and the joy of finally getting a positive response. That doesn't undermine the excitement of clicking on Ancestry and finding an instant pension record or census record that answers a long lost question.

Taken all together, I have to admit that I have done wonderfully in these 30+ years in getting results. I have visited Germany and Poland and walked the paths that my ancestors walked in their home villages and imagined what their lives were like then. I have connected with closely related family members during this research and connected with many other researchers searching my surnames and ancestral villages.

One of my favorite success stories was when, after years of searching for a death date and location of burial in Detroit of a German immigrant ancestor and coming up blank, I actually found the death information in of all places - Germany and learned that this ancestor and her husband had taken a trip back to her homeland, when she was at an advanced age, and learned that she and her husband both passed away there and were buried in Germany.

It is definitely true that we can go further in our research and faster, too, with all the resources available to us. Imagine how much further this can take us in the future!

Can we get back to Adam & Eve!!!! Interesting thought, don't you think? Who wants to be the first to try?

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