Last week I celebrated 30 years working at Cook Memorial Public Library. Wow, where did the time go? I spent some time thinking about all the changes that have taken place in those years, one of which was my becoming interested in genealogy and taking responsibility for the genealogy collection and programs at the library—alongside Arlene, fellow intrepid librarian and genealogy partner-in-crime.
I remember back in the early days before I started my own family research, genealogy was a chore that we in the library gladly handed over to volunteers. Census information came from microfilm that we ordered from the National Archives for our patrons. Genealogists looked up vital records in books of abstracted information, or they wrote to state or county repositories. Soundex was crucial. There was a lot of sending away for information from other libraries and archives. Genealogy required patience, and lots of it.
My interest in genealogy started in 1999, before my first child was born and right on the cusp of the popularity of the Internet. Genealogists were quick to see the benefits of this new technology and swiftly adapted the Internet to their own purposes. There were things like “listservs” and “portals.” Rootsweb and USGenWeb were early websites that connected people and information.
Ancestry.com became available as a subscription database sometime in the late 1990s. As far as I can tell Cook Library started to subscribing to AncestryLibrary Edition around 2001. This was a real game changer. Once records became available on the Internet, the genealogy world has never looked back. Mega sites like FamilySearch became essential. Interactive websites like FindAGrave took advantage of our better nature to share information freely with one another.
Today it’s hard for beginners to imagine doing genealogy research without the Internet. We use Facebook, Ancestry, FamilySearch and other social media to connect with our relatives. We share photographs and research with relatives we’ve only met online. We can search digitized books and newspapers from the comfort of our own home. Microfilm is becoming a format of the past. Bloggers like Dick Eastman keep us up to date on advancements in the field and sometimes it seems like things are happening at the speed of light.
Nevertheless, parts of genealogy will always be the same. When I first started doing genealogy I put pencil to paper and filled out a pedigree chart, talked to relatives and looked for home sources. Today I tell beginners to start this same way. We still need to find those building blocks of genealogy: names, dates, and places, and we still need to find them step by step, working our way back from the known to the unknown.
The thrill of the ancestor hunt is still the same; our payoff just comes sooner. We still value documents, photographs, and the places that store and preserve them. No matter how much the genealogy research process changes, our ancestors are at the heart of what we do. They are still out there waiting to be discovered and celebrated. I guess some things do stay the same!