Careless landscapers cut my cable line last week. They might as well have cut off my arms - I could not function the entire day.
I'm constantly harping at researchers to get out from behind that computer and go to the courthouse or archives, but I won't eat my words. Research field trips require planning and preparation, and since my crystal ball also was on the fritz, I didn't anticipate the landscapers' extra pruning.
When the cable guy knocked on the door about 5:30 that afternoon and said, "It's working now," I almost kissed him. Instead with a rushed "thanks" I slammed the door in his face and ran for the computer - with newfound appreciation for the connections I was about to make.
I had gotten through an entire day without e-mail, Google, digital records or Ancestry.com. I was a basket case. But I did spend a lot of time reflecting on how far we've come genealogically in the past 20 years.
When I started researching, no one had personal computers. Family researchers kept paper files. We indexed information on, of all things, index cards. We thought we were in high cotton when someone began selling printed pedigree and family group sheets. How proudly we mailed those out to other researchers. Our wildest imaginations could not have conjured genealogy computer software to organize our data or e-mail to share it instantly with the world.
It didn't take us long to clutter cyberspace with inaccurate information. As inexperienced and untrained researchers we (and I do include myself) didn't record our sources, and didn't correctly analyze or question the information we found. We were just happy to find distant cousins and eager to share with them.
New toy caused trouble
Eventually, many of us corrected the errors of our ways. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to completely clean up the environmental genealogical disaster we created. There remain many twisted family trees out there in cyberspace, warped by bad information. How do we prune away all the bad limbs?
We can't. But we can learn to live wisely with the mess.
Here's how it has to work: Each family researcher must resolve not to share another piece of information without including the source. Ideally, the source is a reliable one: a deed, will, military pension file, etc. But if you are about to pass on something you haven't had time to verify, at least inform the recipient that you got it from Aunt Mary when she was 94 years old and her memory wasn't so great.
Not everything genealogical on the Internet is bad. Almost daily we find digitized records that are real boosts to our research. Commercial entities such as Footnote, www.footnote.com, make it possible for us to see actual images of our Revolutionary War ancestors' pension applications.
At Ancestry, www.ancestry.com, we can see the actual pages where census takers entered information. Find-A-Grave, www.findagrave.com, allows us to upload pictures of tombstones so we can read the inscriptions for ourselves.
Many state archives are digitizing death certificates and marriage licenses. Hundreds of responsible researchers are transcribing wills and deeds and putting them on personal websites - along with information about where they found the records so we can seek out copies ourselves.
I'll gladly take the bad with all that good , and happily spend many days exploring, if the landscapers will just cut the grass and the bushes and leave the cables alone.
Join me for workshop
Explore the internet good, bad and ugly further from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at Southshore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shield Way, Ruskin. I'll be hosting a workshop, Beware of Sharks: Surfing the Internet, which will explore how to assess various websites, offer suggestions for the best sites, and discuss how to use the on-line discoveries. This is a participation class. Those attending should bring urls for websites they would like assessed.
This is the fifth in a series of six summer genealogy workshops sponsored by the Friends of the Library. The library does not allow reservations; tickets will be distributed at the main checkout counter beginning at 1 p.m. Attendance is limited to 25 people. Earlier sessions filled quickly, so those interested in this topic should arrive early.