Never Stop with an Index

I was born in the 1960s, and just about everything I knew of technology came from watching Star Trek. The coolest thing for me had nothing to do with transporters and warp speed. For me it was all about the little communicators Kirk and the others wore on their shirts. Keep in mind those were the days before cordless phones. I’m not even sure we’d discovered touch tones yet.

In college, there were a couple kids with enormous clunky computers set up in their dorm rooms. We thought they were freaks. Around that same time my family got an Atari game console, which we plugged into our television and played Asteroids on for hours. My first experience with computers, not counting the FORTRAN class I took my senior year (why I did that is beyond me now) was the DOS computer I used at my first job. It ran LOTUS, an early spreadsheet program which I used to track financials for my boss, the VP of Finance who was afraid of computers.

Sometime in the early 1990s, maybe 1993?, the MIS manager where I worked at IDX pulled me into his office, absolutely beside himself because he’d found a way to connect to something called “The Internet. ” He used his computer (the latest IBM clunker featuring a wireless mouse–TOTALLY cutting edge…) to bring up the bus schedule for Washington D.C. The value of knowing what time the busses ran in a city 800 miles away escaped me, but I was happy that it seemed to be making his day.

Flash forward to today…. every member of my family has a laptop computer sharing a household network and three wireless printers. We scan, fax, and make paper copies whenever the need arises. My children carry their entire music collections around with them at all times, read textbooks online, submit assignments to their teachers on a cloud called Google Docs, have instantaneous conversations with friends across the country, and network with friends around the world, sharing news and photos which were taken with their digital cameras. And I do all of those things too! The difference is they think this is the way it’s always been.

My laptop weights three pounds, so it’s effortless to bring along when I work onsite at repositories. When even that seems like too big a burden, I just rely on my WAY COOL Android smartphone: one gadget which fits comfortably into a pocket, and makes James T. Kirk’s communicator look like a party favor at a preschooler’s birthday party 🙂

It handles with ease all my phone calls, emails, chats, and tweets, often simultaneously! I use it to keep up with my Facebook friends, navigate to places using GPS and Google maps, identify celestial objects in the night sky, keep track of the phone numbers, addresses, websites, dates with and birthdays of everyone I know, and (theoretically) never miss an appointment. It has a 16 megapixel camera and takes amazingly clear video that I use to capture those random spontaneous family moments no one ever used to have a camera nearby to catch. It holds my favorite family photos and about a million pics of my cats, lists of all sorts, my entire genealogy database, audio recordings of my favorite genealogy lectures, the latest research reports on all my current genealogical projects; and, I can, on the fly, view and edit documents, watch a webinar, attend a video meeting, lookup or edit an Evernote, access my favorite websites, and use it to scan original documents in a repository.

What it cannot do, and what, despite a constant streams of technological advancements, it will never, in our lifetimes, be able to do, (and finally, she comes to her point) is make it possible to do quality genealogy research, the kind that meets current industry standards, the kind that reliably and provably solves our brick walls, on the Internet alone. Certainly, online databases and digitized records make our research infinitely easier than pre–Star Trek days, but they represent only a minuscule part of the records our ancestors left behind. And so, for this last issue, I leave you with a last thought, a phrase really, never let the last record you check be an online index or transcription. When it comes to genealogical research, the Internet is neither a beginning, nor an end, it’s just a tool to make the journey a little easier.