Technology is wonderful. Technology allows us to do so many things that we never thought possible. I can sit at my desk and type something and send it out to countless people in the blink of an eye without ever trying to find a stamp. It allows us to pursue our interests much more easily than in the past and find information in the blink of an eye that would otherwise have taken months or years to locate. I am in no way a Luddite; however, I think we might need to remember the importance of communicating the story.
With all our technological advancements, databases filled with scanned records can be at our finger tips in no time. I can find Mr. Dudgeon in the 1910 census, his marriage record, and the birth records of his children with just a few mouse clicks. Thirty years ago, I would have needed to order the microfilms for all of these and spent time scrolling—assuming they were available for loans. If they were only available in hard copy, I had to either drive to see the originals or request the assistance of the local genealogical society or library. While there are still records that one must search for this way, I think we can agree that things are much easier than they once were.
But “easier” is not always “better.” Because we do so many things alone, we forget how to ask for help and assume that no one will or can help. The thinking that usually goes with this is along the lines of “I’ve been working on this line for umpteen years so I don’t think anyone else has figured it out either.” It is an easy trap to fall into especially as you sit alone at your laptop at 3am trying to figure out where great-great Aunt Elsie could have moved between 1880 and 1900. However, we do not live in vacuums and help is available. It may not be what you expect or thought you needed but it is there.
You may be trying to figure out why or where an ancestor moved in a twenty-year gap. Someone else may know the answer or at least give you a theory to explore because he faced the same question and followed what I like to call “side window thinking.” Remember what the Reverend Mother said to Maria in The Sound of Music? “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” It’s sort of like that. (It also refers to how I got in the house when I forgot my key and didn’t want to wakeup my mother or grandmother, but that’s a different story.) When you talk about your stumbling blocks with others you may discover clues that lead you to your next step. Perhaps there was a weather event that caused people to relocate. If it’s after a war, maybe a move westward was made. Many Civil War veterans ended up moving west after the war. Could an epidemic have occurred? These are just a few of the possibilities. If you learn where other people at the time moved to or what was going on in the community at large, you might find your relatives as well.
We can all tell stories of regretting not listening to a grandparent or other relative when they were telling family stories. No one is immune to this. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find answers. You may not find them in online databases but you may find them from talking to other people and from visits to local libraries and historical societies to learn the local history.
So don’t give up, just move sideways. The answers will come. As my grandmother always said, “Stop looking and you’ll find it.” Of course, she also said dream of a funeral and you’ll go to a wedding, dream of a wedding and you’ll go to a funeral, drop a spoon and a woman will arrive, drop a knife and a man will arrive, drop a fork and group will arrive. (I never had the nerve to ask her what happened when you dropped a spatula.) We tend to pick and choose our words of wisdom from Grandma.
PS: Sorry for the delay in posts. I have now completed a six-month contract and I am so happy to be posting again.