When A Person Dies, A Library Burns
Anyone who has delved into the history of their family knows that the more information they discover about their ancestors, the more real these people become. Because of the unique connection we have with our ancestors, getting to “know” them really is fascinating, almost like traveling through time.
But all too often, much of that information is lost forever. As the old saying goes, “Every time a person dies, a library burns,” and it’s estimated that a baby-boomer dies in the U.S. every 49 seconds. Yet as we all get older, the memories, legacies, and life stories of our ancestors become increasingly more priceless and irreplaceable.
Wouldn’t it be great if our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles had all kept and passed along wonderfully descriptive journals for the benefit of all their posterity? Unfortunately, for a whole host of reasons, that practice has historically been more the exception than the rule.
Tracing Our Roots
But that was then, and this is now. Technology has brought about dramatic change, and there’s a great deal of buzz these days surrounding genealogy, the study of one’s ancestry. And while most people have at least a modest curiosity about their ancestral roots, few find it compelling enough to engage in the time consuming task of endlessly searching for those indispensable but hard to find clues we all need to trace our roots back to the middle ages or beyond.
But to borrow a financial metaphor, be careful not to step over dollars to pick up dimes. In other words, no one has infinite amounts of time, so we all have to prioritize. Finding those “needle in a haystack” clues will devour time like nothing else can, mainly because it is estimated that less than 10% of all vital records that exist (birth, death, marriage, etc.) are currently accessible online.
So unless you are fortunate enough to find everything you are looking for in that 10% that does exist online, your next best option is an arduous pilgrimage through courthouses, historical societies, cemeteries, and elsewhere – poring over an endless sea of unrefined records.
Capture Recent History First
And while that may well be a virtuous calling, consider that technology is advancing quickly, and the day is coming when virtually all of those “lost” records (the ones do exist) will be indexed and searchable online from the comfort of your own home. This is due in part to ongoing technological advances, but also to legions of volunteers who are, as you read this, participating in countless vital records indexing projects all over the country.
When that day will be here is anyone’s guess. My guess is around 2020 to 2025. So in the meantime, we basically have two choices. Under the assumption that what we’re looking for exists at all, we can spend our time slogging through those oceans of un-indexed records, or we can turn our attention toward capturing, enhancing, and preserving our much more vulnerable recent history.
In a nutshell, that is the inspiration for this website.