On his webpage, Leo van der Pas declares that all genealogists can be divided into two groups: hunters and gatherers. True, but there are also those who want to find all their ancestors and those who research but a single surname. Some do enough research to join a hereditary organization while others move from family to family never stopping research. Point in fact, there are as many different types of genealogists and family historians as we have ancestors. This column will address, hopefully with humor, items of interest to those genealogists who have a few decades of research under their belts.
Much of the genealogical classes, workshops, books, CDs, and the like cater to the new genealogist. Those of us in the know, need to search high and low for the new book that might help us out. Our brick walls are fifty feet high and made of cement and mortar that cannot be easily penetrated. Let’s face it, we’ve been there, done that, and gotten all the t-shirts.
I think that, genealogically speaking, anything after about 1850 is not worth much. I started doing this when I was a kid and now at 44 years of age, and up to February of this year I had a grandfather around to talk to. I knew all my grandparents and many of the younger siblings of my great-grandparents. So my oral testimony always starts with the births of my great-grandparents, which occurred from 1860 to 1888. One of my great-great-aunts was born in 1869 and lived to be 105—her grandparents whom she knew, where born in the 1810s! That’s a pretty good stretch of time for only one degree of separation.
So for me, the 1800s have always seemed quite recent. I still think of them as the last century despite the last seven years of living in the 21st century. It’s hard to believe that people ask questions about ancestors in the 1880s or even worse the 1910s. Some questions on genealogical forums seem like missing person ads rather than genealogical queries. Meanwhile as time marches on, my own research seems more impressive. Those ancestors born in the 1810s for whom parents seem an impossible luxury item, lived now almost 200 years ago instead of just 100 or so years ago. Hitting roadblocks 200 years ago is respectable. Anything sooner just seems like poor research. I will be completely absolved of any poor research by mid 21st century, the 200th anniversary of the Irish Famine.
But still you’ve got to wonder when you see someone asking for information on someone who was born, died or married in the time of vital records (i.e. past 1900). The first thing you what to know is have you done the basics? Do you have a death certificate with no parents on it? If so, I’m sorry, but join the club. If not, get your butt out of your computer room and out into the real world where you can actually do genealogy.
That’s where all of us experienced genealogists have it over the nouveau computer genealogists. We know how to use libraries, archives, state offices and historical societies. We’ve written hundreds of letters with hundreds of SASEs in order to get more information. It’s not that we don’t use computers, but we also have boxes full of papers and charts from “the old days.” One gets the idea that some people think that genealogy can be accomplished by merely doing a few Internet searches. Of course it can be—you just have to find an experienced genealogist who is also a second or third cousin and wow—you can have a lot of research sent to you free of charge. Otherwise there’s not a lot of good stuff out there for free and tons of bad research just waiting to gobble up the unsuspecting new genealogist.
The Experienced Genealogist is a breed apart. Still completely addicted, s/he is just as excited about the hunt, the family, and the stories as any newbie. A fountain of knowledge on methods, places and family names—they are the backbone of family history today.