Jan 23 2013
Pre-Internet days, people would exchange information, by postal mail, back and forth. Sometimes you would get an answer within a week, sometimes, a few months. If you sent out 50 letters, sharing your “Family Tree” with strangers, you would probably receive responses, from 5-10 of them. These responses may provide you with confirming information, conflicting information, or new information. These few individuals were willing to share information and assist you, in learning more. Many times, they would send you copies of documents (ex. land deals, Wills, Tax lists, Wills, photographs, etc.) without you even requesting them. Those were the “good ole days”.
Once the Internet was opened to the public, those same researchers, began to share their information, online. Unfortunately, by this time, these researchers were in their “Senior” years. So, within a decade, they were no longer available, online, to be able to share their expertise. Which opened the door for others to possibly, pick up their torch. Well, this brought on a slew of family tree postings, etc. which helped websites like Rootsweb and Genealogy, to erupt with genealogical information, with lots of duplication, and misinformation. These were the forefathers of websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry. Now, we have web forums, message boards, email groups, etc. This means that the sharing and collaboration of research, should be a given, right?
Well, from my own personal experience, the answer to that question would be, “wrong”. Even though there are more forums, message boards, email groups, websites, etc. designed to assist in this endeavor, reaction from others has been quite poor. Granted there are plenty of “cyber” people out there, willing to help answer your individual questions, and work to answer that question. When it comes to finding people “actively” researching the same family line, and willing to work together, collaborate if you will, has been rather difficult. Many times, it feels like you are the only person, posting queries, and sometimes, it’s a cold hard fact. With the explosion of genealogy, as a hobby, in the last few years, you would think it would get easier, right?
Unfortunately, the answer again is, “wrong”. So, the question we should ask ourselves and each other is, why? Why do people who are actually doing research, on the same family line, refuse to work together? Is it possible, that the majority of them, have as much as they wish to learn, even if there are plenty of errors? Could it be they simply accept other people’s research, as fact, and do not intend on doing any actual research of their own? Or perhaps, they are only interested in their own research, and though they add information from others, they simply do not intend or wish to work with anyone else? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t help, confirm information or correct misinformation.
If we cannot get people researching the same family line, to collaborate, maybe we can convince other researchers to join together to work towards solving mysteries and brick walls. Now, I know there are several web groups, forums, message boards, etc. that attempt to fill this void, and they do a great job, I’m sure. There are volunteer groups, that are willing to assist researchers, find the information (by doing “leg work”, traveling to libraries, etc.) they cannot get themselves due to finances or location. However, this simply is still not good enough. I know, personally, I have posted my “cyber” fingers off, on lots of websites, queries, information, etc. in a vain attempt to stir up assistance, to little avail, as of yet.
What does an active researcher got to do, to get some help? Well, I have a few suggestions or possibilities. Find an existing organization or website, and inquire about putting together a “brick wall” task force, built with researchers, from all over the country (meaning United States) or perhaps the world. This task force would work towards the common goal of solving genealogical brick walls. Another possible solution, is to use networks of volunteers, who combine their efforts to smash brick walls, by handing off tasks to people in the objective areas, until the task is done. Example, you trace a family surname branch, from Tennessee, back through Virginia, through North Carolina, to Pennsylvania, until their arrival in the USA, from Germany. This would require different volunteers, in different areas, of different states, to work hand-in-hand. After all, police departments have “cold case detectives”, why shouldn’t we have genealogical “brick wall detectives” What suggestions do you, or your colleagues have?