Anyone who has delved into the history of their family knows that the more they learn about their ancestors, the more real and interesting these people become. Many say it’s a one of a kind experience, almost like traveling through time. And children also benefit greatly from knowing who their ancestors were – not just their names and dates of birth – but knowing them as real people: skilled, funny, cranky, optimistic, hard-headed, intelligent or whatever. Regardless which attributes apply, that awareness will boost their sense of identity, self-image, and character.
Sadly, however, each passing generation takes with it a wealth of wonderful wisdom, stories, and memories that are too soon forgotten. It’s estimated that a baby-boomer dies in the U.S. every 49 seconds, and as the saying goes, “Each time a person dies, a library burns.” Yet to future generations, the precious life stories that are preserved only become more valuable and irreplaceable as time goes by.
It would 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 was often the exception rather than the rule.
But that was then, and this is now. Technology has brought with it major enhancements, not the least of which is the Internet itself. There’s lots of buzz these days about genealogy, the study of one’s ancestry. But while most people are at least curious about their ancestral roots, few find it compelling enough to engage in the time consuming task of locating the clues needed to track one’s roots back to the middle ages or beyond.
But compelling or not, is that the best use of our time? To borrow a financial metaphor, let’s be careful not to step over dollars to pick up dimes. In other words, since no one has infinite amounts of time, we all must prioritize. Finding those “needle in a haystack” clues will devour time like nothing else can, mainly because it is estimated that only 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 – searching through seemingly endless amounts of records and data.
And while that may well be a virtuous calling, first consider this – 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 the 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 often far off and 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.