Genealogy During Lockdown
Every time I look at a genealogy website these days I see lists of events which are cancelled or postponed. Some societies have adjusted to this by offering webinars or remote sessions via Zoom. We are left wondering if we will ever meet in groups, or go to our local Family History Center again. Or is this the end of genealogy as we have known it?
Yes, I think in some ways we are looking at permanent changes to the way we work. AND IT'S NOT ALL BAD!
Take classes for example. In the before-Covid days (let's call it BC) attendance could be sporadic, and I'm sure some folks just came for the entertainment value and the cookies. Now during the pandemic (AD) we have more students attending and they're more involved than ever before. One benefit is that former students from around the country are able to join us again via video conferencing and share their vast store of knowledge. Another is that the platform we use allows screen sharing, so that we can look at family trees, sources, web sites and documents and critique them in real time. And no commute woes or parking problems!
But classes aside, what adjustments have been made in the genealogical community?
I'm pleased to see that some sites have stepped up to the challenge. Many libraries are offering the library version of Ancestry for free to cardholders. The National Genealogical Society is offering free access to their newsletter archives. The National Archives in the UK has free downloads of their digitized records for the duration of their closure. Registered users will be able to order and download up to ten items at a time, to a maximum of 50 items over 30 days. This has already saved me a trip to Kew or shelling out big bucks. And it has encouraged me to take another look at their files.
Many of our state and local societies are offering free webinars or individual consultations. The advantage of these platforms is that you can record the event, and submit questions to the presenter during the event.
On the flip side, the restricted documents on Family Search are now not only restricted but inaccessible. Unless you have special access, you can't view the records and you can't go to a family history center to see them there. Perhaps it's time to review the copyright limits on access before these records become essentially non-existent to genealogists.
One big change I've seen AD is less reliance on the same old ways of doing things, and more use of creative ways of looking at genealogy. With time on our hands, we've been able to contact relatives and DNA matches. Librarians I've emailed seem to be delighted to hear from someone with a real research question for them. We look at the importance of passing our legacy down to our family. Some folks have started journaling their experiences during lockdown, and remembering tales of the 1918 flu that was passed down to them. This is a legacy we need to pass on to the next generation.
In our class, we've been using Thomas McEntee's Do Over Workbook to take a fresh look at our research. The Toolbox is especially relevant now as we assemble our sources, some of which would be out of reach if we looked for them today. Just as we stockpile our cans of beans and rolls of TP, we are stockpiling our genealogical notes and put them within reach. And we are re-discovering hidden treasures!
Has genealogy changed in some permanent way? I believe it has. I’m looking at RootsTech and other large conferences and wondering if we will ever be able to come together the same way. Perhaps technology will find some new and creative ways for us to meet. Or we may increase the dissemination of genealogy just by allowing (requiring) global access to previously location-based events and sources.
Eventually, with luck, we will be able to return to the stacks at the Family History Library. But perhaps we will look back a little fondly at the time when we made new connections and discovered a whole new way of doing genealogy.
- Margaret Melaney
- Margaret Melaney