On free lunches (or the lack of them)

My Google alert for genealogy turned up some alarm this past week about the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet for genealogy research.

I’d just add that the belief in a Big Rock Candy Mountain of genealogy wonders predates the arrival of Ancestry.com. A lot of people love the idea that somewhere, somehow, all the genealogy records they need will be in a single place. If they evolve beyond a casual interest in genealogy, they soon find out that:

1. People generate all sorts of records in all sorts of places, some of which don’t share their records with big repositories, whether out of inertia or sheer desire to be annoying.

2. If you go back far enough, people didn’t generate much in the way of records, period. In which case no “central repository” is going to give you everything you need, anyway.

3. The way home to Kansas, Dorothy, is with your own two feet. You just gotta belieeeeveee.

When I first started my genealogy quest, Internet databases were practically nonexistent. But the Big Rock Candy Mountain idea was still out there.

I’d often talk to a relative about setting up an interview, only to be told that I simply HAD to journey to Salt Lake City (or order up a couple of FHL microfilms) and I’d find everything I needed to know. It was funny how people never saw themselves as my most important genealogy source. No, there had to be a Big Universal Official Source somewhere.

So I wouldn’t say the Internet caused this situation, although it certainly has intensified things. The problem is the myth of a one-stop solution, and it’s worth a good rant.

Because getting past this idea of the Universal Genealogy Bat Cave is so important. It’s such a barrier to creative thinking and problem solving. And once it drops by the wayside, a lot of supposedly impregnable brick walls can come tumbling down.


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