After indulging in a soul-purging bout of histrionics, I’m happy to report that the real me is back. With a new computer.
Now begins the long process of migration from one computer to the other. It’s beginning to sound as complicated as moving one’s household from one building to another. Ultimately, the new toy will become the work horse, and the old desktop will be reserved for off-line-only use of my old Family Tree Maker
dinosaur database. That way, I’ll still have access to
my old records, in case I discover a glitch that doesn’t make itself
immediately apparent in the new, transferred, version.
Going through this experience brought two things to mind. One is that we see things—especially “modern” conveniences—as if they will be “forever.” Another is the realization of how fleeting our records preservation efforts really are. While each may seem to be one and the same, the impact from these two thoughts ricochets off in different directions.
The issue with blithely pressing forward, confident in the always-ness of our current technological advances, is that today’s “new” is not always going to be status quo. Thus, we tend not to make allowances for what will someday, inevitably, go away. And when that someday arrives, we find that we have heavily invested our time and effort into building a reality upon a foundation that—we could see it coming if only we had looked—has already crumbled. In the face of this, incremental patches to “just get by” for another brief season become the very mindset that initiated the downfall. The incremental changes should have been pro-active, addressing the future, rather than rearward-facing—like driving forward via rear-view mirror—and making do for the time being.
Yet, the transient nature of our preservation efforts—no matter how stalwart we may think our systems are—is future-shock scary to me. All the archival systems we’ve developed over the years, the preservative efforts, even the tedious, diligent copying of manuscripts over the centuries by monks and other advocates of preserving mankind’s wisdom: they are no more solid than the one step they are from the age at which their medium crumbles from natural age. While we as genealogists urge each other on to “tell their story” and pass these details from generation to generation, we are humbly beholden to a chain of events which is still only as strong as its weakest link.
I can’t help but think of all the effort that contributed to the world of knowledge stored in one of yesteryear’s digital worlds, GeoCities. Remember GeoCities? It’s non-existent now, except—thanks to the foresight of those seeing it in an anthropological, historic sense—in an academic, test-tube display. If that was the only trigger saving that massive digital collection from being vaporized “into the ether,” what is to become, in some unnamed future, of Blogger, or Linked-In or YouTube—or Ancestry.com forums, for that matter?
We think we can’t find adequate records of our ancestors from the 1700s or beyond because, we say, not that many records of the common people were kept. What will people be saying about us, three hundred years from now? Will they assume—because they can’t access them—that we, too, left no records?
And yet, on the opposite end of that spectrum, I’ve always taken comfort in a little book I once heard about. It was a book of instruction, written by a father for his daughters. Somehow, it managed to be passed down not only from that first to second generation, but to subsequent generations for, now, centuries—all because someone cared enough to preserve it. It was a personal document that someone saw as important enough to keep—actually, to publish as a book to share with a wider audience.
While technologies change, fashions shift gears, and people’s fickle interests waft in and out of focus, all it takes is overlapping sequences of two-person teams to preserve any specific record—one person, determined to pass a message from one point in time to another, and second person to receive that message and value it enough to turn around and then do the same.
It’s just that now, with the constant change in processing mechanisms, that relay race seems to have become more of an obstacle course.