Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lesson Learned?


While my recent project, preparing a presentation on Irish family history research, has inspired me to go back and review all my old records and files, it has also reminded me of one other detail: a research experience I hope never to repeat.

Using the story of my husband's great grandfather, John Tully, I've put together a case study of the winding route that led me to the very spot in County Tipperary where, in 1842, the man was born. Of course, that called for unearthing some very old files, both in my file cabinet and in tucked away storage boxes. However, the illustration for one key clue in the paper chase—the death certificate of a niece which led me back to the Tully family's intermediate landing place before their immigration was completed in Chicago—was missing.

John Tully's niece died in Chicago, and although I had long since sent for the death certificate myself, I am now reminded that at one point, that very certificate was also available for the taking on at least two genealogical websites. Perhaps because I already had a printed copy of the document, I had neglected to snag a digital copy of it. Whatever was I thinking?

Now, of course, hindsight reminds us that just because a key document has been digitized and placed in an online repository doesn't mean we will be able to find it there in perpetuity. Apparently, granting agencies sometimes change their minds.

So here I sit, now the happy recipient of all the news about fresh additions to online resources for seeking our Irish ancestors. Does it not occur to me that these glad tidings may—like those Cook County documents of a few years ago—vaporize into the ether upon the whim of a bureaucrat? Indeed, I've already seen rumblings from Irish quarters, incensed at the gall of the National Library of Ireland in releasing those precious Catholic parish record images to a worldwide audience online. What if such rumblings gain a hearing in some political quarter? Remembering the disappearing acts I've witnessed on the digital stages of other repositories, I begin to feel the need to capture every image pertinent to my known ancestors as soon as possible. These are treasures of our family's heritage that could not as easily be recovered, should I have to contact each agency, one by one.

There is often the warning to remember to learn from history. Perhaps we also need to be wise to the history of history, and remember the vanishing acts of prior online bonanzas. Be grateful for what we have, but don't be gullible enough to believe that online gift is forever.



Above: Found—that missing document, the 1933 death certificate for Margaret Tully Dempsey, daughter of John Tully's brother Patrick, which was the first hint that the family made an intermediate stop in Paris, Brant County, Ontario, before eventually continuing to Chicago.

13 comments:

  1. You are absolutely right, Jacqi, save everything. It was only last year the civil BMD index, complete with dates, was released at Irishgenealogy.ie. Within days the Data Commissioner had it unceremoniously taken down. The records are available again now, but subject to a 100, 75 and 50 year rule. Although, I grabbed quite a few dates during that short window of availability, I missed out on many more. Have a great Paddy’s Day!

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    1. Oh, Dara, I remember that glitch! While I agree with the underlying concepts of privacy, that instance does provide an example of the impermanence of online resources.

      I do worry, though, when I hear about rumblings concerning online access to the parish records. Though it might be a faction concerned about protecting their own organizational self-interest, you never know when their complaint might gain political traction.

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  2. Very good post! I'm glad to see you were able to get the cert after all. Happy St. Paddy's Day!

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    1. Yes, Marian, the beauty of digitization is that we, too, can do that to our own records.

      I actually received this copy first in digital form by the service I used to obtain the certificate. I've also scanned and stored many other documents over the years. Duplication of effort is not a problem in my book--perhaps it makes things twice as easy to find, after I've lost them ;)

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  3. Such a great post Jacqi! Thanks for the reminder to download documents while we can.

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    1. Ah, well, Jana, you know how we sometimes learn the hard way...

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  4. Oh Jacqi, such a good reminder. It's so easy in our excitement of our finds to forget this important step.

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    1. Michelle, don't you just love it when the research hits just keep coming? But yes, that excitement can so easily sweep us off our (technologically grounded) feet.

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  5. Jacqi,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2016/03/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-march-18.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Thanks, Jana. I always appreciate the mention!

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  6. Digital copies and paper copies...both should be kept just in case:)

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    1. Good point, Far Side! And more than one copy of each...in different locations...for those of us who can't remember just where we put the thing in the first place...

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  7. With all the members in your family tree(s) I can see it being a real challenge to keep things organized! The best I can do is print things out when I find them.

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