Friday, October 27, 2017
Day Twenty-Seven: Remember the Godfrey?
It has been an interesting exercise, this Fall Cleanup purge of old files in my genealogical file cabinet. Besides evoking many fond memories of online friendships with fellow researchers, the process has uncovered resources from bygone days, prompting thoughts about the evolving state of our research.
Today, I ran across a folder for the Godfrey Memorial Library. Apparently still in operation, situated in Middletown, Connecticut, the library houses an enviable collection of genealogical books and resources. However, not to be limited by geographical confines, in 2002, the library developed the "Godfrey Scholar," an online resource allowing subscribers anywhere, for a modest fee, to access some material on their holdings, as well as gain entrance to some other key online resources.
It wasn't until 2006 when I first decided to join the ranks of the Godfrey scholars, something I can still say with certainly, because the folder for today's Fall Cleanup happened to contain my welcome letter, from then-director Thomas Jay Kemp, as "the newest member of our library." Along with the letter came a genuine hand-inscribed membership card, directions for entering the "portal," and a copy of the Summer 2005 edition of The Godfrey Update.
Over the years, changes to the Godfrey Scholar program seemed to yield less and less satisfying resources, at least for my research needs, and I eventually abandoned the subscription. In its place were so many other new options, the decision wasn't hard to make.
Isn't the world of genealogy like that? In a meeting for one of our local genealogy society's special interest groups yesterday, someone had commented that "beginners" classes aren't really just for true neophytes, but often benefit those who do know something about genealogy—but only how to do it the old way. Genealogy classes today aren't just about genealogy per se, but are also about how to access digitized records, and where to find them. There are so many new websites now available—and even the more established sites are so thick with information that it seems beneficial to spend some serious time with a tutorial on how to use the old, familiar ones.
For us as genealogists and history lovers, nostalgia may be our hidden vice. We may pine for such long-gone resources as I'm re-discovering in my file cabinet, but with so many new options making their appearance online, this is hardly time to mourn those changes. In a matter of days, Find A Grave will have a new look. Rootsweb, the old stalwart of 1990s researchers, will soon follow with changes of its own.
Meanwhile, as online genealogy mailing lists and message boards die out, new options spring up to become the next generation's avenue for research connectivity. Genealogist Katherine R. Willson publishes a directory of the more than eleven thousand English language Facebook pages and groups related to genealogy from around the world. Following Katherine's lead, Gail Dever created Facebook for Canadian Genealogy as a guide to the eight hundred Facebook resources—in either English or French—focusing on Canadian genealogy. Alona Tester created a guide for those interested in Facebook for genealogy in Australia. Undoubtedly, there are finding aids for Facebook resources in other languages, as well.
While digitized records represent only the tip of the historical documents iceberg, those online resources we now know about—and know how to use—are themselves but the tip of another iceberg, one representing a future avalanche of information downloads. We simply must resign ourselves to the concept that, from now on, learning "genealogy" will not only be a matter of understanding how to document our family history, but a matter of learning how to find, access and master the mushrooming amount of upcoming resources which will provide us those documents.
Above: "The First Snow, Minnesota," 1895 oil on canvas by German-born American artist Robert Koehler; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.