When I was growing up in the New York City suburbs, a number of churches took to offering summer camp experiences for inner city kids—to vacate the city and head for the country. The idea was to allow these young people, locked in a sweltering cement jungle, the opportunity for a different point of view. Whether true or not, a popularly-voiced idea was that "some" people needed to be disabused of the notion that, say, apples came from grocery store shelves. The feeling was that city walls distorted one's perspective—not healthy for children and other living things.
Whether all that stuff about rescuing people from the notion of apples-on-grocery-store-shelves was true—or even necessary—I don't know. I do know a lot of kids who wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity got to spend at least a week out of the summer in a much more rustic setting than they were accustomed to having.
But let's think about that hypothetical apple for a minute: where did it come from? If you are reading this post from somewhere out on the plains of Iowa, for instance, you would think it ludicrous that anyone would have missed the fact that that apple most certainly came from somewhere—and not from a grocery store shelf.
Though I didn't grow up on the streets of New York—well not, at least, the cemented-in part—this illustration got more than its fair share of my thinking over the years. You see, even though I had my very own apple tree in my back yard, I still needed to think about where things come from. How they get here. And what happens to everything else when they arrive.
Perhaps that's an outgrowth of my fascination with Systems Thinking. I find those kinds of thoughts embedded in my everyday life, in the way I approach things, or see stuff.
When I teach a beginners' genealogy class, for instance, I feel the need to delve into explanations of how things got here. Have you ever thought about it? How did those documents from all sorts of governmental repositories find their way into the FamilySearch.org website? What makes a search of those documents possible? Why is it you can search for words in a document, but not in a photo of a document?
It all reminds me—this indexing thing that transforms pictures of documents into something searchable—of the clichéd René Magritte painting, "The Treachery of Images." It is a painting of a pipe, under which is written (in French, of course), "This is not a pipe."
As Magritte himself explained,
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture, "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!
Why is that painting of a pipe not a pipe? For the same reason that a picture of words is not the same thing as the words, themselves. Just because something looks like a word doesn't mean it is a word. It won't behave like a word—at least via our computers—until we package it up to behave like a word would.
In other words, that set of words on the scanned document—say, that marriage license you've spent weeks searching for—needed to be indexed. And I want my students to know that. Someone has taken the time to convert that picture of a document into a manipulable form—something useful. Something we can search.
Of course, for now, I want those beginners to have a modicum of gratefulness for those who have put in the work, making this system run the way it does. But later, I hope that gratitude converts into a sense of wanting to give back to the community. Some will do that by sharing their research. Or teaching others how to research. But hopefully, others will realize that they, too, can become one of those volunteers who have made this whole genealogical search system work the way it does: they can become indexers, too.
Above: It goes without saying that those aren't really apples in that early 17th century oil on canvas, "Still Life With Apples," by German painter Georg Flegel. (Nor is life really still.) Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Yes, inspire those beginners. We need more indexers -- there is so much NOT online yet, but if we had more help . . . .ReplyDelete
Actually, in addition to inspiring those beginners, I'd like to renew my own commitment to indexing. It's been ages since I took on one of those half-hour-long packages of doing genealogical good.Delete
In the belief that accountability inspires commitment, I'd like to post regularly about my current indexing projects. If nothing else, it will hopefully inspire me to have a current indexing project!
Great reminder Jacqi. There is so much online now and to think if only we had more help we could have even more! I think many are intimidated by the process and afraid of what may be required of them, but most groups are just thrilled to have any help and will take whatever anyone has to offer.ReplyDelete
Michelle, I got my start indexing when our local genealogical society worked with FamilySearch to upload one of our county's obituary collections. Of course, it needed to be indexed, so our society "adopted" the project. We slam-dunked it--and that was even considering a lot of us faced a learning curve before we could even start indexing!Delete
Sometimes, doing something as a group can make a project less intimidating than going solo. Hopefully, more groups will make introducing indexing to newcomers a fun and interesting activity. Once people get this kick-start, they get over that sense of intimidation and are surprised at how much they enjoyed the experience--to say nothing of the sense of accomplishment and knowing they've contributed in such a meaningful way.
Yes, indexing is so very important. I'm grateful to those who've spent time indexing documents.ReplyDelete
Oh, Jana, where would we be without all those dedicated volunteers? Volunteering for indexing is part of what makes this system work so well for all of us. I'm quite grateful, as well.Delete
When I get done with a few of my family projects I would love to index, I bet I would like it! :)ReplyDelete
Oh, do try it, Far Side! There is a wide span of project offerings--listed from beginner to moderate level of challenge to advanced. The beginners' projects are quite easy...and some of the more difficult ones can be interesting, as well.Delete
I like to work on projects that align with my personal interests. I helped with the Catholic parish records for Chicago a while back, for instance (talk about challenging handwriting!) because our family has roots there. And not all of the records are in English--there is such a need for indexers able to handle records from other countries!--but whether you can handle those foreign records or want to work on something closer to home, you can certainly choose a record set to your liking.
I know a lot of youngsters that seem to think potato chips come from bags and hamburger is a naturally occurring substance (presumably dug out of the ground or something).ReplyDelete
I hate to think what would happen if these kids actually had to "survive" a catastrophe.