Friday, May 12, 2017

Speaking of Antiques . . .

In my other life—are you surprised that I do anything other than genealogy?—our family has operated a training business for several years. It just so happened that this week was the very time for a crisis to descend upon our humble office, requiring the extraction of a document which, unfortunately, resides within an outdated computer which is no longer operative. In other words, if it is possible to call any computer an antique, this one qualifies.

This computer boasts an operating system which predates the turn of the century. Hence, despite it also housing the precious cargo of a lifetime of genealogical research in an also-antiquated database management program (oh, yeah, and also that business document), its age had long ago mandated my removing it from online connectivity.

Still, things were quite manageable, as far as the genealogy records went, as long as I could keep firing up the old curmudgeon as needed. Of course, I had been engaged in a steady removal of necessary files for conversion and transfer to more updated systems as time allowed.

One day, though—well, more like one of those times when things that go bump in the night wake you up, wondering—I heard a noise. It sounded like a cat, losing his feline grip on the back end of my computer stand and tumbling, un-cat-like, into the morass of technology wiring below. Next thing I knew—or, in this case, didn't know—when I fired up the old computer the next morning, nothing happened. Not even a click.

Everything seemed like it was in order, down below in that spaghetti-bowl outlay of cords, but I knew that, out of those countless connectors, at least one of them wasn't quite making its connection. I set that task aside for another, more compelling time.

That time arrived this week.

Desperate to retrieve what turned out to be the only version of a form with a code we needed to access, we had to find a way to coax the old machine to turn back on. What is it that's said about desperation? Necessity is the mother of invention? In this case, thankfully, it became our inspiration. The right connections were made and the franken-computer begrudgingly came back to life.

After the business of the day was taken care of, it occurred to me that, while the antique was still in running order, I might re-start my retrieval project. I'm now back in business, set to rescue those fourteen thousand names in the family tree which was my first line of defense following the tedium of an era back when family history was reconstructed by inked notes on paper—an era in which you could smell the history you were releasing with every turn of the brittle page.

I worked well into the night, harvesting old transcriptions. When it got too late to work, I had to face the reality that what I hadn't yet rescued might be forever lost, if the machine wouldn't boot back up again after I shut it down for the night.

When we think of antiques, we think of items with an existence originating within a time span far removed from our present day. That way of thinking works well for the accoutrements of the nineteenth century, for instance, but we seldom think of items from our own lifetime as antiques. When we see our existence as part of "The Present," we don't even consider our own experiences to be history-worthy. We just think of those things as part of the "here and now." But even computers have a history—and some old junkers are quite worthy of the term "collectibles," if not outright antiques. And mine is one of them.

I'm just glad my antique is back in working order. 


  1. Well said. I have one of those aging PCs on a shelf in a closet awaiting my attention.

    1. You have my sympathies, Gayle. Some things of value don't seem to mix well with the temporary state of technology. Computers are continually being upgraded; change is a constant for them. And here we are, dealing in the frozen-in-time permanence of historical record, desperately trying to preserve that record through the ephemeral essence of "the ether."

  2. Jacqi, as you suspect that it is on its last legs, you might want to just leave it booted until you have finished your transfers. The power-up and power-down stress our systems more than ordinary operation, at least as long as it is running in a well-ventilated space.

    1. Good point, Marian--although, if I chose that route, I'd certainly have to enclose the thing in a soundproof container! It is so noisy.

      We (I and my frankenputer-building husband) are working on a strategy to extract what may be preserved, and rededicate what isn't to a different, better functioning "antique" computer for future off-line use (for my original Family Tree Maker 4.0 database system). It's a race against time and the inevitable, but I think we'll have a good chance at preserving the most important files.


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