Sunday, February 7, 2021

Working With What We've Got


What we've "got" in our never-ending pursuit of our family's history is turning out to be far more than genealogists have ever had in the past. Unless you've been around, decades ago, to crank through microfilmed records one by one to find the one document you needed for just one ancestor, perhaps you don't realize how good we've got it now. Because of digitization, coupled with search capabilities, the speed at which we can locate records is stunning—at least in comparison to the way family history research used to be handled.

Of course, I'm not the first to notice that particular research perk. Perhaps it was a fitting finale that the last night I could watch the reruns of the SLIG course I just completed, "In-Depth African American Genealogy," was a date that made it—but just barely—into the month of February, Black History Month. In that week-long series of classes, one of the instructors, Michael Hait, passed along a thought which, though first addressing digitization of newspaper archives, applies just as handily to the research we attempt as family historians.

Mr. Hait drew from an article written by a professor of history at the University of Sheffield, Adrian Bingham. The article, "The Digitization of Newspaper Archives: Opportunities and Challenges for Historians," spoke to the transformational conversion of material of interest to those who wish to analyze history from source documents through the digitization process. What Mr. Hait wished to point out in quoting Dr. Bingham was that, because search times have been shortened, thanks to the quick access afforded us through digitized and searchable documents, the more time we can now devote to analyzing the content we've so quickly located.

That very dynamic was illustrated in our week-long course over and over, as a mind-boggling array of documents were accessed to demonstrate that it is, indeed, possible to trace the family lines of African Americans well beyond that perceived "brick wall" pre-dating the 1870 census. While it is possible, though, that doesn't mean it is easy. That's where the analysis comes in—plus knowledge of what's included within record sets, and how to track them down at the myriad (and often unpredictable) locations where they are stowed.

I thought about that dilemma often this past week, as I returned from that January class series to my planned research goals for this year. Perhaps it is King Stockton's family story calling out to me, making me realize I can't just drop my January goal completely, just because we have now arrived in February. Though I will continue with my yearlong research plans, at the very least, I hope to continue mentioning my progress on the Stockton family during the weekends, especially to share some of the resources and repositories we were introduced to during the SLIG course.

As it turns out, we have so much more at our digital fingertips for this type of search than we thought possible, and I can't just sit by and keep silent when I know sharing is what is most useful. After all, if someone hadn't shared those old oral histories with me, or told me about helpful resources I wasn't familiar with, I wouldn't even have gotten as far as I have with this project—or any other. It's when we share what we are doing that we help each other.

Meanwhile, like a well-oiled machine humming away in the background, those regularly-scheduled tasks will keep reaching to achieve new goals. I have, for instance, kept up that biweekly report—today being another report day—to note research progress on my main trees. In the past two weeks, I've added 183 individuals to my parents' combined tree, which now totals 25,152 profiles. While I didn't make any progress in the past two weeks on my in-laws' combined tree, I'll alternate to work on their tree in the upcoming cycle to augment the 19,845 already listed for my in-laws' families. And for the DNA tests I'm still tracking, though the holiday surge of new matches we once were accustomed to seeing in past years has this year shriveled to a dribble, I still am keeping an eye on promising matches as they appear.

Those, however, will be topics to review, along with sharing the background reports on King Stockton's story, during these quiet weekends. Come Monday, we'll switch back to the featured ancestor from that list of monthly research goals. Tomorrow, we'll return to examine what can be found on my godmother, Genia Melnitchenko—and in particular, any records which can reveal more about her father's heritage.    

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