Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Genealogical Dark Ages Coming?
Sounds ominous doesn't it? - "The genealogical dark ages." The Dark Ages followed the decline of the Roman Empire as Europe experienced cultural and economic deterioration. Intellectual curiosity was stifled for hundreds of years until the Renaissance in the 14th century.
A recent article in the Deseret Times (Salt Lake City) reports an address given at BYU's Conference on Family History and Genealogy by Curt B. Witcher, manager of The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind. He believes we may be entering a new dark age in genealogy with vital records and memories of people alive today lost forever.
A wealth of genealogical information is accessible on the Internet today, and you might think this is the golden age of family history. It may well be, but Witcher feels our technological ability is causing us to lose interest in keeping thoughts and words for future generations.
Witcher is a strong advocate for records preservation and keeping public records accessible to researchers. Public records include everything from birth records to tombstones - and more are disappearing every day. He believes we have a crisis in our midst as we leave the care of our written records largely to the care of disinterested strangers.
Most alarming is his statement that courthouses are engaging in "radical sampling" - keeping a few samples from large record collections and destroying the rest. Many genealogical problems can only be solved via court records. Their destruction is a dire loss for researchers.
A further symptom of the times according to Witcher is the current trend by libraries to limit hours and public access to their collections. He cited several examples: Ohio's State Library donated all its genealogical materials to a Columbus public library; The Library of Michigan has divested itself of genealogical items not directly related to Michigan; Boston's Public Library is considering making its newspaper collections off limits to the general public. This week Camden, N.J. announced plans to close all branch libraries. The Arizona the State Library is currently open weekdays only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
When is the last time you received a personal letter from a relative? Today we send email, seldom preserving the messages, another fact that worries Witcher. He asks, "Do you organize your email well? All those Christmas greetings? All those family stories that have been exchanged through email? How are you doing with file management? It's a part of living history." As records disappear on a personal level so does our connection to history.
Witcher encourages us to "Write as you never have written before." Write about memories, your childhood, personality sketches, a family's rituals and traditions, or describe a family photograph. Share your writing with others. Otherwise, "precious pieces of living history go into landfills."
"Publish," he says, "locally to family or even on a website such as werelate.org." taking care not to post personal information of living individuals as you create records for descendants. ". . . History (is) in our hands. What are we going to do with it?" If we wait for someone else to take care of it, our history is endangered and may be lost. Good advice from a respected librarian who cares about history including our individual family histories.
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