Montana State Genealogical Society

PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE: June 1997

In the years that I have worked in the Stevensville, Montana Family History Center, so often I have heard the phrase, "If only I had...." The patron would then go on to bemoan the fact that he or she had not questioned Grandpa Holt or Aunt Zella about family history while they were still alive. Recently I listened to a man give a talk about writing one's family history. He said that he figured that he was too busy to mess with it until all of his children were grown and out of the nest. When the time came that the kids were gone, he was retired and had time for working on his family history, everyone who could tell him anything had all passed away.

Well I am probably preaching to the choir, but I suspect we could use a little sermon. In spite of the fact that I have been searching out my family history for many years and did question the older generation before they died (receiving information true and false) there are still areas where I procrastinate and say I am too busy. My mother had two cousins that I needed to question. For a year and a half I have been saying that I'm going to call them one of these days. Last winter one of them died, and I am still saying I am going to get around to calling the other one soon. Soon I may be saying "If only I had..." I suspect that although we are all members of the choir, we are not perfect. At least I'd like to think that I am not alone in my imperfections.

Do it before it is too late. Do it now. And I am not just talking about searching your family history. I feel a sense of urgency when it comes to matters relating to family history. Back up your computer data on a disk before your hard drive crashes. Copy your information and send it to a sibling before something happens to your papers and files. Put your papers, disks, and files in a safe place or beside door for quick evacuation. Have negatives made of your most precious old photographs. Get that record before something happens to the repository or the records in it. Don't just question your older relatives. Tape an interview with them. I have heard the sad phrase, "If only I had..." from more than one person who did not back up their computer data and lost it all when their hard drive crashed.

There are things we need to do collectively before it is too late. We need to save records from being destroyed. We need to have them microfilmed before they crumble in our hands. We need to be ever alert and squash attempts to bar our access to public records before the laws are passed, the rules written, and it is too late, and we can only sigh and say, "If only we had..." Genealogical societies at all levels are the force that keeps records intact and accessible. They are the primary place where we learn the skills to do our family history research. We need to actively participate in our local and state genealogical societies and be willing to serve in offices and help in any way. So many of us are saying, "I'll do that some other time when I'm not so busy," that any number of societies are truly struggling. Soon it will be too late. The folding of a genealogical society is a terrible loss for so many individuals and families, and it diminishes the power of the collective effort. Let's renew and act upon our commitment today so that instead of saying, "If only I had," we can say, "I'm so glad that I...."

DO IT BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE! DO IT NOW!.......I have to go make a phone call.

Pat Thompson, President, MSGS

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