A discussion from Congress 2015 that really stood out to me involved whether or not you can do your family history from home. I always find this an interesting topic/debate, and it is one I believe comes up frequently at such events.
On this occasion, the discussion was closely linked to whether younger people are members of societies, such as the Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ), and how such societies might attract younger members, particularly now that the internet is what it is.
I know you’ve heard much of it, if not all of it, before: you can’t do all your research at home. You need to get out – to archives, cemeteries, anywhere and everywhere your ancestors’ lives might be recorded – to look at original records yourself. Of course, as the argument goes, not everything is online.
And I don’t want to debate that. It’s true. I know it’s true, and I never pretend that I will be able to do it all from home. However, I have a young family – the youngest of my three children is just six years old – so jetting off to Ireland and the UK is just not on my agenda for the next ten or so years. Yet I still (sometimes, though not always) have a little trouble swallowing these discussions when they come up. In particular, I have two issues.
Often, when this topic is raised, someone makes the assumption that if you are doing even most, if not all, of your research from home, you must be making mistakes. I have no doubt that a number of people researching from home make mistakes. However, I also have no doubt that a number of people who access the original documents also make mistakes.
|National Archives of Australia, Canberra
Photo by Bidgee
I see two ways around this, though one may not be available to some people – I am fortunate enough to be able to go away without my children for short periods, though I don’t expect everyone is. Unfortunately I can’t leave them behind for long enough to trawl records in Ireland or the UK. But I do recommend doing as much of your local research as you can. For me, this meant accessing records at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the National Library of Australia (NLA) while I was in Canberra. To some degree, I could have accessed these records without leaving home. For instance, I could have paid the digitisation fee for the records at NAA, and a colour photocopied copy would have been sent to me in due course, as well as the file then being available online for anyone else who chose to look at it. I have done this before and, depending who you’re looking up – ie high priority on your ancestor list or not – it can be quite inexpensive. The same isn’t true for NLA. While I could probably have organised an inter-library loan through my local library to gain access to the books I looked at while there, I also accessed unpublished papers, which are only available on site.
The other issue I have, which doesn’t always come up, but did at Congress, was that the discussion sometimes includes the need for societies to attract younger members. In itself, this is fine: of course societies should try to attract members. But it struck me that attracting younger members is not likely to happen when the conversation seems a little hostile towards people – like parents of young children – who won’t be expecting to travel far from home.
I’m not suggesting younger people aren’t interested in, or shouldn’t be interested in researching their family histories. After all, I’m considered to be young and I love researching my family history. Rather, I think perhaps the conversation might change a little. It might focus on what people CAN expect to achieve as well as to include a (positive) discussion that some brick walls may have to remain until their circumstances change and they can get themselves to the original documents. Even if that’s ten – or even twenty – years off. Who hasn’t waited years to break down a brick wall anyway? Would it be so bad to have to accept it’s there for a while without properly trying?
While I generally don’t venture too far from home to engage in my research, I do find that leaving home can be quite beneficial, even without going far. Even though none of my family history is in Queensland, I find that being a member of GSQ is extremely valuable. For one, I can use the library to access various databases (which would be quite expensive to have at home, especially all of them) and resources about a wide variety of topics, including the places overseas where my ancestors came from. Also, and more importantly to me, I get to meet and talk with others who have a shared interest and (often) a great deal more experience than I have. One of the wonderful things about researching your family history is that most of the people you meet along the way are very generous when it comes to sharing what they know. On the flip side, I feel good too when I can share what I know. And one thing I do know is that it is okay to be ‘doing’ this without planning any big research trips in the near future. I hope you agree.