Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A wealth of resources, the luck of the draw

We have pretty good genealogical records here in America. We have church archives, local government archives, federal government archives, military records, passenger manifests, census records, and all preserved pretty well and made reasonably available to the public, both key to successful genealogical research.

Europe seems to have pretty good records as well - of course, no government is perfect. Ireland, for some reason, destroyed all of its census information after it had been collected. I still wish at certain moments that I could go back in time and keep the 1890 U.S. census from being almost completely destroyed in a fire. For almost everyone living in 2010, that was an important piece of somewhat recent research that's just gone forever.

But lately I've been thinking about how lucky we are here by all the resources that are available to us - I know it's something I tend to take for granted, and in fact so much information is so readily available that I can get kind of impatient (what, me, get impatient?) when I have to actually look hard and dig deep for a piece of the puzzle. But I guess governments are kind of like people, with different personalities. Some of them, like me, like to make and keep lists. Others couldn't care less about that kind of thing. Some countries don't have a high enough literacy rate to make keeping records feasible. Some countries that are too poor have more important things to worry about like feeding people. Others have volatile tempers and are too busy with civil wars and internal fighting and the records get lost, usually for good. But I think of some of my good friends, most of whom come from Latin American countries, and their parents never had birth certificates. And their town churches back home, along with all their records, have burned down. No census was ever taken, and their grandparents or great-grandparents died too young to ask them about passing on an oral history.

But in those cases, especially, is when oral histories become important, because that's all you have. And while it's not hard evidence as far as genealogical research goes, it's good evidence - your grandmother might not be able to tell you about her grandparents, but she can tell you about her parents and her siblings and what it was like growing up, and depending on who you talk to, other people will remember other things and other people. And if you write that down, straight from the horses mouth so to speak, or record them recounting their own stories, then 100 years from now, that's pretty much primary source information, and it helps to start your family story, at the very least, for future generations.

But I think of my friends a lot when I do this research and when I'm getting really frustrated and they're laughing at me because I'm always looking to be able to go further back, and there's no way they'll ever be able to go further back, and it makes me realize how lucky I am and how important keeping these records for future generations is.

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