the case for ….

… a family historian/genealogist

Compiling the information for “Whidden NH, NS and beyond 1662-2002 a family odyssey” was a lot of work, though spread over many people and twenty years.  I’d alway meant to publish the result, especially when I became aware of the fact that computer data, thought to be robust and expected to survive for many decades if not centuries, that only applied in ideal conditions and many times those conditions did not prevail.  Now archivists are being faced with a flood of data in much worse shape than it would be if it were recorded on paper.  Thus records collected by governments at all levels may not be available for the historian/genealogist to use, as in the case of the Maine archives which advise you on their web, information from the 1960-1970s is not available as the [magnetic] disks can no longer be read (I can no longer find where that was reported on the Maine archives web site; it’s likely been removed).

The information recorded on acid free paper turns out to be one of the cheapest and most durable ways to save the information, short of embossing it on metal foil or carving it in stone.  Can you imagine trying to find a particular printed page in a collection that filled two aircraft hangers?  Thus the need for computers.  Printing enough copies of the book to survive the next four hundred years is the next goal to achieve.  See “Very long-term backup

Another problem is optical media, which we were led to believe would last a long time, only to discover that too is under ideal conditions but most of the CDs and DVDs I know of are certainly not stored in ideal conditions.  As well, the dye based consumer media can possibly suffer from fading as in photographs from 40 – 60 years ago, thus best to treat them as if they might only last 5 – 10 years and copy them to new and likely larger capacity media.  Also, we have the problem of “dead media” where there are no longer devices or the device driver software to allow the media to be read – after over fifty years of computer progress, try reading an old 2400 foot reel of magnetic tape or a five and a half or eight inch floppy disk.  Not able to, right?

The internet is a whole new problem: what about information which was available 5 – 10 years ago but has disappeared.  Is any effort being made to record that which is important to the Whidden/Whitten/Whiddon history/genealogy.  Not that I’m aware of beyond what I have managed to capture myself and saved to optical media.

What about the census we have come to rely on for records from 1850 – 1930 in the US and 1871 – 1911 in Canada.  The current Canadian census is only a sample census where only one in twenty citizens get the long form which has genealogically useful information.  Or the latest US census where the work to get from a 90% census to a 100% is deemed too expensive so they’ll just settle for the 90% of returns that are easy to collect.  If your ancestor is among the 10% left out, you are out of luck.  What alternative is available?  Not many.   Will private or corporate databases that could fill the gaps be available when we need them decades later and be as freely accessible as the current census information.  I don’t think so – likely a huge price will be levied with limitations on sharing the result.  Not to mention that the current Canadian census has a check box to indicate whether each responant wishes to have the information released and if they respond “NO” then no genealogical researcher will ever be able to get it.

The result of considering all this is the realization that someone needs to begin collecting that information, on behalf of each family, while that can be done with minimal cost.  Of course assurances of privacy and confidentiality will have to be observed and some of the rules established for the census will have to transfer to this information, unless a release is obtained allowing it to be published earlier.  In this age where identity theft is increasing, that would suggest that few would be inclined to sign such a release – just in case it would result in such theft.

Should copies of the published work be held only by family members, who would treat it with the kindness it needs so no copies would be placed in libraries where no control over who sees it could be maintained.   Perhaps a copy should only be sent to the Latter Day Saints archives after all the individuals have passed on to ensure their identity safety while they live.

Surely that is not going to result in fewer people recording their own experiences; it just means those accounts may perish when they do unless someone with an interest in preserving it has received a copy.  Are we going to become a generation that can’t find out what those stories are until the participants in the stories are no longer with us?  I sure hope not.  What a loss that would be.

However that is a draconian solution to what some might consider a trivial problem.  After all aren’t people sharing more information about themselves than ever before on the likes of MySpace and FaceBook.  Some say too much is being shared.  What is the status of a public web log (otherwise called blog) when it’s creator doesn’t care to talk to a family historian/genealogist?  Should it be incorporated into a family history/genealogy, treated as if privacy was requested or left out entirely?  Birth, graduation, wedding, anniversary and death announcements continue to be printed in the newspapers.  Books continue to be written to chronicle the likes of Whidden families experiences in hurricane Juan in Nova Scotia and other events around the world.

Considering all of the above, it’s easy to talk oneself out of even bothering but the task is more important than these obstacles and ways need to be found around each and every one of them to continue to chronicle a family that continues to make a great contribution to our life and well being.  After all we still seem to want to know the latest move of a president or prime minister, sports hero, music or movie star.  All family history does is turn the lens to the many contributions that might go unrecorded among our own family.  My interest in history of the countries we have lived in and the politicians and monarchs increased immensely when I had compiled a more comphrehensive history of the Whidden/Whitten family and could place us among those more well known players on the stage of history.

Much to think about.

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