I am of an age that I began my serious family history research at the cusp of the digital revoution of the mid 90s. That was the time when the internet was becoming more pevalent in our homes and every day lives, and also the digitisation of family records was in its relative infancy.
I remember the early days of Ancestry and FamilySearch (and it’s associated IGI – International Genealoigical Index – which was always viewed with suspicion by ‘real researchers’ as it was so driven by normal people and a lack of proofed sources. There were message boards and email groups, small, specialised websites dedicated to family names, specific record sets or localities. then there were the sites that served as aggregators of all these sites, like Cyndi’s List which is still around today.
What they all had in common were the people. Friendly, like-minded people who shared a passion for genealogy and welcomed us newbies, especially us youngsters and shared not only tips but often their own research (Yes, a risky business…)
As I said, I started on the cusp so alongside discovering the above online, visiting archives was required. I have mentioned my local archives here in WIltshire before, in their new, state of the art, premises with open, light-filled reading rooms and plenty of space to spread yourself out. However, their precursor, based in Trowbridge, were quite the opposite, a pair of pokey rooms in what felt like a concrete bunker with staff who made you feel less than welcome. No wonder people flock to sites that have transcriptions available
Of course, all those transcribed records, the census pages, the parish registers, the wills, the apprentice records, the criminal registers, all those names and dates are only available because of the good deeds of others, of scores of people giving up their evenings, their weekends to provide information not for themselves but for us, unknown strangers to call up at a moments notice. And all that time given for free.
I say “them”, but I should say “us” as I am part of that number, I have taken part in transcription exercises for Ancestry and FamilySearch. I have recorded memorial inscriptions and been asked to photograph tombs and graveyards and I did so happily and with gusto because we are all a community. We all want to share our discoveries and our researches. And we all build off those who went before us. In genelaogy that is quite literally what we prove, but by how we prove it and the methods by which we search are all based on the good deeds of others.
So to those people, those unsung heroes, I say this.
And it is why I will always endeavour to help other people. If I know something that might help you and keep it to myself, then I’m spitting in the eye of everyone who has helped me in the past and continues to help me today or will in the future.
(And sorry for missing another few weeks of 52 Ancestors, I suffered a small stroke a couple of weeks ago which necessitated a short stay in hospital and despite being home almost a week, its only now that I can really face being sat in front of my laptop!