Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2008 Issue

AE Comet: Genealogy & Local History - A Passion

Atkins

History of Middlefield and Long Hill - from Resource Books


By Bruce McKinney

Click here for the November AE Comet.

Genealogy is the history of people and local history the history of places. There was a time when the history of people and places were essentially the same but that time, for most, is long past. Certainly, old families and their descendants can be found wherever people live but overwhelmingly people, now freed from obligations to land and family, pursue, jobs, opportunities and better climates more and more as matter of fact decisions. It turns out humans like to move and that they were stationary only when they lacked choices. Since people have had increasing opportunities to move they have been on the move.

Changing location has not however always meant a loss of connection. Most people maintain some interest in the place they grew up. Many more retain an interest in the people they have known. With people moving so often the internet has facilitated a "connections" industry of sorts. Today there is Facebook and email and genealogy sites of all descriptions. Connecting in fact has never been easier or cheaper.

Some people more than others retain this lingering fascination with family history and place. For them the online genealogy sites are a way to trace roots and establish connection. A smaller group finds interest and satisfaction in local history often in conjunction with specific events. For them, book listing sites provide a way to locate material they may want to buy. Armed with such material they can do deeper research as well as read for pleasure. Such material is a portion of what's available in AE's Books for Sale.

It is said today that more than half of all adult Americans have done some online searches for their family history. That percentage is certain to increase just as the available online resources will also increase. It can seem like every fact is available online but actually it's not yet even close. You see so much we all often think we are looking for must be out there; the only problem is imperfect search terms. Better search engine algorithms and better search terms no doubt will improve outcomes but by-and large the information simply isn't posted yet. It will be but we still haven't figured out how yet to post all currently needed information. For instance it would be great to be able to look at Great Uncle Billy's civil war history but it will be even better if we could access our personal health records. Health records will get the priority over the next ten years. Uncle Billy will probably have to wait.

The material included in this month's Comet is intended less to show you a book or pamphlet to buy than it is to show you the kind of material available. For many families there are now associations but most of their sites focus on networking rather than providing extensive searchable data. It turns out that a single couple from 1650 today probably has thousands of living relatives. Tracking that one family is a hugely complex task. The truth is we are going to know much more going forward than we'll ever be able to rediscover about the past. The present and future are simply more important.

The material selected in this month's Comet is a combination of family and local history. If your name is Dubois there is a national association. Many other families aren't so well organized but you won't know until you begin to look. Your first internet search might be your family last name and the word

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