It’s Memorial Day weekend. Time for picnics and barbeque grills. And for thinking about, and honoring those that have departed.
Originally, Memorial Day was to honor the war dead following the Civil War – although it then morphed into a holiday to honor all Americans who died in the military service. Also called Decoration Day, it has become a time to honor all of our ancestors, visit the cemetery, pull some weeds, add some flowers, relive the good memories and say a solemn prayer. Some folks are too far from home, or from our ancestors’ homes, to do those things, so we have to honor our ancestors in other ways.
I’ve chosen to spend this weekend sorting through a particularly thorny genealogical problem involving 4 generations of Crumley men, two of which were veterans, all with the same first name, some with unknown wives, confusing signatures and more. This is part of my 52 Ancestors series, so you’ll get to meet them soon.
I’ve been working on these lines now for almost 20 years. I was lucky, because when I started, there were a few who had come before me, and one who had published a book, for which I am EXTREMELY thankful.
Starting about 15 years ago, my correspondence slowly morphed from letters in the mailbox to e-mails which I diligently filed and still have today. Yes, truly I do.
But that’s part of what I’m grieving today. No, I didn’t lose my e-mails. I’m a backup fiend.
What I’ve lost…what we’ve lost…is a legacy of research – and with it part of our ancestors. How big a part? I guess we’ll never know.
Fifteen years ago, there were two primary researchers who were very actively researching…as in visiting courthouses…retaining professional genealogists…and who clearly did not wish to share until they were done. I can understand part of that, at least to a degree. No one wants to put half-baked ideas into the wild, so to speak.
But, and this is a really BIG BUT, there is a limit – and they clearly went past that limit. They died. Their books are unpublished. Their research and maps they had assembled using neighbors’ deeds, all gone. The family Bibles they said they had found among descendants – that information too all gone. Letters – gone.
They never shared with any of the rest of us.
I contributed information. Many did.
I volunteered five years ago to proofread the two books that one woman wrote that were “nearly ready” but she didn’t need any help. But she never published, and then she died. Her husband is in his mid-90s, if he’s still living, and his e-mail no longer works. At least this researcher did write some articles about these ancestors, which is not the same as two books with promised discoveries that correct earlier research…but it was something.
The second person refused to share at all, not wanting anyone to scoop his book. That would be the book, by the way, that has never been written. He is now in his late 80s (if he is still alive) and his e-mail is also now defunct. When do you think we can expect that book???
A third long-time researcher came to a Crumley meeting years ago with 3 ring binders of his work. He did share, generously, but sharing bit by bit on lists is not the same as a body of work that he clearly had. Where are his years of hard work today???
But that’s not all of it….not nearly all.
In many of the hundreds of e-mails that I’ve saved there were links to works and websites of both primary and collateral lines. I probably tried 40 or 50 links altogether over the past two days. Know how many worked? None. Not one. The most current ones were only about 4 years old. Dead as doornails…all of them. I was so surprised that they were ALL dead that I checked my system to be sure the problem wasn’t on my end – but it wasn’t and they are all dead. RIP
This is disconcerting. Some were free rootsweb pages, some were on private sites and some were other types of pages, like ones sponsored or connected to genealogy programs. But the point is that all of those researchers that had something to share no longer do. It’s gone. For all I know, they may be gone too.
Once your website and your e-mail is inoperable – you’re electronically dead to people with whom you communicate in that fashion. There is no electronic phone book for e-mails. It’s not like it used to be – you can’t just drive across town to check on your cousin. Nor are their children going to know who their online cousins are. You are likely not going to be notified of their death – let alone be considered as the steward of their work.
Yes, you can sometimes find defunct website information, at least pieces of it, using Internet Archive’s Waybackmachine – but it’s seldom complete. If it’s there, it’s better than nothing.
That information too, all of those links I saved because I would need them one day, is now gone. Some are entire websites devoted to family research of a particular family, like Brown and Johnson. Fortunately, some of the articles have been reproduced on the Greene County, TN GenWeb site. And yes, thankfully that is still working just fine. Google is your friend if the information is out there anyplace.
But think again about what you expect to be “forever” or at least be available to you at a later date. With the shuffling in the genealogy marketspace recently, a lot has changed. GenForum, bought by Ancestry, is no longer functional – meaning you can read but not post. Rootsweb list and board usage is significantly down – in favor of non-archiving social media like Facebook. Rootsweb trees still include text notes uploadable from a GEDCOM file, but Ancestry trees do not. Yes, you can copy all of your text into files and add them as documents to your Ancestry tree – but it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what and virtually no one is going to do that. Ancestry actively discourages that, because they would rather have you attach their records – which is fine – but I’ve yet to see Ancestry have the records I have for my ancestors. All I can say is I wish they did. But be aware that if you attach Ancestry’s records to your tree, and you choose to download that GEDCOM file, it’s without any of those attached records.
And with the demise of MyFamily, also discontinued by Ancestry, which upsets people so badly we’re not even going to discuss it, not only did years worth of compiled family history get shuffled to the electronic trash can…people became terribly discouraged about sharing and trusting any “forever source.”
And I haven’t even mentioned the fallacy that your tree is “forever” or safe on a third party site. I would suggest you keep your main tree right on your computer and use a third party site as a backup if you wish. But I don’t want to confuse the point. Sharing a tree is NOT the same as sharing research. A tree is the skeleton of your family. Research is the story of your ancestors’ lives – the meat on the bones.
So, now it’s up to you. It’s not up to Rootsweb, Ancestry, Facebook or anyone else. It’s up to you, just you. You need to write. You need to publish. There are many sources for you to be able to do this today. No need to know how to write html code anymore. Publishing is easy and there is no technology excuse.
I’ve chosen the WordPress platform and blogging. There are other free sites like www.weebly.com (disclosure – I have not used this site personally) and other free and paid websites. I pay for mine so that I get to choose my domain name and I have more storage space. However, when I no longer pay for it, it too will be gone. WordPress claims their free sites will be available forever, whatever forever means today.
But what about when I die, when I join my ancestors and when someone, hopefully, comes to pull the weeds and decorate my grave on Memorial Day? What about my work? Well, hopefully because I HAVE made it public because I HAVE shared, because I have NOT held back waiting on forever or someday or perfection – it will be out there – circulating around in cyber space. Is it perfect? No – but it’s there and it’s far better than nothing – better than the unpublished book that will never see the light of day. Because it’s online and not committed to ink and paper, it’s easy to update an ancestor’s article with new information.
I wish there was a cyberbank where I could sign up to be sure certain things are available forever, however long forever is. I’d bank these stories and a raft of DNA results as well.
I’m going to put each of the lines I’ve been researching on a free “forever” website when I’m finished with my 52 ancestors series. For me, it will be WordPress because I know and love the platform already. And yes, I really will do that just like I really do write my weekly ancestor article. And if I die tomorrow, at least those articles are in print, someplace, even if my website and blog will one day be defunct.
And as for the DNA, it’s a part of every ancestor’s story. DNA results and how we utilize them are an integral part of every family story now and relevant in one way or another to every ancestor. DNA is in every one of my 52 Ancestors stories one way or another.
I’ve also arranged with the Estes archivist to place the Estes family articles on the Estes family archive website as well. Not via a link, but posting the actual articles. Links only work as long as the original site is functional. Same goes for the Estes newsletter which is distributed to subscribers and libraries. Plus, I’ve shared with just about every cousin I can think of. Just sharing the love, and the ancestors!!!
I’m going to print these ancestor articles in book format and donate them to several significant libraries including the Allen County Public Library and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – yes – the Mormons. I want my work in that vault. And by the way, I’m not Mormon, but given that their driving force is a religious conviction that genealogy is important – and not profit like a corporation – I feel that my research stands a better chance of preservation there than in the hands of any corporation. If you’re looking for an ugly corporate example – just take a look at what Ancestry.com did with their Y and mitochondrial DNA database and then a few months later with the Sorenson data base as well.
I’m going to print my work for my descendants, in book form, with archival ink on archival paper, because electronic formats will change significantly over the years. If you don’t believe me, just try to find something to read an 8 inch or 5.25 inch “floppy disc” now. So, yes I’ll give them a CD or DVD or thumb drive too – but in 50 years, they’ll still be able to read the book (it’s not in cursive.)
So, here’s my take on this situation. No one owns the ancestors. I hope people do not hold the information about their ancestors’ lives hostage…for good reasons or bad…because none of us know which day our proverbial number is going to be up.
Memorialize your ancestors. Share their lives and their history. Write about them. State what you know and what you don’t. List sources so others in the future can verify your work, update it, add to it, or look where you haven’t.
Make sure that when you die, people celebrate what you DID with your life and grieve the fact that such a wonderful, sharing person departed this earth, and that they aren’t grieving what you didn’t do, or worse yet, what you did do, but never shared or published or is no longer available in any format. That’s certainly not how I want to be remembered, nor the legacy of my ancestors I want to leave. They may be gone, but I want to celebrate their lives, preserving them forever for all the generations to come!
Do you have ideas or suggestions for how to permanently memorialize your ancestors? What steps have you taken?