Sunday, September 30, 2007

Genealogy and History Thoughts - Column Two

I've just started an internship at an archive and as a result, I finally have a better understanding and appreciation for why other genealogists write about being specific when it comes to sending a query to an archive or library. (No, this has nothing to do with reading a request written by a researcher; the amount and different types of records an archive may keep is what has made those lessons sink in.)

Since many archive keep thousands upon thousands of pages of documents, just mailing a request with a name would be difficult to research if a person does not give a date range. Unless the person who are researching was famous in the city or area, chances are, that any general request for information would be too time consuming. And more than likely, an archivist would not respond with information but a suggestion to come do your own research at the archive precisely for the reason that the archive staff does not have the time to do the research. (It is also possible that the only staff member is the archivist and the rest of the people who work there are volunteers.)

Archivists generally spend their time preserving, organizing and filling documents and other historical artifacts, and thus, they don't usually have the time to extensive research. In addition, the archive probably only has a couple of people working on the staff. If anything, they will be spending their time trying to organize artifacts so that they'll be easier to retrieve when someone comes in to do research. That information will also more than likely not be online because it is just for internal use and because the archive either doesn't have the staff, funding or technological know-how to put information online. And this lack of time, staff and money is precisely why I don't believe all records will be digitized and put online. More than likely, the information that has been put online has been the result of volunteers doing the work, and this work has probably taken those volunteers many years.

I don't mean to lecture, and this wasn't intended to be a lecture. I think, though, that many times, we as genealogists forget or don't know about the amount of work and effort that goes into preserving records so that they are available to be viewed in the future. I know I didn't realize the amount of work that went into archiving until I began my internship.

If you agree or disagree, please feel free to leave a comment.

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