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In the past it was necessary to have a great deal of patience. So many things posed obstacles to our research. We often had to take a day off from work to visit libraries with genealogy departments. We had to plan our vacations, sometimes in secret, surprising the family, so that we could visit courthouses, cemeteries, and archives. We would mail letters and then try not to attack the mailman when we felt enough time had elapsed. I should probably point out that I am on a first-name basis with my mailman. I am surprised that he didn't ask to be assigned a different route over the years. He has been forced to bring me a number of magazines and other genealogy publications each month for the last 18 years. It has just been in the last 4 or 5 years, though, as I, like so many others, have turned to the Internet for much of my correspondence. So now all he has to bring me are my periodicals. Most of my communication with fellow researchers is now done on the Internet through email.
Patience, I have discovered, is the one thing that all genealogists lack. I often say, "We want it all and we want it all right now!" This is always met with laughs and nods of agreement. The Internet helps to a degree with our impatience. The Internet offers us the chance to work on our ancestral pursuits even when the traditional repositories are closed. No longer must I wait for weeks to get a response from a cousin or fellow researcher. In fact, I have had a couple of individuals expect a response within minutes. When they didn't receive a response from me, they immediately sent me another email. Email has come a long way. It allows us to correspond with individuals around the world. With the advances in the technology of online communication over the last 15 years, we can now send attachments. How exciting it is to receive an email from a cousin who has gone tromping in the cemetery and is now sharing a digitized picture of the tombstone I was searching for over the last 10 years.
Another way the Internet has helped with our impatience is in our ability to publish our family history. Some time ago I was talking with a colleague. She was describing the laborious process involved in setting type for a family history book. It was no wonder they waited until they felt certain they had identified all individuals in the family that was being traced. Of course in being so certain, that meant waiting, sometimes for many years. Unfortunately time sometimes became an enemy. In most families I know, genealogy is not a family hobby. So, when the individual who was involved in the genealogy passed away, the research was not continued. I have wondered how many unfinished genealogies were thrown out by family members who didn't understand the importance of all of those piles and file cabinets of paper.
The Internet offers a great alternative for publishing the family history. Genealogy programs of today are all designed to create many of the reports in a web page format. Uploading the pages is easy enough to learn. What this means to genealogists is that we can now share our research while it is still a work in progress. Publishing online offers two benefits. First, it allows us to publish what we have done to this point, but also allows us the flexibility to make changes, should we discover that our previous conclusions were in error. Second, it allows us an exposure that we never would have had with a book in a library.
When we post our information online, it is eventually added to the databases of the many search engines found online, such as Google, Excite, and HotBot. When other researchers use these search engines to aid in their research, they will learn of our web site. In some cases this method brings us into contact with those who live halfway around the world. I have met people through the Internet that I doubt I would have known existed if it weren't through this electronic marvel.
Don't think that I feel the Internet is the only way you should publish your family history. I still believe that at some point we should all publish our family history in book form. Even this is easier now than before. Genealogy software programs generate such a wide variety of reports and charts that with the push of a few buttons and a good-quality printer you will find you have a camera-ready copy that you can then take to a printer or publisher to have your volumes printed from.
With all the wonders of technology, if you want your research to last, a book is the way to go. You can place it in some of the larger genealogy libraries, like the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, where others will find it and where it will be available regardless of how we are using computers or what changes the technology undergoes in the next century.
Genealogists are the most fortunate of hobbyists, I think. We have our feet in two worlds, the past and the future. By embracing the best of both worlds, we get to take advantage of the power of computers and the Internet while still using the more traditional resources to grow our family tree faster than ever. (Rhonda McClure)