In my week at the Allen County Public Library, I was struck by how great it is to be a genealogy enthusiast in the era of the Internet. We can search for our ancestors with a few keystrokes and uncover documents and clues to further our research. We have unprecedented access to digital copies of actual primary documents. We can see original handwritten marriage certificates, for example, and interpret the handwriting ourselves, rather than trusting the indexer.
I looked at many indexes in written, bound form at the library. The snippet above is from a 1937 marriage index of Hopkins County, Kentucky. My 3rd great grandparents, David Adams and Mary Ray, are listed there. I was delighted to find this documentation of the date and county of their marriage.
Many of the bound indexes I consulted were typewritten. Some dedicated person had gone to a courthouse and written down all the entries in a marriage book, for example. I picture then squinting at the handwriting, taking their best guess at the names. (We often have an advantage when we’re looking for the names of our ancestors, because we know what we’re looking for.) They probably wrote them down on a sheet of paper, took them home and typed them up. Then they published them in book form or, sometimes, in the newsletter of a genealogy society or family newsletter or elsewhere.
When the genealogist researching a family found their ancestor’s name (or a facsimile of it) in one of these indexes or newsletters, they would then write the county courthouse to ask for a copy of the record and wait for it to arrive in the mail. This is how I imagine was how genealogy was often done. It was labor intensive. It was painstaking. And it was tedious.
Now, thanks to the hard work of our predecessors and, of course, to modern technology and the great work of thousands of volunteer indexers and organizations that are digitizing these documents, most of us can sit at our computers and get a whole lot of information without leaving our homes. It’s up to us to properly document it. And, if we want, to share it.
But, as I discovered at my week in the library, it can be really important to step away from the computer and do some off-the-internet research. Go to the cemeteries and find elusive gravemarkers. Go to courthouses in the counties where your ancestors lived and see if you can find the documents you haven’t been able to find online. And, yes, go to libraries and get big clues on furthering your research.
To our older relatives who were dedicated to genealogical research in the days when it was very labor-intensive, I offer my admiration and sincere thanks.