The advent of television programmes about family history research has made this hobby so popular, that some people not only believe that all the research is done via the internet but also you can do all the research in a matter of a couple of days. This can make life quite difficult for the professional researchers who are asked by clients to create a family history for a special occasion and they need it by next week! In fact after the first session of one of my courses on how to begin family history research, one of the participants stated that she would not be coming back again as she thought she would have traced her whole family in the first session.
Along with the television, the internet explosion has really encouraged its use for family history research. Today it sometimes appears as if the world is ruled by the internet and many young people seem to believe that you can trace your whole ancestry using the computer and without having to leave the comfort of your own home. The researchers amongst us know this is not the case, and that the amount of information on the internet is just the tip of the iceberg when compared with the records held by Archive and Record offices across the country.
Of course it is possible to create a family tree in a matter of hours. I once did it as a challenge and using a couple of websites got back to the 1851 census in under an hour. But, and it is a big but, because I was rushing it, I had little time to double check the information, I did not look for death records, and I only confirmed a few births and marriages. I simply had a very basic genealogy not a family history that looked into the life of the family members, and some of the links, whilst not complete guess work, may not have stood up to close scrutiny. Fortunately the challenge paid off and I got my prize, but I would never do it again. Later I had the opportunity to do that research properly and it took much longer than just a few hours.
I still find it amazing how far genealogy has come in the last few years. Whilst attending the Who Do You think You Are? Live show a couple of years ago I was amazed at the number of stalls and visitors. It took me the full day to walk around the show a couple of times, and even then I still did not visit many of the exhibitions, nor could I get to a couple of the talks I wanted to attend.
I started to research my own family history in the early 1983 and ten years later I started to use to use the computers at my local college to produce my own family tree documents which I saved onto a floppy disk and printed off a copy to place in a ring binder.
A few years later, having obtained my own computer I purchased the 1881 British Census, containing 23 CD’s published by the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. A little later after attending a workshop on using the internet, I nervously joined the internet and started to use the FreeBMD website which was one of the few websites dedicated to family history research. Today if you do an internet search for online family history you will receive about 882 million hits, I looked through the first 10 pages and they were all relevant entries, even though some websites had been duplicated.
Now you can even take online family history courses. I have just completed the 1st year of an online Post Graduate course in Genealogy with Strathclyde University along with fellow participants from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and I am about to launch my own online course for beginners.
However despite all the misunderstandings about the whole area of family history research the one thing that still makes me smile was the incredulous look on the face of the library assistant in 1983, when I asked how I should start my research and she replied “ What do you want to do that for?”