Friday, September 7, 2018

There’s Something about the Old Way

It's time for summer vacation! Although I'll be traveling for the next few weeks, Family Sleuther is still hard at work. I'm turning things over to my aunt and mother who have both graciously agreed to share family history gems in my absence. 

This week's post continues a recurring series featuring the reminiscences of my maternal aunt, Diane. A longtime genealogist, her years of family history detective work piqued my own curiosity, which laid the foundation on which Family Sleuther is built. This week, Diane continues her reflections on how things used to be and the joys genealogists of another era found in pre-online research.

I recently wrote about how I liked the way my Grandpa did it better.

While technological advancements can make our tasks easier and flow more efficiently, I am still drawn to the old way of doing things. While I’m not completely technologically intimidated, there are some things I just prefer to do the old fashioned way. Writing is one of them. I have written a number of pieces over the years and I always handwrite everything on a legal pad before I type it. My thoughts just flow better.

So it is with my family history research. I like the old fashioned way of doing it. 

When I interviewed my grandparents, I brought a voice-activated recorder with me. As I was beginning the interview, Grandpa asked, “What is that gadget?” I told him it was a recorder and I was only using it in case I missed something. Both Grandma and Grandpa were uncomfortable with their voices being recorded. I tried to explain the need for it. 

“Write faster,” was Grandpa’s reply. 

So I did. What a shame that I don’t have their recorded voices. How I would love to hear them and share with my progeny the voices of their great- and great-great-grandparents.

Grandpa and Grandma: Marion and Nevella Lumpkins

Genealogy Research Is Changing

Researching microfilmed documents like courthouse records, vital statistics, family histories, and other county and state records housed onsite in Family History Centers is becoming an increasingly obsolete method of research. You can now almost “get it all” by searching online databases designed for the family historian. I know because I've worked in my local Family History Library.

Many years ago, my method of research was to go directly to courthouses, churches, and local libraries in the county seats in small towns across Kansas and Oklahoma. While the time commitment is greater the reward is so special.

I have sat on the floor with my husband in the vault of a courthouse in Mitchell County, Kansas and searched the bound volumes of vital records from the 1800’s discovering long-forgotten ancestors.

To me there is nothing like sitting (or standing) with a priceless volume that is handwritten. Written in a style of script that is no longer used. I love tracing my fingers over my ancestors’ names and just feel a kinship that I don’t get from an electronic source.

Diane with her published family history, Plainville Library, Kansas

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advancement and making the search less tedious. But the feeling that comes over me when searching for records in an old, wood-floored courthouse or library and actually touching the document puts me in a place that feels hallowed.

If you’ve not researched in an old courthouse or library before, you should try it. Don’t let the clerk take you to the digitized records. Ask for the original register and prepare to be absorbed in history.

Who knows, you may find something the internet missed.


  1. I began my research in the Internet era and so have missed that experience of going to courthouses and archives. But I can understand what you mean because even seeing my grandfather's signature on an electronic document gave me the chills.

    1. Me too, Amy. There’s something about seeing the penmanship of an ancestor - especially for those who lived before the age of photography - that brings them to life and hints at their personality.

  2. ...that is why I say no matter the technology. You can never go wrong with the old way of doing genealogy. Thank goodness I was on the tail end of that era and had some good Family History Library Volunteers teach me what to do with the Community. Get out from behind the computer and take a road trip. In my early days, because of Military moves, I practiced on Courthouses that weren't even my research areas just to get experience.

    1. That’s great advice, True! Road trip and practice. Just because we’re now fortunate enough to benefit from all that the internet has to offer doesn’t mean we can’t still partake in and experience the value of researching the “old” way. Frankly, there are still places where you have to do on-the-ground research.

    2. I learned on "someone else's" court houses, too, True. I took a genealogy correspondence course that required visits to archives and court houses, but I didn't live near the ones that had my family's records. No matter. Deed research, for example, is pretty similar anywhere, and the biggest difficulties for me were parking and asking where to find the deed books.

    3. I bet you gained an even greater appreciation for your home community, too. I think digging into the court house records anywhere regardless of whether it’s for your kin or not equips you with a deeper understanding of the people who lived their lives in the community.