Monday, July 25, 2011

Remembering 3.5 disks and Genealogy

J. Mark Lowe

I've been sorting through some old files and drawers - sorting and remembering. Although I've been doing genealogy since the early 1960s, I've been a tech geek almost that long. My Dad bought me a modern manual typewriter after I complained to Santa that the Sears Toy Typewriter he brought me couldn't handle the speed I needed.
I owned a Sinclair and a Tandy TRS-80. Once I was able to purchase a cassette tape recorder and cable, I setup a retrieval database for my genealogy and began to load family group information. You can imagine my excitement when they came out with 8" floppy disks and drives that would allow flexibility and data storage. My this time I also had created a bookkeeping system where daily invoices could be entered while adjusting actual inventory.
Smaller and sturdy drives were being discussed. The community thought that the technology would change the way we did genealogy. Instead of printing and copying all those pages, we could mail a 3.5" floppy disk and the whole family would be included. Of course, this was the discussion with the same folks who sat around with a dial-up of 300bps chatting late at night on Prodigy or Compuserve.
There was a discussion of a technology conference focused on genealogy called GenTech. Excitedly, I looked into the conference and saw they were interested in the new interactive genealogical coursework I was creating using HTML. I was thrilled to present my session in Ft. Wayne and talk with other techies. I remember meeting Alan Mann at that conference. Some of the technology sessions were groundbreakings, while others seemed old. We shared our ideas and occasionally there were a few concepts that were more like dreams. There were lots of genealogical software titles then - but most were very simple databases at best.
One of those nights on Compuserve, I met a great genealogist and fellow nerd who had written a genealogical program called Brother's Keeper. His name was John Steed.
I had gone through several versions before this one was released.

John Steed was a techie and a genealogist. Once I had Brothers' Keeper, I was really to enter data on every Southerner and a few Yankees who might be related to me. One feature which was especially interesting to me was the Calculate Relationship. You could choose any two people in your database and calculate their relationship based on the data entered. Wow.
Whirrrrr-Ding, Whirrrr-Ding - my cell phone vibrates near my desktop computer. As I check Facebook and Google +, I float over to Ancestry to check a census record. Ahhh, let check those Kentucky Death Certificates and I print one out and save a copy to his data area. It's 2011, and we still have John Steed and lots of other great techies - who bring new tools to my table.
I'm reminded of Ecclesiastes 1:9 which ends with "... there is no new thing under the sun." New tools which help us get to records more quickly and without a trip to the repository. Use the tools, but remember that 3.5" disks did not change the story, nor did the USB drive make understanding the relationship of Mom & 2 daughters, who married three brothers any easier to explain. Genealogy will always require a human component - YOU, and your parents, in-laws, & siblings, etc, etc, etc. Do your part by sharing the past and keeping the story alive.
Thanks to John and all of the great innovators that keep genealogical records & data at my fingertips. See you at RootsTech.

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