[Editor’s note: Thomas MacEntee, Flip-Pal mobile scanner ambassador, attempts to put into words why he does genealogy and what tracing his roots has meant to him.]
As I’ve become more involved in the genealogy community and I’ve built up my own genealogy-related business, I find I am often asked to give interviews. I like being interviewed and I will reply to almost any request for an interview as long as the questions are genealogy-related and it helps bring more people into the family history community.
In addition, after moderating many panels for genealogy conferences and events, plus hosting my own radio show, it is fun to be on the other end of the microphone, as it were, providing my thoughts on genealogy.
The Question: Why Do You Do Genealogy?
Invariably, one question is almost always on the list provided by the interviewer: “Why do you do genealogy?”
My usual response “Well, why not do genealogy?” gets a few laughs, but really doesn’t stress the importance of why I and millions of others are obsessed with tracing their ancestry and heritage. Do you ever get so wrapped up in the “hunt” that you sometimes lose focus as to why you want to know more about your ancestors? Is “doing genealogy” such a large part of your life that the motivational factors sometimes defy description? Do you have trouble putting into words what researching your roots means to you?
I’m Not Crazy, Really. I’m Just Genealogy-Obsessed
Many of my friends not only call me “genealogy obsessed,” but whenever I mention my latest find or how I recently visited a cemetery, they think it is just one more mile post on the road to “Crazy Town.”
They fear that I’ve become the equivalent of an ancestor “hoarder” and that they’ll have to tunnel through 20 years’ worth of genealogical records to find my body one day. When I use terms like “citing sources” or “ahnentafels” to them I may as well be speaking in tongues. The fact that I can draw a four generation tree of my family from memory does not mesmerize them. It only gives them hard evidence in the form of a written document to be used when and if I should be committed.
I don’t think it is really that bad. However, when I attempt to explain the things I do (which seem normal as a genealogist), I get frustrated. It is like trying to explain to someone why you follow a certain spiritual path or a specific faith.
Genealogy Is a Journey of Faith
Could the passion for genealogy actually be similar to one’s own faith, one’s own spiritual compass? In my eyes, faith is something that evolves over time, just as one’s passion/obsession for genealogy also evolves. Both represent a journey often to a destination unknown. Let’s look at the similarities…
- If we’re lucky, we discover genealogy when we are young, either through an older family relative or at school.
- Our family members may have stressed the importance of knowing our heritage, of telling family stories and sharing old photos.
- We may have dabbled with different hobbies in college, but we always came back to genealogy.
- We attend weekly or monthly gatherings where we meet with other genealogists and discuss what genealogy means to us.
- Our community has leaders and those who preach about various aspects of genealogy. Some are so popular that we pack classrooms and worship them as idols.
- We keep the family traditions and place them in context by explaining to others in the family the origins of certain customs and practices.
- Old documents and records not only feed our obsession, but we often hunger for more and are willing to volunteer our time indexing them and advocating for their unfettered access.
- You know another genealogist either when you see them or the minute you start talking to them. There is a certain kinship, a certain bonding as you swap surnames and discuss your brick walls.
See, it really isn’t such a far-fetched an idea after all. Genealogy brings meaning to our lives in so many ways that, again, we can’t often explain it, even to our close loved ones. It is a path, a journey and has its own strange practices and routines.
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So how do you put all this in words when attempting to answer that “why” question? It might just be easier to “show” rather than tell. I’ve learned that once I can show a person photos, stories and how my ancestors fit into history, I get to see that arched eyebrow, or that glimmer in the eye. Then I know I’ve started to make sense.
[Editor’s note: Flip-Pal Ambassador Thomas MacEntee discusses why you should ensure that your family history research is preserved for generations to come.]
How much thought have you given to making sure that all your hard work researching your family history doesn’t go down the drain? Have you taken steps to ensure that your family photographs and documents don’t get lost or tossed out by accident? What about finding someone within your family to continue the genealogy research once you’ve passed on?
These are questions that we as genealogists don’t take time to answer perhaps because it means we have to contemplate our own mortality and time in the future when we are not here on this planet. Just like estate planning or specifying your last wishes, consider a plan to ensure that your family’s legacy endures.
Make a Legacy To-Do List
It’s easy to tackle the problem of preserving the family’s legacy with a simple list of tasks. Here are some you should consider:
- Create an Inventory. Some call this a “master list” or “road map.” It is a document that lists everything you consider to be included in your research. List items, box numbers if used, and location. Keep this list with your other important legal papers.
- Start archiving materials. You’ve probably put this off like many of us have, but make sure you are using archival quality folders and files to preserve hard copies of photographs, documents and other paper items.
- Digitize photos and documents. Yes, you’re going to archive these items (you are, aren’t you?) but you should have a digital copy for safekeeping. This is where the Flip-Pal mobile scanner can be used to scan items, even 3-dimensional ones like medals. Many Flip-Pal owners say this is the easiest part of legacy preservation—just keep a box of items to scan and scan while you’re watching television at night!
- Don’t forget online items! This means places where you’ve uploaded your research data or a GEDCOM file. Also include any site where you’re storing photos such as Picasa. Write down the website URLs along with your login and password and make it part of your inventory.
Do It Like There’s No Tomorrow!
It is easy to put these tasks off for another day especially when discussing something related to the end of your life. Not only could something happen to you tomorrow, but a natural disaster could strike and damage your materials as well.
Preserving your documents and photos digitally using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner allows you to create digital copies in a snap. In addition, the Picture Keeper flash drive makes it easy to place those digital copies in a safe place along with your other estate planning papers such as a firebox or a safe deposit box.
Nominate a Legacy Keeper
It is likely that you’ve already discussed your research with either immediate or extended family members. You might even have one or two cousins who help you with the research. Take time to discuss this issue of “legacy continuity” with them and select one or two persons to carry the torch after you’re gone.
Also make sure they know where your materials are stored, including those online! You may want to prepare a document listing the inventory of research as well as a list of websites along with logins and passwords so they can access the online materials. You don’t need to share this now, but make sure the document is placed with your other estate planning documents.
Explore Non-Family Options
For whatever reason, you may be in a situation where there just isn’t anyone in your family to whom you can entrust your research and materials. One option is to contact your local genealogy or historical society and discuss donating your collection to their library. Most organizations would be happy to receive a well-document record set that they can use as part of their holdings.
Don’t assume that you can just specify the organization in your estate planning papers and you’re done! Just because you designate a group to inherit your research, doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. It is recommended that you contact the society now and discuss various options on passing along your work to them. In addition, make sure that your family members understand your arrangements so there isn’t anyone interrupting your well laid plans for the society.
Your Love of Family History Will Go On
Taking steps now to preserve your family legacy with useful tools like the Flip-Pal mobile scanner will ensure that your family’s history is not lost and will be passed along from generation to generation.
Photo: Two Boys [unidentified], 1892. Digital image in possession of author.