Sunday, September 6, 2009

Genealogy Time Capsules

Ever think about the Census as a time capsule? Each one is waiting to be discovered 72 years later when genealogists and researchers can look back and see ancestors were living or working at a certain time and place, see who was living and near with those people, learn about their educational situation, the language they spoke, and so on.

We know where these Census time capsules are, we know when they're about to be opened, and we know how to peek inside and find data treasures that will help us piece together details of our family from years past.

I've come to think of a genealogy blog as another kind of family time capsule. I post names, photos, queries, comments about my family tree and--if Google never removes the blog or the links--they'll be here for decades or longer, waiting for some future researcher or distant relative to search out and read. As long as search engines can locate my blog's entries in the ever-expanding galaxy of web stuff, future members of my family will be able to see what I've posted.

My blog isn't as well organized as the Census, and it's admittedly somewhat obscure--partly for privacy reasons--but still it can be viewed as a kind of time capsule about my family.

Here's my concern: not all time capsules are found.

From time to time, I read in news reports about time capsules that come to light accidentally--maybe buried at the start of some monument's construction and then found 52 or 78 years later during renovation. Or a school asks children to bring everyday items and notes to class for a time capsule burial set into a new building's cornerstone or at a new sports field's dedication. Too often the markers fade or aren't even set up to let future generations know of the treasures buried in the time capsule.

I deliberately include the surnames of ancestors and relatives I'm researching in the hope that these serve as markers to guide people to my blog. But will my blog and the thousands like it be gone some day? If there are no new entries for 25 years, will Google or Yahoo or Bing be able to find my blog when someone two generations from now wants to search out the same surnames?

How can we, as family researchers, ensure that our genealogy blogs--the ones we use to describe family trees, discuss our ancestors, display old photos, and reach out to long-lost cousins--live on? How can we be sure that our genealogy blogs will be treated as family time capsules that can be found many years in the future?

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