In praise of baby-steppers

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I work at MyHeritage, so you might think I’d be a dedicated, relentless genealogist who spends many hours each month on my own family’s roots. My long-standing commitment is more than casual, and I expect to enjoy RootsTech this week as much as last year. However, my life and my chosen pursuits never seem to allow much time or energy for my own research. I know many people, even in my own neighborhood, who work much harder and accomplish far more.

I still like to think there’s room for me and others like me in the vast, welcoming community of genealogists. More importantly, I think I’m justified in feeling I’ve accomplished something worthwhile, even when it’s not very much.

So, as a tribute to those who enjoy genealogy but advance only in occasional baby steps, let me share what I’ve accomplished in January 2012. For some researchers it might be only an afternoon’s work, but by my standards it was a productive and satisfying month.

First, I found a photo of my maternal grandmother, c. 1918. It hadn’t been missing for generations, only for 18 months, since my family moved across town. But I had missed it. It was in the last box to be unpacked. I scanned it for later use and posted a low-resolution version on Facebook.

My Facebook friends think she’s beautiful. So do I. When I knew her, the outer beauty had faded, but her inner, greater beauty was still obvious. Because I posted this photo, my niece and I later compared notes on other family photos.

Second, I finally e-mailed my cousin about borrowing this grandmother’s missionary journal, so I can scan it and distribute it electronically to the family. She served as an LDS missionary in the American South before she married, and one of her great-grandsons is serving there now. I’ll use the photo in my electronic publication; the chronology is about right.

Don’t be too impressed by this baby step. I haven’t yet driven the 30 miles to my cousin’s home to borrow the journal. Just making contact has been on my to-do list since our family reunion last summer.

Third, on a whim, I typed my father’s name into a Google image search, for the first time in about a year. I discovered that the Uintah County Library Regional History Center (Vernal, Utah) has added more digitized photos of his family to their online collection. This one features my father’s parents and two older brothers on their way to the Gilsonite mines in their 1929 car.

Then I looked up Gilsonite at Wikipedia. I had heard about it but never bothered to find out what it is or what it’s used for. I learned that it’s a natural asphalt found only in eastern Utah. It was first used as a lacquer and electrical insulator, and to waterproof beer vats. Today, it is used for much more.

Fourth, on an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon I went to, signed up to be a digital records indexer, and did my first few basic, one-record batches. It took a while to download and install the tool, but the typed English records were easy to index. I really like what they’ve done with the interface. (On a professional level, I’m jealous.)

Feeling adventurous, I left the basic batches and selected a larger, “intermediate” batch in 19th-century Russian. I have an extensive academic background in Russian and its predecessors, and I’ve read many handwritten Russian documents from that century, but this batch was a real challenge. I managed to finish it in the allotted week.

Again, don’t be too impressed. After all of that, my “total names indexed” (displayed in the indexing software) was only 24. But if a million volunteer indexers each did two dozen records per month . . .

That’s all the family history work I did this month. Or, in other words, I did all that family history work this month!

Remarkably, the hard-core genealogists I know are much too kind to scoff at my baby steps. They will celebrate them with me, if they read this. It’s an unusual community.

by David Rodeback

David Rodeback

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2 Responses to “In praise of baby-steppers”

  1. Renate says:

    Good work, David! What was your grandmother’s name?


  2. Renate,

    Thanks! Her name is Bertha Artelle Noble (married: Babcock).

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