Danger One: Health. Too much time at the computer or on your tablet can lead to eye strain, back problems, loss of fitness. In the past, we would walk to the archive, physically go to the filing cabinet and get the film, wind it on, go back to the cabinet for the next film, now we risk RSI from typing and mouse clicking. I used to be so fit from standing up all day and physically lifting the books at The Family Record Centre, now I am not.
Danger Two: Record Context. We become divorced from the context of the record. We no longer feel and smell the paper or parchment, no unwrapping of ancient string tying bundles of documents together. No more dirt on the hands either, and it is better for the documents not to be handled, but all the romance is lost. Not only this, but even if you have the images online in front of you, you don’t always have the front and end pieces, or even all the page, or know what could have been written on the back. You have probably not looked at a catalogue, so don’t understand how the record fits in with other records in the same series or set either.
Danger Three: Speed. It all happens so fast, we tend not to make notes or record what we do. Click, click I am here, click, click now I am somewhere else. Where did I just see that result? Click, click, now I have lost where I was, and I am looking at something totally different.
Danger Four: Descriptions confusion. There needs to be a new language for describing results found online; some of the old definitions are creaking under the strain, what do we really mean by source or record in an online context? Some of the citation advice is overly complex and off-putting to many, but we need a common and standardised way of telling others or reminding ourselves where we found things that is not overly complicated, yet takes into account the shifting, changing nature of online resources. The big data websites do not help by using different language to describe the same source, or by not being accurate in their description of what it contains. If we don’t describe things accurately then confusion reigns.
Danger Five: Too many results. As data websites get bigger and bigger and include more and more record sets from around the world, it becomes increasing difficult to drill down to find what you need to search. Blanket searches across all data sets bring in far too many results, yet knowing what indexes are available on any website and how reliable they are is becoming more and more important. I used to know what people had searched if they told me they had looked at the IGI or searched on findmypast, now I do not have a clue. Family historians are not educating themselves as to what a website actually contains and it therefore makes it really difficult to explain which databases are more trustworthy than others, if indeed any of them are. I am no longer sure. Perhaps we are going to come full circle and start teaching people that they will have to look only at original records in an archive office if they are to be sure of their research, because only then will they know what they have looked at. I used to be such a big advocate of online genealogy, but if it is starting to frustrate me, I don’t know what it must be doing to those who don’t have a sound background in the original records. It could be putting them off completely.
What do you think?