Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The speeding up of family history

Family history is speeding up, so that it is now hard to keep up.

We got started on this in 1975, a week after we were married. An old college friend of mine, Alan Cox (who was, sad to say, murdered in Pakistan a few years ago) came to visit us, and mentioned that he was involved with ancestor hunting, and I said I'd always wanted to get into that, and asked him how. So he said, "Have you got an aunt?" so we went off to visit my aunt Doreen Maxwell, whom I hadn't seen for 10 years, and she let us see her parents' (my grandparents') marriage certificate, and my grandfather's date of birth. Alan said that when he got back to England he'd send me the birth certificate, and after about three months it arrived.

That gave us his parents, and with the help of books from the Durban library (I found Gerald Hamilton-Edwards's In search of ancestry very helpful), I ordered my great grandparents' marriage certificate by post, and then there was another six-week wait for it to arrive. It was quite a leisurely pursuit. Each piece of information was absorbed and digested while waiting a few weeks for the next one to arrive. We began to do the same thing with other branches of the family too, but there was still a long wait.

Local South African records had to wait. I was banned to Durban, and the archives were in Pietermaritzburg and out of bounds. I did get special permission for a holiday in Cape Town and so we followed the bits we had got from Val's grandmother, and found a whole bunch of Deckers, Falkenbergs and Kochs on Val's side, and Growdons on mine, in the Anglican parish registers in Queenstown. We went on to Cape Town, looked in the archives, where we tied some of them together. On the way back the car broke down in East London, which meant a lengthened stay there (for which we had to get special police permission) and we hired a car and drove around East London visiting relative's we'd never known we had when we left home. One of the most interesting was Lil Falkenberg, who got quite interested herself, and contacted all her cousins and got stuff for us. Back home, it took us several months to digest that.

That was all 35 years ago.

There were no personal computers, no Internet (at least not in South Africa), and we were chasing up only a couple of dozen family members.

Now we have over 15000 in the family tree, and it keeps growing. This year we've discovered several new ancestors on "brick wall" lines that we were stuck on before. And with more genealogical records available on line than ever before, it's possible to chase up the descendants. And the descendants keep multiplying. The little kids that Lil Falkenberg listed for us have now grown up and have kids of their own.

Last night we got a phone call from someone in America who asked about a branch of the faily we hadn't looked at for years. They'd seen it on a web site. We looked at what we had on that branch and saw that all those cute little toddlers we had recorded are now in their 30s and 40s, and some of them have kids of their own. We'd tried writing to some, or looking them up in the phone book, but often they'd moved away. But now there is Google, and some of them have web sites or on Facebook or other social networking sites, and you can e-mail them and get a reply within a day, rather than waiting weeks or months as we did when we started. There's so much more to do, and the information comes in so much faster, so that both the volume and the speed are increasing exponentially.

I thought when I retired I'd have more time for family history. I'm beginning to wonder if I've got more family history than I've got time for.

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