Monday, April 09, 2007

ACROSS MY DESK: Recent Trip to the FHL

NOTE FROM DearMYRTLE: The following was just distributed via the APG Mailing List. APG=Association of Professional Genealogists. If you'd like to follow this thread see the APG Mailing List Archives at:

From: APG Mailing List on behalf of Cat Nielsen
I recently returned from a trip to the FHL. Several of my Adult Ed Students accompanied me, and we had planned for the trip over a 6 month period of time. I was there to guide them in their research and do some professional work as well. Prior to the trip they had used the local FHC,,, Heritage Quest, our State Library, a National Archives Branch, and genealogy collections at local public libraries. We were disappointed to learn that planned to "pull the plug" on the FHL the week we would be there, but were too far in the planning to not go.

In past years, I could log into my personal Ancestry account because the Plaza Hotel threw out a strong enough signal that I wirelessly accessed the internet from my film reader location. It was slower than the libraries internal network, but it worked. That signal has been tightened, and was not an option this trip.

I found the new wireless access at the library to be great. We could check the Library
catalog from our own PC's, and not have to wait for one of the library machines. At one point it was suggested I email a parish in Europe for the information I needed. I could compose the message on my laptop, accessing the foreign language dictionaries I have on it. The quite area around my film reader made composing the message on my PC a much better option than using the Libraries public access PCs.

The library posted an additional web page, a new link off their main page, providing alternative suggestions to using Ancestry. They were also updating other pages though out the day. There is now a way to submit comments to the FHL via their computers. It
may be just a co-incidence, but several items I requested be available via the wireless network, were there within 24 hours. As someone who has worked in IT for over 30 years, I was impressed by the library's continual effort to make our use of their facility as good as could be, given the situation between these two big organizations.

For those who are planning on going I would say, don't worry about the Ancestry situation. As the days went by, and my research deepened, I used Ancestry less and less. After all, we were at the Family History Library! Those indexes (with typos) that are online, are on film/fiche at the library. I found it just as effective to grab the index I wanted and work with it the old fashioned way.... at a film reader. By using my digital camera, I now have my own index and associated images for the surname of interest in the locality of interest.

It was a great opportunity to wean my students off the internet as the preferred tool for genealogy research. They got into the books, they read the film, and in one case when the local film was impossible to read, we worked together to find an alternate source which turned out to be a state index. They found where to write for the information they need, and they also found alternate web sites to use to find the information they needed.

Now, as an individual subscriber, am I appalled by how Ancestry has treated me. Most definitely. There is nothing in MY contract with Ancestry that says I can access my account anywhere in the world via the internet, except at the FHL or FHC. Would any of us subscribe if that was a provision? Did Ancestry notify us in advance of a change in services
agreement? What, they forgot to slip that tidbit into one of their many mailings!

Anyway, not having Ancestry at the library, or having limited access to Ancestry at the library, ended up not being as bad as I thought it would. My teaching during the next term will include a challenge to the students to find the information without using Ancestry.
After all, they have demonstrated that they are not a dependable service. And, in the future when asked if Ancestry is worth the cost of an individual annual subscription I will have more items to list in the No column.

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