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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good Old-Fashioned Microfilm

Technology is amazing, isn't it? The information we desire can be ours with just a few clicks on the keyboard. Well, most of the time anyway.

Every time a human comes in contact with a record the chance for error is increased. The person listening to a name misspells it, the person transcribing the record misreads it, the person indexing the transcription mistypes it and so on. Computers, as wonderful as they are, are limited in the logic they can find in illogical files. There are many research situations in which the only way to move forward is to step back.

Some surnames can be spelled in such a variety of ways, that no matter how creatively we search the index, it's nowhere to be found. Trying every imaginable spelling only takes us as far as OUR imagination. Perhaps the person inputting the information was even more imaginative.

Looking at a list of names with our human eyes allows us to make connections a computer can't make. Recently we found an obituary for the surname ICE. In the newspaper the name had been written ISE. Analyzing the clues contained in the record verified this was the correct person. A simple mistake.

Mildred Bjorn was mentioned in another obituary. You might think her surname is a candidate for errors, but it was her given name that was the stumbling block. It was indexed as Meldrett. The Swedish accent of the child's mother and the intake clerk's phonetic spelling combined to make this creative record challenging to locate.

The search capabilites of newspaper subscription sites are amazing. I have located many ancestors this way. But when the publication isn't available online or the computer search comes up blank, it's time to head for a good old-fashioned microfilm reader.

1 comment:

Becky Higgins said...

Yep, not everything is on-line so we need to keep our traditional skills honed for when we actually have to leave the house:)

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