How often does it happen that one spouse loves computers, technology, and the Internet and the other one doesn't? Are you feeling "unequally yoked"?
We hope to have a column in the PAFology that picks up on topics related to this problem, and addressed specifically to the spouses who love family history, but who don't enjoy using the computer or feel intimidated by the constant changes of hardware, software, and data sources. We will have a few "how-tos" and some explanations of what new innovations there are, and most of all try to keep technology in perspective. We hope you'll send us suggestions and problems, and we hope you will share your successes with us.
First of all, remember that genealogists have been hard at work since long before computers came along. Therefore, it must be quite possible to construct a family tree without anything more than a stack of pens and a ream of paper, plus a lot of stamps. Surprise. There are a lot of genealogists who are still working this way. You can stay in this group if you really want to.
Are You Too Old For a Computer?
This month we'll take on the subject of the very elderly unwired spouse. If you're close to eighty, chances are good that you are having trouble using a computer mouse. Your hand shakes and you can't click twice in a row fast enough for the computer to respond the way it does for your grandchildren. You also have trouble remembering how to get in and out of the computer. Your spouse has shown you three times already and he or she is getting impatient. Or you find that if your glasses are right for seeing the keyboard they're wrong for seeing the screen. The whole thing raises your blood pressure and you want to kick that screen - if you could only raise your foot high enough.
It's time to step back and think a little. Is the computer the best use of your time? After all, if you're eighty you don't have so much time left. It might be twenty years, or only five. What are the most important things you have left to do? Don't assume that you have even five years. Pretend you have only one. What should you be doing, besides going to the temple? What family history tasks can only be done by you, and no one else? Let somebody else deal with the technology if there's other work to be done that only you can do.
Can anyone tell your life story as well as you can? Does anyone else remember your parents as well as you do? If you haven't written your life story, this is what you should be doing. If you can do this on the computer, fine. If not, can you do it on a typewriter? Also fine. If you can't type and think, then the typewriter is not so fine. Can you write legibly? Pretty good. Can you use a tape recorder? Also good.
Start out by getting going any way that you can. Let the computer whizzes in your family deal with the information later. One thing that helps is to buy a stack of 3"x 5" cards and put down a separate thought or incident on each card as you think of them. Then you can arrange the cards in order and write or type or speak into the tape recorder in a more organized fashion. Try not to make the notes on the cards look like they're in code. Remember to think of Who, What, When, Where, Why and put in a little of each. If you get sick or pass on before you transcribe your cards, your children will have better luck making a narrative out of them.
Your story can be computerized by someone else. There are a number of different ways.
If you typed it:
Your typewritten pages can be OCR scanned. (This will be easier if you have kept the typewriter keys clean and used a fresh ribbon. It also helps to type with an even pressure, though an electric typewriter will take care of this.) Scanners cost as little as $50 nowadays and they look like small Xerox machines, for the most part. You put your sheet face down on the glass and start up a special program that is on the computer. The computer runs the scanner, but instead of sending out a photocopy of your paper, the words in your document come up on the computer screen with a few errors. You compare the screen with the original paper and make corrections where needed. You can also change or rearrange what you typed without having to retype the whole page, because now your document is on the computer exactly as it would have been if you had been using the computer all along. OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, which means that the computer program recognized the letters, punctuation and spaces that you created on the typewriter and reproduced them as letters, punctuation and spaces.
If you wrote it longhand:
Some day someone will want to copy your writings on the keyboard, but you can still get it into the computer without typing it. Using that same scanner, but a different software program, you can scan your pages just as they are. You will be taking a picture of your writing and the computer will not recognize the characters as in OCR, but will store your page's image as a series of tiny dots. You know how this works; newspaper photographs used to show those dots very clearly. This is exactly what you now have in the computer a photograph for every page. You will be able to darken it, lighten it, or improve the contrast, but you will not be able to correct the spelling, grammar, or the order of the words.
If you taped it:
You can put this straight onto the computer too. You will need a "speaker" attachment for your computer and still another kind software program. The idea is to create special .WAV files (pronounced "wave") that can be "attached" to a document of some kind. Have you ever watched someone click on something on the computer that starts up a song or a voice? Nowadays it's possible to create a document on the computer with a picture on it and have your voice sound out when someone clicks on the caption of the picture. You could hold a stack of photos or a photo album in your hand and explain each of the pictures and the whole thing could be put on the computer. Just remember that YOU don't have to do it all. YOUR part is to do the remembering.
The important thing is to do first things first if you're very elderly. Don't even BOTHER with the computer if it doesn't make those first things easier!
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