I am just getting into another six or so boxes of genealogical paper. I am always most anxious to obtain any older relative's collections but it always seems like my relatives are organized in the same way I am, that is, the glacial method of genealogical data preservation. You might remember that glaciers are formed as excess snow fall over the years builds up until the bottom layers turn to ice. What has been discovered, is that glaciers are a window into the past. Everything is laid out in neat layers concerning whatever fell into the glacier. After sometimes thousands of years, the things that were dropped into the glacier, show up at the terminus.
I have the same very conservative method of document preservation. If you pile it up deep enough, the lower layers sort-of form a glacier-like solid mass. So you can tell if something is recent or old by the layer it appears in. The acquisition date of the document can be determined by stratigraphy of the accompanying layers. Ho, Ho, you say. That is all well and good, but what happens if you actually want to find something?
First of all, you know that the document is there and that it is well preserved. So what do you do about finding a particular document? You take a core sample. In my case, the core sample is a scanned image of all of the documents. My system breaks down somewhat at this point, I have to admit, because I fail to keep up with the deposition of the documents. I am way behind in adding metadata but hopefully, that task will be accomplished before I die. I also have a tendency to accumulate new documents faster than I can scan them into the computer. So even though I have been scanning and naming files for years and years, I am really further behind than when I started.
I can see a future problem as I enter feeble old age. Some of the piles of boxes are almost six feet high. The bottom boxes may contain something interesting but as I get older, I am less inclined to move the heavy boxes around just out of curiosity. I am comforted by the fact that the documents are scanned and are somewhere in the 2.2 Terabytes of information I have on my latest hard drive.
What happens to the relatives who are waiting for me to scan all this stuff? They either wait patiently or die, I suppose. So far, no one has offered to help and they must be all well employed or independently wealthy because I can't even seem to be able to hire any of the younger ones who might be able to move the boxes to talk to me about the project. I certainly realize that most people, including my relatives, have a real life and are not at all interested in genealogy, but it would be helpful to have at least one or two willing to tackle the glacier.