Are the Genealogical Dark Ages Upon Us?

Prompted by an article in the Deseret News, quoting Curt Witcher, Betty Malesky wrote an interesting column this week. She speaks of a “genealogical dark ages.” Now how could that be? With all this technology-related data coming available you’d think we we in “genealogical heaven.” However, according to Witcher, and Malesky it’s not so…

I see their point. While we are getting access to digital documents by the million, we’re losing the records produced – or should I say “not produced,” today. When was the last time you got a personal letter from a friend, let alone one of your relatives? It’s all e-mail today it seems, and noone ever saves that for posterity… Too bad. We can communicate faster, and far easier than before, but it’s never saved… That’s just one thing that may point to a “genealogical dark ages.”

The following is a teaser from Betty’s article.

Are the genealogical ‘Dark Ages’ coming?
Sounds ominous doesn’t it?—“The genealogical dark ages.” The Dark Ages followed the decline of the Roman Empire as Europe experienced cultural and economic deterioration.

Intellectual curiosity was stifled for hundreds of years until the Renaissance in the 14th century.

A recent article in the Deseret Times (Salt Lake City) reports an address given at BYU’s Conference on Family History and Genealogy by Curt B. Witcher, manager of The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind.

He believes we may be entering a new dark age in genealogy with vital records and memories of people alive today lost forever.

Most alarming is his statement that courthouses are engaging in “radical sampling”—keeping a few samples from large record collections and destroying the rest.

This week, Camden, N.J. announced plans to close all branch libraries.

The Arizona State Library is currently open weekdays only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Publish,” he [Withcer] says, “locally to family or even on a website such as” taking care not to post personal information of living individuals as you create records for descendants … History (is) in our hands. What are we going to do with it?” If we wait for someone else to take care of it, our history is endangered and may be lost. Good advice from a respected librarian who cares about history including our individual family histories.

Read the full article in the August 14, 2010 Green Valley News.

Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (, writes daily at, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

2 thoughts on “Are the Genealogical Dark Ages Upon Us?”

  1. And the Canadian govt is talking about doing away with the required census entirely in 2011 and substituting a voluntary short questionnaire that WILL NEVER BE RELEASED TO ANY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC, INCLUDING THOSE INVOLVED!!!

  2. How sad in this day when we have faster, bigger computers and the ability to save documents that the decision has been made by some to destroy those records. I also hear it all the time from ordinary people: “we are down-sizing and want to get rid of all the “STUFF”.

    I am a driven family history researcher and gratefully a “SAVER”. I just this morning went through a box of papers and found in it hundreds of printed-off emails from the mid to late 1990’s. My daughter and her USAF husband were in Turkey, where he was stationed, and I have so many emails about their day to day activities. Setting me up with email was my requirement for him to take my daughter so far away and since he had a master’s degree in computer engineering he happily agreed. What a treasure this was for me to find the history of that time. He died in 2003 at the age of 48 and when I give these pages to my daughter she will be so happy to have them.

    Now, moving forward to 2010, I, at age 77, am trying to sort and discard boxes of papers that I have saved and also many boxes from my Mother’s home (she died in 1981). I insist that I cannot throw one paper away until I know that it is not “history”. Utility bills from the 1980’s get to go LOL, but I found a 1961 letter from our beloved friend who cared for my children when I had to work. She was “Grandma Hobby” to the kids and while they were tiny then they still remember her and will enjoy what she had to say about each one of them.

    In 1994 I received a spiral-bound book of nearly 100 letters written by my Mother’s relatives. Her Grandfater immigrated from Ireland in 1827 and there were letters he wrote. There were letters from their oldest son as he served and marched from Illinois to the South in the Civil War. Also letters from him twenty years after the War when he was living in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and “predicting” that the area would grow rapidly with people trying to improve their health. Colorado became a haven for people who had TB many years after his prediction.

    Mother’s Grandfather and his wife had thirteen children, ten of whom lived to adulthood and the book contained letters from these ten brothers and sisters as the moved and settled all over the United States, but stayed in touch with each other. The letters were all written between 1850 and 1916. The constant theme of the letters was how long it had been since they had either heard from the person they were writing to or an apology for not writing for a long time. Letters contained information such as how much various jobs paid in the area where they were living, how much farm products were selling for, etc. I consider all of this a true treasure.

    I also have nearly 100 letters that my Dad wrote to his parents, brother and sister as he served in WW1. He wrote every Sunday about his week’s activities, the troop train from Vancouver, WA to New York City and the troop ship from NYC to France. He wrote after he was wounded in France and during the seven months he was hospitalized back in the U.S.

    Now in the present with email, I have which stores our emails on their servers so that it doesn’t clog my computer and I currently have nearly 6000 emails sorted and stored. I receive a lot of criticism for this but I know how it touched my soul when the letters from my Great-grandfather’s family came into my life.

    I would like to share with you a paragraph from the man who wrote during the Civil War. I was reading it to members of my family soon after I received the book and my son (then age 17) was pacing back and forth, very animated. When I had finished this letter he said “Mom, Mom, do you realize that in those days people were illiterate and that we are descended from bright articulate stock”. This is part of the letter he was referring to:

    Fredrickton, MO August 29, 1861
    Headquarters 19th Regiment

    “A few moments leisure gives opportunity for writing. We are again on the move, left Pilot Knob on the morning of the 27th reaching this place yesterday afternoon. The forces moving forward by this route are led by General Prentiss, and include the 19th, 17th and 7th Illinois, the 2nd Iowa, 7th Iowa, one company of artillary, two or three companys of cavalry and the Illinois Hecker Jaeger Regiment”.

    “Last night with friend Clay I strolled around camp. The sight was one long to be remembered and as I thought of the conflict that will ere long try the mettle of both friend and foe, I longed to be at home for a little while that I might say goodby to all. I feel no fear, nor do I expect to fall, but I know that many will go down mid the smoke of battle, and this it is that makes us long to take those we love by the hand and again say goodby. We move forward again at 5PM. Our forces present a formidable front, which will, I think, give an impassable one to the seceshers.”

    I have not corrected spelling or punctuation.

    Thank you for asking for feedback and while I’m sure this is too wordy it has given me opportunity to express my love for Family History. All of the information that I have, along with relavent photos from the nearly 7000 I have on my computer, will be organized on CD or DVD for my six children, nineteen grandchildren and at present fifteen great-grandchildren. I want them to remember who came before them and that they stand tall where they are, supported by many generations of ordinary but wonderful forebearers.

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