Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Paperless A Joke?

First, let me say Thank you, Dick Eastman for your recent plus article titled The Paperless Genealogist.

This is not a joke. It can be done. In fact there is no reason why it shouldn't be done.  We hold on to paper because we like the certainty of having it in our hands and being able to feel documents.  It seems impersonal to pull up a file on your computer, magnify it, drag it around and then close it, but paper...  Paper is there.  It's in your face, a constant reminder of what you know.

We use excuses all the time about why we use paper, but we know, from our research that it doesn't last forever.  It can be easily destroyed by any number of things, but we still cling to it like it is the be all/end all.

If you haven't guessed, I had a bit of slip, almost, this weekend, where I seriously considered printing out 38 pages of Civil War Pension file documents i found on for my 4th great grandmother, Edna (RICHARDSON) BABBIDGE. Her husband Erastsus died of dysentary in Louisiana and left her with a number of very small children to care for...  Ok, off topic a little there.

The point is, why do I want to print paper?  What is bringing me back there?  The documents are clearly already online at so.. that's one place.  I have them saved to my harddrive, so I have them there.  They are also on a flash drive so I can bring them around with me during research.. so...  I have 3 accessible copies of these documents, yet I still wanted to print them out and put them in a binder.

Glad to say I didn't do it, but I have to ask myself.  What's wrong with me?   Am I afraid of losing this information. Do I just not trust technology (which would be a shame, given that's sort of my job...)  What draws me... us... back to paper?


  1. I think one answer could be that physical copies remind us of what we know. My genealogy is mostly digital, and sometimes I find myself worrying that I've discovered something, and made a note of it in a file, and then forgotten to follow up on it, and who knows when I'll stumble across that file? The same thing could happen with paper, really, but I guess it feels like with paper you can see everything in front of you at once?

    So maybe the answer to that is just a better organisational system. I'm still early in the process of trying to find the ideal system, but maybe finding that system would make paper irrelevant.

    I find your blog really inspiring on this topic!

  2. I agree Lianne. I think there is something comforting in knowing you can literally put your hands on something. And for sure its easier to spread out 5 or 6 pages on a table and cross reference things if you are trying to work through an issue than looking at the same 506 pages on a single computer screen. But there are lots of ways to cross reference things with files (if you do it right, its probably more efficient than paper since you can create links between docuemnts, etc).

    Thanks for taking the time to read. I'm deep in the process of really setting some of this stuff up now, so I hope to have some more "How To" type posts shortly. It's been interesting to start thinking about how to make this transformation happen and what technologies I'll be using. Now that it's coming together I'm getting more and more excited :)

  3. Yep - I guess I don't trust least when I am at the helm. :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  4. Since I grew up before computers I think my brain is just wired the paper. Often I will attempt to do a project just using digital files but end up printing them out so I can make notes and shuffle the papers around.

    I keep trying and look forward to your advice.