How did people do genealogy before computers?

Okay, not only does The Master Genealogist keep all my people neat and organized and semi-sourced, but it keeps it compact. I was sitting here at my desk trying to decide if I wanted to work on my scanning project, my microfilm, a cemetery, or just some basic cleanup, when I realized my desk has really grown. I have a fairly large computer desk. In one corner I have three magazine holders, that hold the books I refer to alot. In front of those sits a metal microfilm case, with microfilm stacked on top, since it’s too small, and I don’t remember where I bought it. Then there’s the laptop, and lamp (which isn’t connected up because I have been too lazy to crawl under the desk and plug it into the power switch.) THen there’s my extra monitor which sits on a shelf that allows me to store stuff under the monitor like extra protective sheets and the phone. In one cabinet is the scanner and printer, and on the other side is drawers for pens, highlighters, cold meds (don’t you keep yours on your desk?), notepads…
Then I have another rolling desk for the microfilm machine. And yesterday I bought a portable laptop table that I could keep the documents I am working on open on, because there’s no room on the desk.

Where did people store all this stuff, plus the millions of photocopies and FGS before they had computers? Houses were smaller then, so where did genealogist keep all the stuff we collect on our ancestors? Did they have to stay focused on a smaller number of people, so that limited the amount of stuff they needed? Or did it take longer to collect data (i.e. FGS, and photocopies) so they just didn’t collect as much as we can in the electronic age. If I kept a printout of every census sheet linked in my database, that would be a LOT of paper. Instead they are stored electronically in my database and on my harddrive. As I scan in wills and deeds the temptation is to throw the paper copies away. I have spent a lot of money, copying, scanning, filing, refiling, protecting… those pieces of paper that are now stored electronically on my computer. But like any good genealogist, I just can’t bear to toss them. At least not yet. Though I think about how much easier life would be without the two filing cabinets to add to my arsenal of “genealogy supplies”. Even in this digital age, I still depend on paper copies of wills, deeds and marriages, but as I order more microfilm and add those photographed images to my database, I am wondering couldn’t I do without the paper ones of yesteryear.

So what do you think? Keep, or scan and toss?


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