Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Microfilm Readers

Share My Loss of the Microfilm Apparatus

Probably I am the only genealogist left in this hemisphere that is lamenting the replacement of crank - the - arm microfilm readers with the everyday PC or laptop. As a professional genealogist, I have subscriptions to Footnote.com and Ancestry.com and I have to say I enjoy the convenience, availability, and even the search options, but they do not replace scouring microfilms in a dark room – moving slowly in a forward motion through the alphabet. When given a choice, I don’t even use the relatively new motorized microfilm readers. I prefer the over - the head loading apparatus, and constant arm motion needed to control the speed and direction, and manually adjusting the lens from blurry to "much clearer."

I want the excuse to pause as I pull and file the little white boxes, reload by coercing the film in the little slot and winding halfway through a 4 inch reel to look for the M’s. I like changing the lenses to enlarge or print, and covering the screen with a yellow colored paper to enhance the faded view while reading. Those will soon be the days of yesteryear.

The excitement of visiting the new NARA Kansas City recently was marred by the obvious absence of head high cabinets of properly filed microfilm boxes. And then the hardest realization of all – the 30 or so readers (could be an exaggeration) were replaced by shiny PC’s. When I inquired, which I surely did, I was told you have to ask for the microfilm in advance and use it on the lone microfilm reader, cornered and slightly hidden in the research room. (Could have been others, but didn’t see them).

This just won’t do. I need the rows of cabinets, the boxes of films, the bulky readers! What if I want to read the Dawes Petitions on every Vann or Landrum surname on a film? I want to be able to pick a reel and enjoy the snowy Tues (or Wed, or Thurs, you get the point) reading every petition, even if not directly pertinent to my research.

In some repositories the transition to totally digitize is being fast-forwarded. I enjoy Footnote.com and Ancestry.com, and they truly have a place for genealogy research, but they are not a replacement for the dear own microfilm apparatus.

Kathleen Brandt
stradercom@aol.com

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