Last week I had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with a microfilm reader. I have shared with you in previous posts that as an armchair genealogist, I am the product of internet genealogy. Having discovered genealogy via online technology, and having been able to collect the majority of my documents via online databases or through family, I have managed up until now to avoid the ominous microfilm reader.
However, I have come to the fork in the road, wait for more records to come online or seek them out via the archives and microfilms. I bowed to less advance technology and ordered three microfilms, 2 from the Ontario Archives and, one from Family History Library in Salt Lake City; I was ready to face the challenge head on.
I headed to my local library to read the microfilm of Ontario Marriages Reel 248 1841-1856. I was looking for the marriage certificate of my fourth Great Grandfather James Stapleton and his wife Ellen Phelan. My hope was in finding the document it would indicate his parent’s names that would give me another generation and extend my research into Ireland.
My daughter a little bored and home from college for reading week, I invited her along. In the back of my mind, I was thinking safety in numbers, or two brains are better than one, but I offered it up as a new learning experience and she took the bait.
Arriving at the library, they handed me the microfilm and we were left to our own devices. I realize most libraries are under-staffed, or maybe they just assumed I knew what I was doing since microfilms have been around for centuries. We headed up to the genealogy room, there they sat 5 of them, lined up like military men waiting an impending battle.
At the time, another fellow genealogist was engaging in a a little grumbling with her microfilm reader that refused to advance the film. Great I thought, here we go.
My daughter and I began feeding the film into the reader; I was very appreciative of the instructions posted on the front of the machine. Took us a few minutes to figure out how to feed the image, move the image, adjust the focus but we soon felt confident in what we were doing. I was grateful it required a very short learning curve and I only moved the film the wrong way twice, unraveling the film from the reader.
We began scrolling through the index at the start of the film, a little bewildered when we came to the end of the index, and we didn’t find what we were looking for, my heart sank. Until we read that, the rest of the index was at the back of the film. Huhh! Why? So we began to scroll through the entire film.
My first mistake at this point was letting my daughter control the cranky thingy to turn the film, that was the moment I began to feel like I was spinning in one of those teacups at the amusement park. My vertigo kicked into high gear and the image or rather blur of the microfilm pages rushing by me literally made me want to throw up. I had to walk away from the reader as my daughter continued; I was breaking out into a cold sweat.
When she arrived at the end, I attempted to sit down beside her and focus on the names in front of me, we skimmed through but by then I could have seriously laid down on the filthy floor to stop the room from spinning. I should’ve had a half a dozen martinis prior to my little excursion it would have come to the same conclusion. I refused look at the screen any more. I withdrew and we went home. I vowed to return to fight another day. I could tell my daughter was quite happy to call it quits early she was so over the microfilm reader.
The following week another film arrived at the library so this was my opportunity to redeem myself. This time I scored the machine with the superior technology; it advanced the film with a press of the button and printed out copies. What a concept! I improved on my loading time and I was off. My second attempt with the microfilm reader was a much more pleasant experience not only was I able to keep my lunch intact, I brought home with me a copy of my fourth Great Grandfathers last will and testament.
A couple days later, I headed to my Family History Centre to try my hand at reading some German documents. Oh.... but that is another post.
So what did I learn in all of this about microfilms and microfilm readers, they are still a necessary evil in the search for your family history, absolutely, do I prefer digitized documents absolutely.
A side note, I did revisit the microfilm of marriages, however it proved to be a dead end.