2001: A Genealogy Odyssey

Peter Hawlina

Although the official title of the conference is Bridging our worlds, I can not resist the temptation and use (as a subtitle for our event) the year that Arthur C. Clarke used for the title of his novel '2001: A Space Odyssey' forty odd years ago. Kubrick's movie by the same name gave it world fame.

I am not only attracted to the year that coincidentally matches the year of our conference. I'm even more fascinated by the fable that Clarke launched. To make a long story short - it speaks of three phases in human evolution. The first phase was the one that made a human being out of a primate. This supposedly happened when our ancient ancestor invented tools. The second was when he was able to develop his tools so far as to allow him to leave our planet and venture into space. The third phase should be at the time in the future when the human makes contact with an alien intelligence and understands it. By that, he becomes a supernatural being - a child of the stars. Every metamorphosis in the novel is accompanied with touching of a big black monolith, that first appears in the time before the stone age, the second time it is discovered during excavations on the Moon and the third time it can be found at the edge of our solar system.

I will borrow the fable of the three stages of human development for a parable of the three stages, necessary for our conference to happen.

Genealogy accompanied the human race in all of its history. The Slovenes also dealt with genealogy in all of their history. That evidence is almost as old as the oldest documents of our history. But approximately ten years ago a drastic technological change occurred. The human being invented a new gadget, a new tool that had not existed before. We call it a personal computer. This tool became widely available and invited us to (with its help) accomplish things we were not able to before. And even if we were, it was in a much more modest dimension.

One of such things was genealogy. The computer showed itself as a useful enough tool that transformed individuals (from a conscious or subconscious desire) into working genealogists. The appearance of tools was the first phase in the new genealogy era.

Individuals, each with his own experience and working habits, soon noticed and learned about each other. We discovered that there is strength in numbers and we founded a society. Regular meetings began, followed by lectures from experts that introduced us to many professional resources that helped our work. The results of our work became richer and increased in quality. We started to publish a newsletter, the first genealogical handbook was published, one of the most popular genealogical computer programs was translated into Slovene, the first web page that introduced us to foreign world was developed, followed by the second web page, intended foremost for Slovene visitors. Written and personal contacts with similarly orientated individuals and societies at home and abroad increased, followed by lectures, workshops, presentations, exhibitions and more. We started organizing genealogical conferences. We can count all that as phase two in our development. We became capable of a more confident presentation in the world. We built a vessel, with which we dared to travel out of our homes and Society. We became recognizable enough to be noticed in the world that invited us to join in.

This is phase three. There are fifty of you here. Fifty representatives of the world's most developed country. You came to learn about many things, that may have been missing in your work until now. You are on your own turf. The archives of Slovenia are reserved for you these days. The archives of Slovenia are your archives, now and in the future. Over thirty lecturers, experts in different areas, that all genealogists need in their work, awaited your arrival. Almost one third of the lecturers came from abroad. So the event is not international only in its participants, but also in its lecturers. There was never before an event like this in Slovenia. This is the first, but certainly not the last time something like this happened. I am happy it did. I am happy for me, happy for the Society and happy for all the Slovenes, you included.

Maybe we could use a parallel with the original fable for your Society also. And each and every person can look for a parallel in his own accomplishments.

Another parallel with the three phases presents itself, if we take a different point of view at the approximately hundred years of history of Slovenian emigrants. The majority of your ancestors left their former homeland a hundred years ago, some a little earlier, some a little later. There were tens of thousands that had to decide at the time, whether or not to look (due to socioeconomic reasons) for an opportunity of a better existence and improvement of living conditions abroad. They started a new life, most of it was not easy. Leaving their homeland was phase one.

Phase two was to accustom themselves to their new country. It took them a long time. Almost all the emigrants left their homes and native soil because they could not make a decent living due to the changed economical circumstances. So they started to build a new existence in their new country. Again, it was not easy. Many of them wanted to forget their roots, only to be more similar to those whom they joined. But not many succeeded immediately. It was not until the second and third generation, that they managed to come close or even go above average. All of you are today completely equal to those, who came to America from other countries and different continents. Many an immigrant, in the desire to adapt to his new environment, wanted to forget everything that tied him to his former homeland as soon as possible. The first generation was still able to maintain occasional written contacts with family and friends, the second not anymore. The native language was almost completely forgotten. And with it the national conscience and customs. Although they may have been forcibly maintained in areas, where there were more fellow countrymen who were better organized.

It is probably impossible to calculate how many descendants of the people that left this part of the world approximately a hundred years ago, there are in the world today. Most of them blended with their new environment. But not all. There are those that cultivated their awareness of their ancestors and there are those that developed their interest in their ancestors and their homeland as of late. You represent the latter group. You touched the dark monolith and entered phase three.