Computer resources and reference files of SGS

Peter Hawlina

There is probably no genealogist that would not want to make his work as easy as possible in the very beginning. He or she would like to use the most modern tools and resources and the most complete databases.

Tools and resources, by that I mean mostly computer hardware and software, are developed practically without our assistance. It is up to the individual, how often he or she will update the software. The offer is plentiful.

Databases are a different story. Although there are many on the world market, we Slovenes will find something useful in them only as an exception to the rule. I am speaking mainly of databases, that are kept by institutions like the Family History Society in the State of Utah, if I only mention the largest one. Ancestry is not far behind. But not only Americans keep up such collections, other civilized nations are following in their footsteps.

We at the Slovene Genealogical Society were well aware of the meaning of reference files already in the very beginning. To illustrate - a series of contributions, titled Transfer of archive material to modern medium has been written. In our newsletter Trees (Drevesa), the subject had twenty-two sequels.

In our Society, we organize yearly conferences on that subject. There were five up to now. This is the sixth one. It could also be called the sixth conference on the subject of transfer of archive material to modern medium, and not only Bridging our worlds (the official title), or 2001: A genealogy odyssey, like I subtitled it in my introductory message. It is true that the former five conferences can not be compared to this one, not in size and not in quality. But they were good for gathering experience that encouraged us to try organizing something on a larger scale.

So we have known what we need since the very beginning. And we are also aware how far we are from the realization of our desires and needs. Our ultimate wish is that all of our ancestors and family members would already be entered in some kind of a national or international database and we would be able to pull out the data we need at any given time. As dreamlike as it sounds, the world endeavors are actually heading in that direction.

Heading, yes, but even the most advanced are still far from realization of such dreams. Even further from them are we, the Slovene genealogists, but that does not keep us from trying. Although the project of fusing of results of the work of individuals is not organized, we have several times attempted to combine larger and smaller genealogical databases. One of the possible methods of measuring our joint attempts is the yearly poll, with which we are attempting to determine the total number of persons entered. The sum in 1995 was approximately 20.000 persons, 80.000 in 1996, about 100.000 in 1998, 170.000 in 1999 and 220.000 in 2000. We can expect reaching the number 250.000 this year. Since we are never able to collect the answers from all the collectors, we can only estimate that the total is even larger. Most of the people polled also said that they would be prepared to contribute their data to a database that would be available to other people, or at least to the ones participating in the project.

A joint genealogical record would definitely be of the foremost value. Everyone could first try to determine, whether or not his or her research area coincides with someone else's. Possible matches would benefit both researchers.

In addition to that database, that is (as previously stated) being constantly updated and built upon, all other kinds of databases are possible. Let me mention them only briefly. They are various dictionaries of place names, first and last names, illnesses, collection guides, parish book indexes, censuses and related materials. Such databases are without exception the work of some volunteers, that almost without exception selflessly make them available for other researcher's use. Many of them are linked to our web sites.

In genealogical research, we could very well use the databases, compiled by governmental and other institutions for their own use. One of those is certainly the Registry of population, maintained by the Ministry for internal affairs. However, most such databases are unavailable to genealogists due to the protection of personal data.

But the database, that largely replaces the Registry of population, is widely available. I am talking about the phonebook. It has been issued in computer form for several years by Telekom. It is an excellent tool, because it also arranges the hits for a certain name geographically and it can actually be determined (by the number and frequency of hits) where the last name (probably) originates from.

This is only one of possible uses of the phonebook. The other is certainly that we can look up potential relatives, contact them and determine the actual connection (or lack thereof).

Fact is, that genealogists are far less interested in the present than they are in the past. But there were no such collections in the past. There were many lists, but they are (if they still exist) stowed away in various archives. In most cases, I do not even know they exist. An additional problem is that these lists are not necessarily in an alphabetical order and generally not in one place.

How valuable a "CD-rom phonebook" for previous centuries would be! Of course it does not exist. But there is something like it. In the second half of the 19th century the Society of St. Hermagoras (Sv. Mohor) was founded. Among other things, they published a calendar every year, in which the names of all members of the Society were listed. There were over 80.000 such members a hundred odd years ago. These 80.000 names represent a large portion of the population of that time. If (for simplification) we estimate that a family from that time had four members on average, then there is at least one fourth of Slovene families of that time on that list. That was for us reason enough to transcribe this member list and so we created something similar to today's phonebook for the year 1900.

I only mentioned some of the things that have already been done. We wish to proceed faster than up until now. But that can not be done by voluntary work of a few members alone. Substantial progress could only be made by organized addition of a larger number of helpers and supporters, which can only be done with financial support. It seems that there is already light in the horizon. We hope that with our conference we have managed to show (in a more convincing way than with our work up to now), that our work is not only intended for our sake only, but that we can already show enough results, that mean something for Slovenia and the whole world. If not more, our Society should at least achieve the status of a society, that works in a common public interest.