I read an article today which made me spring to the keyboard. We genealogists complain bitterly about our brick walls and how some ancestors are just impossible to trace. We mutter darkly about how people will be easier to track in the future.  But is that really the case? Will technology enable our great great grandchildren to learn more about our comings and goings? Will they even be able to locate us?

I’m not very old (or so I tell myself). Yet learning where I come from and what I’ve done in life is not that simple. On the recently completed 2011 census, I’m living in Kanata, Ontario with a 17 year old son born in Ottawa. Go back ten years and I’d be living in Woodlawn with a husband and two sons, both born in Ottawa. A researcher with access to the Ontario databases would find that both of my sons were born at the same hospital in Ottawa but would they locate my 1988 Ottawa marriage? Not unless they were aware that it was a second marriage and they knew the surname of my first spouse.

The census would reveal that I wasn’t born in Canada, so a researcher could quickly locate my 1955 birth registration in Greenwich, England. They might find the 1956 registration of my brother – oh, no, actually, they would not. Either my father registered him with the wrong name or it was incorrectly transcribed by someone at the registrar’s office! And would an enterprising researcher pin down our family in the 1961 census for Greater London? Not at all – we’d moved to the south coast. And if they did find us in Brighton, they certainly won’t find us there in the 1971 census because we’re in Canada. If immigration records were open to the public, and a researcher knew we’d settled in Quebec in 1966, that wouldn’t help them. Four years later, we’ve left the province entirely!

Very mobile, the Gents!

My mother’s documentation is relatively straightforward, except that her marriage certificate gives her stepfather’s name and not her father’s. My father also named his stepfather instead of his father – and to make that more complicated, my father wasn’t even born with the surname he uses. Anyone looking at their marriage certificate would be uncertain that it was the right couple!

So in spite of technological advances, and in spite of broader global access to databases, it still takes basic sleuthing skills and, sometimes, an active imagination to break down those brick walls. I don’t believe it will ever be any different.