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Snail Mail Revisited

There's a really cute children's story by Arnold Lobel called, "The Letter." Toad is waiting by the mailbox, sure he's going to get a letter that just never comes. Frog decides to send Toad a letter to make him happy. He gives the letter to Snail, who agrees to deliver it. Frog rushes back to Toad's house and together they sit waiting for the letter to arrive. They wait four days. Snail mail is a little slow.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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I have an aversion to snail mail. Sad but true, and I'm trying to reorient my thinking. I remember a day when writing letters was the way to communicate, and I don't remember its being a terrible chore. You just did it, and that was that. Genealogy, of course, was done either by mail or in person, and people didn't travel to the degree they do now, even 10 years ago, so mail was the way to go. And I'm glad. I have some real treasures from people I communicated with . . . back then. Today is a different age. If we adopt the technology, we come to expect more. We expect it to meet our every need.

So what's the point? Turns out the slow train may be the express train, after all.

My aversion to snail mail is, of course, because it's slow. So I want to do everything by e-mail – it's fast. You wish! My theory has proven false on more than one occasion. Most recently, I found some articles in PERSI that I wanted to order. I live in Utah, so have access to a lot of genealogy materials not readily available elsewhere, but the journals with these particular articles were not available either at BYU or the Family History Library. This meant ordering them from Allen County Library (a resource for which I am grateful). The library provides a convenient online form for ordering . . . but, you cannot process that order online – you have to mail the form and wait. Being ever so clever, I observed the journal was also available through the genealogy society in my area of interest. I could contact them by e-mail and request the articles, absolutely willing to pay for the service.

So this I did, and received a nice reply from someone agreeing to send me the articles. Here's the hitch. I asked if the articles could be sent via e-mail. I'm thinking, "I could have these puppies by nightfall." Not so. The articles are bound in journals and have not been scanned. The lady processing my request, generous as she was, said she did not know much about scanning, but she'd try. Not wanting to make unreasonable demands, I replied that it would okay to just send photocopies, reasoning, if my request is processed, waiting that few days for them to arrive wouldn't be so bad.

Well, that was several weeks ago and I still have not received the articles, e-mail nor snail mail. I guess it was easier for the lady to reply to my e-mail than process the request. Sounds familiar. I certainly do not fault the Society. I know this is all volunteer work, and they receive many requests. So my technology expectation was not met. If I want the articles, I still have to send away.

Had I ordered the articles from the Allen County Library in the first place, which has a system in place for fulfilling such orders, I might already have them in my possession. And I've shot myself in the foot like this several times before; you'd think I would learn. For a couple of my ancestors, I have a good chance of finding key information by ordering and receiving the Social Security Application Card (SR-5), but because you have to send away for it, I don't do it. As you can see, my aversion is very strong.

Not too long ago, I wrote about the patience of virtue in waiting for a reply on the message boards – years, maybe. And I do that with no problem at all. So what's the difference? Well, I can post my message board query online . . . and receive my reply online. I don't have to address an envelope or "mail" anything. But there are just some things you still have to do the old fashioned way. Not everything is online and not everything is digitized. My personal aversion to snail mail is clearly a liability. As more genealogy resources come online, while it is a blessing, if it keeps us from the simple task of addressing an envelope or venturing out to visit a cemetery or courthouse, we may be missing out, not only on new and interesting information, but on exciting and serendipitous experiences, as well. I have developed a new plan for overcoming my aversion to snail mail, and will make a conscious effort not let my dependence on technology create a personal handicap. The old saying applies, when you know better, you do better.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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