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Genealogy of Communities: Intentional Community in the Next Century

U.S. Census information is not made public for 72 years after collection. Looking back 72 years, let's consider communities that have been a fabric of our lives, but not necessarily our written history.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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The latest available census returns date back to 1930, with the 1940s to be made available in 2012. Consider the changes in the United States communities that may not have been defined or captured by census enumerations.

The Forties

The 1940s will be an intense decade to study. It will encompass World War II, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima. Each of these events are composed of a multitude of family trees from around the world. It was also the era of the early computers.

It was a time of stereotypes while, at the same time, it was an age where we began to encounter other cultures. Not everyone embraced one another. Yet, it could probably be said that international marriages increased more than during any previous generation. With that will come the challenge of researching ancestors from Europe and Asia whose records may no longer exist due to the ravages of war and regime changes.

The Rosie the Riveter icon has been preserved fairly well. But, encourage any Rosie to write about her experience.

Genealogy is not exclusively American. Are there genealogical records of those who lost their lives at Hiroshima? Or, those who survived but lost their homes and everything they owned?

It is not too late to record what is known. Encourage everyone to record their past for future generations.

The Fifties

Unfortunately, war defines decades as much as anything does. The 1950s found us in the Korean War. Again, there were international marriages. International research may become even more of a specialty for some researchers. How many Americans can read Korean? How many international spouses were able to bring their family history with them to this country?

With the rise of unions, there will likely be union membership rosters documenting workers. Some of our less flattering history, such as black lists, will provide genealogical background.

Here, we also see a generation that could easily have eluded census enumerators: the Beatnik Generation. Encourage anyone who was a part of that generation to record the unique history of that community.

A unique source of information about this era exists is the "Industry on Parade film series, created by the National Association of Manufacturers from 1950 to 1960. The project filmed workers at businesses across the United States. I discovered my uncle in a film about broom-making. The collection is archived at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Sixties

The obvious aspect of community from the 1960s is communes. Remember this was the "drop out" generation. Many Americans created their own definition of community, and their own addresses. They defined their own relationships. The issue for many researchers will be to recognize and respect these intentional communities, invented by their residents.

At least one community still in existence is Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Virginia. Since 1967, about one hundred adults and children have called Twin Oaks home. Twin Oaks is a community that has drawn residents from numerous locations. The community will counted in the census enumerations. But, what about those who have come and gone, mid-decade?

We can only hope that intentional communities will create histories of who lived there, and what these communities experienced and accomplished. One of the best sources for the history of communities is "Visions of Utopia," a video by Geoph Kozeny, a long-time resident of Sandhill Farm in Missouri. This organic farm relies on its residence to manufacture sorghum for sale. If you have been to a county fair in Missouri, you may have bought some of Sandhill's sweet sorghum from one of its residents.

Sandhill is but one example of lifestyle-based communities. Sandhill is egalitarian, meaning basically that everyone shares everything equally, including income and expenditures. The Sandhill farm is rather large and was, at one time, a traditional community with a couple of farmhouses and the factory. The current residents are just as much a part of the history of Sandhill as the original settlers.

One can't help but ponder how a census enumerator will identify "head of household" within an egalitarian community. Sometimes intentional communities defy our traditional definitions.

An even greater question, is can we respectfully remember members of the Black Panthers, or the Weathermen Underground? What about the lesser-known names of those who died at Jonestown, or the 76 members of the Branch Davidian who died, two dozen of whom were British citizens? In 72 years, will we remember Woodstock? Will we remember?

The Seventies

This is a decade that will be especially intriguing. The Vietnam conflict was more than a war. It created internal conflict. Genealogical researchers of that generation will need to keep an open mind and search in unusual places for ancestors. Multitudes of young men and women served in the military and went overseas. Others fled the country to avoid the draft.

Some served out their time in prison as conscientious objectors. Researchers will need to be aware that conscientious objectors did not get to go about their daily lives. There were three choices: join the military; serve in a noncombatant capacity; or spend that time in a military prison.

Thousands of conscientious objectors chose prison. However, this was not a unique phenomenon. According to the Registry for Conscientious Objection, there were 6,000 Americans who chose prison rather than serve in World War II. Fortunately, the Registry has been creating profiles of conscientious objectors that will be of benefit to genealogists. Searching for Bill Sutherland, of New Jersey, could be a challenge. As a conscientious objector, he moved to Africa and has remained there until this day.

This was also the era of the first personal computer and the cell phone. This is a generation that began to prefer instant communication. It is also likely to be the generation that began to record less genealogical information in the family Bible or keep diaries. This generation expected a keyboard on everything.

Being aware of cultures increases the likelihood of successfully researching a family tree in the future. Knowing such registries exist and relying on them to preserve the history of a specific community will be extremely important.

The Eighties

Communication increased vastly in the 1980s. The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link or the WELL, a collection of electronic communities, came into being. It sold in 1999 to Salon Media Group and continues today. These are intentional communities, invented by the members. They define who they are.

Virtual communities and roles continue to evolve across the internet. Members of The WELL created their own communities like Craig's List. Is Craig's List a community?

The 1980s also saw a penchant for creating usernames, or alternate existences. It may be difficult to research users from the 1980s and well into the 2000, using digital records.

The 1980s was also a kinder, gentler era for gay rights. This will create a challenge for researchers. Genealogy databases don't have a field for two simultaneous same-sex partners. This is not an issue of whether the family chooses to accept gay marriage. It will become an issue of how do we define and document family.

This was also the era that saw an increase in surrogate mothers. As genealogists, we will be called upon to define family, once again. We will be called on to define our goal in creating the family tree. Are we looking at relationships, or DNA?

Then there is the issue of sperm banks. Again, is our goal tracking DNA, or understanding the relationship among family members? And who is family?

Throughout the past century, Americans in particular have taken great liberties in creating their own definition of family. Will there be a database to accommodate that?

Genealogy includes the entire world. Will there be a summit called to define family in a way that is acceptable to everyone? Will we need a charter to remind us that, as genealogists, we do not have the liberty of ignoring data if it does not fit our political, religious, or other beliefs?

The Nineties

We began to see the impact of technology with the panic over the Y2K problem. Would computers work on January 1, 2000? Would Grandma's PAF be accessible? There was a lot of conflict across the globe, all of which could impact genealogical records. We also saw the creation of the European Union (E.U.) In 1999, the Euro went into circulation.

One of the interesting things about genealogy, is to determine an ancestor's worth, how much they paid in taxes, the value of their home, and so on. In the future, we will need to be aware of the new currency. Hopefully, citizens of the twelve original member states will record for us the impact of the Euro.

The World Wide Web came into being in 1991. Then we had telecommuters, instant messaging, e-mail, and all the trappings that came with the Web. We now had more access to data than ever before.

During the 1990s we saw the creation of, Genealogy Today, and FamilySearch, where genealogical data could be shared. As expansive as such resources are, not every name in the world is included. The future offers plenty of opportunity to add more individuals.

The current question is who becomes conservator of records after the person who posted data passes on? There is currently no record, similar to a will, that provides for an heir upon an owner's demise. Will there be allowances for this in the future?

The Millenium

This will forever be the generation of 9/11. Forever, the world will understand the reference to "September 11." Many lives were lost that day, both in the attacks and among the responders. A great deal of research has been done to preserve their memory.

We have seen the impact of Hurricane Katrina. We need to remember, in the future, that many survivors are displaced. They are no longer in Louisiana. The 2010 census will, hopefully, track them down.

This is also an era of a downturned economy. We see reports on the evening news of families who are displaced and living in campgrounds. Some private campgrounds allow for long-term residency. But, many public campgrounds restrict residency to two weeks. Will everyone be counted?


The next 72 years will bring to light a collection of issues that we, as genealogists, will need to address. Most of all, we need to approach the future with an open mind and penchant for creative researching.

Other Articles In This Series:

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

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

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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