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Count Your Blessings

On-line Genealogy in 1988

Genealogy Essays:

Recording Adoptions
How do you draw adopted children in a family tree? (2011)

Those Elusive Edes
9 lessons learned about finding people in the census. (2009)

The Joys of Inveterate Button Pushing (2004)

Who's Your Daddy?
Genealogy versus family history. (2004)

Suspicion Meters
Your program doesn't have one, but you do. (2004)

Estimating Dates (2002)

A cautionary tale (2002)

Count Your Blessings
1988 and now (2002)

The Grand Chase
How my individuals connect (2002)

What makes a family? (2001)

A genalogical detective story (2000)

Eben J. Cady
Musing about a tombstone (2000)

Related Sections:
Main Genealogy Page
Beginning Genealogy
Intermediate Genealogy
Biography questions

Other Sections:
Christmas Letters
Misc. Essays
Peace Corps
Web Design


(First published in Missing Links: A Magazine for Genealogists
The Petunia Press
Volume 7, No. 21, 26 May 2002)

A friend was cleaning out her garage last month and gave me a stack of old Heritage Quest magazines. Among them was one from January 1988, which doesn't seem that long ago. Ronald Reagan was in the White House; George H. Bush was his vice president. My eldest daughter, now completing her first year of college, was learning to ride a two-wheeler.

Back to Heritage Quest. Some things haven't changed. Barbara Bryant White has an amusing article bemoaning the fact half of her male ancestors were named "John" and they all married women named "Polly."

Some things have changed. Inside the front cover is a picture of Howard L. Nurse, president of CommSoft Corporation, with an advertisement for Roots II, "the most comprehensive genealogy program available for the IBM PC and compatibles." Mr. Nurse is wearing a tweed jacket and a pair of eyeglasses that make him look like Bill Gates. He wouldn't look out of place in crowd of computer nerds today, especially if he had a pocket protector. But his PC has a 12-inch black and white monitor, with 24 80-character lines. Roots II sold for $195.

$195 was a popular price. On the inside back cover is an advertisement for Family Research Manager, also $195. It requires MS-DOS 2.10 or higher, and 256K of RAM. How much was $195 in 1988? I bought a Volvo station wagon for $14,000 late in 1985. Three years later a 1988 model went for $18,000, before haggling. Jim, the salesman at our local Volvo dealer, told me an equivalent station wagon would be $35,000 today. Using the Volvo index, $195 in 1988 dollars would be about $380 today. The list price for the genealogy program I use, Family Origins for Windows, is $29. Family Tree Maker goes for anywhere from $19.95 to $109, depending on where you shop and how many CD's you get bundled into the package. You may find a two-year old version of either one for $14.99 in a remainder bin at your local discount house.

Further in, on page 79, Myra Vanderpool Gormley has an article about GENIE, the General Electric Network for Information Exchange. They have a program whereby genealogists across the country get together to "talk" on Thursday and Friday evenings. You have to join GENIE for a one-time registration of $29.95 and pay by the hour to participate. The cost, for non-prime time, is $5 per hour for a 300 or 1200-baud modem. (1200 baud is 1.2K in today's terms.) There are more than 5,000 people involved in the GENIE genealogy program.

Today I pay $16.95 a month for unlimited Internet access, three e-mail accounts and a personal Web site. Counting the time my son plays with NeoPets, my daughter chats and I hunt dead ancestors, we average 4 hours a day on the Internet, or 120 hours a month, which would have been $600 on GENIE.

There were 18 pages devoted to queries, sent in by readers and paid for at 30 cents a word. (New subscribers get to place three queries for free, one per issue.) Just like today, the surnames are in ALL CAPS, and people are looking for siblings, parents, and descendants. There are roughly 400 of them in this issue, in no particular order, which you searched by eyeball. Each query has a postal address. The query deadline was two months before publication date. I estimate it would take a week for you to write and mail a query, two months to set up and print the magazine and a week for the magazine to be mailed. If it took your distant cousin a week to see and reply to your query, the fastest response you could get would be nearly three months. You can get a response to a GenForum.com query in ten minutes today, if you are lucky; many of mine get answered within the week.

Not everything is easier today. In 1988 Spam was a lunch meat and a virus was something you treated by getting lots of rest and drinking fluids. When the only mail you got came in an envelope with a stamp, I got a lot fewer hot stock tips, offers to see scantily clad women and mortgage quotes. A 1.8 Giga-Hertz computer with dual 80 GB hard drives and a 21-inch flat-panel display monitor doesn't do you much good if the C drive is fried, thanks to a virus- writing pimple. Still, I'd hate to go back to 1988. Count your blessings, folks.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014