During last year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought home the reality of what it means to be physically distanced, separated and isolated. It was a mixed bag of experiences, where some people loved the opportunity to literally stop and reassess, rethink and realign what was important in their lives. It provided lots of time to do things differently, to grow, to see things differently. For others, the isolation, separation and distance was a huge burden and challenge both mentally and physically, where people count not access support and community that was so important to their their daily or weekly ritual, their things that were part of their identity. This cut across all demographics, ages and countries, causing pain, anxiety, loneliness, frustration, anger, a whole mix of emotions. We have all either experienced or observed what this meant for those around us, in our families, communities, and countries.

Getting through the pandemic would have been unimaginable without technology to keep us connected. That might have been with our neighbours, school mates, teachers, staff and colleagues, community and interest groups. Virtually every community and family relied on technology to stay connected. Even within the same household, technology kept families together where one person in the family needed to isolate to keep other family members safe. We also had the opportunity to connect with and create brand new communities that would not have even been considered possible previously. Physical conferences went virtual and suddenly accessed expanded markets and avenues. New apps were created to foster authentic and real communication in real time to encourage individuals to feel connected wherever they were physically.

As people found ways to connect via technology in real time during lockdown, so too did activity around people finding connection with their ancestors. Traffic to state records and ancestry site subscriptions increased during this period. Accessing the right technology became the only way that people could find their ancestors and relatives as libraries and records offices physically closed. I, too, started to pick up some cold leads that had been left untouched for years and found goldmines of information via email, website searches and database searches. I, too, realised that I didn’t need to go to my country of origin to find records as early as 1500. The “finding miracles” are made more possible through the fact that more and more records from obscure places are being made available electronically, literally every day.

Embracing technology in all aspects of family research not only to research, but also to create and store the information we gather will create a much more compelling story of our ancestry, and make it much easier to pass on to other generations, when they are ready for it. It’s not only collating your family data, but the stories, recipes, traditions, memories, photos, documents and images that create the whole picture of our ancestors, all of which can be enhanced with the use of electronic tools, apps and websites.

The Fareloom app is one such app that helps us to record not just our family heritage recipes, but the photos, memories, moments and stories that are associated with those special recipes. I have been able to record all of our German family baking recipes that we use every year at Easter and Christmas, created a collection of these recipes and invited all my family members access those recipes and add recipes that they have kept using as part of the family repertoire. This has meant that firstly, our family traditions can be maintained and will keep going, secondly, the recipe won’t go missing again, and thirdly, we have preserved a part of our family identity that makes us who we are. We bring our ancestry to life and make it real, every time we bake mum’s strawberry quark sponge cake, or think of our great aunt overseas when we make her Christmas chocolate bread slice. Many of us can’t get excited about family history unless its real, relatable and tangible to our every day lives, and this is just one example of how technology can help us connect in a tangible way, and helps to make names on a chart come alive and is real to us.  

The Australian Society for Genealogists have even more ideas about how technology can enrich our family history efforts, and make those connections real in our every-day life. ASG is holding a virtual event on the 17th March 2021 to guide people through the scope of possible technology opportunities that exist to help all aspects of research, organising, gathering, collecting and preserving: https://www.sag.org.au/event-4179168

No matter how we see it, the scope of possibilities that technology will provide for us in our efforts to connect with our ancestors as well as the communities around us will continue to grow and expand. Technology has the capacity to enrich and improve our connections, the stories of our ancestors and indeed our own story.