The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

I haven’t sent out my own Christmas cards in years, but in November I spent several hours preparing cards for my mom to mail to her list of recipients. I used her address book to locate family and old friends. (What a valuable record of her social history and genealogy! Not only could I follow the trails of her neighbors from 50 years ago, I could trace family births and deaths, marriages and divorces in her “address” book. She documented them all.)

As thorough as Mom’s record keeping was, several of her contacts who had relocated in the last year didn’t get noted in her book so I needed to find their new addresses. (When did we first start using the word “contacts” for names in our address book? It sounds so galactic. “We have made contact!” These people aren’t aliens, they’re her friends. And I’m not talking friends as in Facebook. I’m thinking of the neighbors who watched us kids while Dad rushed Mom to the hospital to give birth to her fifth child. Or the couples they traveled with to Tapatio Springs, TX in the winter to play golf while there was a blizzard dumping a deep freeze on Nebraska. Those kinds of friends are so much more than contacts.)

Anyway, many of these friends of my mom’s had new addresses and I had to find them.

(Side note: It seems like everyone over 80, and many much younger, is downsizing and doing The Move. Senior Living is the industry I wish I’d invested in ten years ago. It’s exploding! Somebody else does the cooking, the cleaning, the yard work, the snow removal. The community plans outings and entertainment and offers exercise classes right there. All you do is show up and have fun. And go broke.)

It should have been easy peasy to find Mom’s friends, right? All I needed to do was fire up the laptop and Google them. But Google isn’t up to the task; it’s not an address book. I had to use an address search site like WhitePages, AnyWho, PeopleFinders, 411, or a slew of others to nail down a specific address.

If you want to try this, here’s what you do. You go to one of those sites—let’s randomly pick WhitePages. You enter the name of the person you’re looking for and the state where you think they live and bingo, at least nine of that exact name pop up. Sometimes many more. Look up your own name and see what I mean. You are not the only you out there!

This is what happened to me: After looking up her address online, I sent a card to Mom’s friend Jan Andrews and received a friendly voice message a few days later: “This is Lori and my mother, Jan Andrews, received a Christmas card from you but she has no idea who you are. ”

Oops.

It’s WhitePages.com's fault. That webpage gave me the address for the wrong Jan Andrews. It ends up both Jans live in the same senior living community but in different buildings. How was I to know? WhitePages didn’t tell me.

You have to be really careful when looking up addresses online. Those people-search sites are sneaky. If you carelessly click on the first name that appears in the results, you will be redirected (misled) to a different, “premium” page that requires you to pay to get access to the information you need. You can also find out someone’s criminal records, their vitals (like, blood pressure or what?) and the names of all their former spouses. You should scroll down past the premium search results to get to the inferior name and address you’re looking for. With diligence, you can usually find what you need—for free.

This tedious and misleading effort makes me miss the phonebooks of old. Yeah, I complained when I found multiple copies of different phone books dropped on my doorstep, but I kept one just the same so I could look up addresses. I liked the onion-skin-thin paper, the tiny print, and the impact of seeing all of those names living on just one small area of the globe. There are a lot of us people on this planet!

Phone books had their place and I miss their ease of use. Plus, phone books worked a lot better than laptops as booster seats for toddlers at the dinner table.

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, donoholdt@gmail.com.

© 2019 Sarah Donohoe

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