Friday, August 17, 2012

Tracking down a childhood record

One of the challenges of Internet research is looking for something whose name you don’t know.

As a kid in the 1970s, my sister and I loved a record of songs about animals. It was long gone from my family when I tried to find it again. I wasn’t sure what it was called but I remembered that it included covers of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Rockin’ Robin.” I particularly liked a song called “Come to My Farm”; having never heard it elsewhere, I presumed it was an original. So that was where my 2007 search began, and where any search should begin: with the most specific information you have.

But a Google and an eBay didn’t find trace of the song or the record. (Even five years later, a Google still doesn’t turn it up unless you hit upon a special combination of keywords. Obscurity now!)

My next tactic was to take advantage of one of the greatest assets of the Internet, an asset so simple that many seem to overlook it: asking people. Never before have we had almost instant access to anyone who is not an A-list celeb (and even some of those are reachable on Twitter).

Looking to prove (or debunk) a recurring rumor about the Nazis? E-mail professors of German history.

Looking for descendents of a deceased person you’re writing about? Poke around on Facebook (unless the last name is common).

Looking for a non-famous record you loved three decades ago? Contact everyone you can find online who collects kiddie records.

This kind of outreach takes only minutes. It’s free to e-mail, of course. And you can ask as many people as you want at the same time at no cost and with no diminishing returns. Chances are you’ll find someone who knows, or someone who knows someone who knows, pretty quickly.

As I did.

So now I (and my sister) may be the only people in the world with "Come to My Farm" on our iPods.

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