There are a huge combination of technological advances that had to accumulate before genealogy began to be affected in a revolutionary way. You could consider the development of microfilm as one of the first harbinger of the technological revolution, but it was only until a huge document acquisition and distribution structure was created by FamilySearch and its predecessors, that the benefits of this technological advance could have an impact on the entire genealogical community. But you can hardly equate the availability of rental microfilm with the technological changes that have occurred in the last 50 years.
We visited an historical museum out in the west desert of Utah recently. Back in 1858, under the false belief that the Mormons in Utah were rebelling against the laws of the United States, President James Buchanan sent one third of the troops in the entire U.S. Army to put down the rebellion. When the troops finally arrived in Utah, they discovered that there was no such rebellion, but they established a camp. Here is a quote from the Camp Floyd State Park Museum.
Believing Mormons were rebelling against the laws of the United States, President James Buchanan dispatched 3,500 troops, nearly one-third of the entire U.S. Army, to suppress the rumored rebellion in the Utah Territory. No rebellion or war ever took place in Utah. The army stayed to monitor the Mormons, explore the western frontier, and provide safety for immigrants moving west to California, Oregon, and Washington.
Camp Floyd, named in honor of Secretary of War John Floyd, was built by the army with the help of local citizens. The Army pumped nearly $200,000 into the local economy to build Camp Floyd. Camp followers soon increased the population of Camp Floyd and Fairfield to 7,000, making it the third largest city in the Utah territory. At their height, Camp Floyd was the largest military installation in the United States.Camp Floyd only existed for a very short time, the U.S. Army was recalled to the East with the start of the Civil War. I found the Museum interesting because of the artifacts from the mid-1800s. What was even more interesting to me was the fact that many, if not most, of the common everyday objects in the Museum were familiar to me from my childhood in Eastern Arizona. I knew all about cream separators, irons heated on a wood stove, butter churns and other household objects that were still in use when I was a child nearly a hundred years after the Utah War.
The technological changes I have seen in my own lifetime are extensive and dramatic. I certainly remember when both radios and TVs were considered new innovations. But when I began my first incursions into the world of genealogical research, genealogy was still well settled in the 1800s or earlier. I was still seeing handwritten family group records. It was still necessary for me to travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to see the millions of family group records that had been accumulated for over 100 years. If I wanted to view any of the rolls of microfilm, I had to be in Salt Lake City to do so.
From my present perspective, the swirling technological advances I was seeing with the advent of the electronic revolution or the information revolution or whatever, had barely touched the hallowed halls of genealogical research. Now, thirty or so years further on down the revolutionary trail, we are finally seeing the very first vestiges of impact of the those same technological changes on genealogy. Rather than tout how much technology has changed genealogical research, let me point out that most of what we do in genealogy is exactly the same as it was thirty, forty, fifty or even a hundred years ago.
The Great Divide I refer to in my title to this post is not between any sub-section of the genealogical community and another. It is not between the technological haves and have nots, it is between genealogy as a pursuit and the rest of the advancing technological world. It is only now, in the past four or five years that any of the technological advances have really had the potential of impacting genealogy in a basic way. We are still mainly in the butter churn and cream separator level of genealogy while the rest of the world has moved on.
We are not so much focused on genealogy as information processing as we are focused on genealogy as a topic. We are, for the most part, simply electronically reproducing the same forms, the same limited information and the same methodology that has been in place for the past 150 years or so. We are copying what has been done in the past rather than applying the new technology in new ways. Those who are pushing for change are being marginalized in the same way that all technological innovations have been received over the centuries. Rather than being embraced, change is viewed as a threat.
Even for those who characterize themselves as early adopters, genealogy has only now begun the transformation from a study to a manipulation of information with an ever changing and evolving electronic technology.
Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about. Rather than capitalize on the technological advances in the exchange of information, until very recently, it was not possible to completely move information from one genealogical database to another. The existing technology, GEDCOM and other methods, was and are extremely limited.
If I write a document using my computer in my own office with images, charts, etc. I can transmit that entire document, with all the formatting etc. to almost any device in the world with no loss of information. However, if I make an entry in my local genealogical database program for an individual ancestor and include source citations, notes, copies of documents etc. There is no way to move all of that information intact to any one else unless they are using exactly the same program I am using on the same device. In almost all cases, if I want to share that information, I am limited to sending one field at a time. Even the most extensive file transfers are fraught with limitations on enclosed media. When I have an extensively documented file in any one genealogy program, I am essentially locked into that program just as I would have been had the same information been on paper. There is not PDF file equivalent for genealogy.
The electronic revolution is about moving information from one venue to another. In this, genealogy has yet to be born; it isn't even into the infancy stage.
Well, now I hope you know the direction of this series of posts. What I intend to do, is show where the positive areas of information transfer exist and where they are still only dreams. Stay tuned.