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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Five purposes of the FamilySearch.org website

For some time now, I have been thinking about an article in the Deseret News, Church News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called "Unfolding the future of online family history research." The article appeared back on August 7, 2010 and talked about a presentation by Daniel C. Lawyer on July 29th by Daniel C. Lawyer, senior product manager for FamilySearch. As part of his presentation, Mr. Lawyer outlined five purposes of the FamilySearch website:
  • Make it easier for family and friends to work together on their family history.
  • Make it easier to access, share and preserve ancestral artifacts.
  • Make it so you don't have to be a genealogist to do genealogy.
  • Make the site more genealogically sound so it will appeal to the more advanced genealogists.
  • Make it easier to give and receive assistance.
These purposes were developed to answer questions encountered in a world-wide study of people's interaction with family history. Quoting from the news article, "They talked with experts, novices, non-participants and even people who are "anti-genealogy," he said. What they found was that doing genealogy is difficult because people encounter obstacles in access to records, various tools, technology and life circumstances. They also found that genealogy, in the way it is often presented, is not engaging to people new to the pursuit."

Before making any other comments, I need to emphasize that I think all five are very laudable goals (except if a genealogist is someone who does genealogy, don't you automatically become a genealogist when you do genealogy no matter how easy it is?). Three of the five purposes prominently use the work "easier." Three of the purposes also involve working together, sharing, and giving and receiving assistance. One of the purposes involves access with an emphasis on preserving "ancestral artifacts." This seems to be a way to share digitized images online.

It seems implicit in the purposes, that the present website falls somewhat short of these objectives. I would have to agree. Except for the very limited ability to post your e-mail address and other contact information online in the New FamilySearch program, I am unaware of any other methods of identifying or contacting "friends and relatives." It seems like the first purpose has definite aspects of social networking. I think that a semi-social network type environment would probably help with the issue of giving and receiving assistance.

That leaves the purpose of making the site more "genealogically sound so it will appeal to the more advanced genealogists." Somehow, this goal seems contradictory with the other four. If you are going to make a site so simple that you don't have to be a genealogist to do genealogy, how do you satisfy someone who is an advanced researcher? Tough question. From my own standpoint, I would think that making the site appeal to the more advanced researcher should be rather simple in concept and probably difficult in execution. That is, give the site enough original source records with digitized images to make the site a go-to location even if access to the images and records is rather simple. Also, the search engine needs to be sophisticated enough to give real in-depth access to the records. None of this thousands of returns, none of which are your person. I think the serious genealogist will overlook all the feel good, hand holding stuff if they can actually get information out of the site.

I think the list overlooks what I feel is the one most important part of any genealogy website: content. The site can't just make people feel good about themselves and genealogy, it also has to provide real, useful and pertinent information. The FamilySearch Record Search collections are a good start. If they keep up the flow, the site will become a majorly useful website in the not too distant future. In addition, if the Research Wiki continues to grow, it will also become one of the most valuable resources we have in online genealogy.

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