Let's say you want to find a person who lives in California. This last week our law firm had a demonstration of a new product from Westlaw, called WestlawNext in conjunction with a program called Westlaw PeopleMap. Now, before going into any detail about these programs, it is important to know that a Westlaw subscription can cost many thousands of dollars a month. Not a few hundred dollars a year like Ancestry.com. Neither you nor anyone else is likely to have access to such a tool unless they have a really good business reason for the service.
So what is Westlaw PeopleMap? It is advertised as a way to "quickly discover relationships between people, assets, and other public records." Does that sound familiar to a genealogist? Here is a further explanation of the program:
Before you've even started your research, Westlaw PeopleMap already has made connections between individuals from billions of public records across the country. Westlaw PeopleMap then brings those connections to you, making it faster and easier to identify a person of interest and their relevant relationships.The program includes a dynamic interactive graphical view that helps you see connections quickly and a mapping feature to help home in on the person you're looking for. This program is by no means unique. There are many competitor programs out there in the marketplace. What is unusual is not the Westlaw program or other similar programs but the amount of information available about nearly every single individual in the U.S. and possibly the world.
I still talk to people frequently who are worried about their "privacy" and are afraid to give out their "personal data" because of the possibility that the data will be "made public." This is the most uniformed and naive view of today's world imaginable. While we were in the demonstration, one of the attorneys threw out the name of a person he was looking for. In about two minutes, the Westlaw representative had a multi-page report on the individual showing among other things:
- His personal information, date of birth etc. including social security number (partially disguised but easily confirmed)
- His current address and all prior addresses (that is all prior addresses)
- A list of related people, family, friends, business associates etc.
- Every bank account he had ever had
- Every loan he had ever had and what was purchased
- All of his real property
- All other tangible assets
Don't you wish you could get that kind of information about your ancestors? Well, guess what? In some cases you can. Genealogists just don't realize, for the most part, that they live in a world of information, some of which is high priced, but still available.