With the announcement that New.FamilySearch.org will be converted to read-only status at the end of the year, a milestone in the history of online genealogy will finally come to pass. I say "finally" because the event has been anticipated for over two years. I also hope that this transition will begin a new chapter in the way that genealogy is practiced both on and offline.
Historically, genealogy has been a highly insular and isolated activity. A few genealogists would collaborate for relatively short periods of time, but other than formal society and conference activities, everyone in the community pretty much did what they wanted to do on their own. The Internet and Web have opened up virtually instant communications and now, with the formal advent of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree, there is major way for everyone in the entire world to collaborate at the same time on the same project. The very existence this and other world-wide genealogical collaborative efforts effectively remove the main reasons for the historical isolation.
During the past few days, I have been constantly reminded of the changes as I have talked to people and helped them with questions concerning the operation of the FamilySearch Family Tree program. One of the most significant effects of the transition is that participating genealogists are confronted with vast disparity in accuracy and consistency inherited from the past. Reaction to the errors and inconsistencies of the past have been extremely varied. In some cases, researchers have become throughly disgusted and quit using the program. Others have assumed all of the problems and variations are supposed to be there and preserved, not realizing that they were merely mistakes of past submissions.
In many cases, the reaction to the transition has been extremely negative, due primarily to the constantly changing program features. People generally do not adapt to change readily and when they see constant changes they become discouraged and negative about the program. But that cannot be avoided. The changes are driven my the need to add vital functionality to the program as well as correct problems and implement more useful features. As the overall technology changes, the programs, including FamilySearch Family Tree will also continue to change. This will be especially true as FamilySearch implements the additional features acquired as a result of the agreements with the other large online database providers.
We still have a very long way to go in gaining acceptance for FamilySearch Family Tree and other genealogy programs. I still find many researchers who are not yet even involved with computers at all, much less participating on an online program. I talked to several people this week who had no computer skills at all but were very interested in researching their genealogy. I had others who still have all of their information in Personal Ancestral File and have no idea that there are other programs out there to use, including FamilySearch Family Tree. I think those who own and manage FamilySearch and the other large database programs would be surprised at the absolute lack of awareness of even their existence on the part of a huge segment of the genealogical community. I have taught classes this week to people who came voluntarily to learn about genealogy who had no idea any one of the four large online companies (FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com) even existed. It is one thing to talk about engaging new users with stories and photos, but the reality is that very few people are aware of the program at all and many do not have the computer skills to even view the programs online, much less become interested by stories and photos.
For example, in one class on FamilySearch Family Tree this week, I mentioned to a group of researchers, most of whom were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that Family Tree replaced New.FamilySearch.org. Some of them had never heard of New.FamilySearch.org and it has been in existence for many years. I recently showed a Bishop in the Church the Family Tree program and he was surprised to see that Family Tree Photos had photos of some of his family members. So far, all of the effects of the changes online are reaching only a comparatively very small number of people even within the Church.
For my part, I intend to keep teaching, talking and writing and further hoping that I can help one more person to see the need to reach out to their ancestors and connect with their heritage.