For years, I was very much involved in retail sales as an Apple computer dealer. My complete lack of business background or education made this one of the most difficult times of my life. I had to simultaneously learn the skills necessary to run a very thriving business including a large dose of advertising. As a result of owning a computer store, we also started a typesetting/graphic design business. Because of changes in the computer marketplace, dedicated computer stores virtually vanished and the computer store we owned also failed, but the typesetting/graphics design business persisted and lasted for more than 30 years.
When we started the graphic design business, we tried to promote the new technology of designing publications on the Macintosh computers and printing the results on an Apple laser printer. One way I promoted this new technology was to personally approach all the printers and print shops in the area and talk to them about using a computer to design their printing and showing them the laser print out of the results. Almost without exception, the printers rejected my initial efforts claiming that the printing was too poor to be accepted by the public. The owner of the small print shop would invariably pull out a magnifying glass and look at the laser print, a 300 dpi print, and say that the product was unacceptable and they were not interested.
I still remember to this day the experience of having print shop after print shop reject the technology as too poor to be useful. It is interesting to note that because of that same technology, every single one of those printers and their print shops is now out of business. There used to be probably fifty small print shops in the Mesa area and now there are maybe two. Of course, the print shops later tried to adopt the new printing technology, but by the time they did so, they were essentially out of business. Large companies had quickly adopted the technology and the availability of high quality (300 dpi and later higher resolution) on demand printing changed the industry and is still changing the industry.
I see here a direct analogy to the present genealogical community. We are facing the same rapid technological changes and I am seeing the same inability of on the part of the genealogists to see the need to change. I also see that the large genealogy companies, who are rapidly taking advantage of the technology, are forcing the small operators out of business. I also experience some of the same frustration as I explain how the new technology will change the way we genealogists do our research and record our results, only to have people reject the product as too poorly implemented to work.
When was the last time you heard someone reject the idea of an online family tree? When was the last time you met a genealogist who said they had no computer skills and preferred using a paper-based system rather than learn how to use a computer? When was the last time someone complained that the program they were using changed because of an upgrade? When was the last time you heard someone reject putting their genealogy on FamilySearch.org's Family Tree because other people would change their data? When was the last time you heard someone say that they thought Personal Ancestral File was perfectly adequate for their purposes?
I have heard all of those ideas expressed in the last two weeks. Some I have heard multiple times.
Here is what I know will happen. These "old line" genealogists will be "out of business" just a surely as were all the small print shops in Mesa and elsewhere. Genealogy will not survive in its present form. Oh, I don't mean people will abandon their search for their ancestors, I mean that the processes we have used for the past 100+ years will disappear. Here is what is going to happen:
1. The large genealogy companies will acquire enough records to adequately document nearly all of the people who have lived in the past 150 years.
2. With a subscription or membership in one or more of these companies, a beginning genealogist will automatically have at least four generations of ancestry readily available. This will be true for most of the people from Western Europe and the Americas. Think about it, the young people being born today, are my grandchildren and soon my great-grandchildren. Their four generations only go back to people born in the mid-Twentieth Century, likely between 1920 and 1950. With a few exceptions, every single person in this category has some online documents. I am continually helping young people with their genealogy and find some I am related to. In almost every case, I have known their grandparents and sometimes their great-grandparents personally.
3. Cooperation and synchronization between different online database programs will allow more remote ancestors to be "crowd sourced." That means that any interested descendants of these more remote ancestors will be able to collaborate to extend family lines.
4. The need for individuals to go to large repositories will decrease as more records come online. Seeing this coming, the large genealogical entities will begin to de-emphasize "professional genealogists."
5. So-called professional genealogists will become more like professional historians, recording and expanding on the details of family history rather than searching records for names and dates. Very, very few people will see the need to pay a genealogist to search family records.
6. Because people can look at their "genealogy" any time they want online, paper copies of these records will become scarce or non-existent.
Right now, the current crop of old line genealogists are looking at the mass of data in family trees and saying it just isn't good enough to use. Just like the printers back in the 1980s, they are making that assumption based on their perspective but leaving out the technological changes. Think about this one fact: How long will it be until nearly every single identifiable grave in the United States has been documented online? Did you think this was possible five years ago?
Just as assuredly as these changes are happening and will continue to happen, genealogists will go into denial and claim that the way they have done genealogy is the only way it can be done. Goodbye genealogists. Goodbye small print shops.