From the standpoint of the genealogical researcher, the number and availability of so many records can pose an overwhelming challenge. There still remains an extreme disparity between the availability of records in some of the more developed countries and those countries with limited assets, or with political systems that prevent records from being made available. For example, in the United States, most of the basic records going back at least 200 years, are readily available online from various subscription and free websites. However, in contrast some countries have virtually no records available online, in fact access to the existing paper records is extremely limited. In a sense, this creates a genealogical lottery where some researchers are able to trace their ancestry back to the 1500s and others cannot find their own grandparents.
Overlaid on top of the mammoth growth in digitized records, is the recent development of partnerships between the various online record providers. The connections between these very large companies is focused on their family tree programs. For example, if I have a family tree on Ancestry.com, and I want to utilize the genealogical resources of MyHeritage.com, I must have a family tree on both programs. I could use the old and imperfect method of GEDCOM transfer to move some of the data from my Ancestry.com family tree to MyHeritage.com, but under the present system, I would lose some of the data in the transfer process. One of the most important features of the growth of these giant companies is that they are in the process of establishing strategic relationships or partnerships with other data content suppliers. The promise of these rapidly changing and evolving partnership relationships is that there will be an increased ability to move genealogically significant data and the supporting media from one program to another.
In a recent class I attempted to outline on a whiteboard the then current interrelationships and data paths between the various large online programs. The results of my outline looked like a bowl of spaghetti. Even though I taught that class only a couple of weeks ago, the number of interrelationships has increased dramatically because of the announcements made at the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah and the diagram today would be even more confusing.
I see the following challenges confronting genealogical researchers as the connections and makeup of the online community changes so rapidly:
- Grasping the magnitude of the number of records going online almost daily.
- Understanding the complex interrelationships between the various programs.
- Maintaining access through remembering passwords, logins and the details of using additional programs.
- Becoming aware of and evaluating the new connections and the new programs.
These are just a few of the challenges involved in understanding the changes. Let me give an example. Suppose, I have a family tree on Ancestry.com. Do I need to put the same information on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree? What about putting the same information on MyHeritage.com? What about putting the same information on Findmypast.com? What about having the same information on WikiTree.com or Geni.com? What about Mocavo.com? Do I need another copy of my family tree and all my sources, media items and comments on a desktop based program also? How do I keep all of these, and possibly many more, copies of all of my data synchronized and current?
I am certain that during the next year we will see many more partnerships formed between various companies, thereby making the decisions as to how to maintain our genealogical data even more complicated.