Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking backward, forward and around - A genealogical perspective

I looked back to my posts at the end of 2014 and realized that the more things change the more they stay the same. I spent a couple of hours yesterday in front of a ScanPro looking at microfilm. This is a strange mixture of old and new technology. My introduction to microfilm was so long ago now, I cannot remember when I viewed my first genealogical microfilm roll, but it was likely in about 1982 in the old family history library in Mesa, Arizona. This was before they built the present building which is now closed and are now back using the same, old building where I got my introduction to microfiche and microfilm. The good news at the end of this year is that the Mesa FamilySearch Library is open three days a week now at the Training Center at 464 E. 1st Avenue, Mesa, Arizona. But here I am at the end of another years still looking at microfilm.

After a banner year in 2014, as I have noted several times, blogging has settled down to a reasonable level. As of 31 January 2015, this will be my 4,147th post. That is a lot of words. The number of page views, according to Google, is climbing above 3.2 million. The view out my window has gone from snow and ice to summer green and back to snow and ice. I have come to suspect that the statistics shown by Google are shortsighted. Many of my posts are viewed in venues not measured accurately by Google. But I find some interesting indications of the extent to which writing can spread. When I arrived at the Brigham Young University Family History Library yesterday to view microfilm, there was a patron asking for help with scanning some old photos. I was standing at the Help desk and made some comments and she immediately responded, "You are James Tanner, aren't you?" Oh well, I finally realized that I can be visiting a library and have someone recognize me! But think about this. A library? I guess I am really typecast.

The basic theme of 2015 has been the onward march of technology. One significant change in technology is just now beginning to impact genealogy. The tipping point actually occurred in 2014, but was not well known until 2015. The number of global users of mobile media are now significantly greater than desktop media. However, consistent with past performance genealogical database and software companies are at the very back of the pack in adopting mobile technology. It was only in the past year or so that a few more of the genealogical software companies made their products available to Apple computers. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of mobile apps for genealogy, but the utility of these apps is limited. The reality of life online is that serious data entry (i.e. adding information to a family tree) requires a keyboard. Mobile devices, up to now, have been focused of experiencing data from the Internet, not adding data. That changed significantly with texting and photos from smartphones, but the reality of genealogy is that it involves more than a 140 character tweet.

Online social networking has become even more entrenched as the dominant force in technology. Aided by the increased availability of mobile devices, genealogy is now seeing its impact. From my viewpoint, bloggers are getting lost in the online noise from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all the other programs. This change in mobile devices has me seriously considering using an iPad Pro instead of a laptop computer. The key to this transition is a complicated combination of keyboard availability and software expansion. Part of this transition is based on the fact that I am moving from a desktop program for word processing to an online base. Yes, I am abandoning Microsoft Word for Google Docs.

Over the past month or two, I have been carefully analyzing my laptop computer usage to see if a transition to an iPad Pro would work or not. My conclusion is that almost all of my current usage of a laptop, in my case a MacBook Pro, can be duplicated with an iPad Pro, if I move to online programs such as Goggle Docs. Does this also mean I am abandoning my desktop programs? Not at all. I have firmly concluded that I will not give up my 27 inch screen for an iPad. But right now, I have an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Pro and an iMac. I am definitely thinking about eliminating one of those and the one to be eliminated is not the iPhone or the iPad or the iMac.

My basic method of doing genealogy has changed over the year. For example, yesterday when I went to the library, all my research notes, lists of microfilm and other information was online, either in Google Docs or the Family Tree. All I had to carry to the Library was a couple of flash drives to capture documents from the microfilm. As I mentioned, I was using a ScanPro to view the microfilm, so all I had to do was click to get a copy of any information I found. I did find three new English parish entries and the information extracted from those entries went into the Family Tree and the copies of the documents were immediately loaded in the Memories and attached to the individuals. I also loaded a copy onto my flash drive to take back to my desktop computer where the images will be stored and backed up just in case someone erases them from the Family Tree. I realized that I could have saved the weight of the flash drives by using Dropbox. So, I have just eliminated all the paper from my genealogical research.

But, I am still tied to programs that run only on desktop computers and keyboards for data entry. Oh, I used voice recognition (Dragon Dictate) a lot during the past year, but it is not suited for genealogical data entry, but it is good for writing if you watch what is transcribed carefully and edit out the mis-interpreted words. But it is at least as accurate as my typing, with my tendency to drop words and choose the wrong word at times.

I find myself moving towards a more technology based work flow, if that could be imagined to be possible. I definitely prefer reading books on an iPad rather than holding the paper book. I am not giving up paper books any time soon, but the iPad is much easier to carry around and I can read in low light situations without trying to find a lamp to read under.

I don't see the overall genealogical community changing very rapidly and as I have already noted, there is a serious lag in technological adoption. But the new year promises to have an increased number of webinars, videos and blog posts, so things will keep busy for me. I plan to help write another series of books, maybe twelve more, present hundreds of classes and talk to hundreds of people about their genealogy. I am still on track with one new video a week and so things will just keep rolling along.

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