Friday, June 23, 2017
Genealogical Isolationists and the Consequences
Genealogy is a solitary pursuit. In its traditional paper-based past, a genealogist worked as an individual researcher. Occasionally a family would cooperate and share some of their joint information, but even with this sharing, families remained isolated from each other. This genealogical isolation first began to break down with the establishment of the GEDCOM program back in 1984. During my first twenty or so years of doing genealogical research, I worked entirely on my own. None of my immediate family members were at all interested in what I was doing and I was entirely unaware of the efforts of any other living family members. Even sharing my files by uploading copies of my data to the Pedigree Resource File did not provide any collaboration or sharing opportunities.
Across my many family lines, the research was fractured and disjointed. Some lines seemed to be well researched as evidenced by a collection of surname books, but others had apparently been entirely neglected. Slowly, as computer technology advanced, I was able to obtain an overall view of my family lines, but I still had no contact with any other family members. On some of my lines, such as the Tanner family line, to this day I have still never encountered a serious, source-based, genealogist who is actively working on this family line.
The effect of this isolationist fragmentation was that there was no "feedback" and errors accumulated rather than being eliminated. With the introduction of the internet, individual online family trees became a possibility. The internet opened up a way to share information. Unfortunately, the "sharing" process that evolved consisted primarily of indiscriminate copying. Shortly after online family trees became available, I began to realize that my early uploaded copies of my family lines, including all my early wrong conclusions and errors, were being quickly and efficiently copied across the internet.
The seriousness of this situation became evident when FamilySearch introduced the new.FamilySearch.org program. Some of my ancestors had multiple hundreds and perhaps thousands of copies. Most of these copies originated as result of the isolated word of family members for over a hundred years. But a significant portion was also the result of copies made from online sources such as the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File.
Because each "genealogist" or "family historian" had to have their "own" copy of "their family" the number of copies, with all the accumulated errors and wrong conclusions, proliferated at an extraordinarily fast pace. The solution was the introduction of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. This free, online, unified, collaborative program allowed everyone to cooperate and collaborate in fixing the problems generated by the years of isolation.
Guess what? Some individuals feel threatened by the unified program. There is still a huge core of isolationists who think they own their ancestors and that they somehow are right when all the rest of the world is wrong (sort of like some of the governments out there today). They not only fail to share their work, they become belligerent and protective to the point of refusing to cooperate with anyone. The tragedy is that they are very likely spending their lives duplicating research that has already been done. The Family Tree acts as a giant clearing house for genealogy. If you put your research in the Family Tree, then anyone else can see what has already been done and does not have to repeat your work.
But what about the issue of changes? Yes, the information in the Family Tree is in a state of flux. But that is the price we pay for over a hundred years of isolation. But what about the other online, collaborative family trees? Yes, there are some other collaborative family trees but FamilySearch is in a unique position due to its sponsorship by the worldwide organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has far more than a mere economic interest in maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree. The Family Tree may evolve in the future, but it will be maintained in some fashion as long as is foreseeably possible.
But what about the isolationists? Too bad for them. They are condemned to spending a life duplicating the work of others and in the end having all their work lost to their posterity or anyone else for that matter.