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

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Information Disconnect -- Genealogy vs. the world of business and law

Genealogist spend their time looking for people. Interestingly, so do a lot of businesses and law firms. Sometimes they are looking for the same people, but the tools they use are very different as are the reasons for searching. Business and law firms look for people to collect debts or pursue litigation, they also use online search services to do credit checks, background checks for employment, and other similar activities. Most people, including most genealogists, have no idea at all about the online tools used by law firms, banks, credit reporting services and other consumers of people tracking programs.

Let's say you want to find a person who lives in California. This last week our law firm had a demonstration of a new product from Westlaw, called WestlawNext in conjunction with a program called Westlaw PeopleMap. Now, before going into any detail about these programs, it is important to know that a Westlaw subscription can cost many thousands of dollars a month. Not a few hundred dollars a year like Neither you nor anyone else is likely to have access to such a tool unless they have a really good business reason for the service.

So what is Westlaw PeopleMap? It is advertised as a way to "quickly discover relationships between people, assets, and other public records." Does that sound familiar to a genealogist? Here is a further explanation of the program:
Before you've even started your research, Westlaw PeopleMap already has made connections between individuals from billions of public records across the country. Westlaw PeopleMap then brings those connections to you, making it faster and easier to identify a person of interest and their relevant relationships.
The program includes a dynamic interactive graphical view that helps you see connections quickly and a mapping feature to help home in on the person you're looking for. This program is by no means unique. There are many competitor programs out there in the marketplace. What is unusual is not the Westlaw program or other similar programs but the amount of information available about nearly every single individual in the U.S. and possibly the world.

I still talk to people frequently who are worried about their "privacy" and are afraid to give out their "personal data" because of the possibility that the data will be "made public." This is the most uniformed and naive view of today's world imaginable. While we were in the demonstration, one of the attorneys threw out the name of a person he was looking for. In about two minutes, the Westlaw representative had a multi-page report on the individual showing among other things:
  • His personal information, date of birth etc. including social security number (partially disguised but easily confirmed)
  • His current address and all prior addresses (that is all prior addresses)
  • A list of related people, family, friends, business associates etc.
  • Every bank account he had ever had
  • Every loan he had ever had and what was purchased
  • All of his real property
  • All other tangible assets
And so on and so on for pages and pages. How much did this all cost the attorney? Less than $50, the exact price depended on the amount of usage of the service because the whole program is bundled with all other Westlaw products.

Don't you wish you could get that kind of information about your ancestors? Well, guess what? In some cases you can. Genealogists just don't realize, for the most part, that they live in a world of information, some of which is high priced, but still available.

1 comment:

  1. Love it. Westlaw products are quite thorough. I use others also that confirm relationships, place of residence, as you said SSN only last four digits are usually displayed, but a great way to get information, and not all are price prohibitive. Thanks for sharing!