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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Where will genealogy be in five years? Ten years?

In response to an inquiry by a commentator, I decided to put on my thinking cap and see if there were any present trends that might give us a glimpse into the future. The commentator was pretty specific and requested the following:
Sub-topics might be: (1) the demographics of the genealogy constituency, (2) the projected changes in genealogy clubs and societies; (3) the future of live and online lectures and such; (4) the potential shift in the kinds of source data used. And more.
The primary demographics of those who read this blog are pretty well defined. They are predominantly female, over 50, either single or with no children at home and have at least a college degree and usually an advanced degree. Absent some major development in genealogy, the constituency is unlikely to change significantly in the short time of five or even ten years. OK, now all of you who are reading this and do not fit the demographic, don't stop reading just because you don't fit in. Actually, I don't even fit my own demographic.

In order to understand the future, you need to know quite a bit about the past and have a pretty firm grip on the present. One of the elements that cannot be predicted is the effect of technology. The ability to interact with an audience at a distance is one factor that will have a huge effect on the way genealogical social organizations function in the future. RootsTech 2014 by expanding the reach of a local conference to include separate locations and conferences around the world, marks a significant turning point in the way individual genealogists will interact with others in the community. One thing that this will change is perspective of the local organizations about the quality of the presentations they have had in the past. This type of exposure will create a higher level of expectation of professionalism among the presenters as well as the audiences to which they present. As a result there will be an increased awareness that genealogy has a national and international component about which the local genealogists have previously only been vaguely aware. I can remember the first time I went to a computer conference. I attended a large conference in Chicago, Illinois in the early 1980s. I the short time I was at that conference, I went from viewing computers as a local, rather limited phenomena, to viewing them as a major revolutionary force that would change everyone's lives.

I don't think that those attending a national conference may have that same type of experience, but by making the RootsTech 2014 Conference available to a worldwide audience, potentially of tens of thousands of people, this one event moves genealogy to a new and different level.

Many years ago when video recording was first introduced, the movie industry saw video recording as a threat to the traditional movie theater. They tried to stop the whole idea of making a recording of a movie that could be viewed in the home. However, that "threat" really turned out to be the salvation of the entire industry. Although having one conference in Utah is not going to be viewed as a "threat" to the entire genealogical community, I do think that the the concept of a local conference will change.

Will the expansion of communications media affect the demographics? As I indicated above, the makeup of the genealogy community is unlikely to change significantly absent some factors that are presently unknown. This does not mean that more younger people might become involved, it just means that the social and economic realities of the overall society are unlikely to change. Of course, there will undoubtedly be increased participation in related activities such as Indexing and the preservation of heritage items such as photographs, stories and documents, but unless there is a major effort made to incorporate more serious researchers into the community, there is no way that the overall composition of the genealogy community can change dramatically. If such a movement were started now to really emphasize basic research techniques, source citations and such, then we might see some improvement in five to ten years.

One aspect of genealogy that will continue to change rapidly and dramatically will be the availability of more and more source records online. The main players in the commercial world of genealogy may change by merger and reorganization, but the idea that information should be freely available online will begin to make serious inroads into the huge number of records now locked up in local repositories.

What do I really see happening in ten years, assuming I am still around to see it happen? The biggest changes will be in the structure and presentation of conferences, seminars and classes. There will be a huge increase in the number of online records. There may be some additional interest in genealogy, as such, in the general community, but all in all the work of the average genealogist will not change all that much.


  1. There appears to be a worldwide effort to promote the recording of birth records and obtaining statistical control of all human population groups. [For slightly over a decade, children’s organizations, in particular the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Plan International, have been involved in campaigns promoting the registration of births in developing countries.] As this progresses, the ability of native populations to participate in genealogy and family history will increase, in direct proportion to the ability of children to read and write. [To be fully literate in today’s complex society, a person must be able to read, write, do math and use a computer. Without these skills, fluid navigation through society and upward social movement are challenging. Worldwide, 775 million adults - - - approximately 12 percent of the world’s population -- are considered functionally illiterate, with only basic or below-basic literacy levels in their native languages. Without the ability to effectively use the written and digital information in the world around them, these individuals are unable to help themselves, their families and those around them.] Every effort should be made by FamilySearch and other related social organizations, to integrate genealogy, family history, formal record registration of births, marriages and deaths, reading and writing, as one single composite educational curriculum for all youth populations. This has been structurally approached in,
    which comprehensively includes living family needs and ancestry search. Additionally, as a research aid for natives, basic area cultural ancestral records can be reviewed and evaluated, using professional genealogical standards, to teach interested groups how to see clearly their own ancient origins. As an example, for native Americans, I suggest the reference: Evaluating Book of Mormon Geography From A Genealogical Standpoint, at:

    1. Very interesting. Thanks. I agree that more needs to be done with literacy.

  2. It would be interesting to complement this post with a "Where would I like genealogy to be..." as opposed to where you think it will be James, Just an idea :-)