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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I attended a very successful Family History Expo in Sacramento, California and enjoyed teaching and talking to the participants. I taught the same four classes on two different days and found that the questions asked were very similar for each of the pairs of classes. It started me thinking about some of the issues we have in the genealogical community and how there have been some dramatic technological changes over the past ten years, but fundamentally, very little change in questions and attitudes of the genealogists. Here are some random observations, not in any particular order:

* By and large, genealogists feel inadequate and somewhat threatened by technological changes. This is particularly true when the changes mean that they are forced to do things differently than they have in the past. Only a very small percentage of the researchers have adapted new technology such as iPads and tablets. If I go to a Church meeting for example, over the past few years I see a dramatic increase in the use of smartphones, iPads and other tablet computers among the general congregation. At the Expo in Sacramento, I saw almost none of the participants using such devices.

* Personal Ancestral File still lives. One of the recurrent questions I still get is how to transfer data from Personal Ancestral File to a newer program. In my opinion, this shows that there is a segment of the genealogical community that are cut off from advancing technology. They are not convinced that any of the programs or options I talk about apply to themselves. It also shows that Personal Ancestral File fulfills what many genealogists need or expect from a software program.

* I taught a class on with about thirty participants. At the beginning of the class, only three of the people in the class had used or knew anything about There were more in the second class on, but it is interesting that so few people have still not heard of such a major program. The genealogists in attendance at the Expo were amazed at the number of people involved with

* Talking about online programs, one topic of discussion was the fact that so few people were aware of The consensus seemed to be that the attitude of genealogists was that was some kind of "Mormon" thing online. There was a complete unawareness that it had genealogical resources.

* Almost all of the attendees in my two classes were familiar with the program. However, there were only a few who seemed familiar with some of the basic operations of the program. Use of seems to be somewhat superficial. There were a very few people who stated that when they could not find something on, they tried

* In answer to questions about specific genealogy programs, I found few people aware of the number of programs available. Most still thought there were "no programs on the Macintosh for genealogy."

* There was a lot of interest in resolving specific research issues. It seems to me that genealogical societies might be best served by providing mentoring to their membership.

* Genealogists are some of the nicest and most pleasant people in the world. They are generally kind and helpful with suggestions to others. It is a joy to be around a group of people whose main interest is finding information about their families.

* Nearly all of the issues discussed in the online genealogical community are completely unknown to most of the participants in the Expo, although I do find more people who say they read my blog.

Attending a genealogy conference is a very interesting experience and I look forward to upcoming conferences.


  1. Your findings are why I am doing a series for my local group on Google, the 'Cloud', blogs, etc. I suspect that your findings are replicated in the wider community. I have a number of cousins who don't have computers. Some don't have a mobile phone. I must admit, it only recently that I have moved to a smart phone, that I don't use to its full ability - for two reasons, I'm stingy, and the keyboard is too small. I have been involved with and used computers since 1980.

    I enjoy your blogs.

  2. James, your reports are a great reality-check for those website engineers, writers and multiple others who think "everyone" has/uses a smartphone, tablet computer, cloud storage, fast internet access and so forth. Please keep on detailing your feedback from on-the-ground.