Click here to read the previous posts in this series:
At this point in the series, I need to ask a pertinent question. Why don't I put all my academic letters after my name? Why aren't I addressed as Dr. Tanner? The answer is not simple and it has a lot to do with all of what I am addressing in this series.The simple answer to the question is so what and who cares? If I can't write and communicate then all the letters in world aren't going to convince anyone of anything. As I appeared in court over the years, no one really cared who I was or what my qualifications were. Other than the fact that I was a licensed attorney, the court could care less about my resume or qualifications. If I knew what I was doing or if I did not, then the opposing counsel and the judge would know about it pretty quickly. No letters behind my name would change that.
The same goes here. If what I write is garbage, then no one will read it or care. Letters behind my name don't change that. I don't need to impress anyone and I certainly do not need to "make a living" from genealogy. I certainly enjoy writing, it keeps me busy in my old age, but I am still constantly surprised that anyone reads what I write. But here, online, I can keep writing away about topics I feel strongly about. It just so happens that I have spent half my long life doing family history. Genealogy matters to me. Not because I want to profit from it or make a name for myself, but because I see the need to share what I know and what I do not know. As I say at the top of my blog, some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write and I might add, think.
I see some very serious issues within the larger genealogical community. Genealogy is a highly technical and complex pursuit. It takes a relatively long time to learn some of the basic skills needed to do adequate genealogical research. As I have pointed out in previous posts, traditionally, those skills were possessed by a cadre of professionals who had collectively developed their skills with a tradition of hundreds of years of trial and error. Genealogy has an intimate relationship to the general topic of historical research but for very complex reasons, genealogists have been excluded from the venue of academic-based history. As an alternative to academic acceptance, genealogists have created their own hierarchal structure. Those caught up in the hierarchy are comfortable in their assumed superiority. But now, there is a serious and unanticipated threat to the genealogical homogeneity. That threat is the information revolution.
Professionals become professionals either because they can do things most people do not know how to do or do not want to take the time to do. They codify their professional positions by exclusionary practices. For example, law was once something anyone could study and practice by merely "reading law" in a law office. Now, it is a highly regulated and structured profession requiring years of schooling and a major examination. There are those who would like genealogy to move in the same direction. This is where the new technology becomes a threat.
If I can put my basic family information online and then have an automated searching program supply me with valid sources for extending my family lines, isn't this very similar to online will programs and do-it-yourself divorce documents in the law practice? The lawyers can defend their practice by keeping the rabble out of the court system. Genealogists do not have that advantage. There is no way any genealogical group or organization can keep me or anyone else from "practicing genealogy." In fact, if I so desired, I could join a "professional" genealogical organization by signing an agreement and paying my dues.
So how do online automated record hints threaten the genealogical status quo? The answer is simple. By providing online research hints with a high degree of accuracy, the large genealogy companies are demonstrating that much of what genealogists do and what professionals charge money for can be automated. No, the professional genealogists are not going to go out of business any time soon simply because Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com and others supply research hints, but the handwriting is on the wall. Genealogy will be dramatically changing over the next few years.
We could also add DNA testing into the mix, but that is a different kind of issue. DNA is another complex shield where the professionals can exercise their "expertise." In my past posts, I mention the paucity of presentations at the upcoming RootsTech 2016 Conference on record hints and the new technology. There are only one or two classes that even mention the technology in passing out of 281 classes. There are 17 announced classes talking about DNA, most of which are planning on talking about the complex jargon filled details of the subject.
Now where does this record hinting technology come in? Why is it so revolutionary? Essentially, I can enter a little bit information into these new online programs (MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com and FamilySearch.org) and in many cases, probably most cases, the automated search capabilities of the programs will start suggesting documentation that has the potential of extending my pedigree. The user of the program is still required to exercise analytical skills and good judgment to build a valid pedigree, but much of the initial work of finding source documents is done automatically. This process becomes more accurate and successful in finding records as records are digitized and indexed and then added to the online databases.
Because the programs either use a unified family tree program such as FamilySearch.org or rely on separate user trees as the other programs do, the programs can also directly indicate and identify other researchers working on the same family lines. All this occurs outside of the hermetically sealed and copyright protected enclave of the professional genealogist.
I am certainly aware of the limitations of online family trees. My main criticism has always been their ad hoc nature due to a lack of documentation. But now, even the most inexperienced of those participating online can find basic source documentation for an extension of family lines.
We could take a "business as usual" approach to the new developments and ignore the impact of having all this information readily available, but on the other hand, we could realize that the existence of all these online documents and the automated search features are changing the way genealogy will be done in the future and is being done right now.
So what do we need to do to take advantage of the new, developing technology? So stay tuned.