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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Some more speculations about the future of genealogy

Let's suppose that every last record on earth containing relevant genealogical and historical information was finally digitized and available online. I am not just writing about the remaining microfilm records on, but all of the records, every last piece of paper on the planet, that are now sitting in repositories of any kind. I guess that the first impression you would have is to question whether or not this would even be possible and you would probably be right. Collectively, we create a huge number of records every day. Here is an infographic showing how much data in generated every minute. It is a little out-of-date, about a year old, but it gives a good idea of what is going on.

Image: Erik Fitzpatrick licensed CC BY 2.0
For an example of the changes since 2014 when this infographic was created, there are currently over 3.2 billion users, up from the 2.4 billion number just one year ago. As I have pointed out recently, around 43% of the world's population has an internet connection today.

The real challenge here is that so many of the world's records have been lost and for many individuals, no records were ever created. Even if my speculation about the digitization of all the world's records were possible, genealogists would still find it a challenge to find records for every individual. Digitization alone does not provide access to the records and from my standpoint, access is a more difficult problem to resolve than the physical digitization of all the records.

As time goes on, I realize more and more each day, how limited I am by the availability of records I know exist and by the time it takes to examine those that are available. For example, here is a chart from the Research Wiki on one parish in England. I chose Fletton in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire) to illustrate the time periods and jurisdictions involved in a search of the parish records.

Fletton, Huntingdonshire
TypeAncient Parish
Civil Jurisdictions
HundredNorman Cross
Poor Law UnionPeterborough
Registration DistrictPeterborough
Records begin
Parish registers: 1604
Bishop's Transcripts: 1604
Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions
Rural DeaneryYaxley
DiocesePre-1837 - Lincoln; Post-1836 - Ely
Legal Jurisdictions
Probate CourtCourt of the Commissary of the Bishop of Lincoln and of the Archdeacon in the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon
Location of Archive
Huntingdonshire Record Office

Here is a summary of which of the records are online:

Fletton, Huntingdonshire Genealogy Online Parish Records



FREG1604-1770, 1775-1812
1604-1770, 1754-1811, 1815-1837
1604-1770, 1775-1812



BIVRI = British Isles Vital Records Index (Ancestry) - (£)[2]
FREG = FreeREG - free[3]
HUNT = Huntingdonshire Burials (findmypast) - (£)[4]
NBI = National Burial Index (findmypast) - (£)[5]

You might notice that three of the four websites referenced are paid sites. This illustrates the challenge. You might think that digitization alone will solve the problem of finding your ancestors, but the real problem is that despite digitization, the records will still be fragmented into a myriad of websites all over the world. In fact, for many people finding the records online and then gaining access to those records may present as much of a problem as finding the un-digitized records today. 


  1. Your summary list for Fletton only lists indexes. Are any of the records online?

    1. Apparently not. There are both parish registers and Bishop's Transcripts on microfilm from the Family History Library.