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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Genealogy at Warp Speed

I had to pretend that I was out camping in Canyonlands during the week I was at #RootsTech and far away from the Internet. I felt like there was so little time to talk to the people that were there, that if I took the time to write, I would miss something important. That turned out to be all too true. I learned some of the most interesting things in the last few minutes of the Conference and the rest was jammed packed to overflowing with information and experiences. At times, I was completely overwhelmed at the vision of the future that was opening up in the world of genealogy and family history.

During the next few days and probably weeks, I will try to translate all those feelings and impressions into some semblance of order and put them into words.

Here is where I will start. Genealogy is undergoing some fundamental changes. The changes have to do with not only the way that genealogy is done (methodology), but also the way people maintain their records. What I saw at the Conference was that most of the people were focused on fragments of the future and largely unaware of the developments that were coming. The people with the vision of how the future was unfolding were few but their understanding and vision was revolutionary. You cannot stop an idea. The future of genealogy will change, whether you want it to or not or even if you are completely ignorant of the changes.

Genealogy involves information. We basically search historical records for information about our families. Even when we employ a tool like DNA testing, we are trying to unravel what happened in the past. Our main activities involve spending time trying to discover the existence and location of records and then gaining access to those records. Once we have the records, we have to spend a huge amount of time evaluating what we have found and putting the largely fragmented historical record into some semblance of a narrative. We structure the narrative on pedigrees. Without the structure, all we have are fragmented stories. Bits and pieces of history that may pique our interest but have no structure or coherence. Now, what was there at RootsTech that addressed this flow of information.

First, of course, there was the flood of information about the past. One example was the announcement from about its cooperative effort with to make available millions of U.S. Marriage records. Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Frederick Wertz entitled, "A sneak peak at the marriage that made America."
Our brand new U.S. marriage collection contains a wealth of genealogical information and will allow you to commemorate the acts of unity that forever changed your family tree. 
Containing over 450 million names from 1650 to 2010, these are truly the marriages that made America. The US Marriages collection will, when complete, include over 100 million records, 60 per cent of which have never been published online before. From today, you can already explore 33 million records, which will offer you the chance to add a whole new congregation to your family tree - including the bride and groom, and their proud parents! 
We want you to enjoy this first release of US Marriages as much as possible, so we're offering you the chance to explore the collection for free from today until the 15th.
You can access the collection by clicking here.

Meanwhile, during the Conference, there were several large areas packed with scanners of all kinds. Some, like the book scanning booth had employees and volunteers scanning books and other documents for attendees. Other huge collections of scanning devices were open to the attendees and people were scanning huge boxes of photos and slides. Imagine the amount of information being digitally added just during the Conference. 

But what I saw at RootsTech was not just about more records being made available. What I saw went beyond access to records. What I saw was the way the records were being made available. I saw that much of the innovation of the conference had to do with connecting and processing the flood of digital information from the past and the streams of information being created in the present. There was a decided emphasis on preserving our own history for future generations. The new CEO of FamilySearch, Steve Rockwood summarized this process in his first official presentation to the Innovator Summit when he said the following:

His key points are as follows as quoted by Frederick Wertz in his post "FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood addresses #RootsTech innovators: lays out future vision:"

  • Discovery - Discovering ancestors and the joy of genealogy itself
  • Family trees - Innovative ways to share and catalog information
  • Searchable records - Bringing more searchable databases online and improving existing search technology
  • Memories - Turning momentous and everyday events in today's world into memories to share with future generations
  • Contextual help - Cultivating an educational structure not only for enthusiasts but for beginners as well.
This is just the beginning. Stay tuned. 

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