|By Voltaire, T. Smollett, J. Newbery, J. Hall - Private Collection of S. Whitehead, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8112760|
Time to give a few examples of what I am writing about.
Earlier this year the giant, online website, MyHeritage.com, introduced an incredible addition to their program. They added nearly a half a million vetted, digitized genealogy books and other publications and examined the entire text of each publication with their advanced Super Search. Now, there are those who figuratively wring their hands at the prospect that digital books might replace their smelly, dusty old paper books. As an aside, I love libraries and books, but I am allergic to the dust on books in most libraries. But the reality is that if MyHeritage.com reads about half a million or more books and then provides accurate record hints to all of the possible references to all of the people in your family tree, then how could you personally ever do this? How many of those nearly 500,000 books could you review in the time you have left here on earth?
Now are you thrilled by the fact that MyHeritage.com will completely search all those books and supply you with any references to your family or do you see this advance and merely another step in condeming paper books to the dustbin? Did you even know that MyHeritage.com had added this feature? Have you used it? Actually, this particular advance in genealogy will likely have no effect on your supply of paper books at all considering the level of awareness in the greater genealogical community to this type of advance. What is important is that in one fell swoop, a legacy of almost a half a million, genealogically significant books have been organized and searched and made available online.
As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, FamilySearch is predicting the finalization of the digitization of their very large collection of microfilm within the next two or three years. If that happens, we will have access to yet another huge amount of genealogical data that we have never had previously. I might also add that FamilySearch (and all the rest of the large online genealogical database companies) are aggressively digitizing new records not previously on microfilm.
In each of these cases and in the millions upon millions of additional records finding their way online every day, week after week and year after year. Aren't I now forced to spend most of my time online searching for records? How can I determine the records I am looking for are not online on some website across the globe? Why should I take my time to go to a library and search through books if MyHeritage.com is going to do all the searching in many more books than I could dream of reading?
Aren't I in the same position when I rely on my GPS instead of a paper map? Or when I rely on my smartphone to retrieve a recipe instead of using my shelf of cookbooks? Or when I check the weather on my smartphone instead of looking out the window?
What is happening is that we are fast approaching the genealogical event horizon when more and more information will get digitized and made available online. In fact, we may have passed that point already. You may come up with dozens of reasons why this will never happen but then again the momentum is on the side of digitization. I find that I am spending less and less time looking at microfilm because I am able to find the information I need online. For example, I have been helping a friend search microfilmed records from Puerto Rico and there are now huge numbers of these records digitized on FamilySearch.org.
Now, just because a record is digitized does not mean it will be "free" or even accessible. Repositories are likely to digitize their records for the simple reason that it costs more money to store, retrieve and maintain paper records than it does electronic ones. Some records may still be restricted or even unavailable except by payment or access in the storing repository. For example, I suggest that there will always be some records that will only be available when you are sitting in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and then even a few that will only be available to a certain number of people or to a certain class of people. Laws such as privacy and commercial concerns may intervene to prevent certain records from being accessed.
But these sorts of problems have always been in existence. The change is in the vast assemblage of records that can and will be readily accessible free or accessible for a relatively small fee.
This series is intended to explore the effect of that reality.
Here are the earlier posts in this series.