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

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dawn of the New Genealogical Information Age: Part Three -- All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds

By Voltaire, T. Smollett, J. Newbery, J. Hall - Private Collection of S. Whitehead, Public Domain,
Notwithstanding Pangloss' constant repetition of part of the statement in the title to this post to Candide, there is always a question as technology advances as to whether more is lost than gained. Do we really have to bear the negative effects of the technological advances for the greater good of the whole community? Are we now living in the best of all technological worlds?

Time to give a few examples of what I am writing about.

Earlier this year the giant, online website,, 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 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 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 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 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

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.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I was a missionary in the SLC FH Library, (2005-2013) and the computerized programs of the church's genealogy records were being released, (2006?) patrons and missionaries in the library were encouraged to complete a survey that asked the same question you pose here: if you could have access to all our microfilm, books and other records on line, would you still come to the library. I never heard the results of that survey, but it wasn't more than a couple of years later, it was told to us missionaries that they were going to radically remodel the library, and make it into a Family Discovery Center (FDC) My boss/mentor in the library, the person who got me teaching nFS and FT to patrons and missionaries, Merrill White, ... he was moved out of the library and headed up a trial run of the FDC in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, main floor south. It was very successful, and so began the birth of FDC all over. One built by the Seattle temple, and very successful. And now, you have watched the FH Library radically changed. So.... this was not unanticipated with the powers that be. I think the hope is that these FDC will peek the interest of people to getting them into doing their own family history.