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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Genealogy, the Pandemic, and the Digital Divide


The Pandemic has exacerbated the problems associated with the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers (i.e. the internet) and those who do not. It is also the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not. During the last seven months of the current Pandemic, all of the Family History Centers have been closed including the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library (only to those who are not students or faculty). In addition, most of the libraries and archives of the world are closed to most patrons. There is currently no practical way for most of us to physically access any genealogical records. 

Of course, most active genealogists (outside of the recent graduates employed by genealogy companies) are older and the prevalent concept of those who are computer and internet challenged focuses on the elderly. But I am seeing a significant number of people, regardless of age, that are being challenged by the huge movement to "online" communication. For example, school teachers who are forced to teach classes online or lose their jobs. 

Usually, those who are concerned about the Digital Divide focus on people who do not have access either to computers or the internet but fail to recognize that access to both does not equate to computer literacy. Additionally, in the case of genealogical research, knowing how to use Facebook or Zoom does not automatically confer expertise in using online genealogically valuable resources. One of the symptoms of this genealogical nearsightedness is the vast majority of genealogists who focus entirely on one online family tree/database program and who "don't have time" for the other major only websites. I commonly talk to dedicated genealogists who have used one or maybe two of the major online programs but are totally unacquainted with the others. I am referring to,,,,,, and quite a few other websites. Computer literacy goes far beyond knowing how to use a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad.  

My awareness of this problem has heightened because of the large number of Zoom meetings I have had recently up to five in one day. Most larger groups of novice Zoom users tend to fail to mute their microphones and in a recent case managed to share their screen without being aware that they were showing what they had recently searched for. Although Zoom has become ubiquitous, constant use has shown its quirks and limitations. Unfortunately, a significant number of the people I associate with are "locked out" of Zoom and everything else online because they do not have the basic computer skills to go through the login process and/or their computers or other devices are too old to support online streaming programs. I have a significant number of friends who do not do email and even if they have an email account, they do not read their email at all. Until quite recently, I was still working with people whose computers were running Microsoft Windows Vista. 

The reality is that these people are part of the Digital Divide even though they pay for a connection to the internet and own a "computer." Unfortunately, many genealogy enthusiasts fall into this category. If you "hate" to use your computer and are not comfortable being online on the Internet then you fall into this category. Why is that the case? As I noted above, with the closure of essentially all the physical research entities around the world, we are left with working almost entirely online. Now, you ask, what are we going to do about it. I think the BYU Family History Library is a good example of what can be done. Here is a screenshot of its website.

As a volunteer missionary at the BYU Family History Library, I am participating in their extensive outreach program. All of these offerings are absolutely FREE. Here is what is offered online:

  1. A huge webinar library hosted on the BYU Family History Library website and on New live webinars are regularly scheduled. See See also the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel
  2. Regular Sunday afternoon live classes. Right now, there are three classes scheduled every Sunday. These are live with Q&A sessions at the end. Here is the link to the class schedule:
  3. Indexing classes on the first Thursday of every month. Here is the link to the classes:
  4. Family history basic tutorials:
Now, in case you really want to know where to go to get help, you can also take advantage of the FREE educational website known as The Family History Guide.

Whether you're just beginning or you've been at it a while, doing family history can be easier. The Family History Guide helps you choose a path you're interested in, with tools to help you find the information you need.

Back to the Digital Divide. The Family History Guide has an entire instructional section on Computer Basics including the internet. Here is a screenshot of the webpage with the links.

My wife and I are trying to help in any way that we can. By the way, if you call the BYU Family History Library or email the Library, they can refer you directly to us for help. I am never too busy to help. Please feel free to call.  Here is the link to the email addresses and telephone numbers for the Library.


  1. How wonderful you are offering these services - so important, especially right now where people are already stressed. Having someone help them is a boon.

    The library where I work has been open for tech help since July, and open to the public since mid-September, with Covid protocols in place. I will be starting my regular genealogy sessions with people next week, including helping one member of my local group to enter her family tree into a genealogy software program (likely Legacy).

    As a librarian, I'm extremely aware of the digital divide and how it affects so many people, and how the pandemic has exacerbated this problem. Many public libraries here in Canada are doing their best to bridge that gap, even with current restrictions.

  2. Thanks James, I consider myself a pretty proficient user of technology but I hadn’t even thought to use BYU. A great tip!