Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Crystal Ball: Part 1 - Will all records be digitized?

The first question I asked in my April 11th post titled "What is in the Genealogy Future?" , hoping for comment, was:

"1) Will we ever get to the point in online Internet genealogy when all genealogical or historical records are available in digital form at any time of day to a researcher sitting at home?"

This is probably the easiest one to answer - I'm quite sure that the answer will be "NO - there is no way that ALL genealogical or historical records are available in digital form."

By my reckoning, we are perhaps 5% to 10% of the way there. There are substantial collections of records available on freely accessible sites (e.g., Rootsweb, USGenWeb, WorldGenWeb, FamilySearch, etc.), on government web sites (National Archives, official state and county web sites, etc), on subscription services (e.g.,,, GenealogyBank, WorldVitalRecords, Footnote, and others) and on genealogy society web sites(e.g., NEHGS, NGS, NYGBS, etc.).

Even after the LDS completes their digitizing and indexing of the 2.5 million microfilms and 1.5 million microfiches with over 5 billion pages, and if the commercial companies and the dedicated volunteers continue their digitizing efforts, there will still be billions of pages that are not available online. Even worse, if identity theft concerns heighten and states shield their vital records from genealogists, even more records will not be available online.

The government records since 1900 are massive - each county and state has massive record archives that have probably not been filmed, and only recent year holdings have been digitized. In addition, there are hundreds of genealogy and historical societies with paper holdings in file cabinets or on shelves that are not available on film, fiche or images. And this considers only the USA - what about the rest of the world?

On the positive side, when the LDS digitizing and indexing is substantially complete (will it ever be finished?), those records will be available and searchable online - that means that most of the pre-1900 records that are on film and fiche - the town, tax, land, probate, census, military, church, manuscripts, books, directories, etc. records. And the volunteer researchers, the commercial companies, and many genealogical societies will continue to digitize records as the years go by.

What about the researcher contributed online databases? Will they grow much larger? Will they improve in accuracy? Will "everybody" be included? I sincerely doubt it!

Perhaps by 2020, the percentage of available online records will be something like 40% to 50%. While that may be wonderful, I still love to go to the library, the FHC, the historical society, the county office and the cemetery to do my research. I love the challenge of the search and the thrill of discovery.

What about you - what do you think about all of this? Please pontificate! If you post on this topic in your own genealogy blog, I will add the link to this post, but please let me know about it.

1 comment:

Tim Agazio said...

I agree. I work for a government agency and we are producing paper files faster then they can be digitized. If released, these files eventually may be useful for genealogy, but not for another 70 years or so. The digitizers are still working on files from the 1950s. I think your estimate of 50% by 2020 is conservative since masses of paper files are still being produced.

I just wish all the states would at least fund indexing their holdings...or some of them.

Tim Agazio
Genealogy Reviews Online