Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Future of Genealogy - My Turn

At the CVGS "Genealogy Online" seminar two weekends ago, I was asked the question "What is the future of genealogy on the Internet?" I wish I could remember the things that I rattled off in my two minute response - it was at the end of my four hour stand-up stint and I was a bit fried. Having had almost two weeks to think about it, and having reviewed previous predictions by connected genealogy writers here and here, I'm ready to respond - and will muse on the next five years..

1. The future of genealogy research is limitless - genealogy will always be with us to the end of time because enough people will always want to know about world history, local history and family history. In five years, doing effective research may be considerably faster to perform due to the presence of more original documents on the Internet.

2. Genealogy research will always require working with original documents, derivative documents, government records, record indexes, family histories, locality histories, family trees, etc. "Every" document will not be imaged, digitized and indexed - there will always be records not available on the Internet.

3. More images of original and derivative documents will be available on the Internet every year. The number of document images has exploded in the last 5 years - to the benefit of all researchers. Effective use of the images requires accurate indexes.

4. More indexes of person names and locality names will be available on the Internet every year. Indexes are essential for finding of and the effective use of document images. The indexes need to permit sound-alike and wild cards, and specific phrases, in order to consistently find person names. Search engines will have these capabilities also.

5. Freely available records (mainly indexes and transcriptions) will proliferate on the Internet at sites like, and There are many other sites with data posted by volunteers and organizations.

6. The LDS church effort to image, digitize and index the records by volunteers on over 2 million microfilms and over 1 million microfiche will continue at a fast pace and New FamilySearch will be used to access those records and images. In 5 years, New FamilySearch may have most of the US census records, many vital records indexes and many military records indexed and available - but there will be many records currently on microform left to be indexed - land, probate, tax, directories, etc. When the latter records have been indexed, then more research breakthroughs will occur. New FamilySearch will continue to collaborate with other libraries, societies and commercial companies to offer resources either online for everybody or on computers at the FHL and FHCs.

7. Commercial genealogy services (today exemplified by Ancestry, Footnote, WorldVitalRecords, GenealogyBank, etc. - there are many others) will continue to image, digitize and index records. These companies will continue to partner and collaborate with smaller database providers and genealogy societies. New companies may emerge to fill a niche, and companies may merge their assets. Competition will drive the industry to image and index more records. Genealogists will benefit from lower subscription prices resulting from more subscribers and more available records.

8. There will still be books and records that cannot be imaged and indexed due to copyright and privacy restrictions. "Public records" in cities, counties and states after about 1900 and before about 1980 are generally not available in books or microform except in person at a repository. There will be a massive effort by the LDS and commercial companies to image and digitize these records but it will take a long time, and coverage will not be uniform. I think birth and marriage records for living people will not be available for every state for a long time, if ever.

9. Family Tree data submitted by researchers past and present will proliferate and will always contain inaccuracies and outright errors. Online genealogy data sharing sites will also proliferate and will eventually coalesce into a smaller number of databases with large numbers. The challenge for every site will be to choose what data is "right" and to create the Mother of All Genealogy Databases (MOAGD). Will LDS scrap Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File? Will Ancestry scrap Ancestry World Trees and One World Tree? I doubt it - they will likely integrate that information into their new database formats somehow. There will not be just one MOAGD - there will probably be several or many.

10. Sharing between genealogy researchers will continue to grow through message boards, mailing lists, online family trees, genealogy societies and email. Wikis will proliferate on the Internet, but I don't think the majority of researchers will use them to share genealogy data.

11. Publication of compiled genealogies and family histories in book form or on digital media will be more "publish on demand" for family members and correspondents, rather than in traditional book publication. These e-books may not find their way into libraries or magazines.

12. Genealogy magazines in paper and digital formats will continue to provide readers with interesting and useful information. Magazines may go to a dual publication - in both paper and digital formats with a price break for the digital format. Digital magazines may break the mold of a semi-monthly or quarterly formal publication and go to a weekly distribution of timely articles and reviews.

13. Genealogy societies will start growing again as more researchers cannot find "everything" on the Internet. The emphasis will be on collaboration and sharing - "traditional" researchers helping "online" researchers understand and use the classical research process, and "online" researchers helping "traditional" researchers use the Internet effectively. Societies will also use a dual newsletter/journal publication method - on paper format mailed out or online in digital format. There may be more specialized genealogy societies rather than locality-oriented societies.

14. Genealogy societies will have to have an Internet presence - a web site to inform members and sell products, a blog and email list to communicate with members and prospects, and indexing/transcribing projects to provide local family history records. They will collaborate with free or commercial genealogy sites. For example, a society-generated cemetery index might be digitized and indexed and included in the FamilySearch or Ancestry search engine and database, but the inscriptions and photos of tombstones might be available only through the society for a small price.

15. Genealogy software will continue to gravitate to online storage of databases with user-selected access - accessible anywhere a researcher is on a computer (relative, library, airplane, etc) and not subject to a home disaster. Book-making capabilities within the software will improve, especially for constructing indexes, including images, etc.

I think I'll stop there. I realize that I'm hampered by not being on the "inside" of the industry. Reading this over I see that I am not very visionary in this list. It's pretty much "review the past," "glass-half-full" and "genealogy-and-apple-pie" with a dash of hopefulness.

I am really interested in what you think. Tell me where I'm right or wrong. What have I missed? Please blog about this, share your thoughts in comments to this post, or via email to rjseaver(at) If you have visionary thoughts about the future of genealogy, and are willing for me to post them in a separate post, please let me know and I will do that with attribution or anonymity - your choice.


Lynn Turner, AG said...

I think that you are on the right track as far as what the future holds for genealogy/family history. In my opinion I would add a couple more: 1) Social networking - to name a few. I recommend listening to Paul Allen's interview on the subject on (titled: The future of genealogy). 2) Family Reconstitution aka 'one place studies' - I think we will see more linking of families in a given area based on original documents. Just a couple of things...

Janice said...


I think most of your predictions are right on.

I'm waiting for a company, like to provide space and store-front services to individuals who have fully traced and documented family trees, so that they can "share" their documentary information with cousins or descendants, but can recoup some of their research expenses through some form of reimbursement by those who want copies.