Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Future of Genealogy, or a Horror Story?

Dick Eastman posted a humorous story of Genealogy Research in the Year 2060 on Saturday...looking into the crystal ball, and seeing, well - you need to go read his post.

Will these things really happen? Or is this just a fantasy, or worse, a horror tale?

* A retina scan using a webcam? [Every person's retina scan is in a database, and every company has proprietary software to evaluate it?]

* "Greenspan Genetic Markers" for every living person since 2022? [Are there computer systems and software big and fast enough to do this?]

* The ability to figure out the DNA of every person who ever lived based on those GGMs? [see snark above]

* A 12-generation chart can be created from some database in seconds, with 138 pages of documentation? [Heck, my 12-generation chart is only about 25% full and it prints out to be over 2,000 pages in a really small font!].

* A Wholly Genes cruise to Mars? [What for - to find Martian DNA? Or sell TMG Version 369?] Is the Roy Stockdill memorial naming an inside joke? I would have named it after John Titford!

* The DNA results shows a great-great-grandmother's indiscretion with the gardener? With that, Megan's research had 99.5% accuracy? [If one of the 16 great-great-grands lines is wrong, then that's 93.33% accuracy, right?] [Memo to Megan: did your GGGM have a gardener? You better check it out].

* Email addresses with AOL, Google and Yahoo in them? [pretty far-fetched, especially AOL! Will there even be email then? Will we receive telepathic messages then on a beeber implanted in our brain? Will some people claim to receive messages from their ancestors on their beeber?]

* There's lots more...

* The most depressing part was that there was no "thrill of the hunt." I think that's what many of us enjoy the most - having a cut-and-dried genealogy all done for us waiting for us to buy it is really a downer for me!

* The best one of all - a 99 year guarantee on genealogy database accuracy. [right...and I have a nice used low light-year anti-gravity space-car to sell you, Mr. Jetson...]

* Hmmm, not a word about the Generations United Company [you know, the one that used to be MyFamily, TGN, and Ancestry]. Is it still in business, or was it swallowed up by a conglomerate and the databases sold off piecemeal?

* I was sorry to hear of the ignominious demise of Mr. Eastman - I always figured it would be a lightning strike that did him in while wearing all of his devices in his jacket out in a restaurant parking lot somewhere.

Pardon my snark above... I couldn't resist. Dick's post is creative and provides a look at what genealogy might evolve to in a perfect world run by genealogists. But the genealogy world, just like our real world today, is imperfect and not run by well-meaning folks like us.

But I have questions:

* Will the millions of family trees on Ancestry, New FamilySearch and other databases blend into One Great Big Mother of All Family Trees? I sincerely doubt it. If anything, the confusion, duplication and errors in online family trees will be worse in 2060 than it is today, simply because nobody will agree that their precious data is wrong! There may be some "certified accurate" family trees but they will likely be very expensive!

* Will more records be found for past generations? Perhaps some brick walls will be knocked down as FamilySearch images and indexes their microfilms, and as other companies and repositories image and index their holdings, but I sincerely doubt that many more historical record sets will be found - it's much more likely that they will be lost ala the German record destruction in a building collapse. In the worst case, EMP events may render electronic communication and devices sterile for decades (granted, that's what the Granite Mountain is for!).

* Will all of the world's population provide a DNA sample that enables the Bennet Greenspans of the world to analyze it for ancestry in every line? I sincerely doubt it. Just because 100 people have had their genome done, doesn't mean that it can be done for 10 billion people in the next 50 years.

* Does anybody really think that a fully completed ancestry can be printed off on a nice-looking wall scroll and purchased for $24.95 (probably 2010 dollars, eh? - likely to be $500 in 2060 money using Family ChArtist Version 17 at Hovorka Enterprises).

Although my crystal ball is really cloudy [note to self - polish that thing more often...], I suspect that genealogy research in 2060 will be much faster, relatively cheaper, and even more error-prone than it is today. Researchers will be able to make many more mistakes in an hour than I make in a day.

What do you think? What is the future of genealogy?


Tamura Jones said...

I am reminded of Frederik Pohl's quip that "A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam."

Anonymous said...

Well, what Dick didn't realize is that technology progresses at a MUCH slower pace than what we would like to think. We were supposed to be have flying cars by now if we believed the hoopla of the mid 20th century. In 2060, much of the world's genealogy records will not be online, much less in a searchable format or compiled in a single large world family tree. Only the key records (church, vital, probate, etc.) will be online by then. In fact, the LDS church has microfilmed probably less than half of the genealogically important records of the world. There are Christian church parish records just rotting away in places like Syria, Angola, Ethiopia, Lebanon, and the Caribbean simply because nobody has the means of preserving them. It's the same with places like Japan and India, who have amazing genealogical records that go back centuries, in many cases earlier than Europe, but remain unfilmed. Even in the United States, I have seen county courthouses whose records remain unfilmed and are falling apart in their attics and in one case, a shed outside that was especially vunerable to the rain and wind. It's a crying shame. There is much work to be done, folks, and it won't come easy.