1) Let me reminisce about how I started my own research journey, and the research practices at the time (1988-1992). Based on family information, I was able to find information about my ancestral families (great-grandparents and further back) by finding genealogy, family history and locality books at the local libraries and the local Family History Center in San Diego. The FHC had the International Genealogical Index on microfiche and the early U.S. census records (up to 1860) also on microfiche. I was able to search the 1880, 1900 and 1910 census records on microfilm using Soundex cards, and then find the original census pages using that information. Gradually, I started ordering microfilms from the Family History Library to extend my family lines, especially using probate records.
I vividly recall two to three hour sessions of cranking microfilm to find one little bit of new information, making photocopies of the microfilm images, and having to use my magnifying glass to read the information. It often took two to three weeks to request and receive the microfilms, and then another week or two to review all of the information on some of them. To obtain an actual probate record, say, often took two to three months because one had to look for an estate index on one film, obtain a case file number, then search the Estate Proceedings index to find all of the papers in a probate file, then order all of the films (for perhaps 5-10 different probate court volumes), then search them for the actual record. I often ordered five microfilms each week.
I also sent letters to family members, and sent letters and checks requesting vital records to town clerks. I posted queries in several genealogical magazines which rarely resulted in a response.
I also took several family/research trips to New England to see and share with my cousins, to research in repositories, and walk cemeteries. I obtained Personal Ancestral File and organized my genealogy data in the program, while adding paper to my many 4-inch notebooks as I gathered information, separated by surnames.
I started attending two local genealogical societies which provided more contact with other researchers. This greatly improved my genealogy education and I had some advice from other researchers. I joined NGS and NEHGS and learned from their peer-reviewed publications.
2) My first forays on the Internet was on the Prodigy genealogy message board were in 1992-1994, and I quickly found and enjoyed interacting with other researchers with my surnames and in my localities. There was plenty of information interchange. Eventually, the Rootsweb message boards, and Genealogy.com message boards, were formed, and I participated in those from 1995 to 2005 or so.
I continued going to the FHC every Saturday, and was able to find data to help me fill out my family tree. Some folks were able to find information in the Ancestral File and add families to their tree that way. I did some of that back in the "olden days."
3) Fast forward to 2015 now. I've been an Ancestry subscriber since about 2005, and MyHeritage subscriber since about 2009, and a Findmypast subscriber since 2013. I was on FamilySearch from the earliest days of the record databases.
Those record providers early on provided the "low hanging fruit" - the search engines found names with other bits of indexed data in census records, vital record indexes, passenger lists, etc. We could capture the record as a digital image and file it in a computer file folder for a surname or a family.
In recent years, FamilySearch has indexed over a billion records from microfilm, and put billions of digital images online in "Browse image" collections. The latter are not "low hanging fruit" - they require a concerted effort to find the actual record on this "digital microfilm."
I can now find that probate record file in minutes and capture all of the record images in an hour as digital images. I can transcribe the record information, add the event, the record transcription, the source (in EE format), and attach the media in an hour or less. Things happen much faster than 20 years ago, but my knowledge and education have progressed also. I usually know what I'm doing. My research skills are more sophisticated.
I think that I have not replaced "thoroughness with speed" - I'm able to do more research in original source material (vital records, land records, probate records) much faster and with better analysis tools than I could 20 years ago, or even one year ago. I have added "speed" and "ease-of-use" to the "thorough research" I was doing some time ago.
However, we all now that only about 10% of all records are available online in indexed or imaged format. There are many genealogical records that are not indexed or digitized, and they are in homes, businesses, record offices, courthouses, repositories, and archives.
4) I think that there is much more interaction now than there was 20 years ago. Because I blog about my ancestral families and my research and have "cousin bait" online family trees and websites, I receive research information and advice, in addition to requests for information from cousins, and have much more interaction as a result. Over 4,000 persons read my blog every day via the website, an RSS reader, email, or Facebook. I know that not everybody has that many readers, but it can be achieved with diligence and effort. A Google search of the names of a couple surfaces my blog posts readily.
The Rootsweb and Genealogy message boards are still there, and are found in a Google search, but now we have social media outlets like Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter and many more. There are many surname and locality groups on Facebook and Google+, in addition to groups and pages for genealogy companies and projects. A user can post a question on one of these groups and usually receive comments or answers within a day or two.
Genealogical societies still exist for education and contacts, conferences and seminars abound for education, even more books and periodicals are available, and there are crowdsourced genealogy wikis. Rather than just these outlets, the online world, including online family trees, websites, and social media, have broadened research and educational opportunities.
5) So, "Yes, Janet, I think the Internet is Progress." The basic methodology for how we do genealogical research hasn't changed that much. We still need records to support conclusions for names, dates, places, and relationships. Research in many record types can be performed quickly online. The learning process is gradual, although now it is more interactive and online. Researchers still make mistakes as a result of poor judgment and lack of education, but now they can make them more visibly and a lot faster. And there are many more persons interested in working on their family tree and the stories of their ancestors.
Those are my views. I welcome the views of my readers in Comments.
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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver
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