Genealogy Goes Prime Time

(This was an article I had published in the Deseret News http://desne.ws/qr5awt)

Genealogy has gone prime time.

That was the message at the Conference on Family History and Genealogy held at Brigham Young University last week.

Television programs like NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” BYU-TV’s “The Generation Project,” and “Faces of America” on PBS have piqued the interest of viewers around the world and motivated more people to research their family histories and heritage.

D. Joshua Taylor, a nationally recognized genealogical author, lecturer, and researcher spoke at the conference and talked about the future of genealogy, saying, “it will not longer be viewed as an ‘old’ activity for the retired.  It will be undefined by age, gender and nationality.  We’re in primetime now.”

Taylor looked at his first microfilm when he was 10 years old, and became instantly hooked on genealogy.  He is the director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and has assisted with research for the NBC Series “Who Do You Think You Are,” including helping Sarah Jessica Parker with her genealogy.

At the conference, he traced genealogy through the generations, and discussed how it has changed and evolved over the years.

“We started out with people writing letters, going to courthouses, and lineage organizations for genealogical research, then we moved to microfilm, which brought thousands, millions of records to people.  After Alex Haley’s “Roots” book and television series, people became more interested in tracing their families.  It became more visible and the word ‘genealogist’ became known.  Then we moved to digital records like on familysearch.org and ancestry.com,” Taylor said.

Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are."

Photo taken by Lisa Poole, NBC
Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are.”

The attributes of the next generation of genealogy may sound “absolutely bananas,” but they will happen, he said.  He predicted some of the following changes:

  1. We won’t have to type in genealogical data from census and other records, we will just drag and drop everything, and the computer will fill in all the details.  “It’s happening now with medical records,” he said, “why not with genealogy?”
  2. Everything will be interactive.  For example, you’ll click on a church, and then click on a pew with a name of a family.  Then all the information about that family will pop up.  With the push of a button, you’ll see all their data.
  3. There will be more online websites for digital scrapbooks and family histories. There will be blogs with live recordings, videos, and links to other pertinent information.
  4. We will see the end of paper.  No more carting boxes of family documents from one relative to the next.  Everything will be digital. It’s all about “the cloud,” and storing data in Apple’s new icloud that should be coming out soon or “dropbox.com” where you can access your data from any computer and you won’t have to worry about external drives, back-up CDs, and thumb drives.
  5. Genealogy will be more about people than facts.  He encouraged genealogists to think beyond the pedigree chart and get into the stories about people.
  6. Communities will share data.  Genealogists, historians, librarians, archivists, and medical professionals will share information.  “We all need the same stuff,” he said, “so we might as well share it with each other.”
  7. Mobile devices are the future.  They will replace computers because they are more portable and can perform more functions.
  8. There will be more instant communications, not just with family members working together on genealogy, but with librarians, county clerks, associations, etc. In fact, he said, the new plus.google.com could be the end of Facebook because of its increased functionality, group video chats and “circles” of friends that can be organized by families, research groups, etc.
  9. Genealogy will not have to be a full-time pursuit.  The younger generations will be able to devote just 15-minutes at a time and make progress because of new technology and collaborative methods.
  10.  There will be a new generation of genealogists that will take new tactics.  Taylor described a Boston University group of students assembled to work on their family histories and said there were 20 countries represented within just three generations of a family.  Fifty percent of their parents or grandparents were born outside the United States.  The average birth year of this new group of genealogists was 1989.  About 85 percent of them immigrated after the year 1900, with the most recent immigrants coming to America in 2000.  With this new generation, new approaches need to be taken like oral interviews, and tracing people who are still alive to find out why they came to America and what political movements affected them.

The Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held at BYU and is sponsored by the BYU History Department, BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, FamilySearch, Family History Library, and BYU Division of Continuing Education.

Comments

  1. Lance Kaczorowski says:

    I realize that the current generation of young adults has a more relaxed view towards privacy than boomers like me, but I can’t help but wonder how privacy issues will affect the future of genealogy. At a minimum, there is the unfortunate consideration that some of the kinds of information that genealogists seek is also the same kind of information sought by identity thieves (birth date, birth place, mother’s maiden name). I worry that those with whom I share my genealogical info will be too careless about publishing it publicly, particularly online. I am also concerned that genealogy sharing sites will become targets of hackers for the same reason. There is also the issue of tracing people who are still alive. Many can (and often do) see that as an intrusion of privacy. When I contact a living cousin for the first time, 9 times out of 10 the response is some form of “What do you want?” rather than any kind of enthusiasm for discovering an unknown distant relative. The ones who are most welcoming are usually those who are already into genealogical research. Have you encountered much in the way of the concerns I am voicing here, or am I in a small minority?

    • You raise some legitimate concerns. I agree that there are risks but security measures also keep getting better. As far as the responses you get from distant cousins, I haven’t encountered that but I can see how that could happen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If I learn more about the privacy issues, I’ll pass them on.

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