Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Future of Genealogy: Four Stories

   Come in and close the door. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Would you like a nice cup of Darjeeling tea?

   I have a crystal ball. It does not show a singular future, it shows multiple possible futures. That’s what you get when you drop it one too many times.

   You want to know what the future of genealogy holds? I could ‘read’ you and tell you exactly what you want to hear. My first impression though, is that you didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and that you will appreciate seeing the whole picture without the sugar glazing. I will regale you with four very different stories of the future and since you look very trustworthy, I will let you peek behind the ‘curtains’.

   The future is not carved in stone waiting for the sunrise to reveal a new chapter. Telling the future is not mystical, it is a combination of science and plausible fiction. All you need to do is analyze the social, political, opportunity, innovation and legal trends that are driving the future. There are many more drivers, including environment, economy, education and technology, but I was looking for a cool acronym (SPOIL).

   For this prognostication to work we need the biggest drivers as they relate to genealogy. I’m going to rule out the economy. Even in a down economy, folks are still spending. Environmental factors, while huge, don’t play a significant role. Education is key, but it rolls up to larger social issues. I think the big three are society, technology and the law.

   Federal, State and local governments have the ability to enact laws that could either help or hinder genealogical research. The trends within this aspect are well understood. Unless an Amendment is repealed, I expect that as a whole more records will be available rather than less.

   There are quite a few social issues. The baby-boomers are still retiring and actively trying to get in touch with their roots. The next generation is interested in family history, but not necessarily traditional genealogy. Professional genealogists are concerned about proper sourcing and the growing surge of ad-hoc genealogy. Genealogical societies are struggling with increasing their memberships as the oldest generation is becoming history.

   Technology is a double-edged sword. It can drive adoption and it can be a gatekeeper. New tools will make it easier to do genealogical research, but perhaps it will make it too easy. As more family history becomes technology driven a portion of the community will become disenfranchised. Can technology solve all our problems or will it be our downfall?

The Stories:

Wild Wild Web
   My friends and my enemies call me Dr. Bob. I consider myself a modern day scoundrel. I’m known as the go to guy for anything genealogy related. Ever since AncestorBook accidentally released financial and privacy info on their one billion customers, the web has been more like a ghost town. My clients are always amazed at the detail of my research results. A little fiction goes a long way. After a search and replace on a few surnames, I can sell the same family tree over and over. It’s not like anyone is going to check up on my work or my lack of credentials. If you look up genealogy in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of me. I redefine family history every day.

Genealogy is easy money.

Golden Age
   Hi, I’m Bonnie Jean and this is my first week as a genealogical consultant for Gene-way. I can’t tell you how hard I worked at having the right dinner parties and getting introduced to the right folks down at the club before I finally received my invitation to join Gene-way. As soon as I have one hundred clients under my belt then I can start inviting and sponsoring my own associates. That shouldn’t be hard, if folks want an official genealogy following the Gene-way Genealogical Standard, then they are required to go through a Gene-way consultant. The internet has become such a place full of filth, corruption and social openness that no right-minded person will go there. Even though the libraries and archives are thriving and busy, I’m still home from researching in time to make dinner for my family.

Genealogy is big business.

Woodstock 3.0
   Skye here, casting to you via the socialnet. I’m here at GeneaCon, the largest virtual family history convention this month. As you can see, I’m sporting the latest tie-dye fashions because I’m heading for the Woodstock pavilion. The fans there have given the storytellers over a million thumbs-up. One of the stories coming up is going to be about my great great grandfather. I’m not sure who he is or how he is related, but my Ancestor App is telling me that this is a must-see. With Genealogy 3.0 I don’t have to worry about names and dates and records, the apps just do it all automatically. Genealogy is about the hardships and the emotions and the exciting events that my ancestors have been through. Someday I’d like to be a professional story weaver. Now that’s real entertainment.

Genealogy just wants to be free.

The Empire
   Hello...hello...this is Simon. Our location has been compromised and this may be my last transmission. Moments ago we finished hacking ProGene’s 1950 US Census database. Our breach did not go unnoticed and the feds are massing outside. ProGene used to protect the genealogists. They made sure we had access to records. Just when technology was getting easier and digital records were becoming more accessible, ProGene inked a deal with the feds to get proprietary rights to the records. ProGene claimed that this was the only way to keep data free, but it essentially locked it away from the average user unless you engaged with ProGene consulting. We won’t stop until all genealogical records are freely avail........damn, they’re coming through the door and they have mind erasing gear. Simon out....

Genealogical freedom is not free.

   I have painted four dystopian pictures of our genealogical future and have used a fair amount of hyperbole. Technology is wonderful, it has brought us the digital revolution and made records available, creating a genealogical boom. Technology should never replace good research practice or become so integrated into our lives that the loss would be devastating. The definition of what genealogy is should not be defined by any one person or group. I was once told that if I didn’t have proof, then it wasn’t genealogy. That is not the way I want to practice. I am perfectly happy living in a genealogical world that combines proof and theory.

   Predicting the future is like announcing the latest fashion trend. As soon as you tell everyone about it, you have guaranteed that the trend will die. You are no longer in fashion if everyone is wearing the same thing. When you announce the future, there will be groups that will actively work toward and against that vision. The net gain falls somewhere short of the prediction and usually to the benefit of the human race.

   I've shown you four stories that I don’t want to come true and they won’t. The intention is for you to think about what the future of genealogy should look like.  What would you want to happen or not happen?  Meanwhile, each new generation will shape some aspect of the future. We can choose to understand their needs and shepherd them or we can sit back and enjoy the surprise of what Genealogy 3.0 will bring.

   For now, relax and finish your tea. The future is not here....yet.

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