[Editor’s Note: WikiTree team member and genealogy thought leader Thomas MacEntee shares his take on the current and future state of genealogy.]
Recently, at WikiTree we announced that member registration had reopened after being limited to an “invitation only” basis since January 2012. This action was taken for various reasons: mainly to fine tune the WikiTree site and set some parameters as to how users upload information and help build a collaborative world family tree.
The announcement was picked up at Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter (thanks Dick!). One reader made an interesting comment sharing his views that genealogy may be slowly dying as a hobby, possibly due to technology advances which make it easier to find information about one’s ancestors and to do so much quicker than in years past.
The basic gist of the comment: The joy of the genealogy hobby is in the discovery. People in the future won’t get to experience this because their genealogy will already be done and freely available on sites such as WikiTree.
Market Research Indicates the Growth of Genealogy
A variety of recent news articles indicate that the pursuit of finding one’s ancestors is alive, well and growing here in the United States. But market research can’t possibly convey what “the hunt” means for those genealogists submerged in the process and how that search has changed over the past 30+ years.
Is It The Same “Hunt” With Different Tools?
The desire, and even the need, to know more about one’s precursors has probably existed since the first family units existed. Over the centuries, the tools genealogists used in the search or the “hunt” have changed and the change has been more drastic in the last few decades.
Fast forward to the late 20th century and genealogy saw the introduction of the personal computer being used in the research process. At that point, the PC was more a tool to record research and keep it organized. The search element was not really forged with the identity of the personal computer until the advent of online communities like AOL and bulletin boards.
Remember those days of connecting with a 600 baud Hayes modem? Hearing that unique sound, knowing that you could check message boards and forums to see if there was any new information about your ancestors? There was excitement, there was wonder, there was the thrill of discovery.
Some Tools Are Actually Endangered
All of this talk of new, shiny, efficient tools is great, but in the focus on what most think as progress, are we actually in danger of losing certain skills and abilities? A recent example: the demise of cursive and the fact that more schools no longer teach it is another recent cause for concern. Who will be available to interpret handwritten documents from earlier periods? Will we see “cursive experts” crop up to assist 22nd century genealogists?
New Tools Don’t Negate The Wonder of Discovery in Genealogy
In the years and decades to come, even with yet-to-be discovered tools, that sense of wonderment, that excitement of discovery will still be part of genealogy research, even for hobbyists.
Now in the Internet age, besides social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, we have the wiki concept where collaboration is more than just connecting and sharing. At sites like WikiTree, it is all about “building” a tree and then making that information available to other users and to the genealogy community.
Do these sites make it “too easy?” Not really. Face it, how much fun was it using Soundex to find your ancestors on census pages via microfilm? While it was enjoyable to snuggle up with the latest issue of Everton’s Genealogical Helper, now via sites like MyGenShare, you can search your surnames in Everton’s in seconds.
For some of us, the good old days of genealogy were not always so good. We have new tools, more efficient methods, but one thing will always ring true: genealogists will always have that sense of discovery, that sense of excitement which energizes them and propels them forward in their research. It may be using a mobile app to compare the latest DNA results with newly-discovered cousins. Or it might be on WikiTree, sharing thoughts about common ancestors, swapping advice and connecting with other genealogists.
What Are Your Thoughts? Is Genealogy Really Dying?
Very often when we encounter new ways of doing what we love, we fear losing the passion involved in that pursuit. The same is true of genealogy.
Do you feel that genealogy is dying? Or is it just that we need to move to a new level of research while still striving to retain that excitement we first had when we got started finding our ancestors?