Does WikiTree signal the slow death of the genealogy hobby?

+9 votes
2.7k views

Check out the first comment on Dick Eastman's posting of our press release, the one from Jon Preston.

I love this comment. The basic gist of it: 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 WikiTree.

What do you think? Post on Eastman's blog or here.

in Genealogy Help by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Thanks to WikiTree after 40 years of research I was finally able to connect with my family in Finland.  My grandparents immigrated to the US in 1903 or so and died about 1960.  Because my grandfather had a brother left behind in Finland, his great-granddaughter was searching for what became of his brother that immigrated.  She has provided full documentation as well as photos and interpretation of old  Swedish/Finn records.  She has even researched my grandmother's family and added their records.

The ability to collaborate with long lost relatives is phenomenal.

Thank you WikiTree.

Hi Terri. That's such a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. Unless you object, I'd like to add it to http://www.wikitree.com/about/quotes.html

Please do use it however you would like.
I have been doing genealogy research for over 6 yrs now and spend about 30 plus hours on average a week doing so. I am so excited to see a free site like WikiTree. I get so tired of paying for sites that are not useful to me or very little use is obtained. I am really excited to meet others from my family as well as other families. I think genealogy should be free and do not believe that the free aspect of it will deminish anything. If anything I hope it helps to only grow the love and passion we all feel for this. Thank you to WikiTree from a most ardent lover of genealogy.
Searching for something else and I came across this discussion from 2012.

Here's my quick take: I can't foresee any time where there is likely to be a shortage of genealogy work that needs to be done or family connections that need to be verified and sourced.  In my own experience on WikiTree, I have found lines of my family that have no profiles at all going back 8, 9 or 10 generations.  The ones I have found are, as often as not, old gedcom uploads from 2011,  which means they need my help.

I suppose I could see WikiTree growing in popularity to a point where *some* lines of my family tree are essentially "completed".  But, let's be realistic.  Genealogy, even with today's improved source availability, can be tedious and sometimes frustrating work.  Those of us for whom the joy of discovery is worth the work are always going to be a small minority.

8 Answers

+13 votes
 
Best answer
I agree wholeheartedly with the other two answers for this question, and I really only have one other point to add.  I feel that WikiTree (because it is free and non-members are able to view profiles and contact members) creates a new method of discovery.  For instance, I received an email from a woman who purchased a bedroom set that was originally owned by one of my ancestors.  Along with it, she received a copy of a family tree, several obituary clippings and a few photographs of members of my family.  She offered to send me the information and now I have it, all because I posted a profile for my ancestor on this wiki and she found it through a google search.  

It's true that genealogists don't HAVE to work as hard as they did years ago to compile family histories (or travel as much), but even if I can merge someone else's profile with my own for a more detailed picture, I am still going to do the research to verify that the new data is true, and I still look forward to a time when I will be able to afford to take a few trips to places my ancestors lived.  Not having to pay $200 for an annual site subscription is helping to make that goal happen sooner rather than later.
by anonymous G2G Crew (930 points)
selected by Frances Williams
Angela, I absolutely love hearing stories like the one about your ancestors' furniture. That makes me so proud of WikiTree.

I agree that these sorts of little discoveries will become more and more common. Every day people will be making connections between each other that never would have been possible before.

Free sites are great! 

Some years ago I 'met' via the genealogy.com, a woman from CA, who was researching Hoyt ancestors in MA/New England.  In my effort to help her out, she discovered that a whole batch of items that she purchased on an ebay  auction might be somehow related to me or at least belonged tom someone in my neck of the woods so she mailed me the package of items for which she had no relationship.

Neither of us realized that it had been the property of my great aunt and in it were lots of my great aunt's records/notebooks/index cards - this aunt was known to family as that generations genealogist.  And for a long period in her life, she helped David W Hoyt with all the correspondance amongst the Hoyt families, in documenting various VR sources all over Massachusetts, for his book(s) about Hoyt, Haight, Hight families.  This led to all sorts of confirmations of things I had here and there but hadn't had time to further document, and listed all her sources so I could 'obtain and see'  the proof.  She must have spent an amazing amount of time traveling to communities and libraries to review vital record books.

Her notebooks also included some recipes for things like 'liver and onions' and remedies for all sorts of itches, bites, gastrointestinal upsets and the like! 

And there were a few pictures that I was able to identify as my great grandparents,  a letter my ggrandfather wrote to ggrandma during the Civil War, cemetery documents for the North Burial Ground, a list of who inherited what when her mother passed away, item by item: a silver ladel, table linens, cutlery etc.   I'll be forever greatful.

I love the anecdote in the first paragraph, Angela, but I think there's a tremendous amount  of truth in the second.
+6 votes
On the contrary! From the point of view of an amateur family historian in the 1970s, when research depended on talking to surviving relatives or undertaking expensive and time-consuming searches of public records, current technology gives greater and more timely access to our ancestors. As a result, the growth of our family knowledge is so much more exciting and rewarding (and far less frustrating). Future generations will doubtless continue the search (albeit with even smarter tools), but the desire to find those, as yet, undiscovered relatives will continue. Anyone who thinks that the global family will be complete (and on Wikitree) in their lifetime should think again!!!! Peter Knowles (alive and discovering)
by Peter Knowles G2G6 Mach 6 (65.4k points)
+8 votes

Since many people don’t start their genealogy searches until later in life, I think the discovery will still be there, even if it’s sitting out on WikiTree or somewhere else.  I have had genealogy data – in bits and pieces and family stories for years – finally sorting and putting it together has brought me all kind of insights which have fascinated me.  I descend from a RI Mowry line, but never knew that 2 of my ancestors by marriage – were the 1st governor’s in this country in what are now sections of RI;  and in the Davis line, I always knew about Dr. John and Dr. Simon, but not that one was the 1st surgeon in the US.  There are Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War soldiers and soldiers from more recent wars as well; ancestors who fought in the French and Indian War and ancestors who hid the Indians in the same war.   So the discovery will still be there, just the format will be different.

And I have also considered this – as the educational practices move away from reading and writing – and use more technology and keyboards – future generations may not even be able to decipher that ‘hand written’ scribbling in God forbid! Cursive!  Which they may never learn.  So even if all the scanned documents are at their fingertips on some really convenient, instantaneous, searchable website in the year 2199 – they might not have a clue how to decipher them, but then there will be WikiTree all nice and neat, with  sometimes tediously researched, interpreted, edited details  in a format that they actually can read! and make those same discoveries.  

And they can add the newer details, that some future generation kept in bits and pieces and family stories, but never got around to compiling it.

by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (621k points)
I agree, Chris.  Once the digging begins, it is hard to tell where it will end.  Half of my family roots go back to 1410; the other 1/2 to the 1500's.  As  more family data is uncovered in Finland and elsewhere, who knows how far back my family tree might go.

Dale
+9 votes
The human story couldn't possibly be finished before we are, and even then the last word will still have to be written.
by Anonymous Anonymous G2G Crew (710 points)
Beautiful comment, Judith.
+8 votes

Even if I had signed up for WikiTree and found profiles already existing for all my ancestors and their descendants, and all the facts were sourced with something other than someone's online tree, there would always be more to find. More facts, more stories, more photos to scan.

And even if everything that could possibly be known about them was already all put together and sourced all nice, it would still be new to me! If you're finding a "complete" WikiTree profile for your ancestor, how is that less of a discovery than if you'd put it all together yourself? After all, when you find a record that has several pieces of information on it, do you say, "oh, now I don't get the joy of discovering each of those facts on its own!"? Probably not! Because you're still discovering it, and it's still exciting.

~Lianne

by Lianne Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (419k points)
+4 votes
I'm going to go with the mathematical idea that for every person living now, there are about 14 dead. Only 6% of the people who ever lived in the last 50000 years are alive now. Of course, WikiTree is only concerned with people born after C.E., and not every person has documented proof that they lived, but it is still a staggeringly huge number. At the moment, WikiTree has only 3.9 million profiles. Even if WikiTree's sole mission was to conduct a genealogical study on the population of the US as of the 1900 census (the population was around 76 million), we're still a long way off from discovering anything about everyone.

Of course, even if we do manage to make a dent in connecting everyone world wide who was ever documented, the use of DNA in genealogy is still a fairly new development. The technology is going to improve and the discoveries are going to get more interesting and in depth.
by Erin Breen G2G6 Pilot (222k points)
More mathematics....the number of ancestors of one person, between 1100 and now exceeds the number of people on Earth at that time. As WikiTree grows more and more merges are going to be necessary.
Pedigree collapse!
+4 votes

So maybe it will take away some of the time we spend looking for the genealogical data, but that should give us more time to record the memories about what people were like as people.

by Peterson Cobbett G2G6 Mach 1 (19.8k points)
+1 vote
What happened? The blog entry appears to be gone.

But as to the premise, the idea that genealogy will be "done" is a bit like how we were promised flying cars and we got Facebook.

Yes, our descendants will spend less time reinventing the wheel, but the hard puzzles and stupid errors will still be there. To the extent that we can give our children meticulously-curated and digitally preserved family trees to start with, that's a great gift, isn't it? There will be fewer situations where it's necessary to drive hundreds of miles and spend afternoons in an archive basement, but those will still be there. And there are always graves to visit and maintain.
by Nathan Kennedy G2G6 Mach 1 (20k points)

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