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               May, 2012

      Charles Hansen, Editor
      Randall J. Seaver, Guest Contributor
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  Do you Believe the
  FamilySearch Vision of the Future?

  — Randall J. Seaver
Originally posted, February 9, 2012, by Randall J. Seaver (used with permission)

Ihe most inspiring and visionary presentation at RootsTech 2012 was Jay Verkler's Keynote talk on, Inventing the Future, as a Community, on Thursday morning. He laid out a vision for genealogy and family history in the year 2060. I urge my readers to watch it if they haven't already. It included these features:

* Commonly available information, at low cost.
* Easy to use, intuitive, simple interfaces.
* Accurate information with a common data model.
* Includes facts, stories, photos, audio, video.
* Evidence based, with available documents and media.
* Provides interactive timelines showing names, dates, places, events.
* Works on every computer system.
* It simply works!

It sounds so logical and simple, doesn't it? But how do we get there? Jay laid out two "big picture" charts that explain the process:

1) The Genealogy Conclusion Diagram:


The Conclusion diagram includes for each person (6 billion people were born between 1750 and 1900, another 14 billion born since 1900, and another 6 billion to be born between now and 2060) :

* Genealogy facts - vital, residence, occupation, education, military, immigration,
      social, etc..
* Relationships of a person to parents, siblings, children, etc..
* Stories, photographs, audio, video, etc., that display the life of the person.
* Sourced evidence in the form of documents for the life events.

These need to be collected for all persons who previously lived and are currently living and preserved for future generations.

2) The Community Framework diagram looks like this:


The different elements of this framework are:

* Conclusion Sharing across platforms (family trees in software or online) - an
      updated GEDCOM.
* Permanent online links so that data can easily be found.
* Common Data Types and Vocabulary - standardize the terminology.
* Provide Authorities - for names, dates, places, and events. A user should be able to
      search for and find information about a person from family trees and historical
      records, with information about repositories, experts, knowledge bases and
      community sharing.
* Structured Records - users need to view them digitally, linked to repositories, and
      linked to other researchers.
* Record Source Authorities - evidence backed by sources, with links to library
      catalogs, partners and/or repositories, and to community contributions.

Jay's vision is of an "Open" environment, wherein there is a Community effort to gather, connect and preserve records that define the lives of billions of persons. Is such a Community effort possible? At present, we have a mixed genealogy industry and community with not-for-profit companies, commercial companies, and volunteer organizations providing education, record collections, online family trees (isolated or inter-connected), and genealogy management software. Will the commercial companies collaborate with the not-for-profits? How will competition between organizations with similar products be handled?

Can all aspects of the genealogy industry work together as one big happy family? I sincerely doubt that they can, or will in the near or distant future. There will always be entrepreneurs with the next big, whiz-bang genealogy idea, many of whom will fail but some will succeed and thrive and challenge the existing large, but clumsy, organizations by being more nimble and innovative. Our recent experience is that competition creates innovation, advances technology and brings products to market faster in every industry. We saw this at RootsTech where about 80% of the attendees had a smart phone or tablet device for communication, collaboration and information!

Who will do all of this? Who will fill up the online family trees with names, dates, places, events, sources, images,, etc.? Why, "we" all will - each of us that does genealogy and family history research now and in the future, with the help of family papers, historical record collections, online family trees, genealogy management programs, technology and productivity tools, and much more. However, we need the online family trees that can be filled up.

Jay's vision implies an inter-connected family tree where everyone collaborates with others and work toward a conclusion based tree based on sourced evidence. That is not the format of many online family tree providers, namely, MyHeritage, and others. Will they change? Will FamilySearch succeed in getting their Family Tree into public view and will that tree be populated with persons and relationships based on sourced evidence? The jury is really out on that, in my humble opinion.

What I am more sure of is that the genealogy/family history industry will not run out of historical records any time soon! I heard at the RootsTech 2012 conference that FamilySearch would have all of the available microfilms and microfiche collections digitized in 8 to 10 years. However, they would not be all indexed. Even so, that leaves records at national and state archives, public and private libraries, local and regional genealogical/historical societies, vital record offices, etc. to be found, gathered, catalogued, digitized, and linked up.

Current estimates of "all of the genealogy records" that are currently digitized and available online (on some website) run in the 3% to 5% range. What will the percentage be in, say, 2020? My guess is somewhere in the 10% to 15% range. How about 2060? My guess is in the 30% to 50% range. I may be wrong, of course!

FamilySearch thinks that they have "invented the future" here. It is an appealing vision, yet also a disturbing vision (at least for me). It is appealing to me that there is hope that "all" of the records for "every" person in recorded history might be found and catalogued and preserved so that I can "know" the history of my ancestral families. It is disturbing to me because I absolutely hate the thought that my descendants might not know the thrill of the hunt, might not feel the excitement of genea-gasms when records or relationships are discovered, or might not diligently study the geography, history and culture of their ancestors.

I've prattled on here for several hours, and I doubt that many readers will read down to the bottom of the post. What do you think? Do you:

* Agree with Jay Verkler's vision of genealogy in 2060?
* If not, what is your vision of genealogy research in the year 2060?
* What are the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve Jay's vision?
* What about open" vs. "proprietary record collections?
* What about one big Mother of All Genealogy Family Trees vs. millions of isolated
Original URL for this post is:
Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012.

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