However, the existence of duplication and inconsistencies had existed since the earliest recorded genealogies. No matter what the cause, the existence of the duplication inconsistencies could only be perceived as a result of the advances in technology. One of the most common complaints I listen to day after day are the inconsistent changes being made to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program. I field an almost constant barrage of complaints about people changing obviously correct data or altering information without supplying proper sources. These problems are manifested by the nature of the Family Tree program itself allowing user editing. The same situation exists in every other online family tree program including, for example, Ancestry.com with its multitude of copied family trees. Those differences in data however are manifested on different family trees and there is no mechanism for correction other than
Instead of operating as genealogists in the vacuum of isolation, we have been thrust into a complicated interconnected community. In many cases, whatever we do, regardless of our level of expertise, is instantly globally available. But the abundant evidence of inconsistencies and duplications is merely a surface manifestation of deeper shifts in genealogical methodology and even of the basic assumptions behind the practice of genealogy. This shift began with the first online family tree. At that point, the barriers creating genealogical isolation began to erode and collectively, we began the process of becoming aware of not only the currently contributed genealogical research, but also the accumulated work.
As the results of genealogical research began to accumulate online, it became apparent that the availability of this information was both a benefit and a bane. It is a benefit in that individuals and families could now collaborate more easily, but the availability of the research began to highlight all of the duplication and inconsistencies that had accumulated. Simultaneously, the rise of online genealogical database programs containing massive amounts of data in the form of documents and sources exacerbated the challenge.
There are certain very salient factors that have emerged as a result of the technological advances as well as the perception of the condition of genealogical research.
- Awareness of the differing degrees of genealogical ability have been highlighted by the technological changes creating a substantial measure of tension in the community.
- The movement of records maintained by individuals from their own paper-based systems to commercially established and structured online family trees is made any differences between the efforts of the researchers more apparent.
- Whereas historically, genealogists at little or no contact with each other and what contact was available was limited to local societies for the most part, the new technology has opened genealogists to a global community.
- The popularization of genealogy has attracted an increasingly apparent casually interested component of the overall genealogical community.
If we look at the global genealogical community it is most prominently represented presently, by the overwhelming presence of millions of user submitted family trees. I am certain that most of these trees, I would say virtually all of them, have been created by individuals who have only the vaguest idea of the genealogical research process. The information in the trees has been generated by reflecting the immediately available information in families or copied from core individuals who have created researched (or partially researched) family histories. Additionally, I would suggest that the online family trees are the only genealogical record being maintained by the vast majority of the users of the online programs. In other words, the concept that a genealogist compiles records and kept these records organized in their own personal collection is now confined to a distinct and almost microscopic minority. The present reality is what actual genealogical research content there is in the mainstream of the genealogical community is totally contained in the information maintained online.
Put another way, what is happening is that genealogy is moving entirely online. For example, the online program MyHeritage.com indicates that they have more than 72 million members. I am absolutely certain that only a very small percentage of those users maintain separate genealogical databases or records other than those they have accumulated online and if they do have a local component to their research, it is likely the program supplied by MyHeritage.com, that is, Family Tree Builder.
The fact is that in the future it will be more and more difficult to convince new and computer literate genealogists that there is any need to maintain paper records or to maintain a separate local genealogical database program. The multitude of arguments that have been made by genealogist the past few years in support of maintaining their own personal genealogical repository simply have been marginalized by the vast growth of online resources. The perception is that we can maintain all of our genealogical data online. I would submit that this perception is rapidly becoming self-fulfilling.
Those involved in promoting local programs, not directly connected to an online database, should be painfully aware of this major shift. What is even more important is that in the future there will be a way to move information between the larger online programs. Therefore, even if a program has its own online database failure to cooperate with the global community of online databases will prove to be a serious impediment.
Let me put this into some very simple terms. Most of the new genealogists will see no need for a personal genealogy program on their individual device. They will use the large online databases exclusively. Despite their competitive nature, the commercial online databases will eventually evolved a way of moving information between family trees in the different programs. More sophisticated users will maintain several online family trees depending on the services offered by the various hosting entities. As this occurs, the underlying duplication and inconsistencies will slowly and inexorably be resolved. Although, there will always be a measure of inaccuracy.