Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Real Revolution in LDS Genealogy -- Part Two

In Part One of this series, I wrote about the Memories section of and how those stories and other memories are revolutionizing the way we learn about our ancestors and other relatives and how we share our own stories. Underlying these developments is a more revolutionary process: the worldwide digitization of original source records. Of course, those billions of digitized records would not exist without the computers and storage devices and we would not be able to see any of the digitized files without access to the internet. Genealogy is just one small part of the overall digital revolution that is affecting our culture, our government and everything else in our lives.

But family history in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is undergoing its own more direct revolution. Previously, genealogy was the very private purview of a relatively few highly focused individual researchers, aka "the genealogists." Efforts to broaden the participation were not particularly productive due to the complicated set of forms and lack of access to records. For example, just a few years ago, I had no access to any records outside of limited family records I have personally accumulated. Even if I had been aware of the accumulated microfilm in Salt Lake City, Utah, years ago, there was no practical way of knowing what was available short of looking in the huge Family History Library Catalog, i.e. drawers full of cards. Then the Library catalog became digitized. Then I could order microfilm from the Family History Library. But I still had to go to Salt Lake to the Family History Library to see most of what was available. Where I lived in Mesa, there was an active Family History Center, but I had no way to know what they had available in Mesa. I had never heard of a genealogy conference because there weren't any in our area at all.

OK, so you might get the picture. Genealogists either traveled to the resources or made do with what they had locally available. They also wrote a lot of letters and sometimes paid researchers who had access to records to research specific questions. The amazing part of all this was the amount of information some of these dedicated people were able to discover.

Today we are in a transition. More and more records are available online every day but I am still looking at microfilm. Now I can view the Family History Libary and almost all other library's catalogs online. There are still reasons why I have to travel to Salt Lake City, Utah (by the way, maybe you can begin to guess one big reason why I moved to Provo) but I am now finding many of the records I need online. In effect, genealogy has moved into my home. But in all this, the fundamental change in record availability has also dramatically affected the learning curve for doing research. Learning about research and records is still at the heart of doing genealogy, but now research is not limited to a few die-hard experts. We have growing pains but over time, more and more people will find the time to do some research and we will be on our way to broadening the whole pursuit of family history.

To read the first post in this series, click below.

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