Thursday, June 8, 2017
The Real Revolution in LDS Genealogy -- Part Three
At the core of the Revolution in LDS Genealogy is the enigmatic FamilySearch.org Family Tree. I use the term "enigmatic" because for many of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the program is a mystery and for others more of a frustration. A program such as the Family Tree would not have been possible just a few short years ago. In fact, some of the things that the engineers at FamilySearch are trying to do with the Family Tree are currently either right at the edge of what is technologically possible or a little beyond.
The Family Tree contains the records of around 1.4 billion individuals. When I started using computers to record my genealogy, we had "floppy disks" and even storing a few hundred individuals was a slow and laborious process. Coming from that background and to produce a program such as the Family Tree, hundreds of different inventions and technologies had to be developed. These included high capacity storage devices, ultra-fast computers, the entire internet and many additional less obvious developments. In fact, the entire concept of a unified, worldwide, and participative Family Tree would have been science fiction just a few short years ago. It is no wonder that members of the Church have difficulty conceptualizing and understanding the Family Tree.
The Family Tree is cloud-based. The entire program is universally accessible to anyone with an internet connection with a device that the view web pages. If I am looking at one individual in the Family Tree, anyone who cares to do so can also see the same individual at the same time. Changes to the Family Tree are recorded by the program in "real time." This means that if I were to make a change to any entry, anyone viewing the program would see my change within, at most, a second or two of the time I made the change. Theoretically, there should be no lag time, but differences in the speed of the various devices using the internet can cause a small delay. This ability to view changes simultaneously allows for interactive collaboration. Although this feature is an integral part of the Family Tree, few users take advantage of this interactive feature. As time passes and more people become accustomed to working with interactive programs, working on portions of the Family Tree as research groups may begin to develop.
As with any revolutionary activity, there are always those who are those who are more traditional, orthodox and even counterrevolutionary. People who are steeped in technology and accustomed to using computers as a normal extension of their everyday activities, generally have fewer issues with the Family Tree. People who are resistant to technology are often baffled by the whole concept of a unified family tree program.
Why is the Family Tree revolutionary? A revolution is the forcible overthrow of a social order in favor of a new system. Genealogy in the Church over the last 150 years or so has created its own social order. As I have written before, it is highly compartmentalized and focuses on individual activity. Traditional genealogists were only marginally cooperative and collaborative. The entire structure of "family history" or genealogy is infused with the concept of ownership. The concept of "ownership" in so ingrained that some practitioners deny access to their records out of fear of losing control or having their conclusions questioned. The Family Tree is the antithesis of this ownership culture.
Before the advent of smartphones connected to a worldwide internet, the idea that I could carry all of my genealogical research with me in my pocket was unthinkable. One of the most obvious aspects of the transition from traditional genealogical methodology to Family Tree based research is the fact that many traditional researchers are still seen to be dragging huge briefcases and in some instances entire suitcases full of their "research" to the BYU Family History Library. In fact, if you want to see this phenomenon first hand, all you need to do is show up at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah a few minutes before the scheduled opening time and look at the people dragging their piles of paper waiting to get into the library. People are still sitting in front of a computer and copying down information from the screen by hand onto paper. At some point, in the not too distant future, this laborious activity will finally disappear. The main reason for this change is the Family Tree. Users will finally realize that they can keep all their research online and paper is superfluous.
Another example of the interface between the traditionalists and the revolution is the frequent request made by patrons at the Brigham Young University Library about "putting their file into the Family Tree." Most of these patrons are unaware that "their file" is very likely already in the Family Tree and that further, they have probably spent a major portion of their genealogical research time simply redoing or duplicating what had already been done by someone else.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
Here are links to the first installments.