Family history and genealogy are very conservative pursuits. The goal of locating records about a person’s ancestry is fairly well defined and will not likely change at any time in the future. But both the methodology and technology of family history, as distinguished from its ultimate goals, are rapidly evolving. As the methodology and technology change, there will be a substantial impact on those who pursue their ancestry and how these family historians and genealogists interact with their relatives and the larger family history community.
In the short term, the greatest impact is on those individuals who are interested in seeking out their family history and genealogy, but lack the skills necessary to use the rapidly advancing computer and communication technology. This obstacle is not limited to merely mechanical skills, such as keyboarding or using a smartphone or tablet, but also includes social skills such as using social networking programs to communicate with family members and other family historians.
Another major obstacle is the rapidly increasing complexity of the online world. Online programs can change much more rapidly than traditional, boxed programs and those changes can be constant and incremental. For those people who are unable to be adapt to constant change, both family history and genealogy will be an extremely difficult challenge. This challenge is increased for those who did not acquire the basic keyboarding and tablet usage skills in their youth.
Remember, the structure of family history and genealogy is the same regardless of any changes including changes in the values of the general society or in the structure of families. In short, the so-called alternative family organizations are not particularly new or innovative and will not have much of an impact on the work that family historians and genealogists do. Family history, in general, will continue to focus on the basic biological family unit and any alternatives to the structure of the family unit merely create alternative entries in recording that history. Family history and genealogy are, after all, primarily historical research, so no matter how the basic family system evolves in the future, it will have no impact on the past. In any event, the number of records created about nearly every human being on the planet will be so large in the future, that the idea of making an effort to identify basic information about living relatives will be almost meaningless for people born in the 21st Century because all of that information will already be recorded and almost instantly available.
It is certain that as computer storage continues its dramatic increase, that adding huge numbers of source documents, photographs, audio files and video files will quickly dominate the online world of family trees, just as those same online family trees will continue to multiply. The present nascent technology for comparing and merging duplication individuals in family trees will continue to develop with the expected results that there will be an isolation of the duplicate entries with a suggested solution that the duplicates merge with the suggested, documented and reviewed, standard entry.
One of the most obvious changes will be the difficulty future researchers will have in relating to a world where instantaneous communication and documentation of every living individual was not completely known. In addition, most of the individuals living in the industrialized world will already have access to verified and documented pedigrees dating back to the 1800s. These pedigrees will be universally available on future unified family tree programs that are the descendants of programs available today such as Geni.com and FamilySearch.org Family Tree.
Of course, just as is the case today, there will be end-of-line situations for some or all of the same reasons they exist today.
To get to the point where the basic pedigrees become virtually universal, those with online family trees, nearly all the industrialized world, will begin a rating system for entries based on the availability of a source or the number and reliability of sources. The same type of system will likely evolve with a rating system for each of the genealogical components of the trees; sources, dates and locations etc. So, for example, an entry without a source will have a zero rating. Other users will be able to rate the entries, just as they do now for many commercial websites that sell products. So, the entry of a name with some birth and other information, will give any one reviewing that entry the ability to rate the entry according to believability, completeness, consistency and any other relevant evaluative topic.
It seems inevitable that the users of any online family tree programs should be able to rate all of the other entries in all of the other family trees. In fact, it is not at all unlikely that trees themselves, as a unit, will be subject to a rating system based on the completeness of the entries, the number of supporting sources and the conclusions drawn by the originator of the family tree. As an originator of a family tree, works on the tree and adds sources, documents, photos and other media, the program would rate the individuals involved and the family tree involved.
Because of the rating system, it will be possible, finally, to eliminate nearly all of the undocumented and unsupported ancestral claims. The individually rated family trees will be compared with totally indexed and extracted records. We presently consider the digitization of all of the world’s records to be a far-fetched dream, but if you realize that, as I wrote above, that all the presently living people and those born hereafter, will already be fully documented, then the need to “keep up” with those born this century, will be a trivial issue. Therefore, all of the resources of all of the combined large genealogical record companies will be focused on a decreasing pool of potential records and the pressure to digitize records will eventually overcome any economic or political or social resistance.
One thing is inevitable. The large genealogical record companies will become even larger. The cost of memory storage will continue its dramatic decline until maintaining unimaginably large databases will not be a barrier. At the same time the speed of data transfer will allow vast amounts of data to move to any location on the earth.
Let me illustrate how this can happen. Let’s suppose that you are just now starting to document your family. That means that you and your descendants will have all of the present information you have about you, your parents, your siblings and your extended family. Most of that information can already be relatively easily obtained for residents of the United States, the United Kingdom and other similar countries. That means that most of the people born since, say, 1930, can be found and added to anyone’s family tree. There will be exceptions due to loss of records and other end-of-line events, but that will give most people 4 or 5 generations, if not more. So the focus will move back in time.
As the unified trees solidify the documentation of the world’s 4 or 5 generations, the rest of the research will begin to narrow. Think about it. What if 100 million people today were actively researching their pedigrees. Even presently, the actual number is much larger. Given the interrelatedness of the world’s population, the pool of unknown but researchable ancestors will soon be depleted. In short, the one world family tree becomes a reality. As time goes on, the accuracy of the remaining questions will be resolved and through the rating systems in place, anyone will be able to construct a pedigree encompassing all the known records.
Since the number of people who have lived on the earth is a finite number and further since the number of possible ancestors of those people stays the same, it is not unlikely that there will come a day when all the available records have been incorporated into the existing one-world tree and all the potential ancestors of every living person have been identified and genealogy will cease to be necessary, but telling stories and recording family memories will always be with us.
That is what will happen in the misty future.