I had one of those "déjà vu" experiences this week. In this case, there was no impression of place. Instead, it was an impression of time. I felt that I was now living in a time that I had "experienced" some years ago.
Pam spent part of New Year's Eve organizing our collection of old genealogy magazines. She pulled out a copy of Ancestry Magazine that was exactly four years old: the December 2002 edition. She handed it to me and my eyes widened when I looked at the lead article: "What's In the Future for Genealogy?" Here was a four-year-old magazine article predicting what the future of genealogy would be like within the next few years. It is creepy that she stumbled over such an article on New Year's Eve, the one time of the year that many of us pause to reflect on the past and contemplate our future.
Now here's the strangest part: I wrote the article.
How accurate were my predictions? Did I score a hit or a miss? My hands trembled as I opened the magazine.
I quickly read through the four pages in the magazine. In December of 2002, I made predictions about online databases, CD-ROM data, genealogy software, and even wrote about that breaking new technology that was almost unheard of four years ago: DNA.
In past years, I have often written newsletter articles on or near New Year's Day that look back at the past and perhaps also try to predict the future. Given that this four-year-old magazine article accidentally landed in my lap on New Year's Eve, it seems appropriate that I spend some time this week looking back four years and checking the accuracy of my year 2002 predictions.
Here is my scorecard:
Four years ago I wrote, "Transcribed information will continue to be popular for many years." However, in the following paragraph I wrote, "One major difference is that we will also see a huge increase in the number of scanned images of original documents available on the Internet. … Within a few years, many genealogy databases are likely to include supporting documentation in the form of scanned images [of the original data]."
Whew! Dead on! If you have been keeping up with genealogy technology in the past four years in this newsletter or in other genealogy publications, you know that the number of online images of original documents has increased by 100 times, perhaps by 1,000 times, in the past four years.
I began to relax a bit.
Four years ago I wrote, "The present technology of CD-ROM storage of data will probably fade away within a few years. The problem is not a technology issue. Instead, genealogy CD-ROM discs will disappear because of simple economics."
I then spent several paragraphs explaining that publishing on the web is cheaper than on CD-ROM disks. This is especially true when looking at the economics involved from the buyer's viewpoint. Who wants to spend $20 to $40 to purchase a CD disk of information that may or may not contain the information you seek? The buyer is much better served if he or she can search more data online and then pay for the information received, not for the information provided about other people's ancestors.
I ended that section by writing, "As the World Wide Web lives up to its name, it will become the tool of choice for both vendors and researchers of genealogy."
Bingo! Anyone at a national genealogy conference four years ago saw vendors' tables filled with stacks and stacks of CD-ROM disks. This past year's conferences had very few such disks available. Four years ago, Genealogy.com listed more than one hundred genealogy CD-ROM disks in the company's catalog. Genealogy.com has since been swallowed by The Generations Network (formerly known as MyFamily.com and prior to that as Ancestry.com). The new owners have dropped most of the CD-ROM disks from the catalog as present inventory has been sold. The new owners do not appear to be replenishing the depleted inventory items, nor are they developing many new CD-ROM disks of genealogy information.
In short, I feel relieved that my prediction about CD-ROM genealogy disks was 100% accurate. .
Four years ago I wrote, "The major growth of genealogy software occurred in the 1980s to the mid-1990s. " I went on at some length to describe this growth and then stated that the growth had slowed. To be sure, the genealogy software of 2002 was better than anything available in prior years. However, the rate of change and especially the rate of improvement had slowed when compared to previous years.
Looking into the future, I also wrote:
"Aligning with the growth of online usage, the greatest improvements will be in the area of Web integration. Genealogists will look to store and publish their data on the Web and compare their own internal genealogy database against the large online databases for possible matches and additions."
Scorecard: Partial success.
Luckily, I never predicted any specific date when we would arrive at this utopian world of comparing our data against online databases. In fact, in early 2007 we are still marching at a regular pace towards that goal. Four years ago there were almost no such data comparison programs available. Today we have several to choose from. The prediction has been proven to be accurate, but I think we still have some distance to go. I am still convinced that such online database comparison efforts will become the norm that all genealogists will use. However, I am still not prepared to predict a specific date when we all start to do such things routinely.
In the four-year-old magazine article, I provided a brief history of the use of DNA in genealogy research. Of course, it was brief; we hadn't been using DNA for very long! I wrote:
"Today these [DNA] databases can only prove that two individuals are related in some manner. They cannot give the exact point where each individual's lineage meets that of the other person. Once the accumulated information reaches a critical mass, computers will be able to precisely match individuals who have similar DNA sequences and even to reconstruct the DNA sequences of deceased ancestors."
On this last prediction, I think I will score myself as "on track," but we still have a long ways to go. We have not arrived at critical mass yet, and I am certain we will not arrive there within the next four years either. It will require another decade or two, possibly three decades before we have critical mass plus the required computer power to match these thousands of "markers."
I still believe the words that I wrote four years ago are accurate, but it will be some time yet before we see this as a common occurrence.
I ended the article four years ago with these words:
"…the crystal ball reveals a global community of genealogists that's open to all. As fast as they can click a mouse, genealogists will scoop up transcribed and scanned original information online, from any location. They will confirm or disprove theories with irrefutable DNA records. The ease with which they will be able to assemble and polish accurate lineage reports will encourage many to add to this wealth of information and to collaborate with distant cousins. They may even gather in online 'virtual reunions' with webcams.
"As boundaries of time and space evaporate, the opportunity to bring ancestors and extended families into clearer focus will emerge for this lucky generation of genealogists and those to follow."
In the year 2007, I will stand by those words that I wrote in 2002 with one minor exception: I'd like to change the words, "As fast as they can click a mouse..." I am not sure that computers in the future will still use an old-fashioned mouse or even a keyboard.
Whatever method of data input we will use in future decades, I believe that the future of online genealogy collaboration looks better than ever. I am still convinced that this is a great time to be a genealogist.