I have been watching the genealogy business for more than twenty years now and must say that I am always fascinated by what goes on. Every year has been interesting, and the year 2007 certainly has been no exception. In the last newsletter of 2007, it seems like an ideal time to look at the last year.
In 2007, new companies have appeared, some old ones disappeared and one or two companies swallowed up others. Products have likewise appeared and disappeared.
Of course, the march forward in technology continues unabated. Hardware keeps getting smaller and faster while software continues to do more and more. Genealogists now easily carry their databases in their pockets, complete with all text notes, citations, pictures, and even video files. High speed wireless networking is now practical and affordable. In fact, wide-area wireless network connections from nearby cell phone towers are now available at roughly the same price as standard (wired) broadband connections.
The genealogist is no longer tied to a computer or typewriter or filing cabinet or even 3-ring binders. Indeed, the computer and its many accompanying pieces of hardware have evolved into tools that allow the genealogist to accomplish tasks at any convenient time, wherever he or she might be located.
This week I spent some time reviewing the past 52 issues of this newsletter, looking at the various articles and also trying to identify any trends. It was an interesting experience. Indeed, I am convinced that 2007 was a very good year for genealogists.
New Records and Repositories
Several major new resources for genealogists appeared in 2007, proving that we have more and better sources of information than ever before:
The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was rebuilt and greatly expanded. As the largest publicly owned and operated genealogy library in the United States, this library attracts thousands of visitors every year. The library continues to expand its holdings rapidly.
The Mid-Continent Public Library's Genealogy and Local History Branch in Independence, Missouri, is a world-class genealogy center. It attracts genealogists from all over the country. However, the Genealogy and Local History Branch has outgrown the available room, and a new $8 million building is now under construction. The new building is now scheduled to open in May 2008.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) for the first time has opened all of the individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of Army, Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard military personnel who served and were discharged, retired, or died while in the service prior to 1946.
Online resources expanded even faster than the libraries and archives. For instance, here are a few that pop to mind:
Footnote.com launched in January of 2007 and soon established itself as one of the largest online resources of historical documents. The site presently has more than 23 million original documents available online and is adding millions more every month. Those documents include many of interest to genealogists although the web site serves a much larger community than just genealogists. A few months after launch, the site dramatically reduced its initial fees, which were already some of the lowest in the industry. Footnote.com was later named as "One of PC Magazine's Top Undiscovered Web Sites of 2007."
The 1841 England and Wales Census is now complete on the British Origins web site.
The Kansas Memory web site offers unprecedented online access to Kansas history and includes thousands of items from the Kansas Historical Society's collections of photographs, letters, diaries, and other historic items.
British Army World War One Pension Records are now available on www.ancestry.co.uk.
Social Networking Sites
One item that I never foresaw appeared in 2007: genealogy-based social networking sites. These web sites generally encourage people to work together on their family trees. They usually work best only for the last few generations. You and your cousins can collaborate to record information about grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others in your extended family tree. Examples of genealogy-oriented social networking sites include Geni, MyHeritage, GeneTree (produced by the Sorenson Foundation, a major player in the genealogy DNA business), an updated version of MyFamily.com (part of the Ancestry.com/The Generations Network family of web sites), Familyrelatives.com, and Famillion.
Conferences, Meetings, and Cruises
Among the more obvious stories of 2007 is the growth of genealogy conferences, meetings, and cruises. In previous years I wrote about the declining interest in genealogy conferences. However, in 2007 the Federation of Genealogists annual conference attracted about 1,500 attendees while the National Society of Genealogists’ annual conference attracted nearly as many. Even the regional conferences did well: the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) had its largest conference ever. The Genealogy Jamboree in southern California also continues to grow rapidly every year. At the same time, all of the U.S. conferences pale in comparison to the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! conference held last May in London with more than 13,000 attendees!
A rather new form of genealogy conferences has mushroomed into popularity as well. Three major genealogy cruises were held in 2007, and four such cruises have already been announced for 2008. With more than 700 attendees on genealogy “theme cruises,” these must now be considered as major events in the genealogy world. The 2007 cruises attracted attendees from at least six different countries.
And a Disaster
While I generally applaud the appearance of new websites that contain more and more genealogy information, one new service in 2007 created a very different result. In fact, it didn't last long. The Generations Network (owners of Ancestry.com and several other genealogy web sites) delivered the Internet Biographical Collection, a search engine that focused primarily on genealogy resources. The service was designed to simplify the process of finding family history information that many people would not be able to find easily because it is often scattered among numerous websites across the Internet. Indeed, the new site seemed to work well. Perhaps too well.
The service quickly became controversial as genealogists discovered various features that some felt were inappropriate, including caching of web sites and the use of HTML frames that hid the origin of a page obtained from another web site. The result was a new web site that looked as if all the genealogy data resided on that one site when, in fact, the displayed data was the result of hard work by tens of thousands of genealogists, as posted on hundreds of different web sites. Because of an uproar within the genealogy community, The Generations Network pulled the service after only a few days.
There is a moral here for all webmasters and future webmasters: test your sites extensively with beta testers before launching. Make sure that your perception of your new service matches that of your intended audience.
Partnerships, Partnerships, and More Partnerships
It seems as if everyone is joining forces with everyone else. Well, perhaps not with everyone, but often with others. It appears that many organizations are discovering that they can accomplish more through partnerships than they can alone.
FamilySearch (funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and formerly known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, or GSU) announced numerous partnerships during the year to help other organizations place their record collections online. To date, perhaps a dozen or so organizations have accepted the offer. Several of the larger partners have already succeeded in placing new databases online. Many additional smaller projects are in the works.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society announced a new partnership with The Generations Network in October. Although still early in the relationship, the only new joint venture announced to date has been reduced prices for members of one organization to join the other. You can even purchase both an NEHGS annual Research membership and a U.S. Deluxe Ancestry.com membership together for one low price. Strangely, this offer is available only to non-members. Present NEHGS members are "penalized" by not being allowed to obtain the same low prices that non-members can obtain.
The Generations Network (parent company of Ancestry.com, MyFamily.com and other sites) was being acquired by Spectrum Equity Investors. The sale price reportedly was for more than $300 million. The Generations Network remains in operation in more or less the same manner as before. Details of the purchase may be found at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/10/follow-up-ances.htmlhttp://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/10/a-talk-with-the.html and at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/12/the-generations.html.
MyHeritage acquired Pearl Street Software in this last year. I was always very impressed with the genealogy software and the web site produced by Pearl Street Software, namely Family Tree Legends and GenCircles.com. However, as time went by, it became obvious that the company was having problems supporting those products. Updates were not being made and tales of non-existent customer support became common. In August, Pearl Street Software announced that it had been acquired by MyHeritage. The GenCircles database has been merged into MyHeritage’s data. In recent weeks, MyHeritage has become very aggressive with an e-mail campaign aimed at former Pearl Street Software customers.
Perhaps the greatest testimonial to advancing technology is the appearance of new or updated software. 2007 saw the following notable releases:
The Master Genealogist version 7 was announced in the last days of the year. This is an evolutionary release, not revolutionary. Nonetheless, it is a major upgrade with significant new features.
Family Tree Maker 2008 was released to mixed reviews. This new release is indeed revolutionary and is perhaps the only revolutionary release of an existing genealogy program made this year: it is a complete re-write when compared to earlier versions of Family Tree Maker. Long-time users have been vocal about the new release, finding numerous things that disappeared from the previous versions and also many things that either do not work at all or else do not work as long-time users would expect. A quick search on Google or most any other search engine will uncover numerous message boards and blogs that contain hundreds of messages concerning Family Tree Maker 2008. Most of those messages discuss the new release’s shortcomings.
MacFamilyTree 5 released a new version during the year with many updates.
Pocket Genealogist continues to be a very popular genealogy program for Windows Mobile handheld computers. Version 3.11 was released late in the year.
iFamily For Tiger was released for Macintosh computers. This program is very visual, showing graphical family trees at almost all times.
Television on the Internet
One major new genealogy service appeared on the Internet during 2007: RootsTelevision. This new "video-on-demand" service allows you to watch interviews, conference keynote speeches, "how to" instruction, and much more, all without leaving your computer. The video appears on your computer’s screen while accompanying audio plays on your computer’s speakers.
Late in the year, RootsTelevision even recorded a number of episodes from a genealogy cruise ship, giving viewers some great insight into what happens on board. We even saw what may have been the first "genealogy wave." No, that's not a tidal wave overwhelming the ship. I had the pleasure of being involved in a few of those videos and must say that I am enthused with the concept of genealogy videos on the Internet.
I believe that video is going to become more and more popular on the Internet in the next few years. One of the most popular Internet sites of today is YouTube.com, a gigantic repository of all sorts of videos. Banking on the potential of this kind of service, Google acquired YouTube late in 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock. In 2007, RootsTelevision.com became a rather specialized video repository for genealogists. Perhaps RootsTelevision will be acquired for a billion dollars, too. (OK, so I am just kidding about the money. Seriously, this is a fascinating service that just might become an acquisition target for a well-financed organization that wishes to expand into genealogy for few million dollars or so.)
Societies generally had a rather quiet year in 2007 with one minor exception: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society essentially switched from a membership organization with thousands of members to an exclusive “club” of only a handful of people. In a change to the organization's by-laws that many people questioned, the society converted to a tiny organization run solely by the Board of Directors without oversight from anyone else. Indeed, the only members of the new organization are the Board of Directors. All other former members have been “dismissed” with their memberships canceled. The society also sold the organization's headquarters for several million dollars and announced that the library will be relocated, apparently to a less accessible location, with future access to the library not yet defined.
Most other societies worked hard during the year to maintain status quo. Generally speaking, most genealogy societies seem to be slowly losing members. However, there are notable exceptions, such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
In short, 2007 has indeed been an interesting year. For most organizations in the genealogy business and for most private genealogists, it has been a very good year. More genealogy information is available than ever before. We now have more and better methods of accessing that information, as well as better-than-ever methods of recording, storing, organizing, and analyzing that information. We also have better educational and entertainment opportunities than ever before.
This is a great time to be a genealogist!