People used to joke about when they would be “done” with their genealogy. The historical answer was “never” because you never run out of ancestors. Recently, though, I have found myself thinking about all the changes in the genealogy and family history world in recent years. Where will this technology-driven environment take us? Could genealogy be “done” in my lifetime?
I learned to do genealogy the old way. We joined local societies to learn how to do genealogical research. We kept voluminous notebooks of family group sheets and exhorted ourselves to write at least a letter per week soliciting information from relatives and vital records offices. We ordered microfilmed records from the Family History Center and occasionally drove over to Salt Lake City to use the huge genealogy library there. I felt blessed to live in the greater Denver area with its easy access to the wonderful Denver Public Library and branches of the BLM and the National Archives. Our goal was to produce a beautifully-bound book on our lineage. It took a lifetime to gather the information.
Nowadays, I keep my genealogical records electronically, and probably I will never write that book. I rarely visit the local repositories because I can find so much information online. The same goes for genealogy meetings. Instead of gleaning tips from speakers at the monthly meeting, I learn to do genealogy by attending seminars and conferences, or using the helpful materials on the LDS website https://familysearch.org/.
A huge genealogy industry has sprung up in recent years. Professional speakers traverse the country and vast websites offer valuable collections online. We even have genealogy television shows. Anyone willing to pay all the fees can reap a bonanza of records, educational materials and DNA results. Instead of compiling genealogy books, thousands of people use this largesse to add family lines to the collective world family tree.
So what happens when the world family tree is more or less done? What becomes of the genealogy hobby then? Will new genealogists spend most of their time verifying the work of others or collaborating to break down the remaining brick walls? Will people do genealogy at all if it means simply plugging oneself into the world tree developed by others?
Digitization of records and sharing of family information continues at breakneck speed. Most people can look at the compiled world tree and find some of their ancestors already listed. I think I will see the day when we have a complete database, at least for Americans. Will the world still need genealogists then?