It is that time of year again even though we are in season denial here in the desert Southwest, as usual. The leaves on the trees finally decided to turn sort-of tepid colors and fall off. It is not unusual to have the old leaves falling off about the same time the new leaves come on in January. We do live in a time warp here with nine months of Summer and a few days of Autumn and Spring and a couple of weeks of Winter. There are days when the weather is perfect and skies are blue and soft breezes blow. Fortunately, we have had several of those in December.
2013 was an interesting year for me and my wife. We spent a significant amount of time preparing for, traveling to and presenting at seminars, conferences and expos around the country. One of our trips was over 3000 miles driving. Now it is time to look forward to another year of some of the same experiences since I already have six presentations at conferences planned for January and we leave for Salt Lake City and RootsTech 2014 at the end of the month.
So what happened in genealogy this past year? I thought I would set down my perceptions of some of the most important developments. Here I go. I won't try to put them in chronological order or even in the order of importance.
The most far reaching development of the year was the announcement by FamilySearch.org of three strategic arrangements with the other large online database companies; Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com (D. C. Thomson Family History). Although the details of these agreements have not yet been made public, it has certainly created a lot of discussion and speculation. I am certain that we will hear more at RootsTech 2014 that will be related to this subject. One effect will undoubtedly be the increased availability of records around the world as the four entities share technology and record collections.
From my personal perspective, I view the developments with FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program and the abandonment of New.FamilySearch.org to read only status as a major development with extraordinary consequences for the entire genealogical community. Because of the shared nature of Family Tree, our family has already become involved in discussions with relatives we didn't even know existed. Because we are all looking at the same data and see all the changes made by everyone else, we are now acutely aware of issues that have smoldered for years. Whether you are aware or indifferent to the development of Family Tree does not matter, the fact that this unified family tree exists is set to change the face of genealogical research in fundamental ways that the fragmented user contributed family trees has not been able to accomplish. If someone in my remote family puts up their "family tree" online and make some outrageous claims and I learn about their tree with some kind of matching program, I can conveniently ignore anything they say. But with FamilySearch Family Tree, all those changes are right there in my face and cannot be ignored. Either I deal with the issues or I retire from the field. There is no longer a blissfully ignorant middle ground. If you are not involved in Family Tree yet, you are not yet in the game. In fact, you are not even watching the game from the bleachers.
Throughout 2013, technology hung over genealogy like a threatening cloud in the tornado belt. During the year I held my first Google Hangouts and then those became common and ordinary. The movement of the entire computer world to mobile devices put a few more nails in the coffins of desktop computers. There weren't any monumental changes but the evolutionary changes were persistent and unstoppable. I did venture into a few stores during the holiday season and noted that in the BestBuy stores that the tablets had been moved from the back of the store to the front, right as you enter the store. Hmm. Does that tell you something? We spent some time traveling around the East Valley trying to find an iPad Mini to buy and going to four different stores. In every one of the stores the tablet display areas were a mob scene. Have you stopped to think what handing a powerful Internet connected computer to a five year old child will do for the world? Good or Bad? The genealogical community is definitely lagging far behind the curve in moving into the tablet world. Presently, there is only one program that I am aware of that will synchronize your data over both OS X and Windows and all devices, desktop, tablets and smartphones, and that is a program from France called Heredis. Where are the other software developers? Have you looked at Heredis 2014? Probably not. But that is where genealogy programs are going.
Speaking of genealogy programs, I wish there were a bright spot to talk about other than Heredis. Almost all the programs implemented a major update during the year, most of them in the last month or so. But the changes have been decidedly incremental. There are some developments out on the edges of the genealogy software community, but the big movement was towards integration of the desktop programs through synchronization with an online family tree. At this point, this development is still in its infancy and it may never get beyond the third grade, but the fact is that synchronization with an online family tree is an issue that will not go away.
As I mentioned, there were a lot of conferences and society meeting around the world. I saw some renewed interest in local genealogy clubs and societies, many of which are beginning small steps towards integrating their activities locally and online. But it appears that the new year will bring an even more important development with RootsTech 2014 being broadcast over the Internet to hundreds of separate locations around the world in 10 different languages. The fact that this is coming has already had an effect on the scheduling of smaller conferences around the world. It will probably be next year at this time before I can get any perspective on the effect of this world wide genealogy conference.
The elephant in the living room of genealogy is the huge worldwide digitization effort for primary source records. The number of digitized records released online during the year was phenomenal. This availability finally impacted my wife directly when she found that the Swedish records she has been searching for years were mostly available online. The number of records that are being put online each day are beyond comprehension. The huge numbers of records has created a digital divide in the genealogical community between those who can and do search the records and those whose computer skills do not reach to that level. Choosing any one of the websites as an example of the huge increases in records online is an impossibility. All four of the major online database websites and their associated websites announced huge increases in record availability. One development that has gone mostly unnoticed is the Digital Public Library of America. During the year, this portal into the Unites States online records has gone from zero to almost 5.5 million online records in its first half year of activity. The importance of this site is not its present size, but the fact that it exists at all.
On genealogy's legal front, there were some unsettling events during the year involving record access issues. It appears that whether or not genealogists are going to have access to fundamental resources for research is still under siege. Right at the end of the year there was significant U.S. legislation that limited access to the Social Security Death Index. This is an area the needs careful attention from the genealogy community.
If I think of some more things to talk about I might do a follow up, but that looks like most of the major developments during the year. Isn't that enough?