Column – The future of Genealogy

This year, I am celebrating my twenty-fifth anniversary as a genealogist. During this time, we saw the change from paper to digital. Will we see as many changes in the next twenty-five years? Here are my predictions for genealogy in 2041.

In the future, it will not be possible to visit an archive in person anymore. The most popular sources are available online. The originals are stored in a central repository; separate archives have been eliminated to save costs. If you want to consult records that are not available online, they will be digitized for free. That is cheaper than operating dozens of reading rooms.

The repository of the future only focuses on preserving and presenting records, including finding aids, scans and indexes. For-profit organizations use these to build user-friendly applications, that allow you to attach the information to your own tree. You can no longer count on the repositories to provide paid research, workshops or exhibits: commercial companies have taken over these services.

Finding sources will be so easy, that the attention will shift to analyzing and correlating evidence. What do you do if information contradicts each other? How do you know that two sources involve the same person? These are the types of questions where a human has added value over a computer. There will be a system that not only allows genealogists to enter persons and sources, but to evaluate the quality of the sources and conclusions. Researchers will be able to collaborate virtually and build on the reliable work done by others. Where we now focus on documenting facts, this will shift to proving relationships and identity.

DNA will be a major factor. A DNA-profile of a historical person can be reconstructed if multiple descendants undergo DNA-testing. We may even be able to determine what happened to this person, by interpreting traces that traumatic events imprint onto our DNA.

It gets really futuristic when we add augmented reality into the mix. In the future, I will be able to walk around the village of my ancestors like a time traveller. I can set the date on my glasses and will see the houses as they were then. If I select movie mode, I can see who lived in a house over time. The physical appearance of the residents is based on their military records and reconstructed DNA.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to talk to my brick wall Hoitink ancestor and ask him about his parents. Not even the computer of the future will be able to tell us what sources don’t record.

Robot in the crowd

Credits: Wim van Rossem, collection Nationaal Archief (CC-BY)


A Dutch version of this column first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Gen, the quarterly magazine of the Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  1. Bob Coret says

    What do you think about the richness of sources in the future? I worry that less and less material will be archived and/or more destroyed after a set period due to privacy laws and the way we think about privacy.

  2. I am most worried about the idea that exists in many organisations that a digitalised source is a replacement of a paper source, meaning that the paper source can be thrown away. I have seen organisations disposing of their libraries for example, ‘because nobody uses them any more’, and ‘it is all available online anyway’.

  3. I think it will only be a matter of years before all DTB records and civil registration documents are properly indexed. Ofc, there’s much more information out there, but it’s more difficult to create indeces containing enough information on other records and these records are often valued as “less important” or “too much work to go through” by many, which will be therefore digitised over a longer time frame. I still hope to live to the moment genealogy can be a tool in history classes (after all it’s really cool to know one of your thousands of ancestors fought 400 years ago in some battle you’re talking about in class).

    As for DNA: I feel like this will probably happen in the US, not here. Genealogy is not a “big thing” in the Netherlands and people are somewhat hesistant to let their DNA tested (for privacy concerns or whatever reason).

    Augmented reality for houses would be difficult, I think, because it would require an enormous amount of upkeep. I think we could implement the “ancestor” idea right now, if we really want to!

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