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.