One of the major themes of RootsTech this year was collaboration. It is a topic on which I have spent a great deal of time over the years.
Genealogical research is, in many ways, a solitary activity. One of the reasons genealogists attend genealogical conferences, in my opinion, is to find like minded individuals who will be interested in hearing about their discoveries. It is ironic that often the family is taken out of family history and the researcher in the family feels that they are on their own, struggling to find someone else in the family that would like to participate.
There have been many attempts to help with collaboration over the years. Genealogists would set up camp at family reunions and have the family share their updates. They would pass out disks, and later flash drives, with Gedcom files to family members in an attempt to share and validate information.
In the past few years a number of collaborative efforts have sprung up. Ancestry’s shaky leaf experience most often connects to other family member’s trees than to anything else. This experience helps with collaboration. I recently took a hard look at MyHeritage.com and their collaboration is even better, in my view. Their ability to hint at other members’ trees and to the MyHeritage records appears to me to be the best in the industry. Geni and FamilySearch both have tree systems that are inherently collaborative. FamilySearch is natively the most collaborative since every deceased person added to the tree is visible to any other users, and users’ trees are naturally connected to others.
In many ways, however, this is just the beginning. The next five years will revolutionize family history once again. The past ten years have been about digitizing records. This continues, and ultimately as more records are digitized and indexed the world of genealogy will change. The large change for the next few years, however, is just in the making. Collaborative trees with connected sources, photos, stories, rich media, and connections to social networks will completely change the number of individuals engaged in family history, the way they work with one another, and the accuracy of the work.
When I first began doing research, I visited the Family History Library. I had pedigree charts and family group records from my grandmother, but no source records. The research consultant told me that I would need to redo all the research that my grandmother had done since I did not have sources. While this answer is correct, I left the Library greatly disheartened. When I later went to work for FamilySearch I became determined that my children and grandchildren would not have the same experience. The world has changed in the last ten years and I believe that we are in a position, for the first time, to leave a legacy of family history for our descendants like never before.
The other fundamental change that I think we are only beginning to understand is the nature of the collaborative tree in helping us to connect records and develop conclusions. Very shortly the tree systems will allow us to link to historical records (birth, marriage, census), and the records will connect us to trees. This will start to quickly show where conclusions are likely accurate and where they need more investigation. I am also confident that the nature of the trees connected to records will dramatically simplify the research process.
Collaboration is here to stay, and we have only seen the beginning. I look forward to the next five years and the incredible experiences that are just around the corner.