Shifting from the old to the new in family history research through technology
Last week, family history enthusiasts participated in more than 100 classes, attended three keynote presentations, and browsed exhibits at Brigham Young University’s 40th annual Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Paul Allen, CEO of FamilyLink.com, Inc., opened the Thursday sessions with a keynote address centered on innovative technology tools that help accelerate the efforts of genealogists and family historians.
Allen started his remarks by talking and signing “I love family history.” He explained that he recently spoke at a deaf genealogy conference and that there was “100 percent eye contact” immediately to the left of where he was speaking.
Allen then held up the book Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, and told the story of how the collection came about. He said the original organizers of the data had a difficult time gathering the information. The labor was so intense at times for them and so overwhelming, that it is written in the book: “… the vastness of the undertaking dawned upon its promoters and depressed them to almost stupidness.”
According to Allen, through technology, family historians are transitioning from an “old” way to a “new” way to do genealogy. In many cases, the “old” way was through individual effort. “We have built on the shoulders of dedicated individuals,” said Allen. “The shift now is from the dedicated sacrifice of individuals to open source or crowd sourcing where groups collaborate-where individual users contribute and work together.”
After Allen mentioned some of the projects that his company was undertaking to help connect families and bring them closer together, he said he hoped he and others wouldn’t experience a similar “vastness of the undertaking” and a depression “almost to stupidness.”
“Now the efforts are coming to a head, and the work will move forward in unprecedented ways,” predicted Allen. “This is a global work. Where we haven’t started scratching the surface is Asia. The population of North America in 1750 was 2 million. Asia had 500 million in 1750. Last week, the Chinese government announced more Internet users in China than in United States. Many of them are accessing the Internet via a cell phone. There are now about 4 billion cell phones. Think about that in terms of technology and family history. You are going to see some of the most remarkable things you have ever imagined.”
Allen announced the collaboration between FamilySearch and FamilyLink.com to publish the Family History Library Catalog-the largest single database of genealogy sources in the world-using a Web 2.0 approach. With the application of the Web 2.0 technology, individual genealogists, librarians, archivists, and others from around the world will be able, when the catalog comes online in the coming months, to enhance and extend the value of the catalog that currently has more than four million entries.
Users will be able to add new sources that are currently in the library catalog, and extend its scope of coverage. They will be able to improve the source descriptions, and even rate and review sources as to their usefulness. The user feedback combined with the intelligent search algorithm being developed by FamilyLink “will make the catalog better and better that it will become so easy that your children and grand children want to do it,” Allen said. “And our recommendation engine will get smarter and smarter as end users collaborate.”
World history has always been a passion for Allen, and he disclosed FamilyLink.com’s plans to unveil a new history site to encourage individuals to find out more about the historical context in which their ancestors lived. “We are more of an aggregator of content,” commented Allen. “Our primary goal is to broaden the interest in family history to millions of people of all ages. We want people to want to learn about their ancestors.”
Allen concluded the address by talking about the social networking sites being developed and enhanced by FamilyLink’s team. He said that his goal with the social networking sites is to “make sure your relatives are interested in what you are doing.”