It is difficult to believe that another New Year’s Eve is upon us. The older I get, the faster time seems to travel. And the more I feel time pressure to finish projects started but not yet completed. It is amazing how the field of family history has changed over the past decade. As I look back over the last year, it seems as if there was a new product announcement, website launch, or software/book release every time I turned around. In reviewing news items since last January, I have picked five things that I believe have affected the field more than anything else. Please note that these items are my opinion only, and in the interest of fairness I have excluded any contributions made by NEHGS (which have been extensive over the year).
5. Association of Professional Genealogists Surpasses 2,000 Members
While this may seem trivial to the average genealogist, I believe that this represents a significant benchmark for our field. The increasing numbers of individuals who are becoming serious genealogists signifies a growing professionalism for the field. It also shows an increasing market for the skills of professional genealogists and allied professions. While few professionals are able to make a substantial living off of full-time genealogy, the field is clearly moving more and more closely to that point. It also helps to bring respect from other historical fields which have, in the past, viewed the study of family history as the abode of amateurs only.
4. Ancestry.com Acquisitions
Ancestry.com made two interesting acquisitions this year. In August the company acquired the professional genealogy firm ProGenealogists, Inc. This allows the firm to move into the research and analysis end of the business. It also, of course, allows Ancestry to be even more active in their sponsorship of the Who Do You Think You Are? television series on NBC.
Just weeks later it was announced that Ancestry.com would acquire the parent company of Footnote.com. Another in a line of acquisitions of competing websites, this purchase provided access to a great deal of additional data, including the Revolutionary War pension files database. On the downside for the public, it decreases the genealogical market by removing another competitor.
3. Record Conference Attendance
The National Genealogical Society saw record numbers attend their annual conference this year. More than 2,000 genealogists gathered in Salt Lake City this May to improve their skills in family history. This is not solely due to the tremendous support of FamilySearch. Other conferences, such as the Southern California Jamboree (which saw almost 2,000 attendees if you include exhibitors and speakers), saw tremendous increases in attendance. Demand for education is clearly increasing. As people new to the field start researching and locating vast amounts of material, they are understanding the need for educating themselves on how to judge this material and how to interpret it.
2. Apple Launches the iPad
Since launching last January, Apple has sold almost 14 million iPads. With new versions predicted to arrive in April, as well as iPad imitators expected to be launched next year, the iPad is changing the way we interact with computers and software. While bulky programs have normally been the standard, new applications (Apps) are smaller, sleeker, less expensive, and still provide plenty of bang for the buck. The portability is unequaled, and with 3G models allowing access without a wifi connection, genealogists can conduct research virtually anywhere.
The iPad is only the latest installment of computer products digging away at the virtual monopoly that Microsoft has had on computers for decades. Apple computers are a steadily increasing segment of the market. Numerous genealogy-related apps are available for iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and the number is constantly growing. Even Ancestry.com has finally recognized this market and reinstated development of the Macintosh version Family Tree Maker that was discontinued years ago.
1. The New FamilySearch.org
More than any other event, product, or service in the genealogical community, FamilySearch is changing the way we research family history. With a pilot site, then a beta site, and the recent launch of the new FamilySearch interface, the access to images of original records is unprecedented. In addition to images of records, new indexes are launched quite frequently, providing easier access to information that may still be available only on microfilm or in original paper form.
The commitment of FamilySearch to improving research for genealogists is incredible. From top-level mangement down to programmers, I have rarely seen such a team committed to success. Even more appreciated is the commitment to listening to feedback and improving processes. This team is extremely committed to providing a high-quality experience for users, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been solicited for feedback by any group as much as this one.
Even more significant is the price. FamilySearch provides access to all of this material free of charge. Anyone and everyone is allowed to use the materials on FamilySearch.org without a subscription fee. One way many people give back is volunteering to assist in indexing projects. The more volunteers working on projects, the more quickly material will appear on the website. It will be tremendously interesting to see how this changes the business model of other non-profits or for-profit organizations in the coming years. Kudos to everyone at FamilySearch. We are truly grateful for everything that you do.