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Genealogy in the Information Age

I have a definite vision for the future, not only of where it should go, but where genealogy is going.


The first stage is sharing information online. Now this may take the form of massive sites filled with submitted gedcoms or little homepages with one little family tree. The important thing is that people share what they know about their families with other people.


The second stage is syndication of genealogical data. Again, it is very important that people (not just companies) be doing this. I propose the Unity Framework for this, but that will be decided by history. Essentially, the idea is the same as RSS, a way of simply syndicating news or content. If I subscribe to a RSS feed, I have a program that stores the internet address for the RSS feed and every time I run it, it checks the address for new content or news. Genealogical syndication would be the same, except that I would instead subscribe to a Unity feed that someone online has syndicated. Whenever that person update the Unity feed, I am notified. There would be feeds for families, individuals or places. So if I subscribe to a feed on someone named Barnaby Allen, if the feed is updated, I am notified and can include the new information in my research.


The third stage is autosearch of resources. In this stage, programs or web services will actively search for new or updated information on the ancestors in a person’s GEDCOM file. When promising resources are located, the person will be notified. Providers of these “research assistants” will do better than others by making the search results most useful and accurate. Also, some sort of automated micro-payments system would eventually be built in, so that if I had a research assistant looking for data on Barnaby Allen (such as tax records, etc.), it could connect with backend systems of online data repositories which would then return to the research assistant items it thought were relevant. These results could then be individually purchased by me if I felt they would help. Subscriptions would also work, so I could always have transparent data access instead.


What I call “grid genealogy” is a culmination and evolution of the previous stages. Eventually, a new layer will exist on the internet, as web services following accepted standards that will encompass raw data and old records, personal and family records, etc. Companies, organization, and people will share whatever they have. At first, companies will offer the best ways to find information on the Grid but gradually there will need to be a central directory of all the resources, something like the root servers that direct traffic on the internet.


The final stage (that I can predict) is that by the end of the grid stage, with a central directory in place. We will start seeing a truly global family tree emerge in which what all the companies, organization, and people know will coalesce into individual and family records. Specific records. All the Barnaby Allens will become one specific Barnaby Allen. To manage the chaos surrounding the important data being assembled, agents will be appointed. If I find some information on Barnaby Allen, I will submit it to Barnaby Allen’s agent, a person that takes care of just Barnaby’s (or maybe his family’s) data. That person will manage the process of including, looking into, asking for clarification, or rejecting the submission I made. At this stage, family history software will essentially bookmark parts or nodes on the global family tree and you will instantly have what is known, live with the latest updates by the agents.