Over the past 25 years, family history research has changed from a largely individual pursuit to a collaborative one. Ben Bennett, in his presentation at the 34th Annual Conference on Family History and Genealogy at BYU, spoke of the concept of community in family history work today, which serves to eliminate duplication and promotes mutual benefit among participants.
Brother Bennett is chief of staff for patron services at FamilySearch, the Church's on-line family history service.
Back in 1985, when the Church's Family History Library was opened, it was common for a genealogy enthusiast to work in isolation with a pedigree compiled on a series of hard-copy sheets, records accessed via microfilm, microfiche or hard copy in a library.
By contrast, Brother Bennett noted, technology has changed family history work. From a personal computer one can now access more records than any library or archive has been able to provide in the past.
He quoted a 1947 statement from Archibald Bennett, president of the Church-owned Genealogical Society of Utah, who said: "A universal system of intelligent cooperation will bring together on one record sheet every fact in existence regarding a particular family. The wealth of data will ensure accuracy and can banish error. Expensive, time-consuming duplications in research and repetitions in ordinances will be eliminated. No sooner will a fact be uncovered in any part of the world by a researcher than it will be to the archived center and assigned its proper place on some family record."
"In a large degree we are starting to arrive at that future," Brother Bennett said. "We've seen some of that with New FamilySearch."
Yet New FamilySearch is not the end-all-be-all, he said. "What happens when you get to that end of the line and you can't find that next ancestor or there's a bit of information that you're missing?"
A key component in realizing the vision of Archibald Bennett is the notion of community, he said. An online community is illustrated by such cyber phenomena as Google and Facebook.
"The rules of community you already know," he said. "It's about relationships; it's about passing information that's helpful from one person to another."
He discussed three FamilySearch tools that foster such a community concept: the FamilySearch Forums, the FamilySearch Wiki and the FamilySearch course catalog.
The FamilySearch Forums (forums.familysearch.org) are organized by product-related and research-related questions. Users can first search the forums for answers to questions and, failing that, post a new question to the forums.
The FamilySearch Wiki (wiki.familysearch.org) presents the combined knowledge of thousands of researchers who post their learning on individual topics pertaining to family history research. To date, the Wiki has nearly 40,000 articles. Brother Bennett said that on average six community members review each page in the Wiki, which results in the content being refined and more accurate over time.
The FamilySearch course catalog presents online recorded training sessions taught by FamilySearch staff and well-known experts from the genealogical organizations.