Nowhere is technology more important and prevalent than in the current deluge of family history and genealogy work going on inside and outside of the Church. According to FamilySearch, it took 80 years for volunteers to index the first billion records completed around 2006. In six short years volunteers have completed the second billion. Why? Advances in technology have blown the doors off of the roadblocks that used to hinder rapid and accurate indexing. What’s interesting is that the industry is just getting started.
The RootsTech 2013 conference in Salt Lake City proved to be a great place to find the current technologies that will help family historians. The yearly conference hosted by the Church had a record 6,700 participants from 49 states and 17 countries attend. Last year there was about 4,000 attendees. The Church and several businesses from around the country is offering their own unique technologies to assist in family history work.
From the Church, the most recent offering is Family Tree. This free online program allows members and others to collaborate together in building family trees. “With the new technology available, I can contact my sister in Iowa and ask her to work together on a particular line that needs to be completed,” said Paul Nauta, manager of public relations for the Church. “In the near future, users will be able to add photos and stories.”
Another technological advance is the sheer number of new records being digitized every day. Because of the incredible work of volunteers, the Church adds 400 million new records each year. That’s an average of more than 1 million new records every day. Josh Taylor, a professional genealogist, author and keynote speaker at RootsTech 2013 said, “The most amazing development for 2012 in family history and genealogy was the release of the 1940 census records.”
An interesting development in family history research is the use of DNA testing to discover one’s ethnicity. John Pereira, senior vice president of DNA research at Ancestry.com explained, “One of the most common questions we get asked all the time is, ‘What’s my ethnicity?’ or ‘Where I am from?’ It turns out that the answer is in your DNA. It’s the key to discovering where your family is from and learning all about the places and cultures that make you who you are.” By comparing their unique DNA signature with DNA from others around the world, people can find out what matches exist to further define who they are and where their ancestors came from.
Once a person finds an ancestor, the personal stories about that individual become of great interest. One tool for family history researchers to find stories about their ancestors is a newspaper archive. With emerging technology, more and more birth records, obituaries, photos, classified ads, passenger lists and military records are now available. These records help historians begin to build stories about their ancestors. For example, RootsTech 2013 keynote speaker Josh Taylor, by researching newspaper articles, found out one of his ancestors was a world-traveling circus performer. A variety of companies provide access to newspaper archives for family history research.
One of the most unique uses of technology in family history work at RootsTech 2013 was from a Salt Lake company called Stories in Stone. For a fee, a person receives a QR-coded piece of porcelain, aluminum, glass or vinyl that can be attached to a headstone at the cemetery. With a mobile device and scanning software, an individual can visit a grave and scan the QR code to look at an obituary, video, music, photo or story about the deceased. In an instant family history is available in a new and interactive way.
Another focus of the conference was attracting young people to do family research. The key is technology. Jeff Wells, CEO of Funium in Lehi, Utah, created an online Facebook game similar to Farmville called Family Village. The characters in the game are one’s ancestors who inhabit a make believe city. A virtual museum in the city houses documents, photos and information about each real ancestor. By playing the game, participants earn awards that bring real documents such as newspaper articles, yearbook photos, and census and marriage records into the game. “Our goal is to create not only entertaining social games but also to make playing social games worthwhile,” said the game’s creator.
What about the future, what technologies might people enjoy for family history work in the not too distant future? A panel of experts at RootsTech 2013 discussed the future of technology and genealogy. The consensus was that the future lies in mobile devices.
“We have worked so hard as genealogists to be able to do family history work … at home; mobile [products] make it so we can turn around and go right back outside the door,” said Lisa Louise Cooke, a professional genealogist and panel member. Mobile devices allow family historians to do research on the go, outside the house and in person. Indexing, interviews, video, photos and research can be done by something that can be carried in a purse or pocket.