[Editor's Note: the following text was prepared for two on-air appearances in early January 2014: Bernice Bennett's Research at the National Archives & Beyond on BlogTalkRadio and a Fireside Chat at Mocavo with Michael LeClerc.]
Part of the problem I see with recent technology innovations in the general user population is that these same technologies are either a) not relevant to genealogy and family history research OR b) are not yet ready to be embraced by the genealogy community.
That being said, many of the emerging technologies you could expect to see in 2014 will most likely have some impact on us as genealogists:
Tablets and Mobile Devices
More and more users will be purchasing tablet type devices meaning tablet computers and multi-purpose devices such as the Kindle Fire or the Samsung Galaxy. There is a trend towards “2 in 1” devices such as tablets that convert to a laptop etc. Genealogists are starting to use these devices for “portable research” meaning they can have a virtual research assistant at their fingertips especially when they visit an archive or repository.
Of course, not every repository will allow such devices – remember to call ahead and ask (don’t rely on websites which might not be updated). Genealogists don’t want to be tied down to a computer at the archive – they want to use their device which might be loaded with Evernote, their genealogy database software, their files, scanned documents, photos etc.
In addition, genealogists are using these tablet-type devices to do more and more scanning or capturing of documents. Applications like CamScanner and Ancestry.com’s Shoebox make this possible.
Look for continued growth in the area of DNA testing for ancestry and genealogy purposes. While we’ve seen one company – 23andMe – forced to stop marketing its product as testing for understanding personal medical issues – use of DNA testing by established genealogists will continue to grow. In addition, DNA testing will be one of the key “hooks” to bring newcomers into the genealogy and family history market.
Look for these advances in the area of DNA:
- more webinars and educational materials to understand the DNA results
- better and easier ways to connect with other testers to share results and share research
- new tools such as the X-Matches feature at Family Tree DNA (See X Marks the Spot at The Legal Genealogist)
Big Data and Predictive Data
“Big Data” continues to be a big topic and one that has a big impact on genealogy.
When it comes down to it, the major vendors in the genealogy space are really just “big data” companies. Ancestry.com’s main asset is its collection of over 10 billion records. When you think about it, Ancestry and other companies take two approaches to monetizing their records: 1) they provide ways to “easily” search the records and find your ancestors; and 2) they “gamify” the process of doing genealogy by letting you build family trees, connect with other researchers, share information with family members etc. This “gamification” is key because much of it represents work performed by members and users which is then uploaded and incorporated into Ancestry’s growing database.
So look for new ways to work with data which could mean:
- reindexing of data sets including new fields added to the original index (occupation added to a US Census which was not part of the original index)
- advanced story telling such as how Ancestry is using its new Story View to bring many different data points together so users can get a better idea of an ancestor’s life
- use of “pinning” either to maps/geography programs or to story board similar to Pinterest; one concern will be copyright and how vendors can control any “leakage” of records out to sites like Pinterest
Protecting one’s privacy became an even bigger challenge given the revelations about the NSA and metadata / phone surveillance here in the United States. One emerging trend in 2014 will be the creation of “personal clouds” which are self-hosted. This means instead of placing your data on Dropbox or Box and accessing it from various devices, you will create your own cloud site and make it private.
One thing that we as genealogists don’t do is document our own lives and experiences. Perhaps because we are so focused on documenting the lives of our ancestors, we suffer from the “cobbler’s children have no shoes” syndrome.
There are many apps and programs available under the category of “life streaming” and some would say that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms can serve this purpose of assembling a personal diary. But the keyword is “personal” – many of these sites are very public. One program I’ve discovered is called One Sentence Diary which helps you keep a personal diary with each daily entry limited to 300 characters a day.
One twist you could see: having these apps used to develop an ancestor diary. Already there are “historical Twitter accounts” that actually tweet diaries of the famous and not so famous. It isn’t so far-fetched to think that genealogists sitting on a collection of ancestor diary materials might take to these platforms to share information about their ancestors. Also, look for more and more methods of keeping a personal journal and more genealogists using these tools for their own life streaming projects.
This is a difficult topic for which there isn’t, nor should there be, a catchy title: how do you handle cleaning out the home of a parent or loved one after they die or they are placed in a care facility? Having been through this journey myself, I struggle with the terminology. “Boxing up a life” seems so cold but there is that aspect to the process.
Especially as Baby Boomers begin dealing with this process, they also come to the realization that someone will have to do the same for them in 20 or 30 or more years. Any technology that can simplify the “tracking of items” or assist with organizing and scanning documents and images will be more and more attractive to everyone, not just family historians. This is a growing niche and its own industry – how to settle an estate, disperse family mementos yet also celebrate a person’s life through storytelling. Look for specific apps and platforms geared towards this problem and providing solutions.
And once you’ve gathered research and information on a loved one or an ancestor, how do you make sure it is preserved and shared with others? There are so many choices for storytelling out in the marketplace that most are overwhelmed. One thing you’ll see develop alongside technologies – such as ReelGenie and Saving Memories Forever – are Facebook groups and educational offerings to assist users in telling the best story possible. Both video and audio will be popular and highly shareable with family members.
A trend for 2014 is having stores use “beacon technology” which would sense smartphone signals of shoppers (which their permission) and alert them to sales and specials at store end caps etc.
So why couldn’t this technology be used at genealogy conferences (where an attendee is notified of a special event on the expo hall floor) or at a library like the Family History Library? Example: you are walking the stacks and you have your surnames and research data set to receive “signals” related to available resources.
While Google Glass is getting all the attention as of late, the general trend is towards devices that are getting smarter about where we are and what we want. Google Glass uses for genealogy could be as simple as viewing a tombstone and finding information about the person buried to viewing entire genealogy presentations.
Mocavo announced in late 2013 that it was developing a way to scan handwritten documents and have the image converted to “searchable text” much like current OCR (optical character recognition) used in digital scanning. If successful, this would prove to be a boon to not just genealogists but any history researchers. Add a translate feature for foreign language (like Old German) and we’ll see major advances in the development of record sets and access to historical records.
Innovator Summit – RootsTech
One of the areas where the genealogy sphere falls behind is in bringing the technology and business worlds into the fold. The new RootsTech Innovator Summit on Wednesday, 5 February 2014 in Salt Lake City – the day before RootsTech begins – seeks to solve this problem.
©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee