The growth of indexed family history records has allowed the development of new family history experiences. The goal of a variety of companies has been to allow individuals with less genealogical experience to have success.
Ancestry.com was one of the first to introduce what I call their “Shaky Leaf” hinting process. When customers add data to one of their tree products they then have leaves that shake on the individuals that were added to inform them that there is more information about that ancestor. Clicking on the leaf takes them to other trees or records that may be about their ancestor.
More recently companies like My Heritage and Mocavo have introduced continuous searching capabilities. They will search against not only what their users have in their trees, but also will let their users set up pre-defined searches that will notify them when a new match is found. In a world where more than a million new records are put online each day this is essential unless a researcher wants to log on to many sites each month and redo each search on a repeating basis in case the ancestor is in a newly published record set.
My Heritage has also introduced facial recognition software. When a customer adds a photo they will use facial recognition to match with photos added by other customers and suggest where there is a match. This can allow information added by two different family members, who may not even know each other, to be matched and allow their customers to find new photos of their ancestors as well as new ancestral information.
For some time Ancestry.com has been allowing individuals to upload photos and stories about ancestors. This has become a very popular feature on their site.
FamilySearch introduced an online fan chart. This has been incredibly popular among their users as a way to view and share their family information. FamilySearch has also been doing limited testing of photos and stories. You can see what they are doing at FamilySearch.org/photos. You can upload photos and stories, tag them, and attach them to individuals in FamilySearch’s collaborative tree.
The indexing of so many names and the development of a number of robust online trees is the beginning of many new experiences like those I have listed above. While we are not yet in a world of easy research, we are seeing technology increasingly used to make family history more fun, accessible, and easy to do. Individuals can already find records without a firm understanding of record jurisdictions. This is a substantial step forward in making family history more accessible. As automated searching, matching, and hinting improve, family history will become more and more accessible.
There are a number of hurdles ahead. The greater record accessibility and automation is likely to result in more incorrect conclusions as individuals with less knowledge of genealogical research rely on technology that is not yet perfected. Experienced researchers will need to watch for this and correct these errors when they occur.
Even with the challenges, we are entering a brave new world of experiences that connect us with our ancestors and allow us to succeed and share in ways never before possible. I can’t wait to see what is next!
Don Anderson is Sr. Vice President at FamilySearch, and Director of The Family History Library in Salt Lake City.