Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Top 3 Changes in Genealogy

I was speaking to a friend recently and she asked me what I thought the top changes were to genealogy in the last few years.  That made me pause as I had never really considered it before.  But what a great question!  Here are my nominees:

1) Awareness and Visibility 

Genealogy and Family History have become much more popular thanks to television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, History Detectives, Faces of America and African American Lives.  These particular programs have focused specifically on genealogy or history.  Family History has also made cameo appearances on popular television programs such as Top Chef.  All combined these shows have increased America's desire to seek out their family history and begin the quest to discover their roots.

2) Education and Outreach

The past few years have seen great, positive strides in educational opportunities and outreach accessibility.  One of the major new educational opportunities has been the establishment of the Certificate in Genealogical Research at Boston University.  Veteran genealogist Melinde Lutz Byrne, CG, FASG, is the director of the program.

Another great educational opportunity that has come up in the past few years is the ProGen Study Group.  Headed by Angela Packer McGhie, the study group is a peer group of genealogists who want a more formal process to help them with their transition to becoming professionals. It is quickly becoming one of the standards on the road to becoming a professional genealogist.

Another form of outreach includes greater accessibility to educational seminars through webinars.  Webinars bring genealogical seminars straight to your laptop.  That means that researchers who live at a distance from major educational centers can now receive training right from their home. The major providers of webinars at the moment are Legacy Family Tree, the Southern California Jamboree Extension Series and FGS.  There is even a GeneaWebinars calendar that allows you to track all upcoming webinars in one location.

The community has also discovered new methods of outreach in the form of internet radio programs.  Every Friday night genealogists can tune in to live discussion and chats on Geneabloggers Radio hosted by Thomas MacEntee.

3) Technology 


The ability to share genealogical interests and information has never been easier with a journal-like format available on the internet called blogging.  Blogging has taken the genealogical community by storm.  The genealogical blogging community is headed up by Thomas MacEntee at the Geneabloggers website. There are currently over 1500 bloggers registered at the site which aids the bloggers by providing daily prompts and how-tos.  Bloggers write about everything from their personal family history, geographic-specific genealogy, gravestones, ethnic genealogy and much much more. Blogging has become so popular that bloggers are now featured as special guests at many conferences such as the Southern California Jamboree.


While this is not scientific, I would venture to say that Facebook has been adopted more quickly and completely by genealogists than any other group.  Genealogists by nature are a spread out group of people.  Tools like Facebook help genealogists to get connected and stay connected.  A number of distant cousins have found each other serendipitously on Facebook.  Many genealogical organizations such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) also have pages on Facebook which can be followed by Facebook members.


Rapid digitization has revolutionized genealogy in recent years.  Major groups like FamilySearch and have harnessed the power of volunteers to index millions of records.  Some newly digitized records are freely available at FamilySearch and others are accessible on subscription sites like, and  The upshot is that researching your family history is easier than ever using the internet.  But make no mistake, it will take decades before we reach saturation point on the internet so keep using libraries and archives to access non-digitized records.

What do you think of my Top 3 list?  Do you agree with my list or would you suggest something else?


  1. Thanks for mentioning GeneaWebinars. The impact of online educational opportunities is astounding!

  2. Thanks for the various mentions and your support! Talk about serendipity - this week's episode of GeneaBloggers Radio is focusing on genealogy education!

  3. Very nice article, Marian!! As a graduate of the BU Genealogy program I appreciate the mention. It is still a fairly new program and word still needs to get out. It is a difficult and very time consuming program, but oh so worth it!! Keep up the good work and interesting articles.

  4. Looking at my aunt's research from 25 years ago and my own, I would say that genetics plays a part in mine and that certainly never crossed her mind. We have decided to both have tests done to see what comes up!

  5. I agree, though Technology is a huge category and is behind many of the big changes - more cooperative research efforts and cousin connections, access to previous research, etc. The big change I'd like to see would be equal standing with related spheres - history, sociology, demographics, and so forth.

  6. I totally agree with your top 3 choices. Technology has really changed how we can research since I started Genealogy over 25 years ago! I love the scanned original images and ALWAYS learn something new in an on line class or Webinar!

  7. Congratulations for it being picked up by The American Library Association.

  8. Without the changes technology brought to genealogy, I doubt I'd be as engaged.

  9. Marian,

    With the technology category, I'd add the ability of the software to easily generate a modified register report since I'd never have attempted to write a genealogy/history that became two volumes, 1650+ pages without that feature. As well, DNA provided a level of certainty that confirmed the paper trail and that was exciting.

    Cheers, Ray

  10. Hi Marian,

    RE: 2 Nov Brown/busting brick walls webinar question

    You mentioned you like to see original documents and travel to graveyards. In your unraveling Geoff's Nathan Brown ancestors, can you estimate the percentage of such original docs vs online resources - my guess most were not on the internet. Not too long ago most of the info needed would NOT have been on the internet. In this specific search, how much help was the internet? Educated guess is all I'm looking for as each case will be different but my paternal search for Whidden/Whitten is in New England, too: NH, ME, MA and NS in Canada.

    Needless to say since my maternal search is in Finland, I'm stuck to only using the internet, unless I can cultivate a Finlander willing to do some travel/searching there.

    Thanks for a great webinar - I'm getting the CD as there was too much to glean in one pass.

    Cheers, Ray
    Edmonton AB Canada