The Future of Family History

During RootsTech 2013 there was lots of talk about the future of genealogy. Most of it revolved around technical advances and digital content being added at the large database sites. I was surprised that little was said about the impact of personal archives. While the large databases are a treasure trove of vital records, probate records, immigration records and such, personal archives are where the letters, journals, photographs, portraits and artifacts reside that add life and personality to our ancestors. I don’t know about you, but these items are the life blood of my research and storytelling efforts.

My family has been knocking around an idea to photograph many of the family heirlooms and create a book that would allow each of us to “share the heritage”. In researching what it would take to pull such a project together, I realized this could easily become a massive effort. In addition to ¬†lighting and photography equipment, wouldn’t it also be wonderful to have conservators and appraisers available to offer expert advice? Wonderful? Yes! Affordable? Not so much.

It was at that point that it dawned on me this would be a perfect project for a local historical or genealogical society. The societies have the expertise and connections for both digitizing and documenting family heirlooms. Putting on such an event would give them access to personal archives which would expand their knowledge base. And, they could ask for digital copies with appropriate releases as a part of the digitizing/documentation service. Then, there’s also the possibility for negotiating loans of artwork and other artifacts for special exhibits in museums. Individuals get digital copies of their artifacts along with conservation tips and some idea of their history. And, hopefully, everyone has some fun in the process.

Our mobile society means a small local genealogy society needs the support of distant members to survive and prosper. This is increasingly difficult when their record collections are only available in print format. Projects to digitize both the society’s collection and their members’ personal archives can go a long way to attract new members and create a vibrant community where both local and distant members can actively participate.

And, by attracting more people to the joys of genealogy, they will help the commercial side of our community too.

I hope the future of family history will become . . . even more personal.

2 comments for “The Future of Family History

  1. Tracy Whittington
    April 4, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Very interesting idea, Denise! I share my family photos through Ancestry with any other researchers, but heirlooms (via photo or appraisal, etc) had never occured to me. And of course Ancestry is limited to whomever you share your tree with. The only problem I see with the local genealogical societies is one you mentioned in your last paragraph – how many of us live where our ancestors were? I mean, if I’m in Connecticut, a local genealogical society is going to have little interest in my Nebraska ancestors. And the local Nebraska genealogical society is too far away to share items with, except electronically, and then we’re back to the Ancestry dilemma of making sure the people interested in your stuff actually see it. Thanks for bringing up the topic and getting me thinking about it!

    • Denise Barrett
      April 4, 2013 at 9:08 am

      You make a very good point. There are two key elements here . . . First, the society needs to embrace their distant members and provide online services and events which will allow them to actively participate in the society. Second, they need to make those collected and digitized personal archives available online. I don’t mind putting them behind a membership wall or offering them at a reasonable fee as long as they are accessible.

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