Genealogy in the 21st Century

This web page contains three topics:

Improving Technology: Does it Improve Research?

A futuristic genealogy concept appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation several years ago. In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise rescued some frozen space travellers from the 20th century. One of the rescued people wanted to return to Earth and find her descendants, if any. The computer then was asked to present her genealogy for the elapsed 400-year period, which it did, locating a many-times great grandson in California! Although there is nothing like this available now, many technological advances have been made over the past few years. The impact of these advances on genealogical research is huge, and has both positive and negative effects.

The Internet

The Internet has opened up a vast amount of information to the researcher. This information is so overwhelming that it is difficult to evaluate for reliability. It's also ephemeral in nature. URLs change, terms of use change, licenses change. Be sure to note the date you accessed an online source, and be sure to download or print important references.

In general, genealogical information on the Web comes in the following forms:

When used properly, this information is very valuable and will greatly facilitate your genealogical research. When used indiscriminately, it will destroy the validity of your work.

Online Records

We took for granted the ability to microcopy (on film, fiche, or card) old records and books. The availability of microcopy increased the researcher's access to records as well as improving our ability to preserve these records, but only a small fraction of the records needed for genealogical research have been microcopied. Now, these microcopies, as well as original documents, are being digitized. Entire record groups have been digitized, indexed, and placed online. New record images appear daily on the major subscription sites, such as,, and There's even good news for those of us who prefer a no-cost option. FamilySearch provides an incredible collection of records on its website, all free of charge. They hope to have their their complete microfilm holdings online by 2020.

Increased access to these digitized copies of original records cannot help but improve family history research. What possible negative effects could this have?

The Personal Computer

The personal computer, and the ever-growing group of more portable devices, especially when paired with the digital camera, has greatly increased storage and dissemination of information. Software programs to handle your own personal genealogical research have proliferated, making it much easier to keep track of your family history and research notes. More sophisticated programs allow you to fully document all research and print out reasonable narratives, family group sheets, and descendant charts. Some of them allow you to export the material in HTML (hypertext mark-up language) format for publication on the Web. All of them allow you to export your data to other computers or import your data from other researchers. Ancillary programs, such as spreadsheets, have the potential to improve your ability to analyze data and monitor research progress. Surely there can be no negative aspects to the personal computer!


Does this improved technology improve the quality of research? In a word, no. Ultimately, the quality of your research depends upon your adherence to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

A point may be considered 'proved' if:
Keep an open mind. New evidence could invalidate your conclusions at any time.

Continuing Education

This class has discussed many of these online holdings, but students need to be aware that the growth in online digital images is phenomenal. Keeping up with changes is a fulltime occupation. Here are my recommendations for continued education.

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Ancillary Tools

Digital photography, graphics editing, scanning, and miscellaneous photography topics
Creative online presentations of your family history
The spreadsheet: powerful tool for data analysis and monitoring your research progress
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Evaluating the Ideal Genealogy Program

In an ideal world, one genealogy program would meet the needs of every user; but, there are as many different needs in genealogy as there are genealogists, and one computer program will not be able to satisfy all of us. After many years of evaluating genealogy programs, I chose The Master Genealogist, from Wholly Genes, Inc. as my personal genealogy program. Sadly, that program is no longer available, and like many TMG users, I'm pinning my hopes on the History Research Environment efforts. If you have not already selected your genealogy software, here are some program aspects to consider.

  1. The program you choose must be unlimited!
  2. The program should be easy to use
  3. Data entry should be as effortless as possible
  4. Output to your word processor file is necessary for all reports.
  5. Company back-up
  6. Talk to other users
For further program evaluation, you should consider your own genealogical computing needs. Are you...

The original researcher must consider all of the following:

If you are the designated "family historian," you may not need as many research-oriented options, but you should consider these aspects of the program.

If you coordinate a one-name study or similar project consider the following:

For a reasonable overview of a lot of genealogy programs, check GenSoftReviews. With so many programs offering free trial versions, your best bet is to take some of them for a test drive.

A Few Genealogy Software Programs (alphabetical)
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Please mail comments and suggestions to Susan Johnston at Email me

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