After having the illustrated Teams conversation with a colleague (which did continue with me giving details), I thought I would accomplish my dream of writing a post in under one hundred words, one that would prompt longer comments than the 61 words of the original post. So, readers, how would you say genealogy has changed in the last ten (or twenty) years?

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

27 thoughts on “Significantly

  1. For me genealogy has morphed from finding more ancestors to finding connections with cousins all around the country and the world. The human connections mean so much in these days of less person to person interaction.

  2. so you talking either 2010 or 2000, it has changed — more records on the ‘net. Genealogists don’t even realize where land records are kept – in the local court house. In Pennsylvania many of their land records are available on the internet – that makes searching much easier. Last night I was searching Germany/Polish records from where my BUCHHOLZ family came from — called the Poznan Project with marriage, birth and death records. Yes genealogy is changing every day; but I still plan to travel to my ancestors’ home lands/places because that is one of the parts of genealogy that I love– ties into my love for history

    1. Mary, I find only marriage records in the Poznzn-Project. Am I missing something?

      Christopher, for vital records in Poland, I use
      I make frequent use of the Norwegian National Archives online for my Norwegian line. All three of these free sources of information have helped me enormously.
      I don’t regret all the years and dollars spent doing genealogy by telephone, letter, and legwork, but, man, nothing beats the ease and availability provided by the Internet.

  3. In ten years: Tens of millions of tests later, DNA has become commonplace, and not finding matches is the exception rather than the norm. Genealogy Standards are now addressing DNA standards as well.

  4. In re; Significantly:
    Chris, I laughed at your laconic response to the question about how genealogy has changed.
    But consider the following. Do you know why you’ve never seen trained donkeys perform at a circus?
    (pause for your thought).
    Answer: Nobody likes a smart ass. 🙂
    I enjoy your columns and sense of humor.

    Duane Harding;
    hometown = Quincy

  5. The two biggest changes are obviously the vast number of records that have come online and DNA testing with matches, especially matches with reliable trees.

  6. Having access to original records via the internet has been the biggest change in genealogy, making it much more accessible to people who are unable to do the travel previously necessary to obtain the same records.

  7. Well, not to anyone’s surprise, the field of genealogy has changed due to the mass digitization efforts of archives, especially FamilySearch, the advent of consumer DNA products, the popularization of the field via TV, and the interconnections of family/friends via social media platforms.

  8. Digitization! Digitalization and the Internet have opened the World to wannabe and professional genealogists alike. The standards of evidence still apply, of course; but in a COVID world, they saved my sanity.

  9. 50 years ago it was all in person, or through snail mail. Scrolling through microfilm, no indexes when I started. SASE Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes when sending an inquiry letter which might take months for a reply. So then we had libraries, archives, courthouses, NEGHS, and the Genealogical Helper. Today I can search the UK Archives on line as well as most regional Archives. We have social, media and email and Zoom where I weekly have a chat with SHELDONs from the UK, NZ and North America. We have DNA services, Ancestry, Find My Past, My Heritage etc. We can collaborate o WikiTree and FamilySearch…it has been nothing short of revolutionary. And I can look through books on line at Archives, OpenLibrary etc. However much easier it is I think the experience of doing it the hard way has made me a better researcher. For those who haven’t done in person research….it is the best. You notice thi gs. You have conversations, you unearth old ledgers or maps. I love what I can do from home, but there’s nothing like the smell and feel of 13th C doucuments!

  10. Oh My Gosh . . . How hasn’t it changed? Internet, DNA, digitization; you name it. Still a lot to do . . . but we’re getting there. Sorry, but I’ve got less than 61 words here.

    Al Fisher

  11. Happy Thanksgiving, Chris! It seems to me that the two major changes in genealogy since I began really working in it – say mid-1990s – as opposed to first forays to the Western reserve Library in Cleveland c. 1968 are these: availability of resources on line, the enormous genealogical community, and the technology. In the first, from my desk in the American Southwest, I can British Record Office holdings, for example. or many archives in the US. The microfilm and catalogue functions on Family Search are amazing; if I need a particular book, there is Word Cat with the libraries where I can find it – or ask my library to borrow it (doesn’t always work). Then there is Google books, Archive, Hathitrust – and in going deep, JSTOR. AND, with all that, sometimes you still need to travel to a repository – as I did last week.

    Second, the genealogical community that supports these archives and various efforts is quite amazing. It can be a pain also, but the interest makes all the first possible. No longer are young historians told to avoid the genealogists in the archives : they talk! At a pre-Thanksgiving party, a young well-known historian spent some 10-15 minutes describing how he has downloaded hundred of his grandmother’s photographs via the Ancestry app on his I-Phone…and there, the third change.

    Certainly exceeding your succinct post, my 100+ word thoughts on your challenge.

  12. Genealogy has changed significantly in the last 10 years almost exclusively because of the access to affordable DNA testing. Scholarship has also improved over time.

  13. Genealogy research has changed significantly, some ways for the good, some not so much. Technology has provided the means and spurred the digitization of an enormous amount of material putting information at one’s fingertips making genealogical research easier. Those who’s immediate research carries them overseas have a better chance of finding relevant information without having to ask a not so enthusiastic relative or hire someone. The resources online enabling one to download documents, follow migratory routes, investigate historical events as they apply to relatives, discover long lost cousins via DNA, chat with or contact a professional genealogist, post family trees, etc. save time and shoe leather. There are however some disadvantages. Sadly, too often people do not take time to examine someone else’s research before accepting it as correct. Some seem happy to ignore the difference between primary and secondary sources vs someone’s family tree as proof of relationship. Others seem willing to accept the first plausible “hit” as gospel. All of which causes misinformation to proliferate. With that said, there are many of us who love the hunt, try to be as thorough as possible, are willing to help / share information with others, and make corrections to our trees as needed even if an entire branch falls off. All in all, genealogical research is much improved and allows many of us access to information as never before. Whew! That’s a lot more than sixty-one words.

  14. Quicker access to records. For example, finding someone in a federal or state census before could take an hour or longer, now takes a minute!

  15. Obviously the availability of a wide variety of records online is the biggest, bestest change. No more SASEs to ask questions or get vital records (which were only $3 in Connecticut in the 80’s). No more waiting 3 weeks for a film to arrive at the local FHC and having to fit into their tight schedule to see it, only to learn nothing. No more all-night lock-ins at the Historical Society so you could spend more time looking at censuses (but it was fun!) I can learn more in a 12-hr day off at my computer in my jammies than I could learn in a week-long trip to Hartford or Boston. I’m excited to see things like the special manuscripts collection at NEHGS become digitized because there are surely some one-of-a-kind treasures to be found.

    I haven’t yet gotten caught up in the DNA genealogy craze, only because I don’t expect it to help with my own line, and I worry about my data being “out there”. But it certainly has become an exciting resource as well.

  16. Hi Chris, after first beginning in 2007, I’m still much a beginner in the world of Genealogy. Aside from that. availability of more free sites helps, otherwise costs become a bigger factor(as I live in Central Valley of California, and Georgia and Pennsylvania are primary state s Gdparents on both sides to 4X grtgrandparents came from. DNA has shifted my focus somewhat, causing me to attempt tol contact my cousins noted on NDA results. also gives me DNA updates regarding information on these people, plus more detailed Regional location results(good feature). I am still learning. I use primarily & Family

  17. How about a jump in the number of people interested in genealogy? Today, everyone seems at least a little bit curious about their roots – enough to go on to take a DNA test. They don’t all sustain that interest, but I don’t recall people being so willing to glance at the subject before.

  18. I agree with the other posters who mention digitization and getting more done in a day on the computer now than in a couple of days going to archives as being significant changes. At the same time, though, I feel that there is something lost through all the digitization. My great-grandfather was a genealogist and left behind a compiled genealogy complete with pictures. I’d like to digitize that and try to source all of the information in there. My dad got letters every so often from genealogists, looking for information, who had heard he was the custodian of the compiled genealogy. My dad tried to help his correspondents, replied to them, and saved their letters with his grandfather’s work.

    The same great grandfather also wrote a history of the Pittsburgh neighborhood where a couple generations of my ancestors lived and where he grew up. By going to the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, I was able to see the manuscript of the history, see that it was bound the same way as the compiled genealogy and realize that we had copies of some of the pictures that were in the history, as well as some of my great grandfather’s notes and drafts of sections of the history.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.