Thursday, June 06, 2013


There's a scene in Monty Python & The Holy Grail where the Dead Collector
is going through a village hit by the plague with a cart. One of the villagers
 tries to put a dead man into the cart, but there's one problem: the dead man
isn't dead. "I'm not dead!" he insists.

I thought about that scene yesterday after reading an article on The Verge
website. It's entitled "Who am I? Data and DNA answer one of life’s big questions"
It's an interesting article, especially the parts with Thomas MacEntee. But I'm not
in agreement with the writer of the article. Near the beginning she makes the
following statement:

"Genealogy’s next phase, which is quickly approaching, is actually its end game.
The massive accumulation, digitization, and accessibility of data combined with
recent advances in DNA testing mean the questions we have about our families —
who they were, how they got here, and how they’re related to us — will soon be
instantly solvable. Realistically, the pursuit of family history as it exists now probably
won’t be around in 20 years: most of the mysteries are disappearing, and fast."

Now as I mentioned a few posts back, I'm an online genealogist. I do most of my
research online. But I don't think that every single record from every courthouse
and archive in the world is going to be online in 20 years. I think it might happen in
50 years, but even then, I don't think that will sound the death knell for genealogy
as we know it. Nor do I think DNA testing is going to tell me how many of my
ancestors were blacksmiths. Heck, I've had a y-DNA test done and the only answers
were vague generalities that told me very little. It was like using a genealogical
"Eight Ball".

Let's say for the sake of argument they do get every document, every diary, every family
genealogy or local history scanned and online. It's not going to be the end of genealogy
It's just going to mean more things for us to hunt for, find, look at and analyze. It's not
just finding all that information that's important, it's understanding what you are looking
at and what it means for your family's history. Nor is having everything online going to
knock down all our brick walls. There will always be something left to find.     

I wish I could write a longer more philosophical piece about this, but I'm not that smart, and
the hour is late and my brain is turning to Swiss Cheese. There's the effect all this is going
to have on local genealogy societies and perhaps on professional genealogists. But  I think
you can get my gist from what I have been able to say in these ramblings.

Suffice it to say, to paraphrase Monty Python, genealogy's not dead yet, and not likely to
be for a very long time.


Susi's Quarter said...

Bill, I can not imagine, DNA data making genealogy dead, it only enhances the information to learn more.

I think as humans we are smarter than that.

Celia Lewis said...

Good post, Bill. Someone has done a huge leap in making such a statement, and it doesn't take into account our personal desire for the details which make each ancestor a human being with a unique life and times. Personally, I'd shrug and move on. Time will tell anyway.