Are We Entering The Genealogical Dark Ages?

Warning: This blog post contains A LOT of opinion pieces.  In this post, I am responding to this article, entitled The Coming Genealogical Dark Ages on the Mormon Times website.  To help you understand this blog post more, please read the article first.

So are we entering into the genealogical dark ages?  Are our ancestors’ lives doomed to forever be undiscovered?  Will all the records be destroyed?  Will we stop appreciating the stories and memories of our elderly ancestors?

Well…. Yes and No.

There is no doubt that things can sometimes seem pretty bleak in the world of preservation and historical access.

  • States are beginning to restrict access to vital records.  I can understand restricting vital records to a degree but restricting them for a ridiculously long amount of time (like 150 years) seems overdone.   While some restriction is understandable, it is important that we don’t let fear take over.  We need an open, candid discussion between the politicians and historians so that we find a happy medium where everyone is happy.
  • Curt B. Witcher made the claim that courthouses are undergoing “random sampling” in which they keep a random sample of records and destroy the rest.  While I’ve never heard of this, I sadly do not doubt it.  More libraries, archives, and societies need to create space and become dedicated to preserving these records.  It is also important that more copies of documents are made – be them digital, print, microfilm, or another medium.  If anything were to happen to the original, at least we will have a copy.

But while things can seem really bleak, there are moments when I just know the we are in the midst of the genealogy enlightenment.

  • Genealogy is beginning to go mainstream in the media.  TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are and BYU’s The Generations Project are bringing awareness of genealogy to people who may not have cared about their family history.  More and more people are wanting to connect with their ancestors and histories.  More people are asking questions.
  • More and more records are online than ever before.  Companies like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are digitizing and putting records online for easy access at home.  Volunteers are societies, archives, and even at home are indexing records.  It really is amazing how much information is at our fingertips.
  • Genealogists are constantly fighting for record access and preservation.  And we will continue to fight.

My take on this is that genealogy is NOT doomed.  I think that is just too much of a “glass half empty” point of view.  What do you think?

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3 Responses to Are We Entering The Genealogical Dark Ages?

  1. I’m with you, Elyse. While there’s a certain paranoia going around regarding access to public records, there’s also a wonderful rebirth of genealogy happening. “Who Do You Think You Are?” deserves a lot of credit for that in recent months, but also hobbies like scrapbooking are creating new interest in preserving personal history. Best of all, what’s out there can be so much more easily shared now. I love that my second, third, fourth cousins, etc., and I are researching as a *team* now, just by sharing links to each other’s trees on Ancestry.com.
    Tracy´s last blog post ..Madness Monday- The Crandall Bible

  2. When I first read this article I was a bit freaked out. Thinking of all the unsearched and undiscovered records of my ancestors being destroyed to make room for new records was horrifying. But the more I thought about it, the more ‘Chicken Little’-esque it seemed. Undoubtedly some records are being destroyed over space concerns, but it’s not like every courthouse in America is going on a burning spree. There are many places that have digital copies, and the LDS church has many people out filming and archiving and indexing records every day, on top of what genealogy societies and other companies are doing. While some data may be lost, I think we’ll end up preserving much more than we lose. Knowing my luck, though, it’ll be my ancestors’ records that end up getting the torch. :/

  3. Two thoughts: I agree with Brandt, and add that there are many counties creating their own archives, where older county records are deposited for public access and research. This is a solid good thing.

    Secondly, it just amazes me how paranoid the record keepers at city and county and state levels are getting. Good grief — what identity thief is going to pay even ten or fifteen bucks to get one record when one good dumpster dive behind your average careless business (or even governmental office) will yield much, much more for free? It just boggles me.

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