Irish Roots

February 1st, 2010

John Grenham


Anyone who has ever done extended family history research that covers the same records again and again has a similar fantasy: “We’re all ultimately related. So surely someone else from a distant branch has done this research before”. Or perhaps “I’ve hit a brick wall. Surely another branch must have family traditions or documentation that can take the family back further”.

It’s not just fantasy, though. Numerous times I’ve stumbled across research that opened up new research possibilities and threw light on existing research. And once, just once, I won the genealogical Lotto by connecting a 19th-century Canadian marriage (not in my own family, unfortunately) to a 30-generation pedigree of the McDermotts of Coolavin.

The problem is that finding unpublished research like this before you end up duplicating it has always been a matter of luck. A constant lament of professional genealogists is the decades of overlapping and complementary unpublished pedigrees lying dead in old research files. Once the digital revolution began a few decades ago, the hope was that computers could resurrect and connect them. But large investment would have been needed, there were privacy and copyright issues, and a huge amount of research would have had to be digitised before any appreciable benefit could be seen.

That’s all beginning to change. “Web 2.0”, shorthand for the cheap, fast and ubiquitous broadband availability that has led to such online social networking phenomena as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, has also produced an explosion in the number of collaborative genealogical databases. These are, in effect, on-line stores of family information that allow users to upload, edit and correct family information. Because of the so-called “network effect”, the information they contain is generally several orders of magnitude more accurate than older, paper-based research. Soon, finding other people’s research will no longer involve luck.

More about specific services next week.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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