NOTE: Originally published in The Godfrey Update, Winter 2005 pp 16-19.
Back in 1998, Heritage Quest Magazine featured one of my DearMYRTLE columns titled "THE INTERNET, GENEALOGISTS & THE FUTURE" as the cover story for the Nov/Dec issue. As usual, it began with a letter from a reader:
From: An Inquiring Mind
I have begun studying my family history using the internet. Why is it that nearly every place I go requires a membership fee? Is this reasonable?
Would you believe that I continue to receive emails of this sort a few times a day from genealogy newbies all over the world? So, honestly, have things changed much for genealogists during the past 7 years?
YES, but people are still justifiably confused by the plethora of genealogy sites – some charging, some not. Quite frankly a Google™ search returning "about 7,340,000 hits for Smith family in 0.70 seconds" is daunting to say the least. But if I were to rate the future prospects for genealogical research, I’d give it "two thumbs up."
Let’s compare some of my 1998 predictions with what has happened, and at the end, I’ll throw in a few new predictions. As fast as things are happening in the world of genealogical technology, you can bet it won’t be another 7 years before we’ll need another update.
ADVERTISING IS A NECESSARY EVIL BUT -- In 1998 I stated "The real fact is it costs money to run a web site. Someone has to pay for it. If genealogists aren’t willing to pay subscription fees to offset costs, then advertising is the alternative." I recall mentioning that I don’t mind looking at an add for peanut butter sandwiches as long as the jelly doesn’t spill on my computer.
Little did I know it would be "cookies" not "jelly" that could take over my computer and slow things down to a crawl. I quite simply didn’t anticipate how insidious the advertising would become in 7 years. I particularly detest the banner ads made to look like real Windows ® operating system warnings, such as "Your computer has a deadly virus, click here to fix it (or else!) If you make the innocent mistake of clicking something other than the X to close the window, you are taken to an offensive site, and within a matter of minutes, your computer is dilled with literally hundreds of unseen "cookies" that report your every move on the net to web advertisers.
Just as we all remember the olden days when people didn’t bother to lock their cars or front doors, so too were we living a life of "internet innocence" back in 1998. Now, SPAM is no longer just a type of processed meat that comes in a can, and SPIM (SPAM Instant Messages) mar our view of the information super highway with raunchy invitations that would make a sailor blush. Keeping our computers clean and functioning at capacity in this day and age requires careful attention to activating a firewall, adding spy software (life Spyware Blaster & SpyBot) and setting up automatic anti-virus updates and daily scans with programs like McAfee and Norton AV, augmented by periodic online scans offered by specialists like www.pandasoftware.com
MEMBERSHIP FEES SOMETIMES REQUIRED – In 1998 I states, "In my opinion, certain websites are justified in charging for the presentation of genealogical material, especially where there are acquisition, programmer and royalty fees that must be paid. However, this is not to discount the incredible amount of valuable free information out on the Net." I still agree with this, and to every genealogist’s delight, we’ve had an incredible influx of reliable index databases and scanned image web sites. If we walked into an ancestor’s distant courthouse, we’d be paying for gas (currently over $2 per gallon,) food, and lodging in addition to photocopies, so why not speed up the process using online resources" Using major credit cards over secure servers removes the once cumbersome process of making payments via snail mail with fluctuating foreign currency exchange rates. I still recommend subscribing to www.Ancestry.com and www.genealogy.com.
Newcomers of note since 1998 (in no particular order) will be listed in the next part of this lengthy article.
Happy family tree climbing!
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