Q: After twenty-five years of research I'm ready to put my information "out there." Two hundred years from now, I expect at least one or two descendants or cousins will catch the genealogy bug, and I don't want them to have to pay big bucks for CD's or subscribe to some multinational corporation's genealogy website to get the information. What is the answer? -- Charles
A: In two hundred years the Internet, if it is even still called that, will hold no resemblance to what we presently use each evening for our own research. In just the last ten years we have had dramatic changes in the world of online genealogy. In fact, some of the online avenues that many of us began researching with no longer exist.
There are a number of things you can do to share your information, some for contemporary sharing and others to stand the test of time. Of course, depending on where you want to submit your research will affect the format that you will need to have it saved in.
Paper is still our best publishing method.
There has been much discussion of late by individuals who have contacted me in this regard. Many of them are leaning towards placing their family history on CD-ROM and then submitting this to a library. I pointed out that few libraries would accept such a submission.
Saving a family tree to a CD-ROM is appealing because it is such an inexpensive manner in which to publish that family history. Unfortunately, such a published family history is a temporary resource at best.
While we have been told the shelf life of a CD-ROM is one hundred years, that is in optimal situations. Few of us live in those optimal situations, and if we are using that CD-ROM with any regularity, it is certain to have problems eventually. Most of us have discovered problems with discs that we have used repeatedly over a few years.
The technology has changed since CD-ROMs first came out for genealogy. The original discs that some of us bought can no longer be viewed because the software needed to view the program is outdated. Even though many companies have published data on CD, often you need a special viewer or program to access the information.
Each of us is just a single researcher. Now, take that and multiply it for libraries. How many researchers routinely go to your little library? How about the Family History Library?
Of course, when you are sharing with the family, publishing to a CD-ROM is an excellent method. It allows you to share the information inexpensively. Many researchers I know create a Web site of sorts that they save to CD-ROM. Because it is in a HTML format, anyone can view it using a browser without any special software.
Just don't let this be your only method of publishing.
While we flock to the Internet en masse, we should remember that it is constantly changing. Just thirty years ago, it was limited to those in certain fields like the military, education and government. Now it is available to the world, but even since its unveiling to the public, it has undergone some major changes.
During those first few years, the information was all typed. As genealogists, we happily uploaded transcribed lists of records and shared our own research. However, today we are using more and more digitized records, such as the census records made available online.
Just as computers will change in the coming years, so too will the Internet. What we now have available may not even exist in the future. If we do not constantly update the data to the next level of technology, it will be lost to future researchers.
The strength of the Internet is that it assists you in your active research by allowing you to easily share information with fellow researchers. Through other genealogists all over the world, you come in contact with individuals you may not have known existed without the Internet. It offers you the ability to correspond quickly, thus achieving more research progress in a shorter amount of time.
Books and Microfilm
How many of us have been to a library recently where we opened a book that was published in 1888 or earlier? The stamina of paper transcends technology. Libraries work hard to preserve the books. Some, like the Family History Library, microfilm those books to further preserve them. I doubt any of us will be able to claim in the year 3001 that we are using a CD-ROM that was published in 2001. There are some discs that were published a mere ten years ago that cannot be used on our present systems.
Books and microfilm continue to be our one constant. I was at the Family History Library recently and found I could crank through those microfilms made in the 1960s as easily as I could those recently done in the 1990s.
If your goal is to preserve your research for the generations that come, then the only answer is a book. Few libraries have room for our research files, though I know many of them that would love to have such files. They do have room for another book. And if your goal is to share with as many people as possible, then submit your book to the Family History Library and authorize them to microfilm it for sending to Family History Centers.