Nearly fifty years ago, one of the most popular television franchises began with the short-lived series, “Star Trek”, the science fiction story of a spaceship called Enterprise, its crew and their galactic mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. It only survived three years on first run television, but then gained cult status through re-runs, to become one of the most popularly enjoyed series in television history. Twenty years later after several feature films and fan conventions, a second version was introduced to an already adoring public, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (commonly known as TNG). After a successful seven-year- run, it too began a string of popular movies and the franchise grew.
Additional series spin-offs were generated clear into the 21st century, until today, “Star Trek” is part of our national lexicon. Ask anyone if they remember Captain Jim Kirk and “Spock”, or Captain Jean luc Picard and “Data”, and most likely they will be able to tell you all about the adventures of the Starship “Enterprise” and its various crews. What does this have to do with Genealogy?
Inspiration of Technology from an Imaginary Future
The Star Trek phenomenon became a source of imagination and inspiration for viewers across America and throughout the World. Many of today’s technologies and inventions came from ideas illustrated on this series and its popular sequels. For millions of young Americans, what had been “impossible” for an earlier generation became today’s reality. Star Trek “scanners” are our hand-held pocket cellphones that can seemingly be used almost anywhere; operating as communication devices across the globe, in addition to being a camera, radio, TV, movie house, record player, and personal computer all in one, and as common today as bread and butter. The talk in media today is the developing magic of “3D-Replication” similar to the duplication science that existed on the Starship Enterprise and medical devises being created with that 24th Century technology in mind, where disease and hunger have been eliminated.
Many scientists in today’s space technology began life as “Trekkies” with their imaginations filled with the ideas and hopes to travel through Space and discover new worlds, and peoples. And this same desire for discovery has touched other fields and their use of the burgeoning technology.
The Effect of Technology on Genealogy Research
Remarkably, genealogy has also been impacted by this “Star Trek” mentality. When I was a young man, in the 1960’s and 70’s, microfilm was the “new technology.” It was a product that had developed out of World War II science, and the LDS Church was photographing millions of pages of documents in both the United States, and in countries throughout the World when I first became interested in family history. After acquiring academic degrees in both History and in Genealogy Technology from Brigham Young University in the early 1970’s, I became a Professional Genealogist, studying file cabinets full of these microfilmed documents made available by the Church Family History Department.
My first job as an employee of the Family History Department, I was assigned to seek out new records throughout the United States. It was like I was following the directive of the Starship Enterprise… “to seek out new worlds and boldly go where no man has gone before.” At that pre-computer day, the extent of our growth in technology was limited to determining how to transfer microfilm images to the smaller microfiche format, and make information more accessible to more people through indexing. Technology began to be very important in genealogy.
Life imitates TV – But…
One of the Star Trek TNG episodes presented in the first season, called “The Neutral Zone” told of the Enterprise discovering an old 20th Century derelict Earth vessel in deep space containing the frozen bodies of three people. Through the miracle of science fiction, they were able to defrost this cargo, and bring them back to life. After helping them adapt to the idea that they were now in the 24th Century, and that everything they had understood before had changed, one of them, a woman, began to grieve for her family, now hundreds of years long gone. Diana Troi, the ship’s counselor, sat down and began to talk with her about her concerns. She suggested asking the ship’s computer for information about the woman’s sons and their descendants. Upon telling the computer the needed information about names, dates, and places, the computer began producing screen images of descending pedigree charts. (Does that sound familiar???? Don’t you wish we could just call up the computer and voila, you have a correct family tree!!!) Eventually, they discovered the names, and pictures, of now living descendants with whom the woman might meet and establish new familial relationships. Now, we knew it was science fiction then, but with all the advancements in online technology in the generation since TNG, life has a way of imitating TV. Sometimes before it is true… “Beam me up Scotty,” ain’t so – yet.
An interesting misconception that we heard back then about television, and that we hear today about the Internet from many nave users, is that if it is on-line, it must be true. Even more surprising is the realization that most people believe that if they find it on-line in a digitized format, it might be true. (You know all those online undocumented family trees posted and quoted everywhere!)
Television and computers of today are principle sources of modern news and social instruction. A great number of the people who have contacted me about genealogy research, have come to believe, by what they have heard or seen on television and the Internet, that family lines should be easily available, just as it was on “Star Trek”. I have to educate them that technology isn’t there yet, and that the Internet is still just scratching the surface with digitizing and indexing records on the computer.
Digitization and Indexing
When I was a young genealogist, U.S. Census Records were just being microfilmed by the federal government, and indexes had not yet been created. A search of the 1860 Census of New York City seemed like an impossible task because it entailed reading the dozens of unindexed rolls of microfilm, all hundreds of pages long apiece, page by page, and name by name taking countless hours. Today, with new technology, all U.S. Census records have been digitized and published on computer sites. Electronic and human indexers have created extensive instant indexes that can all be search on-line. I can search in just minutes what it used to take days or weeks to search (if the indexer got it right – but that is an issue for another day…)
FamilySearch.org, the digital website for the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has for the past year and longer, been digitizing hundreds of millions of pages of documents from both original records sources, and microfilmed documents in their records storage. The goal is to have transferred all of their microfilm information to digitized/indexed media within ten years.In addition to FamilySearch, web sites such as FindMyPast.
com, Ancestry.com, ScotlandsPeople, and literally scores of genealogy-related websites can be found on-line, providing either free or for a small subscription fee, a vast number of digital images of original documents or abstracts and digital indexes of such information. Technology is changing how we do genealogy research. Star Trek here we come!
Each year FamilySearch, an arm of the LDS Church Family History Department, hosts a winter genealogy conference in Salt Lake City, Utah called “RootsTech/Where Families Connect” to encourage and share discussions about new and developing technologies relating to genealogy and family history. Classes are presented for the Techie, Trekkie, and ordinary non-scientific genealogist, who just want to learn what is new and where the family tree world is going. Registration information is available at RootsTech 2014 – February 6-8, 2014.
DNA Studies and Genealogy
“Star Trek” in the TNG 24th Century stated that our personal and family history could be found in our genes. Today, the science of DNA and Genetics is growing by leaps and bounds in providing family historians and the personal genealogist with clues to ancestry through our DNA. DNA technology and databases are becoming available on-line to help discover family relationships and connections all over the World.
The day has not yet arrived when we can address our computers and ask for a completed genealogy from our past. But that day is coming. In the meantime we can search and use the available records. We can volunteer our skills to assist in indexing hundreds of databases that can be made available to the public through FamilySearch.org. The more we are willing to do, the sooner we will be able to say… “Beam me up, Scotty”… and “Beam my family up, too.”
James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (www.Heirlines.com), the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.
For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including expert family tree research, LDS family history assistance, and answers to genealogy questions, please see Heirlines website www.Heirlines.com, and blog Heirlinesprofessionalgenealogy.com. For more genealogy and family history help and advice, please follow James W Petty, AG, CG and Heirlines Family History & Genealogy on Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+.
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