Tony Robinson speaking at Hyde Park.

Image via Wikipedia

And so the curtain falls once again on Who Do You Think You Are live for another year… Plenty of celebrity stardust scattered throughout the three days, not only in the main theatre, where Larry Lamb, Emilia Fox and Richard Madeley told us all about their experiences on the TV show , but also throughout the entire event – Tony Robinson, Eric Knowles, Valerie Singleton, Colin McFarlane and even Edward Fox popping up.


For me, Day 3 was relatively quiet, as I didn’t arrive until nearly 2.30; I was across London, answering a call from my football team who were short of players, so I missed out on most of the early action. Still, there was plenty of time to chat before my talk at 4.00 on the future of family history.


Given the advances we’ve seen over the last decade, it would be a foolish thing to predict where we’ll be in 2022; but I’ve tried to sketch out some of the main areas where we’ll see advances and changes in the way we do things, with outcomes and necessary steps to ensure we as a community have a say in the way they are shaped.


Broadly speaking, I suspect we’ll see a shift in the way datasets are digitised, transcribed and made available with greater emphasis on crowd sourcing transcriptions – so local experts work on local records – and cheaper digitisation ensuring that costs to the public to view images will eventually decrease to the point when they become free; this may happen relatively quickly, as long as we can find a way of ensuring archives generate an income stream or new economic opportunities, and the commercial players find new ways to make money.


This will impact on the technology they create, moving away from subscription models based on access to data, towards building the best experience for curating and archiving personal stories, records and trees, with emphasis on smart matching records with relatives, connecting people with stories and photos, facial recognition and personal archive platforms. It will not be long before developers are building mobile platforms and apps for smart phones and tablets rather than the traditional (dare I say old-fashioned?) laptops and desktops.


Another element to future genealogy will be the continued rise of DNA as a research tool, but equally as a way of finding where our ancestors came from at a place and population level. As access to and understanding of the human genome and proteome becomes more sophisticated, we will be able to ensure that the area between the direct male and female lines – the cousins, great aunts and great great uncles for example – can be checked and verified via scientific testing.


These advances will be made easier if – or rather when – we make family history a mainstream activity throughout the country, bringing it to a wider younger audience. With adaptation and emphasis on the skills and understanding that an investigation of our background brings, we can inspire young people from 7 – 18 to ask ‘who am I’ or ‘where am I’ so that they personalise their learning journey and develop knowledge that will apply throughout the curriculum.


Equally, ancestral tourism can become an important economic driver for growth as we build platforms and resources aimed at existing genealogists who want to visit places where their ancestors came from, as well as encouraging newcomers to investigate their roots; this will also appeal to an international audience.


However, to make this work we will need to co-ordinate and collaborate both within our sector – FFHS, SOG, AGRA, IHGS – to speak with one voice, and share a platform with representatives from local history (BALH), the world of archives (ARA, and the Community Archive and Heritage Group), and academia (with the Higher Education sector linked via groups such as the Historical Association). With one voice, we can advocate to central government more effectively as well as share resources and strategize more effectively on common areas such as education, economic growth opportunities and digitisation.


And final, I still managed to watch Liverpool lift the Carling Cup; though Cardiff were so desperately unlucky. Their time will come!


Now I’m off to hide in a darkened room for a week – I’m speaking on House History at Peterborough on Saturday 3 March, and will resume the blog the following week.


Bye for now


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