The Future of Genealogy Software is not “Hard to See”

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Many years ago I was (incorrectly) singing the words to the song, “Que, Sera, Sera” and my wife pointed out my humorous mistake.

Instead of singing:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

I sang:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not hard to see

This personal joke has been used many times since then and has never failed to deliver a cheerful effect.

I think that the author and design leader, Bill Buxton, would agree that the “future’s not hard to see.” In his book, “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design,” Bill stresses the importance of looking at least 5 years down the road when designing user experiences and adds:

Now most people say that you cannot predict the future, much less five years out. They use this as an excuse for not making the effort, or even contemplating it. I believe that this reflects a lack of training, technique, or responsibility on the part of design or management. (page 209)

He then goes on to quote William Gibson from an NPR interview on 30 November 1999:

… the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.

Buxton gives two examples. The first computer mouse was built in 1964 but didn’t reach widespread use until about 1995 – 30 years later. The idea for the CD came around 1965 but it wasn’t until 25 years later in 1990 that the industry reached $1 billion. From idea, to design, to prototype, to first production, to ubiquity takes time.

Bill then makes this statement that I would like us to consider:

If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old. (page 215)

Innovation Future Timeline

 This made me wonder if this could be applied to genealogy software. What has happened over the last 10 years that could affect the design and innovation of genealogy software over the next 10 years?

At first nothing came to mind, but then I thought of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, “Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian” which was published in 1997. In 2007, the much expanded “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace” was released. We are now beginning to see specific examples of Elizabeth’s work showing up in genealogy software. In a podcast interview by Dick Eastman, Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens indicated that the software Clooz version 2.x was influenced by handouts she received from Elizabeth Shown Mills. Another example is from a podcast by DearMYRTLE where she interviews Geoff Rasmussen about Legacy version 7. In this interview, Geoff gives a sneak peek of one of the major new features which is source citation following the standard set by Elizabeth Shown Mills. There is still much work that needs to be done in this area such as online databases providing better source citations. I talk about this in my previous post about Jumping Curves. So you see, the future is not so hard to see.

Another area that I want to point out is the Genealogical Proof Standard which was also created in 1997 by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Other than its use in the certification process, you don’t hear much about it. But this standard is useful to researchers of all levels to help them get as close to the truth as possible. At some point genealogy software designers and developers will realize this and incorporate it into future genealogy software.

There are probably many more examples of ideas, technology, and methodology that exists today that will help us better see the future of genealogy software.

What things should be added to this list?

As a genealogy community, I hope we aren’t thinking:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

Share your thoughts as the future is ours to see.  I hope that is not hard to see.


  1. Use of XML to fix things like date ambiguity (format/what calendar), start some sort of “transcriber” source trail, and gosh knows what else in the current defacto standard data exchange format (GEDCOM).

    Even if a transcriber “source” only included an automatic date of the addition & last known edit it might be of help when the rest of the exchanged info was being evaluated out of context, as it were.

    Comment by Jim Davis — 19 Dec 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  2. You write so well that even a tech challenged grandma can understand!

    Comment by Gwen Slade — 20 Dec 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  3. Quite a while ago I gave up on trying to use a specialty genealogy programme to organise my research, primarily because of a widespread lack of support (by the programmes that I looked at) for citing one’s sources. This seems like such a basic thing! I found that writing up family history, be it cataloguing artifacts, explaining lineages, or whatever — and especially as I generally aim towards the print version — was much more easily accomplished using LaTeX.

    But I also want online collaboration, and multimedia support (not, of course, for the print version), and so these days I use MediaWiki. With its ‘Cite’ extension, it gives me everything that I want in terms of source citations, and such flexibility that I can do things just as I would wish.

    Of course, this doesn’t take into account the desire of many family researchers to share their information in a machine readable way. But I’ve never yet found the need for that…

    Comment by Sam Wilson — 1 Jan 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  4. Hi Mark!

    A while back, years in fact, I found a citation template for WordPerfect that applied the formats suggested in Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book. Alas, now that I understand it, I can no long find the little devil.

    Has anyone here seen it (or better, downloaded it)? I’d like to see if there isn’t a way to obtain it again and apply a programming language to assist in its implementation.

    Happy Dae.

    Comment by Dae Powell — 27 Feb 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  5. Good article! your site let me learn more. Thanks!Pls keep up to date.

    Comment by Oliver — 6 Jun 2008 @ 4:18 am

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