Genealogy: 20 Minutes per Week

Posted On: March 14th, 2009 | Posted by: Dean

I have a difficult time staying on track with my family history research.  I’ll spend a few hours at it one evening and make some real progress, but by the time I get back to it three weeks later I’ve forgotten where I left off.  As a result, I don’t move forward as efficiently as I could.

I started Genlighten as a partial solution to this challenge.  I hope to reduce the momentum-stealing wait for records held by remote repositories from about 4-6 weeks to more like 4-6 days.  The key to this is building out a network of local researchers with access to those repositories who can retrieve genealogical documents quickly (and affordably.)

Charles Knutson of BYU’s Computer Science Department is building a tool that offers a different solution to the problem of maintaining momentum in genealogy research. He gave a marvelous talk during lunch at the Family History Technology Workshop on Thursday entitled “What Was I Thinking About?  The Dilemma of the Part-Time Genealogist”.  The research paper he based his talk on begins with this abstract:

“What can you possibly do to be productive as a family history researcher in 20 minutes per week?  Our studies suggest that currently the answer is, “Nothing.” In 20 minutes a would-be researcher can’t even remember what happened last week, let alone what they were planning to do next.”

The software engineering class he teaches works each semester to develop “The 20-Minute Genealogist”, a software application that will act as a genealogist’s research companion. Log in and the program will remind you where you left off in your research last week.  It will also suggest promising directions you could pursue today, based on what you were working on before.

This impresses me as a truly innovative and exciting idea. It will be difficult to implement, but tremendously valuable. It sounds like they eventually plan to integrate it into NewFamilySearch several years from now.

In the meantime, I think this idea represents a marvelous business opportunity for a genealogy-savvy startup to tackle.  Prof. Knutson has a company associated with his class already, but I imagine he would welcome some competition.

His course page is available here.

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