The sources to which you can turn for genealogical information vary depending on the location and time period you are researching. For instance, if you are looking for your 18th-century relatives in the old country, you will certainly turn to parish records as a critical source of information – you won’t be able to count on finding a whole lot of civil records. In 19th-Century America, census records are important, but church and civil records are spotty. Within the 19th and 20th Centuries, church records become less and less comprehensive as a record of the lives of the population, since a smaller percentage of people remained regular church-goers. Fortunately, civil records increasingly become a reliable, comprehensive source of information as these church records decline, helping to fill the gap.
What sources will our descendants use when they look for us in the 21st Century? Many of the records we traditionally think of as being genealogically significant will still be important, but some more interesting sources of information are being created as we speak – and they may come in handy should any set of records we now have become unavailable due to privacy laws or destruction.
One of the first things that comes to mind is social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. If their databases are still around in a hundred years, what a treasure trove that will be! It’s true, we are presently concerned (and rightly so) with the amount of privacy we give up online. However, wouldn’t you give your right arm to see what your great-great-grandfather’s Facebook profile would have looked like? You could have learned about where he worked, who his friends and relatives were, what his relationships were like with them (from what they posted on each others’ “walls”), seen dozens or maybe even hundreds of pictures of him with his friends and family, or maybe even which character he most resembled from the Harry Potter books…or at least from Shakespeare’s plays.
How about YouTube? Can you think of any YouTube videos you appear in, for better or worse? Make sure they know your username so they will be able to find their great-great-grandparent’s videos they uploaded.
Think about your local TV news. Indexes have been made for generations of names of people who appeared in newspapers. Why not index every edition of the evening news? Especially as the number of print newspapers declines, we should consider “indexing” the treasure trove of news programs, which feature people from all walks of life for all kinds of different reasons, just as newspapers have done.
We leave important traces of ourselves on various message boards and comment sections of websites, too. However, a username is often the only identification of the author. Consider making your usernames known to your posterity so they can search for you on the internet and find what you had to say – especially at a genealogy website such as Ancestry.com.
While few of us will be around to enjoy these fantastic sources in 2111, I hope we’ll consider maintaining and preparing them for future genealogists to utilize. That way, they won’t have to depend so much on the Census of 2040 coming out in 2112.