Five years ago, when Family Tree Magazine first appeared on newsstands across America, we were still worried about Y2K and hadn't heard of hanging chads. We didn't need middle initials to differentiate between two presidents named George Bush. The only way to find your Ellis Island ancestor was on microfilm - and the nearly three-year closing of the Statue of Liberty was still to come, after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. The human genome was not yet decoded, and researchers hardly considered their DNA a genealogical tool. Cyndi's List <www.cyndislist.com>, featured in Family Tree Magazine's second issue along with our inaugural 101 Best Web Sites list, totaled a mere 56,000 links; when last we checked, it boasted more than 240,000.
In the past half-decade, genealogy has changed as much as the world at large. Research tools we take for granted today — digitized census images, Ellis Island's online immigration database, genealogy software that does everything but fix you a snack while you input data — were either startlingly new in early 2000, or brainstorms not yet realized. FamilySearch <wwwfamilysearch.org>, the breakthrough Web site that put some of the genealogical treasures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (LDS) Family History Library (FHL) just a click away, had debuted only the previous May. Response to this development — on the first day, 400,000 logons and 600,000 who couldn't get through - caused one of the worst traffic jams in the Internet's history. Time magazine had recently proclaimed an epidemic of “Roots Mania” in a breathless cover story on the genealogy boom, giving rock-star treatment to Cyndi Howells of the eponymous List. “Ancestors,” a PBS series that helped spark the boom in 1997, was about to air a second set of episodes. Like the prehistoric discoverers of fire eyeing a modern jet engine, those year-2000 “roots maniacs” would barely recognize genealogy in 2005.