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Coming Soon: The Mother of All Genealogy Databases

Is combining all genealogy data too scary? It's all relative

September 21, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - I've always found genealogy boring. But it's about to get exciting, very exciting, and for everybody.

Millions of people around the world spend hours tracing their "roots" as far back as they can. I've always suspected that people are really searching for self-identity. If they can learn their country of origin or discover descent from someone famous, they might be able to think more highly of themselves. They can, say, watch the Irish Day Parade with a new sense of entitlement.

Unfortunately, many uncover unpleasant family secrets. Instead of finding aristocrats and royalty, people are likely to discover war deserters, criminals and illegitimate children. Even more common is to find family origins in countries not part of the family lore. Genealogy isn't for wimps.

There are other surprises as well. Many Americans who consider themselves white or black are in fact both to one degree or another. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, found through research conducted for a PBS special, for example, that he is about half European and half African.

The social networking databases

For years, people have been using Google and other search engines to find relatives and learn about other branches of their family trees. More recently, people are using Facebook and other social networking sites.

A site called FamilyInHistory.com uses blogging and social networking for collaboration. By getting relatives to pitch in and tell what they know, the family tree can be quickly detailed.

The biggest genealogy hobbyist site, Ancestry.com, claims to have 5 billion records collected globally, including census, immigration and military records; newspaper and magazine clippings; court, land and probate files and other records going back to the 16th century. The site enables its users to do the work of piecing together who's related to whom. It's an impressive database. You can simply enter names -- your mother's maiden name, for example -- and get back dozens or hundreds of possibilities, which you can then narrow down and use the result as the foundation for a new tracing.

These are just two of the many sites out there building databases of family relationships.



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