Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Genealogy Circle

Today's New York Times article by A.J. Jacobs, "Are You My Cousin" is thought provoking.  It's an opinion piece on the Wikipedia-ization of genealogy. The trend in genealogy is collaboration.

The positive aspect of this connectivity is amazing. I love collaboration.  It's a good way to connect with like-minded individuals (and relatives).  As more people post their family tree information online in sites that promote sharing with cousins and those that promote sharing with the world, brick walls come tumbling down.   Or do they?

If the genealogist adding the information to those trees documents their sources then you can prove their facts.  Generations of historians and genealogists stressed the importance of citing evidence.  However, today the web and websites are full of undocumented family trees that compound research mistakes by copying information.

A few years ago I "found" a distant cousin on a major website. I was thrilled!  There were family photographs on his site that I'd never seen.  Then I discovered a few disturbing details.  In order to include living folks in his online family tree he killed us all off in 2012.  That's right.  All the living members of my family are now deceased (at least on his tree).  This cousin is an enthusiastic genealogist.  He's linked to so many other undocumented trees that the true family line is now muddled. 

In Dave Eggers recent book, The Circle (2013) the lead character works for a online company whose goal is to complete the circle. This technothriller raises the question about whether having total transparency and being connected with the world in every level of your life is a good thing. One of the characters, Annie, volunteers to participate in a company experiment regarding genealogy.  Spoiler alert!  She learns that her family history is shady. There are generations of slave owners and this affects her contemporary daily life as she's judged for her family's digressions. It's a story-line that's mirrored in Jacob's opinion piece.

A.J. Jacobs, asks "If everyone is related, that does the concept of family even mean?"   Eggers and Jacobs give us something to think about.

 I want to know: are crowd-sourced mega family trees replacing traditional genealogical methods?

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