I recently read an entertaining post by John Patten titled “Who Do You Think You Are Annoying?” about his impressions of how the NBC series “Who Do You Think You Are?” may be dumbing down the process of research shown to viewers for the sake of entertainment value. Hop over to John’s blog to read the whole thing. I basically agree with what he’s saying.

After scraping together bits of the UK series on the web while they were available (since I can’t get BBC TV on my set here in the USA) I was excited to hear that a US version was being produced and was fairly pleased with Season 1. I had just come off of watching “Faces of America” with Henry Louis Gates, which while an excellent and interesting production, was not what I was looking for from a genealogist’s perspective. I think it was summed up when in one minute Gates was walking around China and the next he was handing Yo Yo Ma 1,000 years of his family tree. I was thinking “What? How’d we get there?!”

WDYTYA in Season 1 was much better for me in that way — at least it seemed like those celebrities were doing a little more legwork (even if led around a bit from behind-the-scenes professional genealogists). What I’ve seen of season 2 so far, while entertaining enough for a Friday night, has lost even more of the behind the scenes chase for elusive records that makes family history so worthwhile. It’s now become more of game to guess when that researcher is gonna flip around the laptop all loaded up with Ancestry.com and say “Ok put in your ancestor’s name and – Voila! You’ve got all these record hits!” It could become the family historian’s geeky equivalent of a college drinking game where every time they mention or show the Ancestry logo you have to take a drink (what is the approved drink of the genealogist anyway? Is beer too pedestrian? Red wine better? I don’t know).

Since my background is marketing & advertising, I do understand all the work that goes into any kind of production (whether TV, print, or web) and that there is a lot of content that has to get excised to fit any medium’s format (not to mention designed in a way to keep people awake for 1 hour). I also applaud what the show and the promotional backing of NBC and Ancestry has been able to do to raise awareness of the great passion that is genealogy. I guess I’d just like to see a little more of the nitty gritty of how they get from A to B so I can relate it more to helping in my own ancestor quest, rather than just a voyeuristic look at celebrity’s family origins. Oh and I’d also like someone to send ME all over the country (and possibly world) to get at those records that are too distant for a reasonable car ride!

BTW, wondering what the connection here is between genealogy and technology? I became aware of John Patten’s post (who is quite a way away from me in Melbourne, Australia) via a Tweet by @TwigsOfYore after checking out the #WDYTYA hashtag for the show!

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Usually I like to write new original blog posts, but I came across a great post on Susan Petersen’s “Long Lost Relatives” blog on how you might use your Kindle ebook reader to good genealogy use besides reading your favorite books. For example:

“The Kindle actually functions as a high capacity USB drive that can be connected to the USB port on your computer. Adobe PDF files are one of the many file formats that are compatible with the Kindle. That means that any file that can be converted to PDF can be transferred to your Kindle.”

It’s the kind of intersection of genealogy and technology that I like to write about, so take a peek at Susan’s blog for the full story.

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I stumbled across an interesting web page which seems to be making a bit of a buzz in the design circles and since this blog is about the intersection of genealogy and technology I had to share it. Industrial designers Huang Jianbo, Zhao Ting, Wang Yushan, Ran Xiangfei & Mo Ran came up with an innovative and hi-tech way to reach out and touch someone from beyond the grave (in a thankfully non-zombie-ish way): the E-tomb.

etomb3Posted on the Yanko Design site, this grave marker of the future has it all: the ability to store your personal web pages, blog, facebook profile, photos, videos and more for easy access by a mourner or genealogist’s bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Better still, the smallish memorial is topped with a heavenly layer of solar panel silicon to power the information terminal. I guess you could see the whole thing as a little spooky, but on second thought I rather like the idea of preserving the bits and bytes of my life in-perpetuity for future generations to browse. Maybe someday this blog will be enshrined on a chip in my tombstone.

Better yet, maybe someday a digital facsimile of my consciousness will be embedded into an e-tomb memorial so that I can call out to future relative passersby of my cemetery plot and virtually guide them through the family tree research I so painstakingly compiled in my lifetime, like a genealogy version of McCoy Pauley, “The Dixie Flatline,” in Gibson’s NEUROMANCER.

Other than the fact that the e-tomb is currently only a proof of concept design (near as I can tell), the only bone I’d pick with the designers is that in all of their careful attention to the “e” aspect, they forgot to include the option for some good ol’ analog inscriptions on that e-tomb tombstone! Maybe that’s for version 2.0…

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