As I sit and write this it is 11 pm on March 13. The rain is pouring and the wind is howling outside. A single candle flickers next to me on the table and all is silent. Yes, the power was knocked out by the storm. My MacBook battery gave out 3 hours ago and the Internet is kaput. No message board posting or tonight, and with a few weeks until Apple’s iPad release, the only tablet computer I’ve got right now is the one powered by 50 sheets of 90% recycled post-consumer waste fibers and a pen. This is old tech.

But even though I’m a son of the digital age, temporarily forsaken by my gadgets and databases, all is not lost — I still have my family group sheets and pedigree charts, folders of printed records neatly arranged in manila folders and labeled by surname. Even by candlelight the search for the past can continue tonight. So it is time to sign off — literally — and flip through my notebooks for leads. Time for some genealogy “old school” — at least until the power comes back. So my advice to digital natives and novices alike: make sure you have your stuff printed out for a rainy day (or night)!

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The New York Times ran an article this morning on how two research teams have independently decoded the entire genome of patients to find the exact genetic cause of their diseases. Despite the full human genome being sequenced a decade ago in the $10 Billion Human Genome Project, this is apparently the first time the genome for a sick patient has been recorded — and all for the “reasonable” cost of $50,000.

A new, more cost-effective process is planned to capture the genetic blueprint of 100 sick patients next year, is great news for those with rare genetic diseases and may help researchers understand more common ones like cancer but what does it mean for genealogy? Well the company using the new method, Complete Genomics in Mountainview, CA is expected to be able to do it for $25,000 each and is scaling up to be able to get the price down to $10,000 soon. The company’s chief exec Richard Reid even said “We are on our way to the $5,000 genome.” Five-thousand dollars is no chump change, but begins to be within reach for a lot more family historians who would like to look at their ancestral DNA in the way shown recently on the PBS program “Faces of America” with Henry Louis Gates. Using a full sequencing of his father’s genome and his own, geneticists (from 23andMe*) were able to “subtract” one from the other and show Dr. Gates the genes he inherited only from his mother. Very exciting stuff indeed!

Notes & Sources:
*Note: 23andMe does not seem to offer full genome sequencing but rather mDNA, yDNA and sequencing of 600,000 gene positions, apparently enough for the analysis shown in Faces of America

Nicholas Wade. “Disease Cause is Pinpointed with Genome.” New York Times. March 10, 2010
Image “Human Genome” via Wikimedia Commons. Revised from “Human Genome to Genes” by Webridge 3 August 2007 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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008-ephIf you do genealogical research long enough, its easy to fall into a rut of using the same research resources. Maybe it’s time to make a (slightly late) New Year’s resolution to try some new ones. To that end, here’s a resource you might not have considered: photo sharing site Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) is one of the most popular and, in my opinion, powerful photo sharing sites out there. With lots of tools for describing, taging and sharing photos its a great place for the genealogically-minded to store their scanned family photos (privacy options are available). I recently moved my entire family photo library from over to Flickr.

But beyond just hosting your photos, Flickr has a Groups feature that lets you subscribe to any number of special interest image-related groups. I searched in groups with the tag/keyword “genealogy” and a huge number of Flickr Groups came up. Their focus runs the gamut from cemetery photography to general genealogical interest and even to scanned newspaper clippings. I found some devoted to images on surnames I’m researching (will investigate those eventually to see if there is a connection).

To get you started, here are a few Flickr Groups I checked out and subscribed to myself:

General Genealogy




And of course I created my own set of public images to share:


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Late last year the Web was abuzz with talk about Google’s preview release of “Wave” and its possibilities. If you haven’t heard of it, Google described it as a “personal communication and collaboration tool”. It is a web-based service, computing platform, and communications tool designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking. In a little more layman’s terms:

  • A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

How does genealogy fit in? Since genealogy research is frequently about collaboration and sharing of materials, the real-time communication and group collaboration power of Wave seems to have real potential to revolutionize genealogy research, especially as more and more research is done online. You can drop in images, documents, video, maps and more. People you add to a wave after it is underway can play back additions to the wave up to that point to see how the conversation developed and get right up to speed. And there are a number of software bits called “gadgets” and “robots” that add extra functionality to a wave.

But the momentum seems to have stalled in recent months. The main genealogy wave I subscribed to (and one of the first to pop up after the preview launch of Wave) is called “Public Genealogy Wave for the Discussion of Genealogy.” As of today it has 61 followers. But after several months there are only 91 messages posted on it. I noticed many of the other Waves I follow (both genealogy and not) are in a similar state. Has the Wave gone flat? I think one of the problems is that as a preview, Google Wave is still buggy. I’m sure these bugs will be worked out in time.

The bigger issue is that it is not for the technologically faint-of-heart. The ambitious and noble goal of Wave — to unite and simplify a multitude of communication technologies — has had the opposite effect. The interface is complicated. It seems harder to follow a conversation in the stream than it should be. While I’m a self-proclaimed technophile and gadget geek, I found the thought of slogging through that stream of messages made it easy for me avoid logging in. And here we are, four months later.

So at least as far as genealogy research is concerned is Google Wave dead? Maybe not yet, but complexity is rarely a good thing when you’re trying to build a user base for a tool.

Google Wave in Plain English (video)
Google Wave Made Simple (video)
Google Wave 15 Features (video)
Google Wave for Genealogy
Eastman’s Online Genealogy Blog (EOGN)
Is Google Wave the future of collabrative genealogy research?

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Welcome to GENEALOGY NEXT —Technology & Genealogy, a blog by Origins Genealogy Services and Joe Mann. A little introduction of what’s to come: I’ve always had a deep and abiding interest in technology, the internet and gadgets. I also have a passion for genealogy, so this blog is mostly about the intersection of tech and family history. However, I also reserve the right to occasionally throwback to bygone eras when the coolest gadget was a horse. Fasten your seatbelt (or hold onto the saddle horn) and enjoy!