FutureFive NZ - Googling your ancestors

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Googling your ancestors

Dan Lynch works in business and marketing development in the technology sector, but his personal passion of genealogy led to him writing Google Your Family Tree, a guide to using the world’s leading search engine in genealogical research. We asked him how his hobby became a book.

The Internet has been a boon to genealogists – was its potential realised early in its development?

Genealogists were using CompuServe and AOL chats for some years before the ‘Web’ as we know it began, but I don’t think many of us really had any idea just how dominant the technology would become and how related innovations would help speed delivery of things we didn’t dare dream of just 10 years ago. The LDS Church had not yet launched familysearch.org; Google was out, but in a very early beta capacity, and the sharing of large files was also still constrained by bandwidth. So yes, some genealogists (myself included) realised that the Internet could be of tremendous benefit for our “little hobby” but I think only a very few realised just how much potential truly existed – and still remains untapped to this very day!

So where are we at now in terms of online family tree resources?

There are many great things out there – and by things I mean both content itself and also different methods for delivery of that content. Features to engage the community are exciting. But as exciting as it is, I’m even more excited for what has yet to come. Just in the state where I live – Connecticut – we have exceptional resources for genealogists. But I can think of so many projects where content which is priceless can be and should be digitised and put online; both as a means of preservation and as a means of sharing it with descendants who have now spread around the globe. In my book, I feature a photograph of someone’s ancestor who lived just 30 minutes from me... yet that photo was found, scanned, and posted online by someone in New Zealand. THAT is powerful. How many more examples are out there like that – millions I would bet.

So what prompted you to write this book – and why Google?

Having spoken to many genealogy authors, as well as authors in other industries, I think that many times people take their own specialised knowledge for granted – certainly I did. I learned all these tips and tricks by digging deeper into Google to chip away at a few of my genealogical stone walls. Over time, I just assumed everyone was doing this, but I was continually surprised to find so many people who weren’t. My goal then was to help make them common knowledge. I wanted to help millions of family history enthusiasts at all levels – beginners and professionals – master this tool called Google because I know it will help them connect with some aspect of their family. As to why Google: they are doing it far better than anyone else (in my opinion). And given their worldwide market share, I think there are more than a billion people or so who agree with me.

Tell us about the special features the book offers.

I tried to be pretty methodical about how I structured the book. The first three chapters provide the foundation for everything you do in Google. Master those, and Google could introduce a new service today and chances are good that on your first session, you’d already feel very comfortable with using and getting relevant results from this new service – even though you may have never seen it before. 

During the review process, a friend doing a technical review suggested that I add something about getting started in genealogy. I had overlooked that fact, so I added that as Appendix A; sort of a “road map” that a novice can use. 

The other thing that comes to mind here in terms of “special features” is that I really tried to make it an active workbook and use language that was comfortable for everyone – not just those who love computers, but even those who are challenged with tech basics. I wanted this book to help build their confidence that anyone can master the computer and really become quite proficient.

Are there any developments in genealogical research that are particularly interesting to you at present?

I think it’s fascinating what’s being done with online photo sharing today, but I’m also hopeful that each family’s own photo archive can be preserved, maintained, tagged, and shared for the benefit of all the other members of their family. The shoe boxes that we all have under out bed or in a closet filled with memories aren’t doing anyone much good.

I also love GPS technology. I would love to see every stone in every cemetery mapped with GPS coordinates and then loaded into a huge database with names and photos. Tying all this information together would be wonderful on a worldwide scale. I think it would be interesting to have a GPS timeline for some of my ancestors and then travel that timeline using Google Earth. This is actually possible today, but I’ve just not had the time to do that. Again – that’s something for the next edition of the book for certain because I’ve played with this feature already and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Do you think one day there’ll be a special search engine devoted solely to genealogy?

Yes. And if my wish is granted, there would be special sections of major search engines that try to more directly package their capabilities for genealogists.

That makes more sense to

me – they already have great tools, but just put them in a spot and in such a way so that everyone knows where to look... not just the tech-nerd genealogists like me.

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