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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Roots and Technology - Relatively Speaking

Something big has been happening to me lately.

The desire to learn my family history is exerting a substantial pull on me. I find I'm being moved to get moving on a project which previously held little interest.

Now, I'm starting to discover some very cool things. And I'm also noticing that genealogy - the detective work of getting to know your bigger family who have already passed - is starting to make inroads even in popular culture.

NBC's Friday night line-up boasts "Who Do You Think You Are?" a co-production with that traces the family history of one celebrity. Each week, the guest celeb sets out on an journey that gradually reveals astonishing nuggets about the lives of the folks that populate their family tree.

Now the show originated in Britain years ago and spawned knock-offs in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. But our family came to it late with the U.S. product now in its second season.

So last week, we propped up the iPad at the dinner table to take our first look. The guest, 80's pop star Lionel Richie, was often startled at the unfolding developments - especially when he learned his great-great-grandfather was a white plantation owner.

But the show focused on his great-grandfather and pursued the circuitous trail of a man who was divorced by his decades younger bride for suspicious reasons. He was the presumed renegade that no-one in the family knew or talked about.

Ultimately, the reason for his two-year period of travel away from his wife was revealed to be his commitment to building a national fraternal organization for African-American men long before the American civil rights movement found its legs. The work and sacrifice Richie's ancestor lived was often poignant.

Who knew that genealogy could make such great TV?

Another discovery that had my mind chewing on possibilities was the fact that this past February in Salt Lake City, the RootsTech 2011 conference made its debut.

Even though I have barely dipped my toes in this work, RootsTech, co-sponsored by the good folks at FamilySearch, seems like a pretty powerful draw - one that melds my budding interest in family history with a full-blown love for all things tech. You can YouTube RootsTech to get an idea of the scope of the event. The 2012 date is February 2-4.

Funny that the stars align themselves the way they do sometimes, but another smallish thing that will help me get get my feet fully immersed in genealogy is that I bought, or got rather, a Flip Video camera (thank you Air Miles), that makes it duh simple to shoot decent HD video.

It struck me just a few days ago that I should fire up the Flip to record my dad's stories about his youthful flight from the Russians during WWII and get some of the dates, times and places that were important in his life. Naturally, I'll plumb his memory for names and birthplaces of relatives I need to research.

I must hustle on this project. My dad is 72. I need to ferret out and record those stories while his memory and health are still relatively strong.

My family means the world to me. And the prospect of researching my ancestors is one that has me itching to start. I want them to be real for me - for my kids. And the question that gets bigger for me each day is quite simple.

Just who are they anyway?


  1. Great post, Ray. I have niece who did some digging into my family history. Found some interesting information. Now my daughter has started a family tree on a site called GENI - very cool. Your idea to use the flip & record video is awesome - too late for my parents, who have both passed away, but with the simple tools we have now -- maybe it is something I should start for my grandson!

    Great vid about Chantal - she is another great Winnipeg artist.

  2. Hey I just signed up for GENI, Mike. Thanks for the tip. The Flip is proving to be a very cool tool - perfect for interviews. Did a bit of testing with it at my dad's a while ago. Worked great. I'm also trying it out in a variety of lighting conditions. Will be writing about it soon.

    I enjoyed the Chantal video, too. Lots of great musical talent in this province.