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May 10

My family tree went viral

A couple of days ago, I stumbled across Geni, which is a website which allows you to construct your family tree. It’s very intuitive to use, and it has quite a lot of functionality. For every person you add, it also emails that person and invites them to join.

I was idly trying out the service and seeded by family tree with my parents, an aunt, uncle and a cousin.  Then I logged in today and saw the Loh family tree had turned into this:

I was very pleasantly surprised. And this is just a partial display – there are several more branches which you can drill down into. The tree is tracking well over 100 family members. It looks like my relatives picked up the idea and ran with it and things spread virally as everyone filled in their area of the family tree (I guess no one wants to feel left out!). My dad has 7 siblings, so the tree mushroomed very quickly from there. I found out a lot about my extended family, including several great aunts and uncles I have never heard of, and the explosive multiplication that can result from an era where polygamy was legal.

Interestingly, much of the heavy lifting was done by relatives in my parents’ generation – people in their 50s and 60s – so it looks like we’ve finally entered an age where everyone is beginning to feel comfortable with technology. I am still bemused by the knowledge that my grandfather uses Skype.

Geni also hooks into the usual array of social networks, and helps you to keep track of far flung relatives (I discovered that the relatives on the tree are living in about a dozen different countries) and record biographical information about them. Geni also tells you the actual relationship you have with someone, so now you can confidently identify your second cousin, twice removed. Very cool!

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