It’s a typical Sunday evening. I’m getting ready for a casual discussion with some genealogy friends on the porch of a Family History “Centre.” Our hostess, Clarise Beaumont, will be talking about naturalization records with attendees from Washington, New Jersey, Utah, California, Florida and West Virginia, plus a few from England and Australia.
But even though things are about to get rolling, I’m not driving to the local center. Nope, I’m comfortable at home in my housecoat and slippers sitting in front of my computer, logging on to attend the meeting in the online virtual world called Second Life.
You may think of online virtual reality worlds as the domain of teenage boys playing World of Warcraft and Civilization. But Second Life is ageless and educational: The skills I pick up and the other family historians I meet there boost my own real-life research.
Unlike some virtual worlds, Second Life isn’t a game; it has no set objectives or manufactured conflict. Rather, it’s a kind of parallel universe in cartoon form. It’s entirely user-created, so anything you might find in the real world, you can find in Second Life. Thousands of educational and inspirational locations, or “sims,” let you, as your avatar — a graphical representation of yourself — take classes from major universities, participate in historical role-play or re-enactments of Shakespearean plays, attend poetry readings and live music shows, and of course, go to genealogical events.
As my young, red-headed avatar Genie Weezles, I spend most of my Second Life time in sims such as Just Genealogy, the Genealogy Research Center on Info Island, and FLAG — First Life Ancestry and Genealogy. Each area has exhibits on a variety of genealogy topics and hosts chats, lectures and meetings throughout the week. The many genealogy groups in Second Life together form the Union of Genealogy Groups (UGG). A weekly Genealogy Events newsletter is distributed to genealogy group members, and the monthly UGG calendar of events is online as a Google calendar.
Genie attends as many Second Life genealogy meetings as my schedule will allow. One of my favorites is always the Sunday evening Family History Centre get-together, where Clarise (known as DearMYRTLE in real life) hosts a casual genealogy discussion.
Monday evenings, Genie hosts the Meet and Greet around the fire pit at the Just Genealogy sim. This friendly gathering is especially for Second Life newcomers to meet some of the “old timers,” share their research successes and ask questions about navigating Second Life — like how to sit, walk and fly (yes, you can do some things in Second Life that you can’t in real life); how to change your avatar’s outfit and where to look for that gorgeous ball gown or tux for the next dance. (Dancing, by the way, is less complicated than in real life — it requires no more coordination than the ability to click your mouse button.)
Most Tuesday evenings, you’ll find Clarise again hosting presentations at Just Genealogy. Monthly Tuesday chats called “Evidence Explained” are based around principles in Elizabeth Shown Mills’ source-citation handbook of the same name. “Brick Walls” is another monthly Tuesday discussion. Other topics have included Methodology, Immigration, and Using Excel for Organizing Your Research. Wednesday evenings Kilandra Yeudeux, founder of the Genealogy Scribes group, holds a roundtable chat at her Afterchills Adventure Club.
One of the Association of Professional Genealogists’ newest official chapters, SL Chapter APG, meets the second Thursday of the month at the Just Genealogy firepit. Genie’s the current president. Meetings are open to anyone, but only chapter members vote. The attendees have seen some fantastic presentations by well-known (in real life, too) genealogists, as well as by chapter members honing their own speaking skills. Revolutionary War research, cemetery preservation and genealogy organization are just a few of the topics covered.
And on the third Thursday of each month, Genie gives a “Relatively Curious” presentation, almost always on internet research resources.
Of course, Second Life offers nongenealogical fun, too. One of my favorite areas is Antiquity Texas, with historical displays and replicas of historical sites your avatar can tour, including the Alamo, the Texas State Capitol and San Jacinto Plaza. You even can go on familiar rides at the “happiest place in Second Life” — Sarah’s Magic Kingdom.
It only takes a second to sign up for a free Second Life account by following the prompts. Use the Quick Start Guide to get the hang of the basics. Once you’ve arrived “in world,” be sure to request friendship with Genie Weezles, who can introduce you to the genealogy community in Second Life, and maybe show you how to fly, too.
Second Life Lingo
- avatar: your Second Life physical persona, which you get to design
- IM: instant message, the way avatars communicate by text
- Lindens: the local currency (from the name of Second Life’s founders, Linden Labs)
- LM: a landmark, or location marker to ease repeat teleports (see below)
- Prims: the building blocks for creating objects
- Rez: to make an object appear
- RL: real life
- sim, simulation: an area of land, similar to a town
- SL: Second Life
- tp, teleport: to instantly move from one location to another
From the September 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine
More great genealogy resources from Family Tree Magazine: