Out on a Limb: Fame and Fortune

Out on a Limb: Fame and Fortune

Why an online search for celebrity look-alikes could be a boon to genealogy.

Editing Family Tree Magazine is a great job in many respects — one of which is I can spend half my day surfing genealogy Web sites without worrying I’ll be fired. After all, how else could Family Tree Magazine keep you abreast of the best and newest online tools for tracing your roots?

Which is how I came to be searching for my celebrity “twin” one afternoon. The Wall Street Journal had tipped me off to a new genealogy Web site called MyHeritage <www.myheritage.com>, whose developers have a novel gimmick for attracting attention to their family history services: Upload your photo, and the site’s facial recognition scan will reveal whose renowned visages you most resemble. Apparently I bear a strong likeness to Drew Barrymore — we’re an 86 percent match. (Maybe I should ask her to join a DNA study.)

MyHeritage’s creators ultimately want their face scanning software to help genealogists solve family history mysteries through computerized photo analysis (see page 11). The technology’s accuracy is arguable at this point, but with further refining, it has the potential to open up new research possibilities.

And that’s what really excites me about MyHeritage: Its creators are not only bringing new technology to online genealogy, they’re thinking outside the box — something we’ve seen little of lately. Sure, new sites continue to pop up and more records are migrating onto the Web. But the industry largely fell into a competitive lull after former rivals Ancestry.com <Ancestry.com > and Genealogy.com <genealogy.com> merged their corporate family trees in 2003.

Just compare the recent climate to five years ago. Back then, Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com were racing each other to post new data, including US census records, on their sites. The launch of Ellis Island’s online passenger-list search caused a massive Internet traffic jam. The entire country was abuzz with “roots mania.”

Is genealogy approaching another era of online innovation? Only time will tell, but we’re seeing some encouraging signs. Consider: Genealogy blogs (Web logs) are multiplying exponentially. WeRelate < werelate.org>, the first genealogy “wiki” (a collaborative site with a bloglike interface), debuted earlier this year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library <www.familysearch.org> has announced plans to digitize and index its entire 2.5 million-roll cache of microfilmed records. In the months ahead, News-Bank and 1837online.com plan to launch new subscription services.

One thing’s certain: Family Tree Magazine‘s editors will keep bringing you the scoop on all the groundbreaking developments in online genealogy — even if we have to surf the Web all day.

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From the December 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

 

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