Saturday, May 02, 2009

Social Networking for Dead People

I've long been intrigued by the concept that walking among us are descendants of famous historical figures. For example, Ulysses S. Grant had four kids. It stands to reason that those kids had kids, and therefore somewhere in this country it is highly probable that direct descendants of Ulysses S. Grant are walking around, presumably living normal lives. They probably go to McDonalds. Maybe they are even on Facebook, and they list Miley Cyrus under favorite music. And one has to think that they know they are descendants of a guy everyone has heard of, but that and a couple bucks and change will get them a gallon of gas.

So I find myself interested whenever progeny of the deceased elite publicly surface. Thomas Jefferson's descendants were briefly in the news when they grappled with whether to invite Sally Hemings' descendants to family reunions (and they were also hit up for DNA samples). More recently, I'm intrigued to learn that the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker (who died in 1912), is prepping a Dracula sequel, which obviously is in no way an attempt to cash in on the vampire craze.

But I'm starting to think that the resurfacing of famous names is going to become a more common occurrence. And I see a possible development that will also serve to have applications for those of us who descended from agrarians rather than statesmen or artists.

Last week, I wrote about aspects of the World Wide Web which we take for granted now, which didn't exist a decade ago. I see the seeds for a potential synthesis of a couple of those concepts. Facebook has more or less given us a national directory, a chance to track down and contact random people we once knew, however fleetingly. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has blown the lid off the notion that information is at a premium, that facts and data are a commodity, that access to them must be negotiated.

One area in which information is still at a premium is in the field of genealogy. There are data hubs one can tap into on the world wide web in order to learn about their lineage, but these are for-profit ventures. I think a natural evolution of Web 2.0 is to blow the lock off of this box, to eventually allow free and unfettered access to family trees.

The effect of this might be a kind of Facebook for dead people. Everyone who ever existed in the United States (or the last couple centuries in the rest of the world) might have a page, with links to ancestors and descendants. There would probably be some who would object to such a venture on the grounds of privacy, but I don't see much harm in it, and it is well-documented the degree to which we are redefining the concept of "privacy."

And I see some advantage to my proposal beyond merely enabling satisfaction of curiosity. I'm guessing we'd be surprised at the connections that emerge, and the concept of "brotherhood (and sisterhood) of humankind" would be more concrete. Also, (and I suppose whether this is an advantage is debatable) it would allow a re-emergence into prominence for the descendants of the historically noteworthy. I wonder what Arthur Conan Doyle's great-grandnephew is up to these days.


Blogger Teecycle Tim said...

That's a great idea.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope this becomes a reality. It would be fascinating to get some inside stories of some people in history through oral stories passed down only in the family. As a matter of fact, I'm descended for Zachary Taylor. The presidency was a pauper's job back then, I'm told. No salary set aside for the highest office. Hope all is well in Keil Wisconsin Azor, Becky.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Danielle Persich said...

The Mormons would probably enjoy that. It would really help their genealogical records out.

8:20 PM  

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