Not Your Grandmother’s Genealogy Hobby

December 11, 2011

The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2011

With Wikis and Other Forms of Group Research, Family Historians Are Making Surprising Connections

Chloe Persing likes to brag about her famous alleged ancestors—French queen Marie Antoinette (10th cousin eight times removed), English author Jane Austen (ninth cousin, seven times removed).

She’d rather not dwell on her connection to murderous cult leader Charles Manson, though.

Ms. Persing discovered these claims to fame on, a genealogy-focused website and social network that helps users tap into a single giant family tree by merging their own family trees with those of distant relatives. Recently, Ms. Persing sorted family members by birth year and examined old military draft records to figure out which ancestor was the owner of the heirloom Civil War sword her grandfather keeps. “I was up until 2 o’clock in the morning, and I just kept finding clues,” the 22-year-old says.

Wikis, social-networking sites, search engines and online courses are changing genealogy from a loner’s hobby to a social butterfly’s field day. New tools and expansive digital archives, including many with images of original documents, are helping newbies research like pros.

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