Category Archives: Genealogy

Genealogy with three or more parents

Today I read an article from MIT Technology Review about “The British government has given the green light for a technique that will let parents-to-be sidestep mitochondrial disease.”  The process involves creating babies with three biological parents.  This topic coincides with my interests in both science fiction and genealogy.

Though it is important to note that “the donor’s DNA will only be present in the form of mitochondria, which don’t play a role in traits like a person’s looks or personality”, there is still a biological relationship between the three persons and the baby.  So some, possibly not all, children born from this technique may one day consider all three parents as part of their family tree.

This is interesting from a genealogy standpoint.  A current analogy is that of adoptees considering making a family tree chart that includes both their adopted parents and their birth parents.  There are ways to do it on paper and with some software programs, but not so easy on most online genealogical family tree websites.

Science fiction no longer applies to this technique, particularly because it’s already been carried out in Mexico.  But science fiction definitely applies to the many genealogy chart and record keeping (e.g. database)  issues that genealogical websites must prepare for in the future.

Today, genealogical sites will have to consider three or more parents.  How do you add two mothers or two fathers or three parents?  In the case of adoption, how do you add four parents, both birth and adopted parents?  But tomorrow — meaning the future — how will genealogy charts and services handle sci-fi concerns like robot siblings (were they born at the place of manufacture or the place they were raised?) or clones?  How about far fetched science like parallel world families (what if science finds a way to communicate between parallel worlds?) or paradoxical time travel cases where you end up fathering yourself?

If you find time travel and robots interesting, or even genetics, you might also like my latest e-book releases.


Jewish genealogy research tips

JewishGen posted a list of Mythbusters, which is essentially tips in doing Jewish genealogy research.  I have found these to be useful in my endeavors to learn more about my family history.

One suggestion I might add.  New York arrivals before 1890 would not be to Ellis Island.  Arrivals to New York between 1855 and 1890 would likely be to Castle Garden, but not definitely.

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Genealogy television shows

You can see a good partial list of genealogy television shows on the Larimer County Genealogical Society’s website.

Another show I would add is “Long Lost Family” on The Learning Channel.  If you have an interest in genealogy you may find some tips in searching for ancestors, particularly in the early parts of story segments where the show’s experts provide background on how they found a family member.

BYUtv’s “Relative Race” attempts to combine reality television immediacy (e.g. racing across country) with genealogy.  I watched the first episode and didn’t feel that it entirely succeeded, but it is another genealogy-related show.

I still dabble in game design, and this year I hope to release a card game that is based on a family tree concept.  When I’m at that point, I will let you know in my blog.

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Innovative approaches to genealogy

If you are a beginner in genealogical research, often every article on the subject introduces something new.  But once you get to a certain level of proficiency, this is no longer the case.  So it’s always nice to find a new research paper, article, or lecture that is detailed with new ideas for searching.  Such is the case with Pamela Weisberger — who sadly passed away suddenly in 2015 — whose lectures gave many genealogists new ideas to try.

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“Science Fiction: Genetics”

See for “Science Fiction: Genetics”.  This is my first genetics-related anthology of my stories.  I enjoy following advances in genetic and epigenetic research, so I’m sure I will write more of these.

“You Can Choose Your Parents” refutes the notion that you can’t choose your parents.  “Liar” examines the life of a young woman who visits a Lie Bar.  “The Library of Pain” probes a psychologist’s patient who has issues with pain.  In “It’s in the Stars” we meet a couple who wonder if fame will be in the stars for their children.  “My Brother’s Keeper” is a clone mystery that takes place on Mars.

Versions for, including a variety of formats for various distributors,  of “Science Fiction: Genetics” and “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2” coming next.


Genealogy – predicting what ancestors looked like

Buried in an article about “A genomic entrepreneur plans to sell genetic workups for as little as $250” is perhaps an even more striking claim that “the [Human Longevity Inc, HLI] company is trying to show it can predict from genes exactly what people look like.”

While the project is not complete, and some might look at this futuristic capability as a way to make designer babies,  it excites me instead as an amateur genealogist.  I mean, how cool would it be to find out exactly what an ancestor or famous person from the past looked like by having just a small sample of DNA?  Could the technique eventually be extended to look back by using a number of samples of descendants today?  In other words, if you don’t have a DNA sample for the ancestor, could you use DNA samples from descendants in such a way as to predict closely what that ancestor must have looked like?  Want to know who that man is on the right in an old family photo?

Yes, I’m ignoring the obvious usage of this technology for forensics, mostly because it could be kind of spooky in this regard to know what someone looks like just from a DNA sample.  Talk about profiling.  This is the stuff of science fiction today, though J. Craig Venter says that HLI can already describe the color of your eyes [from your DNA] better than you can.

Will predicting looks from DNA be the next tool on one or more of the genealogy websites?  Who knows when that might happen, but if you are interested in this subject as I am, you might enjoy the Ted talk below.

By the way, in the next year I plan to release a new e-book collection of my published stories related to genetics.

UTM and Geographic Coordinates

Whether you are encountering UTM mapping coordinates because of genealogy or some other kind of research, it helps to know how to convert between UTM and geographic coordinates.  I recently ran into this issue when attempting to locate the exact spot where a meteor impact-related image was taken.  Although the photographer and researcher listed the UTM coordinates for the spot, I wanted to know the geographic coordinates so I could visit the location during vacation.

I’m sure there are many conversion tools on the internet, but here are a couple I encountered.  I used a site at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay to convert from UTM coordinates to longitude and latitude.  I was then able to use the lat-long data to map it in Google maps.  To verify I got the right place, I used Google street maps and was able to see that the spot matched the photo location very nicely.

There are also tools for doing the conversion to Google Earth that you can find on the web with just a search on “UTM coordinates and Google Earth”.

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Did Kirk and Scott travel to 1841?

Did James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott from “Star Trek” travel back in time from to 1841? Did they know each other in 2263, a couple of years prior to their first television episode’s timeline? Well, you won’t be able to prove it using an April Fool’s 2015 document humorously faked by Scotland’s People.

James T. Kirk was reportedly born in 2233 in Iowa, meaning he’d be 30 in 2263. Montgomery Scott (“Scotty”) was born 2222, but in 2263 he would have been 41 — not 35. So I guess even fake census records sometimes get the birth year wrong.

The first “Star Trek” television episode (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” — the second pilot) starring William Shatner as the character James T. Kirk took place in 2265, but this fake document would seem to imply that Kirk and Scott worked together and had the ability to travel in time (probably with a starship) 2 year’s earlier.

Oh, but wait a minute! We have an alternate timeline to consider, since the 2009 “Star Trek” movie created a new path for the crew’s lives in 2255. So if the document had been real, it could have been Chris Pine’s character, not Shatner, and Karl Urban’s character, not DeForest Kelley, who appeared in 1841 from the year 2263. That would imply that a timeline change in 2255 created ripples in the past as well as the future. Have you seen the last two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“All Good Things”)?

Good thing this document is a fake, because otherwise I’d have a headache figuring this all out. Like the study of genealogy, time travel research can be difficult and complicated. Fake documents can make it even tougher.

Isn’t it interesting that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843 — but did he possibly start writing it in 1841? — is considered by some to be one of the first stories about time travel.

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A face is not just a face

I was excited to see a number of articles last year on the subject of pattern recognition, particularly as it relates to human faces.  Face pattern recognition algorithms may — in time — predict with high accuracy the identity of a person, the age of a person, or even tell whether two persons are related to each other.  Though security applications are potential uses, I’m particularly interested in these capabilities for genealogists.  Maybe a bright computer science researcher will also figure out how to use genealogical expert techniques — such as clothing, photo stock, and other clues — to  identify the time period a photo was taken.

A human face is not just a face, but rather a path to identification.  Without the capability to decode a face along the usual path in the brain, face blindness (prosopagnosia) can occur.  In November 2014, The Scientist had an article entitled “A Face to Remember” which relates recent research on prosopagnosia.

A few years ago I wrote a dark science fiction mystery, “Face Facts“, which explored one man’s attempt to cure his prosopagnosia in the future.  This short story is in e-book format for many e-readers.


Ancestry reduncancy

Have you ever seen one of those charts that shows how you should have more ancestors in the year 1300 than were alive in the year 1300?  Take for example 714 years divided by 23 years per generation.  That’s over 30 generations or 2^30, which is about a billion people back in 1300.  But Wikipedia shows estimates of only a few hundred million people were alive in 1300.  How is that possible?

Wikipedia discusses the topic of “Pedigree collapse,” which explains why “everyone on Earth is [probably] at most 50th cousin to everyone else.”  You might also like this short explanation of pedigree collapse at the Straight Dope.

Professor Bruce Railsback at the University of Georgia (UGA) has an interesting essay on this subject called “Redundancy in Ancestry.”

Genealogy translation tools

Family Tree Magazine blog listed some good tools for genealogy language translation.  The tools for entering foreign text are very handy, especially for translating tombstones.  I’d add, however, that Microsoft’s Bing translator works quite well too.  If you attempt to translate a foreign language tombstone, first check out some websites to see if there are common passages of text used in the language and religion you are investigating.

Science fiction meets medicine and genealogy

Mocavo recently blogged about “s Genealogy a Thing of the Past?”  This is the stuff of science fiction.

I don’t remember the name of the story, but I read a good science fiction short a few years ago regarding the 72 year rule and the census.  Long life and longevity producing medical discoveries may make the 72 year rules obsolete.  No one living to be 500 years old is going to want their census records published after just 72 years.

Now, Mocavo is talking about the ability to have a child with three parents.  It certainly does make a family tree more difficult to keep track of.  I suspect there will be many more complexities coming to genealogy in the future.

I have a science fiction short story I’m working on related to genealogy.  More on that later.

Phone camera and headstone translation

I’ve noticed several phone apps that promise camera-pointing translation.  You point your camera at an object, such as a sign or headstone, and it is suppose to translate it for you.  For example, Microsoft has a translator app for its phone that supposedly does this.  Google Play suggests apps like Photo Translator.  ITunes probably has many such apps.  Here’s one.  Although I haven’t tried one, I wonder if it would work on headstones with foreign text, such as Jewish headstones in America with Hebrew text.  Below is a video demonstration of Bing Translator being used with Windows Phone 8 to read English from a book and translate it into Chinese.