Digital Life

Mapping our family’s genealogy online started out as simple curiosity for my husband but now it’s all he talks and thinks about. Should I be concerned?

Some years back, USA Today claimed genealogy was the second most popular hobby in the United States. What was the first? Gardening. Whether or not this is still true, if you mention genealogy or DNA testing in a group, it’s likely someone has had some experience with it—or knows someone who has. You’re also likely to pick up on some friendly competitiveness about how far back their roots could be traced.

Free or inexpensive online tools like LDS’ FamilySearch (which I am using), Ancestry.com, or FindMyPast make the process easy and fun—fun like a scavenger hunt where other people’s input gets merged with your own in sometimes dramatic ways: your family tree growing in front of your eyes as the system makes connections you’ve not yet made.

Like most technologies—and especially ones shuffling your private information around—it’s worth looking into the privacy policies of the companies offering these services, but from what I could tell, it’s as safe as anything online these days. For example, only information about deceased relatives is open to the public.

The hunt itself can be fun. But far more interesting are the stories told or written that accompany the gathering of birth, marriage, and death dates. Kind of like the first chapter of Matthew: the story that starts about mid-way is much more interesting than the “begats”—the genealogy proceeding it.

So should you be concerned about your husband’s hobby? Probably not—you may even find yourself getting caught up in the excitement of the stories he uncovers!

Note: Calvin College and Seminary Archives (calvin.edu/hh) is a great resource if your ancestors attended or belonged to a Christian Reformed Church. They too have contributed to the online service’s databases by making membership lists and whatnot available.

About the Author

Dean Heetderks is co-director of Ministry Support Services of the Christian Reformed Church. He attends Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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