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an ancestry of ideas

Tended 2 years ago Planted 2 years ago Mentioned 0 times

An unexpected message from a possible cousin brought me back to this morning. I first started using Ancestry when having kids of my own made me curious about the long chain of human relationships that produced me. It was a lot of fun filling in my family tree of over 200 people, including my only ancestor with a Wikipedia page who crossed the Atlantic from France in 1647.

Ancestry is a remarkably deep piece of software. On the surface it’s about building a family tree, starting with yourself and working backward in time. But as you do so, it connects you with two vast repositories of data: an archive of public census, immigration, and other records; and the genealogical work of other Ancestry users. And what I found most compelling is the reinforcing feedback loop that adding more people and data to my tree unlocked further connections with the archive and other users. For instance, discovering the name of an ancestor’s spouse might disambiguate a census record of them living together, revealing the names and ages of their children, further filling out the tree. Or adding that spouse to my (public) tree might notify another Ancestry user related to them of the connection and we can share notes.

I came to appreciate this morning how similar this is to the experience I’m trying to build with, but instead of a tree of people it’s about building a web of ideas. is first about building one’s own repository of notes with oneself at the root, but if it can reveal new insights through connections with other users then all the better.