Last weekend, I picked up the new book from Henry Louis Gates, In Search of Our Roots. This is the companion book to the African-American Lives 2 special from last year.
I just started reading the book yesterday and I am enjoying it There are profiles in the book for the highlights of the research Gates and his collaborators did to learn more about each person’s family tree. Some of the people featured are Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou.
As I began to read the book, I wondered how much of their tree information was available online? Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a supplemental online tree to go along with the book where a reader could interactively navigate? Also, it would be useful to have the information online to faciliate discovery by other researchers (perhaps distant cousins) to connect to the research conducted.
On the African-American Lives site, there is an interactive timeline that includes major milestones in black history as well as major milestones in each of the participants history, but it is an image based representation, thus not indexable or searcheable.
I’ve been thinking about this concept lately as I read another book, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White. This book details the family history of white and black Hairstons of Virginia & North Carolina and is full of genealogical details. One thing that was quite noticeable for me is that the author has a tree structure for the white Hairstons, but so far, I’ve not seen a tree structure for the black Hairston’s he discusses. I have searched online for tree information for some of those families and not been able to find anything online in a consistent manner.
Here is my wish and desire — for both these books, and any others that chroncile family history having an companion online tree (perhaps at Ancestry Family Trees, WeRelate, or FamilyHistoryLink would be an interesting way to share some of the work online in a way that is more easily discovered by others. Alternatively, at the site they could use my favorite genealogy software, TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding to provide an online view to the trees. At the minimum, the Gates book could have been made searcheable at Google Books (update 8/15/09 – it is now searcheable); the Hairstons book is searcheable. In the age of web 2.0/ Genealogy 2.0, this would be a wonderful means for establishing more connections!