Tracing family roots isn't just for retirees anymore.
Genealogy, one of the most popular hobbies among Baby Boomers, has apparently cracked the 50 barrier thanks to the advent of the Internet. Now, a new piece of software from Broderbund is aimed squarely at turning thirtysomethings and Gen-Xers into genealogy cyber-sleuths.
"Our market research shows that there's a large group of younger, Internet-savvy computer users who want to zero in on just one thing digging into their roots without spending a lot of time or money on a full-fledged research project, printing a lot of family trees, or publishing a complete family history book," said Rob Armstrong, vice president and general manager of the Novato company's genealogy group.
Broderbund has been at the forefront of the industry for years with its flagship genealogy product Family Tree Maker. But as more and more genealogy resources shift onto the Internet the Mormon Church this spring put some of its prized database online the company realized that navigating the Net would take on more importance.
While the under $30 product Family Tree Detective still lets users organize and track their bloodlines, its main focus is helping them use the Internet to find information about their ancestors in the vast realm of the World Wide Web.
For instance, the program features "intelligent" searches which compare names, dates and locations, eliminating the chance that a query returns hundreds of matches off by decades or continents. "Detective" also offers instant links to message boards an invaluable resource for genealogists who can post notes and receive information on whole family branches from someone across the globe.
"This younger group (of genealogists) are people in their 30s who take a few days or a week at it and then they're done," says Claire LaBeaux, public relations manager at Broderbund.
According to the National Genealogical Society in Arlington, Va., no studies exist that show current interest in genealogy by age. However, anecdotal evidence suggests the Internet has recruited a host of younger devotees.
"Younger people who are more computer literate are the ones out there doing this," said Russell Henderson, publications manager at the genealogical society. "They're the people who wouldn't take the time to drive across the country to look at an old cemetery, but they say, 'I can find my greatest ancestor on the computer and see the picture of the place in the Netherlands where they came from in 1227.' It's finding an instant response."
Scott Trimble, a 22-year-old Terra Linda resident, has been studying his family's roots for seven years. His personal Web page includes links to dozens of branches of his family tree as well as a funny list of "Murphy's Laws of Family History."
One law states, "You learned that grandaunt Matilda's executor just sold her life's collection of family genealogical materials to a flea market dealer 'somewhere in New York City.'" Another says, "The critical link in your family tree is named 'Smith.'"
Usually the youngest genealogy buff in any group, including the Marin County Genealogical Society, he says the hobby "gives me a connection to history."
And to some interesting progenitors.
After looking into a rumor that his family was related to Martha Washington, Trimble discovered that he's actually a distant relative of George Washington.
"It's interesting to see how family legends get twisted over time or elaborated," he said.
Trimble has also discovered that he's a sixth generation San Franciscan which he proudly advertises around the license plate on his truck.
Still, with all the success he's had with the Internet, Trimble warns that the medium isn't infallible.
"It's a great way to get in touch with other researchers all over the country, but one problem is that a lot of stuff on the Internet isn't true," he said. "What I tell people is that it's good to use the Internet to get leads, but you still have to check it out."
Often that does mean driving to remote county courthouses to check birth, death and marriage records.
But Trimble says that's part of the fun. Right now he's digging into the details of his great-grandfather's participation in the Alaska Gold Rush.
"The great thing about this hobby is that you find out these great things, and it makes you want to find out more," he said. "It's addictive.
©1999 Marin Independent Journal