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Data Analysis and Crowd Sourcing Genealogy Style

What happens when geek worlds collide?  You get a crowd-sourced genealogy database that gives you genealogical information on millions of people.  Wow, right? Talk about using technology and social networking to your advantage.  Well, it has happened, and FamiLinx is the result.

This idea had percolated in the back of my head for a while.  Seriously, why were we not harnessing the collective power of the genealogical workforce an da taking their family trees to make a huge database which could be used for all sorts of statistical and anthropological data?  This was why I was fascinated that someone took the initiative and did it.  I may think big, but there was no way I had the know-how to actually do it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term crowdsourcing,  you could think of it as a large group of people coming together to get a job done quicker.  Like a big pot-luck dinner.  Each person brings a dish to the table so that the whole party can feast together at the end.  One person now isn’t stuck in the kitchen all day.  The idea of crowdsourcing always appealed to me in terms of genealogical studies because I could see large projects that were too massive to be completed by one person taking weeks instead of years to complete.

FamiLinx was created and run by the Erlich Lab which is located at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

To put it simply it is a large database of genealogical information harvested from public profiles on Geni.com.  Don’t worry, they asked first and you can read all about it here in their FAQ.  This data was then cleaned up so it could be used to tabulate information on people from the trees which could be used for future research.  For instance places people lived were recorded as latitude and longitude.  These were turned into coordinates using Yahoo! Geoparser.  Those coordinates then can be used to track migration patterns of ancestors.  Other types of demographic data was collected as well for analysis in other ways.

On their website you can view a video showing the information they collected at work.  Specifically migration patterns of those 43 million people they have in the database.  You can view it on YouTube here.  Watching it you can really get the sense that Europeans, and those areas settled by Europeans, are really into genealogy.  Oh, and moved a lot of different places.

The other part of me, the non-tech side but the one who earned a Biology degree, was enthralled with their lab and website.  If you like genetic genealogy you need to go check out their site and see the other genomics projects they are working on. Two research projects caught my eye.  First the one on STRs (Short Tandem Repeats) and the role they play in human traits.  The other is on how you can uncover a man’s identification from their genetic sample in anonymous research studies.

I don’t know about you, but I see this lab influencing the tech and science aspects of genealogy in the years to come.

About Shannon Combs Bennett

Shannon Combs-Bennett is a stay at home mom who writes both a blog and for print publication. Her passion is hunting down the facts behind her family’s stories. You can follow her on Facebook(www.facebook.com/TntFamilyHistory) and on Twitter (@tntfamhist.) Shannon is the author of IDG’s monthly column, The Society Pages.

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