I recently attended a family reunion on Labor Day weekend. It wasn't horribly exciting, but it always feels good to see your extended family. Our family reunions include about four generations of descendants. I've heard it is unusual for extended families to keep in touch like this, so I guess it is pretty nice to have these annual reunions.
Although it feels good to see familiar people, I have to admit, I really don't know who most of them are. The last few reunions, however, my Aunt Wanda has been designing large family tree posters and putting them up during the reunions. She designs them like the shape of a tree. Our common ancestor is at the trunk, and the youngest generations are the leaves. I really enjoy looking at them. They help me feel more connected to my family: I can see where I fit in, and can even learn a few names.
This year she went even further. The family tree was divided into three posters. The first was the same as before, a large tree depicting the four or so generations that normally gather at our reunion. Lots of photos had been taken last reunion, so there was a photo for nearly every person on the tree. The second poster was another tree, but it showed a common ancestor a few more generations up. There were several branches showing the siblings and cousins of the trunk from the first tree. When the larger tree branched out further, she graphed the descendants using a simpler line graph so more people could fit into the space of the poster. In this way, she included all of the names from the first poster and several other sub-trees. The third poster was placed under the second poster and labeled "Roots of the Hart Family Tree." It simply showed ancestors further up the line, but no descendants. In all, the data from the posters went up 13 generations, counting from me.
I was really amazed at the amount of family tree information. And also a little let down, because I only get to see this tree once a year. I'd love to have access to this data in some sort of electronic form. I imagine myself studying the names and photos of my family members at my leisure and actually remembering people's names next reunion.
Having access to such a large amount of data is an appetizing idea. It's the same reason I'm attracted to other electronic forms of data. Like MIDI files, electronic books, closed captions, karoke data, and even HTML.
A similar lust for data is why internet advertisers seek information about their consumers. And why message boards and online communities seek data about their members. And why users of those communities seek information about their fellow members.
Back in the modem and BBS era, my brother suggested the sysop of a large multi-line BBS used his administrator access to spy on his users. I wasn't sure if that was true, but realized potential was very tempting. If you were in control of a large database of users and their messages, wouldn't it be tempting to take a peek at the otherwise hidden data and unaccessible correlations and searches?
In this electronic age, I spend a lot of time organizing my electronic data. Filing and re-organizing files on my computer. Making tables of information of some topic I had researched. Dreaming of having MIDI files of all my favorite music, all complete and correct. Sometimes it seems a little overwhelming, a daunting, never-ending, paper-pushing task. But when it works, having access to well organized data can be an exciting pleasure.