From the BBC News of June 13, 2005:
The kinship of strangersThe thread from Rootschat may be viewed here.
By Rob Liddle
BBC News website
What do family historians do when the trails for their own kin go cold? They join forces to uncover the life history of a randomly chosen individual from the past.
Pursuing one's ancestry used to be a labour-intensive affair - all packed lunches, trips to dusty records offices and unseemly fights over tomes with other frazzled researchers.
Now, with a wealth of genealogical information available online and an explosion in the number of people eager to research their roots, family history can be a completely different experience.
You can access birth, marriage and death indexes and census details instantaneously and quickly link up with people who have other useful resources at their disposal or specialist knowledge.
And with these developments a new breed of genealogist has emerged - ready to root at will and for whom the process of recreating people's lives and times is an end in itself.
Members of the 16,000-strong Rootschat forum now take part in a monthly challenge, in which an individual with whom none of them has any known connection is randomly selected from the 1881 census.
The job is to find out as much as possible about the mystery person within the next four weeks. It's pot luck - the person could have died a week later - but there's always something interesting to discover about them.
"I suppose it's almost like getting a bit of a hit," explains Sarah Mackay, who with partner Trystan Davies set up Rootschat, which attracts up to 140 new members every day.
"People doing their own family may get stuck for years, but it's very addictive and when you can't get any further yourself, you're still quite desperate for the same hit.
There is a serious side to the project, and the hope is that the randomly chosen person will fit into another researcher's family tree - something which has actually happened on each occasion so far.
Researcher Paul Etherington, who initiated the challenges, sees the site as a "truly altruistic experience".
Paul also came up with the idea of censuswhacking - searching for a first name, surname or occupation that appears only once in a given census (as transcribed) - which has proved a big hit on the site.
Where else would the lives of Ginnie Pig, Spud Murphey and Alfred Goold - 1901 occupation "living on condensed milk" - be recorded for posterity?
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