THE FAMILY FOREST PROJECT

As the old Millennium winds down, and humanity’s digital infosphere reaches critical mass, the time has come to construct a forest made up of all the family trees of all the people who have lived, are living, and will live.

The primary challenge of the Family Forest project is finding a clear, interesting, easy-to-navigate scheme for representing the great mass of all extant genealogical information inside a single comprehensive interactive virtual environment.

The Family Forest will be a spherical database, like the “Millennium World Snapshot” holomorph featured previously in this column. It will also be sedimentary, like the earth itself, with successively accumulating year-layers enclosing their chronological predecessors in an ever-growing series of concentric nested spheres. Generations and ancestors who lived further in the past will occupy lower layers than their descendents. People living today, of course, will occupy the uppermost layers, dated for the current year. Our progeny and descendents will appear on the newer layers which are added atop, calendar year by calendar year.

The key feature of the Family Forest will be the representation of each individual, not as a point in the classic family tree, but as a continuous vertical stalk extending up through as many years as the person will have lived in, with a “node” at each of the strata. Each person’s birth year is the lowest sedimentary year-layer of their “life-stalk” and their year of bodily departure is the highest layer they occupy, and the upper termination of their life-stalk. To the greatest extent possible, individuals’ life-stalks will occupy a single location in the volume and upon the surface of the Virtual Earth which contains the Family Forest, either where they were born, or lived most of their life, or died.

Each individual’s offspring will be “born” in the Family Forest as a literal offshoot, or tendril, of the life-stalk of each of their parent’s. Because the marital (and not-so-marital) mores of the current world have a lot of stalks jumping around into different flower beds, and in order to keep all the inter-generational tendrils properly and coherently connected, quite a number of folks will necessarily be represented by two or more life-stalks in separate geographic locations. Stalks and connecting tendrils of some individuals and their children and parents therefore will need to be connected through links or even digital “wormholes” betwixt and between their multiple geographic locations.

The Family Forest most likely will resemble a giant seaweed forest of billions of stalks and interconnecting tendrils in an oceanic world filled with genealogical information. Photographic, painted, or drawn portraits of the person represented by each stalk could appear at the node in the year-layer (or each node in the range of year-layers) depicted by the portrait, where these pictures exist. At the top of each life-stalk could appear a cyber-tombstone or memorial marker, making that year-layer the almost-literal ground in which the person is digitally interred. Real-life memorial parks and cemeteries might aggregate all of their “residents” into digital representations of the cemetery’s grounds and the park’s multitude of stones and markers as a series of entry portals into the Family Forest as an added feature of — and online promotion for — their services.

The Family Forest Of All Humanity would be a fitting new-millennium hyper-public arts project. It would be a beautiful depiction of the unity of all peoples everywhere in Time and Space. Hopefully some of the many online genealogical sites, genealogy organizations, and religious organizations which are devoted to researching and recording genealogy information (notably the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) can join to design, create, and “populate” the four-dimensional infospace of the Family Forest.

In the Family Forest, it’s all in the family! — the family of humanity, that is.

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