Genealogical platforms (such as Ancestry or MyHeritage) provide their users with the opportunity to research their family histories on their computers and smartphones. These platforms transform the ways in which individuals can research their families’ pasts and do family memory work. They offer a) vast amounts of digitized historical documents, b) DNA testing and an evaluation of users’ ancestry, as well as c) a forum for connection and collaboration among users. In my current project I analyze how genealogical platforms shape and transform media practices related to family memory – one area of datafication that affects families.
The project combines a mapping of the platforms and an analysis of the platforms’ affordances with research into the lived experiences of the platforms’ users (by means of qualitative interviews). In doing so, it zooms in on a range of problematic issues: Firstly, issues of data protection and digital traces regarding potentially sensitive information (such as DNA test results) and the use of this information by the platforms. Relatedly, it scrutinizes users’ perceptions and reflections upon these issues. Moreover, the project considers the role of algorithms and artificial intelligence in structuring the supply and consequently the interpretation of historical information by way of the selection of available historical records. Finally, it contributes knowledge on the impact of media platforms, technology and artificial intelligence on everyday life and media practices related to (family) memory.
In my presentation, I want to focus on first insights from my fieldwork and discuss how these platforms facilitate constructions of individual and collective identity and “doing family” (see also Lohmeier & Böhling, 2017), especially with regard to categories such as nationality and ethnicity.
Lohmeier, Christine, and Rieke Böhling. 2017. “Communicating Family Memory: Remembering in a Changing Media Environment.” Communications 42 (3): 277–92.