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HindustanTimes Tue,02 Sep 2014

Kaleidoscope

Draw up family tree, trace lost history online
Amrutha Penumudi, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, December 12, 2012
First Published: 13:39 IST(12/12/2012)
Last Updated: 15:55 IST(17/12/2012)
Backlit keyboard is reflected in screen of Apple Macbook Pro notebook computer in Warsaw. Credit: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

We humans, are an inherently curious species — our urge to question and explore is infinite. And yet, in spite of the many things that we have managed to find out about ourselves, there are certain aspects of our pasts that are tough to track. Cashing in on this trend is former BBC journalist, Saima Mir, who has created a site that allows south Asians to track their lineage.

Titled whosthedaadi.com, the website was born shortly after Mir’s maternal grandmother developed Alzheimer’s. “When I was little, she would tell me stories about her parents, and our history.  I never wrote any of them down and then realised that all those tales about my heritage had just disappeared,” says Mir.Mir’s family is originally from Srinagar, Kashmir. After Partition her grandparents settled in Karachi, Pakistan.

“I would love to maybe trace my long-lost relatives in India or the Sikh elders my great-grandfather used to describe as his brothers, in a small village near Amritsar, Punjab. That is when the idea to create such a website was born,” she says.

How it works
The crowd-sourcing website allows people to share and cross-reference information. It permits users to upload pictures and bits of personal data about their history. This information is then tagged with names, dates and places to create a database to help us fill in the gaps in each other’s family trees.

Mir insists that the other ancestry websites work fine for western users, but south Asians have no digitalised records of births, deaths and marriages, making it difficult to track our roots. “But we do have photographs and a great tradition of storytelling and oral history, which is what we are tapping into,” she says.

The website is also collaborating with Getty Images that will share its archives that date back to the 1800s. The website’s archives catalogue thousands of photographs of India and events post and pre-Partition. “A lot of our traffic comes from India. And I definitely think and hope that the site will help reunite people who have lost touch due to the Indo-Pak partition. The event is only 65 years old and many of our grandparents have lived through it. I created this site because I wanted to build bridges between communities and countries,” says Mir.

There’s more
Currently, the website is still in its Beta form and functions only  on an invite-only basis. However, if you are interested in signing up, you can always drop Mir an email, and she will then grant you access to the website.

The creator is currently also concentrating on making the site more user friendly. Talking about future plans, Mir says, “We’re also gathering data about the temples in India that hold genealogical information. We’re also working on a smart phone application that users will be able to use to track and update family trees. I would love to map the trees of some of India’s famous families, like the Bachchans, Kapoors, and Khans!”


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