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The informational legacy of modern times

The Legal Genealogist has often joined with others in lamenting the dearth of personal writings and personal memorabilia that we in modern times are leaving as our legacy for the future.

As genealogists, we have the great good fortune of occasionally discovering a wonderfully revealing letter written by a grandparent, or a diary kept by a long-lost soldier, or tender love letters exchanged by even more distant ancestors.

Our own descendants may be lucky to find our Facebook posts collected in some digital archive.

It isn’t that we’re not creating data, and it isn’t that that data isn’t being collected.

It’s just that what’s being collected and who’s collecting it may not be exactly what we had in mind.

I woke up this morning to an email from Google. It began “Judy, here’s your 2019 Timeline update.” And it then presented me with a series of infographics telling me an awful lot about my year 2019.

Apparently, I did an awful lot of traveling in 2019.

Google 2019 data

To 177 places in 93 cities and even one country outside of the United States (my trip last June to THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham, England). And I traveled in motorized vehicles for a total of 279 hours. In all, I traveled a total distance of 59,828 miles — or 2.4 times around the world.

The infographics told me that my all-time data showed I’d been to five countries or regions, 327 cities and 754 places since Google began collecting this data — on the 4th of April 2015.

The overall data, I admit, is kinda cool. In the four-plus years since the data has been collected, my home is the first most common place where I have been recorded. The second most common location — not surprisingly — is Newark Airport. The top locations also include the places where the annual genealogical institutes take place — Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Athens, Georgia, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Washington, D.C. And the Salt Lake Airport. The Atlanta Airport. O’Hare Airport in Chicago. The Family History Library. The Allen County Public Library. The Library of Virginia.

But the granularity of the day-by-day data is a little frightening. It’s not quite so cool to see my brother’s home in Virginia, my doctor’s office and my dentist’s office visually depicted in the Google data. Or to realize that, while I don’t remember that I stopped off at a Dunkin Donuts before heading to the conference center at NERGC 2015 in Providence, Rhode Island, Google remembers.

Now in fairness Google tells me I asked it to collect this data: “You’re receiving this email because you turned on Location History, a Google Account–level setting that saves where you go in your private Timeline. … You can view, edit, and delete this data anytime in Timeline.”

Sigh. I don’t remember doing that either.

So heads up, folks … We really are leaving a data legacy.

One about which I have very mixed emotions.

Kind of like watching my worst enemy drive off a cliff.

In my brand-new car…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Mixed emotions,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 9 Jan 2020).

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