The Power of Place in Genealogy

Power of Place

I was only 15 years old, and I was with a bunch of other rowdy teenage boys. 35 others to be exact. We were all dressed from head to toe in the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. I was in our nation’s capital as part of a 15-day excursion for the BSA National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. It was a lot of fun. But I wouldn’t say we were a particularly Reverent group.

However, one place had a powerful effect on me and the other young men of our troop. It was a place of solemnity. A place of awe. A place of gratitude and, yes, reverence. We visited Arlington National Cemetery where hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who fought for our country are laid to rest. In particular, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier made a lasting impression on me.

This is the power of place.

Image credit: By Sgt. Erica Vinyard, U.S. Army. Public Domain,

I have felt similar feelings at other places. Some places carry historical significance. Others are sites of religious importance. Some are mundane locations that bring back memories of personally important events in your life. And others are places important in the lives of your ancestors. The power of place allows you to feel connected to something greater than yourself. It allows you to reach back into the past, feeling a bond with events and people you have never even met.

I love this about places.

Genealogy and Family History

I also love the feeling of belonging and the connectedness that comes from researching one’s heritage. Today, genealogy research is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow. People engage in genealogy in a variety of ways – from DNA tests to television shows, from occasional hobbyists to professional researchers. There are myriad ways of “doing” genealogy. I personally believe, however, that everyone involved in genealogy does so from a common need to feel connected. To not feel alone on this planet of 7 billion inhabitants. Somehow, understanding your past helps you understand more about yourself, even though it doesn’t define you completely.

Knowing more about the context of the lives of your ancestors enriches this understanding ten-fold. This is why there is a growing trend in the genealogy industry to provide new content in the form of photos and historical facts to give context to the names, dates, and places in your pedigree. These innovations are indicators of a growing and evolving industry. They are also attempts to attract a younger demographic to an industry that has traditionally been dominated by older men and women.

The Family Nexus, LLC has just launched an innovative new app with the potential to further change how people learn about and engage in family history. The free iPhone app integrates with the popular family tree website,, to download about 200 years of your family pedigree. Then the app automatically plots the birth, marriage, death, and burial locations of your ancestors on an interactive Google map.

The Family Nexus app shows the location of events from your family tree.

User Experiences

Sonia Conrad, an early user of the app commented, “Seeing everything on a map like this really changed my perspective of my ancestors. For example, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and didn’t even know I had roots in the area I live in now. I am excited to make more discoveries using The Family Nexus app.”

In addition to interesting visualizations, the app engages users by alerting them when they are near the location of an event that took place in their family history. Imagine heading home for the holidays and getting a notification that you are only a few miles from the burial place of your great-grandmother. A quick visit can help you feel connected to your past, and then prompt questions and storytelling that draws you closer to your living relatives as well.

Being map-based the app clearly focuses on the places associated with ancestral events. However, you don’t have to live or travel to those locations to benefit from the app. For example, another user was delighted to get an alert on the anniversary of her great-grandfather’s death. She shared a post to Facebook directly from the app and commented that she was saddened that she never got to meet him. Later that day, a great-aunt who lives 1500 miles away replied to the post and shared a story about this ancestor, and then another relative shared another story. Powerful connections were made as a result of a simple share.

Download the app

The Family Nexus app aims to facilitate those discoveries and those connections. The app is free to download from the Apple store. New features, including premium content, are scheduled for release later this year.

I believe that apps like The Family Nexus will interest a new generation of users in their family history. Spending just a few minutes a week getting to know the names, faces, and places where our ancestors lived and died helps us feel connected in a way that few things can. And if you have the privilege of actually visiting some of those places, you may find yourself experiencing feelings of awe, gratitude, and reverence.

This is the power of place.

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  1. Mary Lou Bowman


    I really enjoyed this one David. I can’t wait until you’re able to have one for Android phones!

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