TED Talks: Help for Genealogists

27 Aug 2013

Almost thirty years ago, people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design, joined together for the first conference about “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Since then, TED has grown into a 501(c)3 dedicated to these ideas. It now runs the TED and TEDGlobal conferences, the Open Translation Project, Ted Conversations, TED Fellos, TEDx, the annual TED Prize and the TED Talks video website.




The TED Talks video website is fascinating. There are more than 1,500 videos on a wide variety of subjects, among them:

  • Archaeology
  • Architecture
  • Business
  • Education
  • Food
  • Global Issues
  • Internet
  • Music
  • Plants
  • Thinking
  • Writing

Now you might wonder what TED talks have to do with genealogy. As genealogists, we are interested not only in family history, but social history and world history. All of these work together to give us the best picture of our ancestors.

If your ancestors lived in New York City at any time, you might enjoy Eric Sanderson’s talk New York —Before the City. He used computer technology and an eighteenth-century map to create a 3D image of what Manhattan looked like in 1609. Jean-Baptiste Michel is a Fellow at Harvard University and a visiting faculty member at Google. He specializes in using large quantities of data to understand our history and cultures. In The Mathematics of History he explains how technology is helping to reveal bigger patterns and themes in history. You might also like David Christian’s The History of Our World in 18 Minutes.

Some of the talks figure directly into genealogy. For example, Sarah Kaminsky is an actress and author from France. In 2011 she recorded My Father the Forger, a video about her father’s work during World War II to save lives. If you like to do oral interviews of your family, you might get some tips from Marc Pachter in The Art of the Interview. Over more than three decades at the Smithsonian Institution he has specialized in preserving the lives of great Americans. You might also appreciate a talk by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo called Capturing Memories in Video Art. He discusses how he memorialized his friends in a very unique way.

Those of you who are interested in DNA and genealogy would likely enjoy A Family Tree for Humanity. This talk is given by Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic. He explains the goals of the project and the DNA work that they are doing in plain English. Genealogists who use the Internet Archive as much as I do might enjoy A Free Digital Library, presented by Brewster Kahle who founded it.

If you enjoy a particular subject, you might appreciate the curated playlists. Those who enjoy reading and writing, for example, might enjoy the playlist Words, Words, Words. It has ten talks from various presenters on a wide variety of subjects.

Take the time to explore the TED Talks website. Not only will you find interesting and informative topics, you will discover a number of them that will just fill you with inspiration in general.