Belfast Telegraph

Do you really want your own descendants to use old Facebook or Twitter posts to form your lasting legacy?

By Claire Harrison

The year is 2114 and my great-great-granddaughter is doing some research into her family tree. She heads down to the Public Records Office of the Independent State of Northern Ireland which is still in Belfast's Titanic Quarter (recently the scene of the 200th commemorations) but now on a massive floating deck with various glass compartments containing documents from different eras of the State's rich history.

(When I say floating, I don't mean on the water. I mean up in the air, of course – because of the flood warnings.) She knows that her dear old great-great-granny was a newspaper journalist (what a quaint profession!) when the State was known as Northern Ireland before it was able to cut free in 2050 on the back of a multi-billion pound fracking industry.

There are lots of resources available to help her – the recently released census of 2011, birth and death certificates (for I am now dead), old copies of the Belfast Telegraph and, of course, the all-important Social Media section. My descendant knows that's the place to start if you really want to piece together the life of someone who lived in the early 21st century.

She is hoping that I was an active member of the social media fad which exploded around 2005, firstly with Facebook and then Twitter – in which users bizarrely shared and photographed every aspect of normal life – before it died out spectacularly about 20 years later.

Back in the real, present world, I'm starting to feel a bit sorry for my great-great-granddaughter in this imaginary scenario.

The work of a family tree detective may be easier for her due to the meticulous, perhaps obsessive, documentation of daily life after the advent of the internet. But that will come to her at the expense of the mystery and reward of digging into the past with some scant but vital information.

Nowadays, we're lucky to have three or four dusty nuggets of information on an ancestor on which we can make our own conjectures of what their life was like.

Finding them requires perseverance, white gloves and deciphering old handwriting – so the rewards are rich when you find a new piece to the jigsaw.

I find it all very romantic which is why I'm such a huge fan of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? series.

Last week's programme looking into the family tree of actor Martin Shaw was a classic episode of how to use old documents to solve a long-running mystery. In his case, it was one that had dogged his father's life for many years.

Shaw was able to dust off old registrar certificates, wills, newspaper advertisements and trade directories to understand how his own path was moulded by the decisions of his ancestors. And it completely changed his perspective on a much maligned grandfather whom he'd never met.

The programme made me wonder, what will our descendants make of us when they look back in a century? Yes, our great-great-grandchildren will get a very full picture of our opinions, experiences and culture thanks to social media – but do they really need to know what we thought of that year's Strictly Come Dancing final?

It's a reminder of the sense in being careful about how much you share on Twitter because it may not just be prospective employers who are turned off by pictures of your drunken nights out, or what you had for breakfast. Do you really want your own descendants to use them to form your lasting legacy?

A man who made women happy

Every day is an education. I was stunned to learn this week that the man who invented milk chocolate hails from Killyleagh.

Sir Hans Sloan, born in the Co Down town in 1660, had an eventful life which boasted many achievements.

But the most important, in my opinion, was his decision to take "nauseating" cocoa in Jamaica, where it was mixed with water, and mix it with milk and sugar instead.

He brought the recipe back and the rest is glorious hot chocolate history.

Now, how many men can say they've brought so much joy to billions of women around the world?

How time stands still in Downton

I absolutely love Downton Abbey, but I'm baffled by how its main characters all seem completely immune to the ravages of time.

Twelve years have passed since the first series opened with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The year is now 1924 and Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess, elderly back then, is as hale and hearty as ever. But the biggest mystery is youthful posh pooch Isis who, even if a pup in 1912, should be getting on by now.

I fear poor Isis may be gone by series six – or viewer credibility stretched to the limit by an immortal dog.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph