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You might have tried to bring an ancestor back to life, but now you can give them a voice

The genealogy site MyHeritage is not only animating old photos, they're helping deceased loved ones talk and tell you their "LiveStory."

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MyHeritage animates old photos, but also adds voices so the ancestor can narrate their life story themselves.
Contributed / My Heritage
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FARGO — What you see in this column today might be a little divisive. Weird, I know. I usually leave the highly controversial stuff up to the likes of Mike McFeely and the rest. But today I'm talking about something that might create in people two very different reactions.

It's something called "LiveStory" from My Heritage. You might remember MyHeritage from a story last year about how their new artificial intelligence program, “Deep Nostalgia,”could take a still photo and animate it. Soon, images of long-lost loved ones were turning their heads and blinking. Following the launch in February of 2021, MyHeritage became the No. 1 app in 30 countries, and more than 100 million animated images were created.

Well, now the group has taken it a step further with LiveStory, which not only allows people to animate ancestors, but also gives them a voice to tell their own stories. So you’re not just bringing dead people back to life — you’re letting them say a few words.

Listen to the "Back Then with Tracy Briggs" podcast here:

Since the launch in early March, more than 50 million videos have been created.

So why would this be divisive? Well, I expect some of you will see these videos and think, “Wow! That’s pretty cool!” But others might think, “Hmmm… well, that’s just kind of creepy.”

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You be the judge. MyHeritage is using well-known people from history to demonstrate how it works, like pioneering investigative journalist Nellie Bly brought to life and telling her story.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but I decided to try it for myself. Here’s how it works. You need to go to myheritage.com and sign up for the free 14-day trial (unless you’re already a member). I know, I know. Free trials often lead to subscriptions you don’t want. So make sure when you sign up that you put a note in your calendar prior to the end of the trial to cancel the subscription so you won’t be automatically charged. (I’ve learned that the hard way, believe me.)

Once you’re on the site, simply click on “Photos” and it takes you to LiveStory. Then you’ll be asked to add a photo of someone to animate and hear from that day.

I chose my great-grandmother Bertha Ellis Briggs. I never met her. She died decades before I was born. But I happened to have a photo of her and a few facts that MyHeritage allowed me to upload into the program. If you don’t have any facts, MyHeritage works like any other genealogy site by researching your ancestor’s history through a huge database of records, including census records and birth and death records.

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Census records are often the best resource to learn more about ancestors, including theirs ages, places of birth, occupations and parents' names.
Contributed / Public domain / archives.gov

It was super easy to make the LiveStory and took just a few minutes to add Bertha's facts, including that she had a sister named Dorcas — a name which I’m glad didn’t get passed down to future Briggs girls.

Processing of the video took about five minutes. When I first watched it, I might have been in the “this is creepy” camp. The voice was a little robotic and didn’t match how they animated her mouth. It was just kind of odd.

But what’s nice is they allow you to customize your video. I was able to change to a different, less robotic voice. There was even the option to choose an English or Australian accent. But since Bertha was born in Canada, then lived in Spokane, Wash., I chose a regular-old American accent.

It was nice to see Great-Grandma Bertha come to life, especially after I tweaked the video a bit. Even though the synchronization between her words and her mouth movement wasn't perfect, I still switched camps and thought, “Wow, that was pretty cool!”

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I’m not sure whether I’ll commit to the full membership at MyHeritage so I can create more LiveStory videos with other ancestors. I suppose I could get to know Great-Grandaunt Dorcas a little better.

Here is my video:

Trac
Tracy Briggs (right) and a friend throwing imaginary hats in the air in front of the Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis.
Tracy Briggs

Related Topics: HISTORYFAMILY
Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience.
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