By H. David Morrow FuzzyGem@worldnet.att.net
© H. David Morrow ~ October 29, 2004
"Guess what I did?" I asked GW (Geneaholic Wife) one morning last week. "I was up all night working on a way to clone your ancestors from pictures... temporarily."
"Whoa!" she said with no small amount of sarcasm. "You're telling me that you did in one night something the world's best genetic scientists haven't been able to do with years of experimentation? How? And what does 'temporarily' mean?"
She was obviously not impressed with my abilities. On the other hand, she was excited at the prospect of being able to converse with her departed ancestors.
"I knew you'd be thrilled. Here's what I did: all the scientists have been extracting DNA from bits of cells. I figured that pictures are images and the DNA has got to be in the image somewhere. So I played with the photo editing program until it gave me the foundation of the image. That included the DNA (stuck in one of the pixels) and from there everything was easy," I carefully explained.
(For the Geneaholics among you: not every care-giver is going to have all the ability my wife's care-giver has. Don't be too disappointed!)
"Wait a minute. You're saying you can clone my grandmother?" she questioned.
Full of my normal supreme confidence, I said, "Sure. What do you want to ask her?"
"Gee. I've got so many questions I don't even know where to start. How long do I have?"
"About an hour," I replied. "I wrote the program so that the clone disappears after one hour. That way we don't have to worry about food, sleeping arrangements or any of your relatives staying for too long."
GW furrowed her brow. Thinking real hard, she finally said, "I want to know how Gramma got from Ohio to Missouri. And why she moved. And how she met my granpa. And what her life was like. And..."
"Hold it," I interrupted. "Let's see the clone first." I clicked the mouse on the clone image and turned on the microphone. "You have to talk to her through the microphone and see her on the computer screen."
"If she were a real clone, she'd be able to sit on the sofa with me." GW said with easily detectible acerbity.
Just what I was afraid of. My geneaholic is never satisfied with a little when she can ask for a lot. "I haven't figured out how to get the DNA to make a 3-D image. You'll have to settle for a virtual grandmother."
GW spoke into the microphone, "Gramma, how are you?" The virtual clone's eyes moved, but she didn't answer. GW turned from the monitor to me and intoned, "It's a fake! She's not responding."
I was perplexed at first, then I realized what was wrong. "Didn't you tell me she was hard of hearing? I must have cloned her without her hearing aid." Of course, when her grandmother was alive, hearing aids hadn't been invented. She probably had an ear trumpet.
"Speak louder. Shout your question," I told GW.
GW yelled into the microphone. Gramma moved her head to see where the noise was coming from, but she still didn't answer. GW looked at me with frustration, "She still can't understand me. Maybe you can clone her younger when she could still hear."
"If I did that, she wouldn't be able to answer any of your questions," I intoned sadly. "Remember, she lost her hearing before she was your grandmother. Let's try someone else."
"OK," my wife said brightening a bit. "Try Uncle Jed. We've got that 1920 picture."
I scanned the photo and, in a flash, ran it through my version of the editing program. Sure enough, there was Uncle Jed. He was wearing overalls, a long-sleeved shirt and his famous wrinkled fedora. (The one with the bullet holes.) Only one problem: his back was to the screen. The picture was of him running away from the revenuers. Something about untaxed bathtub gin.
Uncle Jed just wasn't used to appearing on a computer monitor nor being a virtual clone. All of GW's shouting couldn't get him to turn around. I guess he thought her shouts of "Stop" were coming from the federal agents. She looked at me with more frustration in her face and voice.
"Well, genius, it looks like you've got another long night ahead of you... to fix the problem."
That wasn't what I had in mind. I was expecting a conjugal reward but got another assignment instead! The next morning I sleepily informed GW that she should pick another ancestor to try.
"Aunt Sunnie," she said. I was happy to see that she hadn't given up on my new cloning process. After scanning and editing, Aunt Sunnie appeared on the monitor.
"Aunt Sunnie, I'm your grand niece," GW yelled into the microphone.
"Quit shouting at me. What d' you want? And be quick about it. I have to boil the clothes, can the vegetables and bake a pie all before Ezekial gets back from the pasture," Aunt Sunnie replied with some tartness to her voice. She was leaning over a large, steaming tub in front of her house.
"I just wanted to know if you remember how and why Gramma left Ohio and went to Missouri?"
Aunt Sunnie's face screwed up a little before she answered GW, "That old bat. She hasn't talked to me in years. Won't even answer my questions."
"That's cause her hearing is defective," replied GW.
"How'd you know that? Who'd you say you were again? I'm pretty busy now, why don't you come back later? Maybe next month." Aunt Sunnie walked away with an armful of hot, wet clothes.
GW looked like she was going to cry. I felt so terrible that I deleted the whole editing program.
I learned two lessons from this story: First, even if you could talk to a dead ancestor, (assuming your care-giver is as brilliant as GW's) you probably won't get any information. They'll just have too much to do. Second, collect documents! They don't talk back, can't walk away from you and never have to boil clothes or bake pies.