More than branches on a family tree, your ancestors can inhabit a virtual world of period costumes and historical buildings through a Facebook app called Family Village. On August 7, the Facebook game developer Funium announced a $1.8 million funding round from Family Odyssey and other angel investors to populate the city-building app with better avatars and more historical documents.
Inside the game, players can build homes and businesses in a virtual world where they can immigrate and assign jobs to their ancestors. There, they can dress them up with coonskin caps and flapper costumes, fleshing out their avatars with real photos and stories.
The more people contribute about themselves and their families, the more enriching the experience will be for the community. As with any other city-building game, they’ll advance to new levels and earn virtual goods for completing quests.
Created in Provo, Utah in 2011 with $1.2 million in seed funding, Family Village will launch in beta at a time when Facebook and popular gamemaker Zynga are losing value on the stock market after a rough second quarter. Funium president and CEO Jeff Wells seemed unconcerned about the app’s prospects. Compared to other casual games, he said, Family Village is less likely to fizzle out because it “has social value instead of being meaningless.”
Funium has a growing database of historical documents like census records, high school yearbook photos, and newspaper clippings to offer Villagers who want to know more about their family histories. To get the information, the company worked out contractual arrangements with companies like FamilyLink and scoured public domain sites–an “aggressive and expensive process,” according to Wells. But these documents are highly valuable to the players, and not all of them are free.
Wells said the Facebook game is a sort of gateway to more sophisticated family research tools, like genealogy website Ancestry.com and similar sites. The app “takes family history and makes it fun,” he explained, which could draw younger or more casual researchers into the mix.
Family Odyssey’s Jim Sorenson was, in fact, an early investor in Ancestry.com and a co-founder of the DNA-mapping site GeneTree. Sorenson’s father, James LeVoy Sorenson, is known for building a repository of more than 100,000 DNA samples and family trees from around the world at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. Ancestry.com acquired GeneTree and the Foundation’s DNA samples earlier this year.
When asked if a partnership with one of these companies was in the future, Wells said, “Probably. Eventually.”