Bringing Your Ancestors to Life
Using MyHeritage's New Service to Animate Your Past
(I am not affiliated with nor have I received any compensation from MyHeritage. This article is purely my opinion and experience with their product.)
MyHeritage has recently unveiled an eerily wonderful new service called Deep Nostalgia™, which takes a still photograph and animates it. While the results can be of mixed quality and can have a weird "uncanny valley" aspect, they can be astonishingly life-like and of incredible value to anyone who loves genealogy.
This is essentially deepfake technology. While it can be super problematic in the real world and lead to all sorts of things being created out of whole cloth and passed off as reality, it is a fascinating addendum to your genealogy research.
The way it works is this: you upload a photo to MyHeritage's "Animate Photos" page, and within a few seconds it makes a short, animated video of the photo. You can imagine how exciting it is to see a great-grandparent who you never met looking back at you, blinking and moving their head. Or your parent as a teenager, before you knew them. It's nothing short of amazing.
Some folks have balked at the idea as being too creepy. Maybe. But if the technology of video cameras had existed back then, how different would it be from watching a home movie of them? Personally, I think the benefit outstrips the willies you might initially get from seeing the animated photos.
MyHeritage allows you about five freebies, but if you want to do more, you'll need to sign up for their Premium Plus service. If you already do genealogy and want to do a family tree or use other services of theirs, it might be worth the steep annual fee. If you just want to try out the animation technology, choose your photos carefully, because you'll only get to do a handful of them before they send you to their Premium Plus sign-up page. (I should point out that I was already had a free account at MyHeritage when I did my free animations. If you are showing up on their site for the very first time, I don't know if they'll let you do them without creating a free account first.)
If you choose to animate a photo with more than one person in it, it will ask you to choose which face you want to do, so there is only the option of doing one person at a time. I expect when the technology improves, we'll be able to animate a whole group in a photo. How trippy will that be?
When I found out about this service, naturally I was all over it. I animated tons of photos. Some were brilliant and utterly life-like. Others were wonky and awkward. ("Mom's smile didn't look quite like that. And what's up with the Elephant Man thing happening with Papou's head?") But overall, the results were great.
One thing I did that really helped was to clean up the photos in Photoshop first, at least with most of them. I took out any scratches or spots that would mar the final product, then uploaded them and in some cases, colorized them. (Yes, MyHeritage also has a colorizing service! So fun!). If you have any Photoshop skills, it will really help your finished product to have as smooth and unblemished a photo as you possibly can.
Let's start here with the people I knew, and moving on to the ancestors I never met...
My mother, Kallie (Kalliopi), on her wedding day.
My father, Arthur, in his high school yearbook photo. The first is the original, the second is cropped and colorized, and the third is colorized and animated.
For this batch, I'm just showing you the animation, un-colorized.
My maternal grandmother, Anna Margaroni from Samos, Greece, in a photo taken when she worked a maid in Cairo.
My maternal grandfather, Theodoris Spinos, from Alatsata, Asia Minor.
My paternal grandmother, Despina Haratsi, from Alatsata, Asia Minor, on her wedding day.
My paternal grandfather, Yiorgos Tsitouras, from Agalo, Arcadia, on his wedding day.
It's interesting that the two grandparents from Alatsata didn't marry each other, but they knew each other as neighbors. Their kids ended up marrying.
These are a mix of b&w and colorized.
Maternal GGM Kalliopi Roukouna, from Neo Karlovassi, Samos (Mother of Anna Margaroni)
Maternal GGM Hariklia "Alexander", from Alatsata, Asia Minor (Mother of Theodoris Spinos). Her Greek last name is still unknown, but was Anglicized on my grandfather's death certificate as "Alexander". So maybe it was Alexandrou, Alexandridis, or similar?
Maternal GGF Diamandis (Adamandios) Margaronis, of Neo Karlovassi, Samos (Father of Anna Margaroni)
Maternal GGF Dimitris Spinos of Alatsata, Asia Minor (Father of Theodoris Spinos). This is the only image I have of him, from a portrait of him and his wife Hariklia, and while imperfect, I'm grateful to have anything.
Paternal GGM Eleni Aggelopoulou, of Agalo, Arcadia. (Mother of Yiorgos Tsitouras)
Paternal GGF Athanassios Tsitouras of Arahova, Arcadia (father of Yiorgos Tsitouras). He moved to Agalo to marry instead of the usual other way around because his bride had land there from her father.
Paternal GGM Kiriakoula Pakas, of Alatsata, Asia Minor (Mother of Despina Haratsi). She was widowed young and had to flee Asia Minor with her children as refugees.
(I have no photos of my paternal GGF Kostas (Kostandinos) Haratsis, of Alatsata, Asia Minor (Father of Despina Haratsi). No known photographs exist of him. He died fairly young doing some kind of manual labor, as far as we know.)
You can see that how useful and almost magical this is for genealogy!
And fun fact - it's not limited just to old photos! Look what you can do with art! (With mixed results, as you can see.) Some are mesmerizing, like the soulful Fayum mummy portraits...
Some are intriguing, if a little eerie...
And others, well...
Sleep tight, all!
I know that many family historians come to feel a certain affection for ancestors they never met or that they don't even know that much about. I felt even more connection and fondness for them when I could see their expressive eyes move or the beginnings of a grin form. I could almost feel the λεβέντη* attitude coming off my grandfather. It was inexplicably touching to look into the deep, soulful eyes of a widow or see the shy smile of a bride.
The technology may not be perfect, and it might be a little unsettling initially, but bringing your ancestors to life - if only for a few, moving seconds - is a marvelous and poignant choice to have.
*Λεβέντης - Leventis. A Greek word denoting a brave and gallant man.
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