QR Codes can 'expand the experience' of genealogists

Published: Thursday, Feb. 9 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

QR Codes engraved on metal plaques can be applied to headstones and direct visitors to further information about the deceased person.

Andrew Mcdonald, Qr Memorials

SALT LAKE CITY — Quick Response Codes have been cropping up on movie posters, restaurant windows, store and library shelves — and headstones at cemeteries.

"Genealogical Uses for QR Codes," a presentation on Feb. 3 at this year's RootsTech Family History & Technology Conference by High-Definition Genealogy founder Thomas MacEntee, brought to light some ways these codes can be used in family history efforts.

"I'm seeing them more and more every time I turn around, so I think they are becoming more popular," MacEntee said during the presentation about the black and white squares with a boxy design in them.

QR Codes are convenient, he said, for linking to large amounts of information or information where there isn't space or the means to display it.

"Say you're visiting a historical site," MacEntee said. "It's not practical to embed a video screen at that site, but with a QR Code you can put it on someone's smartphone and they can access the video."

To use a QR Code, a person must have a smart device with a camera, a QR Code-reading application on that device, and an Internet connection to access the content the code links to.

Some of the genealogical uses MacEntee identified for QR Codes are linking to family trees, providing citation information at the bottom of a document and for referring people to particular pages in research databases.

The biggest current use for using QR Codes in family history, MacEntee said, is applying them to headstones to provide a way for people to access further memorial information.

"It's impractical to have a family tree on the gravestone for that person, but you can actually have a memorial that you (access with) that QR Code," MacEntee said. The memorials could have things such as pictures, videos clips, life stories or obituaries.

Andrew McDonald, of Provo, is the president of QR Memorials, a company that makes QR Code plaques for headstones and hosts memorial websites linked to by the codes. He has made plaques for the headstones of his brother and one of his grandparents.

"I think putting QR Codes on a headstone (provides a) richer experience for not only the people who are scanning the code and learning about the family history of that person but also for the family itself, to have a more fulfilling memorial experience," McDonald said.

While newer technology may come out and overtake the QR Code, he said, it doesn't mean that the older technology won't work. The memorial websites will still be around, and if a new way of linking to the sites is introduced, the plaques can be replaced.

But for as long as QR Codes are in use, "it's going to be a good experience memorializing that person," McDonald said.

Though QR Codes can be helpful in sharing genealogy, there are some drawbacks that MacEntee identified beyond the possibility of the technology being replaced.

First, not everyone has a QR Code-compatible device. This can be worked around if a link or web address is provided under the QR Code for people to go to when they have access to a computer.

Second, an Internet connection is required for QR Codes to work; they can't be accessed everywhere.

Finally, QR Codes link out to websites, and because the only thing people scanning the code can see is a black-on-white box of pixels, they can't be sure where the QR Code will take them.

Despite their potential drawbacks, when QR Codes are utilized, MacEntee said, they are valuable to genealogy work.

"QR Codes expand the experience. That is their main goal," he said. "That is how I see them, especially in the genealogy field."

MacEntee's presentation was one of many given at the Salt Palace Convention Center during RootsTech 2012, which ended on Feb. 4.

For more information about RootsTech, visit rootstech.org.

Email: rbrutsch@desnews.com

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