Ian Hunter, Embedded Systems Engineer on Tracing Family History


Hi, my name is Ian Hunter and I am an Embedded Systems Engineer from Meath who now lives in Dublin. I work in the Machine Intelligence group of Movidius, who were recently acquired by Intel. I was the first engineer to work on our Machine Learning USB Stick, and I still do so today.

When the office closed at my last job, I was still trying to figure out the exact field within software that I wanted to work on. I had done some web development, backend server work, app development – but I didn’t really have a particular draw to any of them. I had known about Movidius for a while, but it wasn’t until they had the new Computer Vision roles that I actually applied. I had only studied the subject a bit in university, but I decided to apply anyway. I’ve since realized that it is the appeal of algorithmic problems that I enjoy the most. Moving to Movidius has given me a lot of interesting problems to solve in that area, considering the confines of a small processing chip. As the company is a start-up, I also enjoy a lot more autonomy and get to fill multiple roles.

Outside of work, I have always been interested in my ancestry, and finding out as much as possible about both sides of my family’s history. My interest actually started from an off-hand comment from my mother that there was a grave with a family crest on it beside my grandfather’s plot. After visiting it myself, the idea behind the crest stuck with me. I never got the chance to meet either of my grandparents, so tracing my ancestry back this far has been a great way to reconnect with others of that generation and listen to a time before.

I really enjoy the thrill of uncovering a new connection. It is a great conversation starter – especially with the older generations. Family members are brilliant for early connections and more personal recounts. The only problem is that they often gloss over minor facts that seem insignificant, but from a research perspective may make a big difference.

I have often found relatives through a complex combination of tangentially related characters. Aside from stories and recollections, some family members have handed-down items that give the names on a graph or tree a more personal touch, or provide some undocumented facts. One of my favourite items is my grand-aunt’s university scarf that she would have worn in the 1940’s, which was from the same university that I attended. Things like that provide a lot of sentimentality for me.


Above: An extensive family tree

Ireland is a great place to do genealogical research, due to the diaspora of Irish people around the world who come back as tourists, especially from the United States. This means it has a reasonably well-funded set of people behind it. You can look up old census records, read some rare books, or look up other things like shipping or merchant records to find more information. The broader Internet is also amazing for research as well. It is easy to contact other researchers on the other side of the globe that may be tangentially related. There are places to do DNA tests and compare ancestries too. Harking back to my own role at Movidius, a lot of heritage companies are using Machine Intelligence with their large community datasets. I had my DNA tested, and while there were no major surprises, it did discern that I was 0.3% Laotian. Even though it is presumably noise, the idea is fun to consider.

One site I use – wikitree.com – has a feature to calculate relationships between people in their community tree. It turns out Pocahontas’s great-great-grandchild’s sister-in-law’s grandchild’s nephew’s daughter was my 3rd great grandmother’s aunt. Insanely tenuous, but a lot of fun.

Much of my extended family are located in the North West of Ireland, in both Cavan and Sligo. I visit them many times during the year, and I always try to ask as many questions as I can while there. My favourite story is of my grandmother’s godmother, Annie Clarke – who was a Protestant missionary in China. She was a prim and proper lady, who, despite the climate, refused outright to slightly reduce her many layers of petticoats and finery while trekking through the Chinese jungle. On one occasion, herself and her husband were travelling with the aide of some local guides, when Annie fell into a tribal spike pit! However, she was saved from the impact by the massive swathes of clothing she wore. The locals saw it to be a miracle and promptly converted – or so the story goes.

Another tale, from the other side of my family, is of a William Pollock, who was a ship carpenter by day – but a smuggler for the prohibition by the cover of night. The coastguard caught him one day, but seeing that their own ship was damaged, Pollock mended their sails in exchange for his pardon.

I have researched extensively on both sides of my family, but it has been much easier on my mother’s side as there seems to be many more fellow researchers on that side. My grandmother on that side also had a few family heirlooms that helped enormously, including a family bible, some medals, and even some census and birth records. Unfortunately, my father’s side is much more difficult. Most family memories do not go back too far, and nothing has been handed down. It is particularly frustrating as there are so many people in Sligo with the same surname, but I have no idea how to connect them all.


Above: Ian’s Grandfather and GrandUncle

I think the main change I have had in my life because of this research is that I have gotten a lot closer with my family. Part of me wants to preserve this information for the future, although I mainly do it for fun. As I have grown up, I have realised that life is precious, which is something that you do not always notice at a younger age. There are still so many stories that I am learning about of family members who I was never able to meet. If I had started at a younger age, then that would not have been as significant for me. I was always told growing up “Work to live, don’t live to work”; this research lets me see how my family lived, while giving me a break from work.

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