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Orem company about to put the fun in family tree gaming

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OREM — A Utah-based company, Funium LLC, is about to jump into the popular arena of social network-based games with its "Family Village."

The game involves building and populating a village, similar to other Facebook-type games. But, there are no fictional characters involved. Instead, the on-screen people are your real-life relatives.

According to Funium CEO Jeff Wells, "What we're trying to do is build on the merging of the Facebook and social-gaming environment along with family history."

Combine the popular "Farmville" or "Cityville" and add a genealogy twist, and you get the idea.

"I had a strong interest to get the people who were disinterested in family history, interested," Wells said. "What we're trying to do is take an exciting medium right now, which is the social-gaming environment, and create real-world content that has social value for people on a long term basis."

Social network games are hugely popular. Recent statistics show 47 million Americans played them in 2009. By 2012, the number playing will be nearly double.

"Family Village" is in the final stages of testing, with about 5,000 players participating.

Here's the twist to the game. As you build out your village and add family members to it, the game then searches the Internet for information about your relatives.

"Such as census records, maps and yearbook albums, marriage records, war records, those types of things", Wells said. "We'll be offering up those things in the game. So you can go deeper and deeper, build a bigger village and have more of your family members in the game itself," he said. "That's one of the keys to the game is that we want people who play the game to be able to know more about their own ancestors."

Jeri Lin Bearnson of Orem is an online gamer who's been participating in the early testing of the game. She has learned some new information about one of her relatives.

"In fact just this morning, I found a document that I wasn't aware of about my great-great-great grandfather. He was one of the original settlers of Salt Lake," she said.

The game located some old newspaper articles, which she was able to download and save into her family history records.

Ross Wolfley, operations officer with Funium, said those who have been involved in the testing of "Family Village" have really gotten into it.

"This has the potential to take someone who has never had any interest whatsoever in genealogy or family history, to be able to turn them completely around and get them very excited about it," Wolfley said.

Added CEO Wells:" I had somebody tell me that doing family history was a lot like doing taxes, and I figured if I can make doing family history fun, like playing Monopoly, then we'd have a winner, which I think we do."

Family Village will be launched to the public in February. You can learn more about it at apps.facebook.com/myfamilyvillage/?partnerid=fvksl

e-mail: kmccord@desnews.com