Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Favorite Star Trek Episode

What does Star Trek have to do with Genealogy?  In the case of this one episode, everything.

I have a number of "favorite" Star Trek episodes, really, from many of the offshoots of that many-branched series (almost like a family tree, in fact).  One of these, like many of the best episodes of that saga, is completely without bang-bang shoot-'em-up.  It is a thoughtful episode, and it is about genealogy.  The episode is from the Voyager series, which many fans did not like, but which I am very fond of.  After all, we finally got the female captain that Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, envisioned at the beginning, more than forty years ago.

The episode is called "11:59," and in it, Captain Kathryn Janeway, not having to fend off this or that hostile alien race at the moment, explores a family legend.  Like most of us, she finds that the legend is not exactly what it is cracked up to be.  Briefly, the legend concerns her ancestor Shannon O'Donnell, at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.  She was an astronaut, so the legend goes, and an engineer.  She helped build a fantastic early twenty-first-century structure called The Millennium Gate, in a small town in Indiana.  Janeway finds that the legend has flaws, and discovers the most important part of it, which apparently had been downplayed in the telling:  the small town in Indiana, where Shannon O'Donnell did actually end up, was home to a fellow named Janeway, whom she eventually married, and thereby began the branch of the family tree from which the captain emerged.

In pursuing the legend, Captain Janeway uses the methods of genealogy, searching court records, vital records, newspaper records, censuses, and other familiar documents and sources.  All of these are stored digitally in the ships computer, loaded with all the knowledge of earth from earliest times to their own twenty-third century, a great mobile internet "wayback machine."  The rest of the crew gets caught up in the search, giving the captain advice, helping her search the records and history.  First Officer (the series' name for what we in our own century would call the executive officer), Chakotay offers a tongue-in-cheek version of their own situation, as a future family legend might tell it.

In the end, the captain, though slightly disappointed to find the legend was somewhat less glamorous than she had been told as a child by her Aunt Martha, apparently the keeper of the family history, reconciles herself to the facts.  Neelix, a crewmember, even finds a photograph of Shannon O'Donnell Janeway, late in life, with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren arrayed around her.  It is a great genealogical story,and to the uninitiated viewer, would have been a wonderful introduction to the fun of genealogy..  Many people over the last nearly fifty years have mentioned how watching Star Trek as children influenced their career choices later in life.  I wonder if anyone has been influenced to pursue their family history by the episode "11:59?"


Greta Koehl said...

I lost track of Star Trek in later years, but this sounds like a fantastic episode. When I go back and see shows/movies/books with a genealogy theme, they almost always turn out to be fascinating - I guess because genealogy just makes for a great mystery.

Michelle Goodrum said...

I'm a huge Star Trek fan too!. I haven't seen that Voyager episode. I'll have to try and find it. Thanks for a great post.

Donna said...


Good one! It is always a pleasure to "meet" yet another science-fiction-fan-genealogist!

If you also like printed sf, check out a post I wrote some time ago called Science Fiction for Genealogists at


TCasteel said...

I am an unabashed trekkie. Thank you for sharing!

Martin said...

There's another episode from TNG where a 20th century person is transported in time and eventually they locate his descendants. The computer is shown spitting out a family tree for many generations and I thought, I want that computer!

Tamura Jones said...

It is not just one episode. There is earlier genealogy episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation, with a nice Easter egg.
In the episode "The Neutral Zone", counsellor Troi uses the computer to find descendants of a woman revived after 400 years. The genealogy displayed is readable, and contains various names from popular culture, including those of the first six actors who played Doctor Who.