Over the holidays one of my sisters phoned me and we got to talking about the ‘installments’ that I wrote a few years ago. This was my best shot at a presentation of our family history.
Every week or two I emailed another chapter with stories and photos of people and places. Every chapter was hinged to the previous one. Family history written as a cliff-hanger.
She told me, sheepishly, that she couldn’t follow them. Couldn’t follow them? I was so clear about everything.
I left out the descendants book reports and other charts, so as not to confound her with too many names and dates. I stuck to the mainline and didn’t go side-tracking all over the place with 4th cousins. I made it as interesting and riveting as I possibly could. What more could she want?
She said she plans to make a map (pedigree chart, I presume) someday to sort it all out. Sure, I remember ‘maps’. I made one of those with a 10-foot swath of newsprint across my living room wall until I was seriously losing my mind and then I bought Legacy.
By now, a lot of my ancestors seem like next-door neighbors. Ones I’m allowed to talk about. I remember once sitting on a park bench down on Main Street, oblivious to the traffic, oblivious to the sun going down, oblivious to the temperature dropping 15 degrees, oblivious to hunger-pangs, telling a friend about my ancestors’ involvement in the American Revolution … for 3 hours.
I talk about my great-great grandmother (who died 27 years before I was born) as if I knew her. There’s been a large photograph of her above my desk since I appointed her official guardian of my office. You know how it gets to be after awhile.
Not so, apparently, for family members hearing about the family history for the first time. Wha… ??? Our family has a history? Did you think Mom and Pop were immaculately conceived? Yes, we have a history.
They know that I do this and it’s not that they’re not interested. When I was re-telling parts of the story on the phone, my sister was spellbound. On the other hand, she’s not going to email me to ask, “After Uncle William was shooting buffalo with Bill Cody then what did he do? Her days don’t really depend on it. I’m the only one crazy enough to stay up all night looking for the answer to that.
It can be very hard to see this from a non-genealogist’s point of view, but it’s critical. If I’ve learned anything from this is that they need an anchor point.
One thing that became obvious is that there’s no point starting in 1792 as I’d done. Although, in the grand-scheme of things, 1792 doesn’t seem all that far back to me. It’s only my 4th great-grandparents. But to an uninitiated listener, 1792 might as well be 300 B.C. There’s nothing for them to hinge reality on. Uh, when was the Civil War? What country are you talking about?
So I told her I’ll start over and work backwards from us. So, that’s what I’m doing. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents… By the time I get back to 1792 it will seem easily within reach.
I could re-do everything I did previously in reverse order. Or I could send over a Passage Express project that I finished a few months ago. It’s based on the previously-mentioned ‘installments’ but with charts and other documents and many more photos included. It would have to be read from the bottom up or she would have the same problem with it as before, just in Super-Size.
I like a lot of things about Passage Express but the linear folder-tree structure confounds me. And it’s a pain in the butt to organize and update large projects there.
Because I only co-chaperon the family history I am not free to post it online in its present entirety for the whole world to peruse. It would take something akin to a board-decision to come up with a plan for most of it. If I live long enough I may see the encyclopedia in print. The only other thing that might work right now would be an online tree with limited access.
I tried that once. One of those things where you pay $5-10 a month to keep in touch with your family members about what everyone’s doing and there’s a special section for a family tree where they’re all going to be gung-ho to fill in the missing bits. Yeah, right. One of the 12 people I sent invitations to said her user-name and password didn’t work and I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why.
None of the others even answered. First of all, you need a touchy-feely family. Second, I don’t know if there’s anyone in my family circle out to about 3rd cousins who’s even taken a computer beyond email and downloading digital pictures. I mean, if you think about it, computers are downright terrifying. When you type things into little boxes, where does it all go?
I’ve started JLiki, a wiki to demonstrate how to use a wiki for sharing family history. I think this is a really great cure for the presentation blues. It can be written or read in any order. Up, down, left, right or in circular motion. It can be added to or subtracted from at any time with no disturbance to the rest of it. Pre-formatted text like database-generated reports can be pasted into it. Graphics of any kind can be embedded. Other files can be linked and opened directly with one click. And the entire thing can be searched with ease.
A blank TiddlyWiki is 286 KB. After writing in JLiki for a week I’ve add 23 KB. In other words, you can write and write and write and still easily attach it to an email. It takes a short amount of time to learn some basic formatting and then you’re off to the races.