Family History Presentation

by JL Beeken on 1-15-2008

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.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

LB 1-16-2008 at 1:56 PM

Hi JL,

I’ve read & reread so many of your “wonderful, wonderful” articles but so many times I’m trying to find one of your “gems” that I found within one of those articles & can’t remember what it was in! Since I don’t really know what I’m asking, as to possibility level, is it possible to add a “search” feature to find all of those goodies? There are so many articles now this would be a very welcome “perk” for those of us “addicts” to your “musings”!

Warmly,

Saratoga Springs, UT

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JL 1-16-2008 at 3:58 PM

Thanks. It’s always good to hear from someone who finds me useful! I looked into this idea of a Search feature a long time ago and this is what I found: At a price I can afford (free) the company(ies) who provide the search box functionality would do this as a way to have advertising space on my website. For obvious reasons, they bury the actual search results in ads that look like the search results.

I tried it for a day and concluded that it would be counter-productive for everyone. Then I emailed the company and asked the price of a Search box without ads. $20,000 a year. Gag! So, as you can see, their motivation lies in distracting you with advertising rather than making searching my website easy.

The Google Search box would work quite well, except that I’m living in a sub-directory of my ISP, without my own domain name, and I can’t use it.

When I have a minute I’ll go have another look and see what else I can find.

The search engines have me well indexed, so an interim solution would be to simply look up the word or “phrase you remember” + JLog and the right page may come up near the top.

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JL 1-16-2008 at 5:21 PM

OK, you got it – search box installed on every page. The ads are not as pervasive as I recall although, depending on what you’re searching, the results can be overwhelmed by the contents of my lower navigation bar. It can’t be helped unless I delete it entirely. I think your mind will learn to filter it out once you realize what it is. Try it out!

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Vicki Pfeffer 1-17-2008 at 2:01 PM

Hi,

Thank you so much for all of the helpful computer information you have put on line. I really appreciate it!

I am going to buy a new laptop and I was wondering what size of hard drive you would recommend? Currently, I have digitized some of my records and save images off of Ancestry and Newspaper Archive. Many of my records have never been digitized, but I plan to do it this year as time permits. Would you recommend a 160, 200, or 250 g hard drive? I really don’t want to use an external drive, except for backups.

Thanks so much for your time.

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JL 1-17-2008 at 5:02 PM

Since I don’t know, and you may not know, the next 5 years of your laptop use, I would suggest going with the largest hard-drive you can have.

Digitizing paper doesn’t take up much space relatively-speaking. A folder I have with a combination of 1,000 PDF’s and JPG’s is around 1 GB. On the other hand, larger format photos like TIFF’s and PSD’s can take up 6 or 8 times that much space. 20 minutes of an uncompressed video file can be 5 GB. If you work with recording and editing sound, or might ever, the files are also space-hungry. You also need hard-drive space just for working on files. Video-editing requires a minimum of 20 GB but the more the merrier. Even if you’re only collecting video and sound this adds up very quickly.

You may think, nah, I’m only going to do such-and-such but you likely don’t really know what you’re going to want to do over a longer period of time.

I have a 250GB drive in a desktop (the smallest available) but it has the capacity for 1T (1,000 GB). I can add 500 GB without losing the value of what I already have. I don’t expect to need it anytime soon, but hard-drive space can get used up faster than you imagine. If your laptop configuration won’t permit swapping out for a larger drive when you need one, you’ll be kicking yourself in the butt. Not to mention, you’d also be losing the value of the smaller drive you’d already invested in. Being able to relax with your hard-drive space is a really good thing and it’s not a major expense from 160 to 250 so, if it was me, I’d go for the max.

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