Sharing Genealogy, Part 1

by JL Beeken on 9-25-2010

Back at one of my favorite topics – sharing genealogy with family members who can’t even pronounce the word.

This doesn’t apply to everyone but some of us wonder, and worry over, what will become of our work after we die. Although, I’m not sure what we want other people to do with it. Continue the research? Put it in hermetically-sealed containers in a specially-built vault? Bow daily to a statue commemorating the thousands of hours we spent hunched over computer screens?

All I know is I don’t want to be one of those people who comes back to haunt my relatives. There’s all that perfectly documented history with source citations tweaked down to the last comma and you’re just letting it sit there and collect dust! Boo! It’s me again.

If we’re spending our lives amidst paper and binders and filing cabinets scouring the horizon for some poor soul who is going to care about it as much as we do someday we may find ourselves disappointed.

My family is not particularly interested in genealogy. So far. There’s a reason for that; genealogy is about dead people.

Most of us (speaking for JLog readers) live in a Judeo-Christian society that holds the nuclear family sacred, in our side-by-side boxes each with its own complement of too much stuff and yet we wonder why it’s like shoveling cement to get people to look beyond it.

I certainly grew up in a place where the world began and ended at our door. We went out to school and we came back. On Sundays we went out to church and we came back. That was pretty well it. I must have thought we all fell out of the sky together one day and landed on that suburban lot.

My sisters now live in a world where there’s their houses, grandma’s house, church and the designated highway or bicycle path between. Norman Rockwell painted the scenery, planted them in it and there they are.

If we can’t make family history interesting while we’re living, what makes us think it will suddenly become interesting after we die?

If you can think back that far, what first interested you in history/people/nationalities/the world? Way back, think 6 or 7 years old, when you realized you were an American or a Brit or an Australian or whatever you are. And then you realized some other people were “other”. Someone told me my grandmother was German. And I thought, how exotic! German!

Little did I know at the time there were so many German immigrants to the U.S. in the 1800′s the government considered making German the official language of the country. To me it could have been Outer Mongolian. Wow! Not-American.

After sending one of my sisters eighteen carefully constructed and detailed chapters of our family history, the only comment I got back was, “Nathan [her son] was so excited to find out he has Scottish ancestors!”

Who would have guessed? Eighteen chapters and that’s what she got out of it. Does this mean Nathan is a potential convert and inheritor of my 3-ring binder collection? Or was he just going through his ‘Scotland phase’? I never heard another word about it.

So, here’s what I think. I think if you’re to the point where you’re selling off large pieces of furniture to make room for more filing cabinets, you’re way beyond anything your more normal family members can relate to. It’s time to dumb it down if you ever hope to make a connection.

I found another use for FreeMind. I started at my parents and put in the direct lines going back on each one until I hit a nationality (forget the Adam & Eve stuff) and highlighted those. It took about 10 minutes. Exported it as a jpg, emailed it off to my sisters.

Sharing Genealogy

Your family doesn’t need census records and source citations right now. Give them a starting point. If that lights a fire, move on to adding some dates, a story, a picture. Baby steps. If it doesn’t light a fire … well … you’re on your own.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gini Webb 9-25-2010 at 10:49 PM

You read my mind! My granddaughter is very interested, but I still want to leave it in a way that she won’t feel overwhelmed and give up. I worry about that daily…what if something happens to me tomorrow…really…will they look at this and want to continue or keep it…probably not!

Thank you for such a great post and an idea on how to spark that flame.

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JL 9-26-2010 at 5:38 PM

My mini-course on how to create a genealogy wiki is still the best I can offer for a sharing model. Anytime I quit (or die) there it all is in a format that’s easy for someone else to pick up and set down without floundering. It can be worked on endlessly throughout my life, adding and updating as I please. Or not. It’s certainly enough, in its present form, to grab a person’s attention. (Maybe?)

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for an email to come back saying, “I didn’t know I was part Dutch!”

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Michelle Goodrum 9-27-2010 at 12:43 PM

I think you are onto something here. My teenager every so often will ask “what we are.” This type of chart is the perfect way to answer that question and hopefully ignite that spark you are talking about.

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TheQ47 9-28-2010 at 4:55 AM

You know what, you’ve hit on something here. Sometimes from reading through the Legacy User Group, I despair, when I see how little research I’ve done compared to some others. Then I read something like this, and I remember that that’s not what it’s always about, is it?

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that research is important, and I have tried where possible to “prove” the details of my ancestors. Sometimes I think we can forget that for lots of people that’s boring, and they just want to know about the skeletons in the family cupboard (some of them not too far back in time at all!). They don’t even care if it’s true or not, that’s not the point.

If someone in the family is interested in whatever aspect of the family tree, the rest of it may follow.

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