JLiki: Storytelling With Wikis

by JL Beeken on 5-17-2010

Since alternate methods of publishing are a source of consternation at the Legacy Mailing List again … And since I’m on a bender with MRINs again … And since I’ve been working on my personal version of JLiki the last couple of days …

Our Family History, Wiki

While I was mucking around with adding MRINs to spare images and documents, I got sidetracked into doing the same thing to my wiki files.

While I wouldn’t claim that wikis are the be-all and end-all of genealogy publishing they are my favored multimedia-vehicle for storytelling. They’re not as easy as cranking reports out of your favorite genealogy software. It requires close engagement with your family history and a bit of slowing down. But the difference, ultimately, is the result.

After listening to feedback from my family about different attempts at sharing family history with them, I came to some conclusions about what doesn’t work.

Starting the story in the 1600′s moving forward to the present doesn’t work. (Was 1600 the Medieval Ages? I remember that from school. When was it Columbus discovered America?) They need to jump in somewhere they understand. Like Dad.

Canned reports don’t work. They’re not a story. They might look like a story for about two generations and then they get all confused by the names and dates and census record data and they don’t care anymore.

Sharing my latest brickwall-breakthrough doesn’t work. I spent 10 years trying to find the name of one of my great-grandfathers. When I finally got there it was like landing on the Moon after crawling there on my knees. Who?

The very first time I got a ‘hoorah!’ from one of my sisters was when I sent her a collage of the old family homestead with pictures of the great-great granduncles sprinkled around on it. Aha! it’s beginning to look like a story.

With a wiki, (as I described it in JLiki) you lay out your direct-line ancestors in a menu and then you jump in anywhere you want to and start telling your story. Since a wiki is an infinite collection of interconnecting loops and tangents it can be expanded or changed in an instant without disturbing other parts that are finished or languishing. I haven’t tried this with any type of wiki except TiddlyWiki and you can read more about it at JLiki.

Back to the technical part. For the construction of the wiki I have about 30 folders following the maternal lines. Two grandmothers, 4 great-grandmothers, etc as far back as each line goes where there’s anything to say. Some of them only have a few files in them. Some of them have dozens. For instance, the folder of my 3rd great-grandmother contains all the files related to herself, her husband and their 10 children, except for the daughter who is my 2nd great-grandmother because she has her own folder. The folder of my 2nd great-grandmother contains all files related to herself, her husband and their children except for the daughter, my great-grandmother, who has her own folder, etc. This is the entire back-end of it right here.

Wiki folders

“ofh.html” is the wiki and everything else is an attachment. The attachments are images, text files, PDFs, HTML documents, audio, video, photo albums, PowerPoint presentations, etc. Even Legacy-generated reports. Almost anything goes. And the advantage, when dealing with something as complex and convoluted as history, is that you can attach files anywhere you want to.

While I was looking at this, it occurred to me the problem with the ‘busy’ folders is that there are reams of files in no particular order attached to my wiki and I have no way of knowing, after a long absence, what I’ve got and what I don’t without a lot of brain-strain. At my age, brain-strain is more common than it used to be and any form of relief is welcome. So, what I did was sort all the files by preceding them with their MRINs. Better now than later when I’ve attached a thousand more files.

Wiki files

Now, when I’m working on MRIN 0106, for instance, I can focus without being overwhelmed by everything else. It gives me an immediate view of what’s there and what isn’t for each couple.

The one-time downside was that I had to go through my wiki and change every single file-name to include the MRINs but it didn’t take that long. Another upside is that I can now search my wiki by MRIN. It’s actually quicker than navigating through generations, although I’m talking about split seconds here.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred Schwilk 5-18-2010 at 10:10 AM

Welcome back. I really enjoy your blog.

Question: Do you only have one “Our Family History” wiki
or do use multiple wiki files.

Fred Schwilk
San Jose, CA.


JL 5-18-2010 at 11:07 AM

Right now I’m only using one. But, I mention in JLiki 9 about linking to other wikis or permalinking to specific tiddlers in other wikis.

One reason I could think of separating them is wiki size. At some point, one wiki might get so big it would be slow to load. Right now, my wiki is only 465 KB and it still loads fast in Firefox. With the attached files, it’s 156 MB but the attachments don’t affect the load-speed so, theoretically, one could go on forever.

Before I started, I experimented with load-speed by chucking a lot of content into a blank TiddlyWiki. I wish I could remember the results. Seems to me it went on and on without any problem.

Can you think of other reasons you would want to separate your history into more than one wiki?


Margaret 5-18-2010 at 4:32 PM

I don’t have a wiki yet, but reading about yours makes me want to start one. I plan to separate my maternal line into two wikis because my maternal grandparents both have the Davis surname, but from different parts of the US. (One Virginia, the other Georgia).

Forgive me if I change topic here, but I was wondering if you’ve ever explored Archivist’s Toolkit, an open source software for archives. It looks like it handles metadata for digital objects. I just found out about it but wondered if you had experience with it, considering your earlier IPTC posts.

I looked at Photo Mechanic, but couldn’t get beyond the price tag for now.

Thanks for sharing your wiki with us.


JL 5-18-2010 at 5:07 PM

I’m not sure but I think Archivists’ Toolkit has something to do with Capital “L” Libraries, and is just a bit over my head living as I do in a shack out in pristine wilderness. Something to do with setting up a MySQL database which I assume has something to do with needing a database.

I pretty much assume when I can’t understand what they’re talking about on their Home Page I don’t need it.


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