Getting Started

“Get started with your family history on . . .”

That television ad was playing in the background as I started this post. Most of us have seen or heard the ads for Ancestry.com and if you’re interested in names, dates and other data, Ancestry has lots to offer. I visit the site often to update my family tree which now links to dozens of other trees because of mutual ancestors.

But families comprise much more than the names, addresses and U.S. Census data provided on Ancestry. The facts and figures might tell you that my great-grandparents lived on Chestnut Avenue in Kingston, Penna., in 1910, but they won’t reveal that since then, the house has been home to four generations of our family or that our great-grandfather wrote countless letters to the editor and mediocre poems about his dog Sam and his rose garden within its walls. The data provide the bones for the family history, but the stories̶—well, the stories bring the skeletons to life.

Many of us have already started sharing family stories using digital media. Earlier today, my cousin’s son posted photos of his baby daughter on FaceBook. Another cousin’s daughter posted photos from her school formal. YouTube boasts an endless stream of baby’s first videos, many of which have so much appeal that they’ve “gone viral” and been viewed by millions. The 1,000 Stories blog started by my friend and high school classmate Ken Gresh offers a written narrative of life events.

There is no right or wrong way to get started and the application you start with may not be where you land down the road. The key is starting and sometimes that’s that hardest part.

Next time, we’ll take a look at a few of the resources available for sharing photos online. In the meantime, think about where your family is already sharing stories online and build from there.

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Collaboration First

The old adage is right: Two heads ARE better than one. And social media provide the opportunity for us to put our heads together and collaborate at every turn. Even more, social media enable us to partner whether we’re in the same room or distant corners of the world.

What does that have to do with telling your family story? Everything. For example: There was a bit of mis-information in my post earlier this week. I posted information I thought was correct, based on what I’ve always heard. The next day, one of my uncles called to give me more accurate information. I shared the basics and now my uncle, who’s been collecting family documents and information for many years, can add to it. Perhaps someone from the local historical society or a distant relative who’s working on their own family tree will add more. Those collaborations will help our family better understand who Archie L. Parrish was and preserve that information for generations to come.

Social media enable collaboration with others no matter where they are located, with close family members and strangers alike. What incredible opportunity this offers—the chance to record history, with accuracy and from differing points of view, in real time.

In the coming weeks and months, Family Stories will address the myriad social media tools and applications available; how to choose the right one, or ones, for your family or community; and how to get started and keep things going. We’ll add resources and tutorials and will offer web-based training for those who need it.

But for tonight, understand that through collaboration with Uncle Deed (a.k.a., Floyd Parrish MacIntyre), I can state more accurately that my great-grandfather, Archie L. Parrish, was not a coal miner as I reported. Instead, he designed and supervised construction of breakers for a number of coal companies in the Wyoming Valley. I’m glad to have the correct information and to share it–and even happier to have a fantastic collaborator to set me straight!

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A New Chapter

Today is my 55th birthday and I’ve chosen this day to become a time traveler, learning more about my family’s past and preserving the stories for future generations using the web-based tools available to each of us.

Social media provides a range of applications that enable the techie and non-techie among us to preserve the holiday dinner stories—to keep those stories alive for generations that have yet to be conceived. Social media gives us tools to share the pictures of births, graduations, weddings and the day-to-day events that make up our collective history.

I’ve been thinking about and drafting parts of this project for months and I’ve learned a lot. Among my revelations: I have little or no idea exactly when or how my parents met, or how my grandmother survived as a single mother of five children in the 1940s and 50s. I’ve come to realize that half of my generation is too young to remember our great-grandfather, Archie L. Parrish, a coal miner and inventor who lived to the ripe age of 99 years and 9 months. I realize that the next generation knows nothing about him except what they hear in stories told at family gatherings.

I hope to change that, not only for my family, but for my friends’ families and the families of folks I may never meet. I’m not setting out to write History 101, the stories of the few hundred folks who’ve made it into the books that fill our libraries and that we hear about from Kindergarten through graduate school.

My goal, through this blog and links to other social media applications and resources, will be to better understand my family’s history and to help everyone who’s willing to learn—and share—theirs. I hope you’ll join me.

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