Upside Down & Inside Out: Using Family Records in Genealogy

Over the past couple of years we’ve observed the increasingly prominent role stories have played in helping people engage with family history. During 2016, Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, revealed how FamilySearch is changing the way they engage people in family history. Starting with stories—rather than names, dates, and charts—turns the traditional family tree model upside down and offers an inviting approach for users who crave a more emotional connection. Steve Rockwood, as quoted in the Ancestry Insider, said:

“We are concentrating on how everyone can experience and feel those emotions.” By giving them immediate, emotional experiences, FamilySearch hopes they then engage in family history. FamilySearch decided to concentrate on stories. “We are serious” [about this change]. Steve said. “We changed our logo, our entire branding.” The FamilySearch logo now looks like a set of picture frames. FamilySearch starts people with photos, audio recordings, anything that anyone can participate in. That makes it an exciting world of change. “Now, more and more people are getting involved in this thing called family history.” For example, FamilySearch has seen a 47% increase in young people involved in family history. [1]

Later in 2016, he repeated the emphasis on stories. Upon learning that only 2 percent of LDS church members responded to the call to do family history when they were told, “here’s a chart; here’s a record; here’s a computer”, they changed their approach. As blogger Lynn Broderick wrote in Steve Rockwood asks: Where’s your Jerusalem?:

“…FamilySearch decided to “turn the model upside down. [FamilySearch is] going to start with stories.” Stories are not a “niche” like genealogy. Memories and photos are a place where “all the people on the earth” can participate. This is an area that attracts more young, single adults and statistics show a greater participation by the millennials.”[2]

However, such changes are not always met with enthusiasm by traditional genealogists who adhere to strict standards of proof, accuracy, and source citations. Stories without sources are, after all, just stories.

But is there a different way to look at this disconnect? Can stories be both emotional and accurately sourced? While stories often function as the broad gate by which many people enter family history, they are not a substitute for accurate research and use of best practices. But are  stories and narrative-based family history really incompatible with traditional genealogy research? As Tony Proctor explains in his post Evolution and Genealogy, narrative-based genealogy can unite both storytelling and sound genealogy practice:

“…[I] presented a view of narrative genealogy that embraced story telling, narrative reports, proof arguments, and transcription (of both old and new material). I believe that this seamless inclusion is necessary for useful genealogy, and for micro-history in general.”[3]

The inclusion of stories, accompanied with relevant sources and transcriptions, is not only helpful, but necessary when creating genealogies. The key, as always, lies in the source. Primary source records like letters, journals, and similar documents are the holy grail of stories. In truth, they are the story.

When properly sourced, stories can play a key role in genealogy research. But so often, these sources are elusive and unsearchable. Whether hidden away in closets or filed in an archives, family records are one of the most underdeveloped and at-risk resources family historians and genealogists have.

One of the primary purposes of Kindex is to elevate family records to a key role in both storytelling and sound research. By indexing records, they become accessible and readable by anyone who knows how to search. And let’s face it, searching—and not reading—is the default way we find things, especially youth.  By removing barriers that prevent us from accessing and reading family records, we can place sourceable stories at our fingertips.

There are other applications beyond stories. Through the addition of transcriptions, tagging, and macro-data, records are elevated in their usefulness and purpose. For professionals and casual researchers alike, records with linkable data are invaluable in their ability to connect records to other databases and family trees. This connectivity will someday make it just as easy for families to cite a family record to their tree, as it is to cite a birth or death record.

Additionally, transcribed and tagged records can be scaled to many applications, including historical research, book publishing (i.e., The Joseph Smith Papers), and limitless after-market products such as maps, timelines, and other creative works. By putting families in control of their own archives, they can choose how to apply and make available their own records.

Through the search and application of primary source records, Kindex  provides a solution that both genealogists and storytellers can agree on: that the best source is an original source. Perhaps it’s not enough to turn the family history model upside down—we must also turn it inside out, and get to the source of our history. What a gift it will be for us, and the generations that follow.

_____________________________

[1] Turning the Model Upside Down. (2016, 07 27). Retrieved February 2 , 2017, from Ancestry Insider: http://www.ancestryinsider.org/2016/07/turning-model-upside-down-byugen-byufhgc.html

[2] Broderick, L. (2016, 11 1). Steve Rockwood Asks “Where’s Your Jerusalem?”. Retrieved 2 2, 2017, from Family Search Blog: https://familysearch.org/blog/en/steve-rockwood-asks-wheres-jerusalem/

[3] Proctor, T. (2016, 02 12). Evolution and Genealogy. Retrieved 02 02, 2017, from Parallax View: http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/2016/02/evolution-and-genealogy.html

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