Turning the family tree inside out: using family records in genealogy

Over the past few 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

Kindex Connects with Historians and Researchers at NCPH

Kindex Connects with Historians and Researchers at NCPH

Kindex is thrilled to be exhibiting at the National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. As first-time exhibitors and attendees, look forward to sharing how we can connect accessible, searchable, undiscovered archives to historians and researchers.

Kindex began as a archival solution for families and family organizations, but it has expanded its services to reach public historians, societies, researchers, and archives. By providing flexible, low-cost archival software where anyone can add, transcribe, and collaborate on unlimited records, Kindex stands out as a unique, accessible solution for both families and professionals. Our attendance at this conference signifies the growing need to bridge the gap between primary source record owners and the communities trying to reach them. To this end, we’d like to share some ways Kindex can help societies, historians, and families.

Kindex for Societies and Groups

For historical societies and groups who want to provide better accessibility and engagement, Kindex stands a part as a unique tool that can bridge the gap between record owners and researchers. 

  • Engage the Public. Invite anyone to access, transcribe, and search records on your Kindex archive so your collections may be accessible, searchable, and open to research.
  • Crowdsource Projects. Create a crowdsourced indexing project for your society, your members, or the public.
  • Increase Membership. Increase your benefits of membership by providing exclusive access to to your Kindex archives to society members.
  • Connect with Donors. Provide Kindex archives for record donors so they may connect with their records and continue to contribute records and data.

Kindex for Historians

  • Start a Kindex archive for a research project. Gather, organize, index, and search your sources in a single archive and invite collaborators to join.
  • Find new sources. Search existing Kindex archives for undiscovered primary sources.
  • Help primary source owners share their collections. Set up a Kindex archive for your record owners so they may collaborate, add data, and contribute to your searchable research.

Kindex for Record Owners

Individuals and families represent the largest group of undiscovered and at-risk primary sources. How can families rescue their records, connect with historians, and have their records become a part of history?

  • Unite unlimited records. Families can work collaboratively on archives to gather records that are scattered among various households.
  • Index and add metadata. Families and contribute to the work of indexing and transcription, linking valuable information to primary source documents.
  • Kindex is economical and easy to use, making it ideal for non-professionals to create their own archives.

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The Flexible Flyer

The Flexible Flyer

by Leon Chamberlain

One of my fondest memories was sleigh riding on my sleigh. When I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, I believe our needs and wants were much simpler than today’s. When I was a young boy if you had a bicycle, a flipper crutch and a sleigh you had most of what it would take to make you happy.  The “Cadillac” of sleighs was a Flexible Flyer. They were strong, well-built and could take a lot of beating. Most of all, you could steer them. Back in the forties they did not use salt on the roads so usually for a good two or three months the roads around my house were snow-packed and it snowed much more back then. 

We didn’t have many hills around my house so we would “belly slam”, meaning we would get running as fast as we could down the road and then slam our sleighs down and coast. If the road was icy you could coast 100 feet or more. That’s what we did in the winter. Sometimes Dad would take us to a street with a slope and we would coast down the street often going very fast.

Sometimes we would pile snow up and make our own hills. Of course there were dangers, and a bloody nose or a skinned forehead were not uncommon and did not require a trip to InstaCare. Winter did not mean you spent time indoors. I even knew of kids who put roller skate wheels on their sleds and would belly slam on dry roads. Today it is rare to see someone on a sleigh.”

The Slingshot

The Slingshot

by Leon Chamberlain

When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling shot, correctly called a flipper crutch. A sling shot is a device consisting of four long cords, 18 inches to 24 inches tied to the four corners of a pouch approximately 3” square. A rock or other hard item is placed in the pouch and you would hold the cords in one hand and swing it over your head. Centrifugal force would hold the rock in the pouch. After rotating the sling around over your head several times as fast as you could, you would release two of the cords allowing the rock or other hard item to be released. The rock would travel towards its target at a high rate of speed hopefully striking the target. This is the device David of the Old Testament used to slay Goliath.

Leon and a friend getting into mischief

Being accurate with a sling requires much practice and skill. A flipper crutch is a device usually cut from a tree branch that forms a “Y”. Two rubber bands are attached to the top of the “Y” and to a pouch. You use the energy created when you pull back on the pouch loaded with a projectile to propel to its target. For rubber bands we would cut strips from an old inner tube from a car or bike. Back in the 40’s and 50’s inner tubes were made from natural rubber which has good elastic properties. The pouch was made from the tongue of an old shoe. Our “ammo” was usually some hand-picked round rocks about 1⁄2” in diameter. In a pinch we would use an old marble. We were very careful to avoid windows and people. Unfortunately we would sometimes target birds that invade our fruit trees. A well-placed rock would easily kill a bird or shoo-off an unwanted dog. We called our flipper crutch our personal protection device and you did not mess with someone who was good with their flipper crutch.

I read somewhere that the army investigated using a flipper crutch to propel a small explosive device. More modern versions of the flipper crutch are called wrist rockets and they use steel balls as ammo. As you can imagine, these devices border on being deadly. As a young boy I made many flipper crutches and spent many happy hours shooting at targets of bottles and cans. It was all we needed in those days.

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

A short time ago, my father and I reflected on some childhood memories, and how certain smells or songs could trigger powerful remembrances that would otherwise remain buried. “Memories,” he said quietly, “are all I have.” As the primary caregiver to our mother, he is married yet in many ways alone. His hours are filled with prolonged periods of reflection, and with that time he often writes these memories into childhood stories, life sketches, and anecdotes.

Many of these stories we already knew in the form of family folklore. At family Christmas gatherings, he would tell us the story of The Bicycle or The Christmas Tree, but until now, they were never shared in written form. This Christmas, Kindex helped Leon create a small book of these memories, three of which we will be sharing with you. The first story, “The Slingshot” coincided with a gift of homemade slingshots he presented to his grandchildren. The grandchildren had a riot on Christmas Day practicing their new slingshots on various targets around his home. No eyes were injured, no glass was broken, and amongst the fun, we wove new memories into old ones. We not only knew the story, we became it.

Someday when our parents are gone, we’ll write this story: The story of how Grandpa made 25 slingshots in his woodworking shop, shaping and sanding each one. The story of how, in his loneliest hours, he cut and sewed each suede “flipper crutch” and attached the rubbing tubing. The story of how he made each slingshot unique, painting each grandchild’s initials on the back. We’ll write about how he showed us how to shoot them, and who first toppled the giant pyramid of cups he stacked for target practice. We’ll remember Grandma watching us quietly from her bed in the middle of the family room, knowing that in her prime, she’d beat us all.

Nothing can stand up to the value of memory. It shapes our belonging like no DNA test or ancestral chart can. This year, the story of the slingshot got another chapter, and with each generation more will be added. We hope you enjoy these memories and stories as much as we did.

 


What’s in Your Closet?

I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.

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The Flexible Flyer

by Leon Chamberlain One of my fondest memories was sleigh riding on my sleigh. When I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, I believe our needs and wants were much simpler than today’s. When I was a young boy if you had a bicycle, a flipper crutch and a...

read more

The Slingshot

by Leon Chamberlain When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling...

read more