Mom’s Boxes Part 7: Sharing family history with my family

Family website

Shhh! Don’t tell my family, but I’ve finally figured out what I’m giving them all for Christmas.

“What?” you ask…with bated breath…

Why, The Gift of an Organized Family Tree, of course!

“But wait…you’re an organizer, and a genealogist. Haven’t you already shared your family history with your family?”

Well…yes and no…

How do you share your family history with your family? Here's what I've tried. And what I'm trying next. Click To Tweet

I am not the only genealogist who finds it difficult to get her own family interested in her research, and to share it with them effectively. Many of us are retired and/or childless, so we also worry about who will care about, and preserve, and maybe even continue, our research when we die. I’ll address that a future post. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you why it can be difficult to share genealogy data with family members. I’ll also share my new plan for how to do it.

Why sharing family history can be a challenge

Here’s what I’ve tried over the years:

  • I’ve sent my family members copies of books about our family. Thorntons in North Carolina: The Quaker family is a well-sourced genealogy written by my “genealogy cousin” Kenneth Jacob Thornton (translation: a distant cousin I met only through our mutual research, pre-Ancestry, RIP Ken). Charity Cook: A Liberated Woman, by Algie I. Newlin, is about my 5th great-grandmother, a Quaker minister whose husband Isaac stayed home with their 11 children when she traveled! Charity Cook is easy enough to read, but Thorntons in North Carolina is much longer, and hard to follow if you don’t get the hang of Ahnentafel numbers. And, well, I suppose both of these books are more interesting to me because I was the one who did the research that connects our branch of the tree to theirs. The Crash of TWA Flight 260, by Charles M Williams, was somewhat more successful because we all (my generation and older) knew my grandfather, the leader of the search and rescue party. (See Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains.)
  • I’ve sent Ancestry guest invitations to my family members, so they could view my account. This has failed, on most of the occasions I’ve tried it, either due to user error (mine? theirs?) or to technology failure. Who can tell for sure, with everyone living in far-flung locations, all possessing different devices and varying degrees of technical proficiency, and with technology being so intermittently glitchy? Also, much explanation is required for what they should look for, and what they should ignore, once on the site, to take full advantage (without, however, being given full access and editing priveleges).
  • I’ve sent group emails with historical tidbits about our family. Wikipedia pages (an ancestor was a slave owner whose mansion is a NC historical site – yikes!); newspaper articles (such as the one confirming a family story that my grandparent’s home in Indiana was once a gangster hideout!); photos (love discovering new family resemblances!); DNA results (43% Irish!?); maps (for example, all NC locations of genealogical interest). Interesting, yes, but each puzzle piece is disconnected from the rest of the puzzle.
  • I’ve loaded documentation, stories, and photos into a shared Dropbox. Many of them had difficulty accessing this too. Maybe they didn’t try hard enough? I don’t know. And, even if they find their way in, it’s just an electronic pile of data files that mean far more to me than to them.
  • I could, of course, make them each a family history binder, like I do for clients. But it can only tell so much of the story. I want them to see the big picture, and perhaps find a less prominent branch of the tree that intrigues them to know more about.
  • Some of my family members are only interested in the THORNTON surname. Which, once I traced them back into the 1600s — still in colonial America — I ran into a brick wall that  my “genealogy cousins” and I have yet to break through. But I am equally interested in CLAY, BYRD, PEARSON, TAYLOR, HARRIS, WILKINS, and HENDERSON (to limit myself to 2nd great-grandparents on my dad’s side, but only for the sake of brevity).

Conundrum: If my family members had enough interest, maybe they’d overcome the technology learning curve and click all the links. But how are they to become interested if I make them work too hard at it?

A new way (to me) of sharing family history

What I really wanted was a family website.

And I finally have one.

Well, a website in progress, anyway.

And a few more weeks to work on it (before Christmas).

And a lifetime to improve upon it. (But who knows how long I really have?)

I’ve started using a program called Tribal Pages. (I’m not vouching for it yet, I’m just trying it. I read some good reviews, but I am still skeptical and treating this as an experiment.) It’s free if you don’t mind ads and have fewer than 500 people on your tree. I had 700+ already and had to start with the paid version, but I got to do it on Cyber Monday, so half price. Score!

It will not be perfect by Christmas time (and, anyway, one’s family tree is never truly finished), but it will be better than what I’ve had to offer so far, which is data. Data on Ancestry, which is synced with Family Tree Maker on my computer. Data on various DNA websites. Additional data in my computer. Data on as-yet un-scanned-or-transcribed paper notes and documents.

To get started, all I had to do was to upload my GEDCOM file. Now to upload some photos and stories!

This will allow my family to poke around with no explanation necessary. The website format will be familiar to them. There will be no suggested (unproven) sources, or other people’s sometimes-misleading family trees, to distract them. And they can print their own “decorative family trees” and “ancestor fan charts”.

So, what’s this family website got to do with Mom’s Boxes?

Well, once I cleaned up the room where I plan to do the rest of the organizing and scanning, I hit a mental wall (in addition to life getting in the way on a regular basis, as it tends to do). When I thought about organizing and scanning, it was like…hmmm…to what end? How will I share these photos and other memorabilia with my family?

I always recommend to my clients that they have a goal in mind before we start an organizing project. It helps to determine next steps and provides motivation. I should listen to my own advice more often!

To be continued….

Do YOU have a family website? Which platform do you use? What do you (and your family) like, or dislike about it? What recommendations do you have for me (and for others)?

Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The shed

Mom’s Boxes Part 2: Panning for gold

Mom’s Boxes Part 3: Trip down memory lane

Mom’s Boxes Part 4: Grandma’s Lawn Chairs

Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains

Mom’s Boxes Part 6: Sometimes Organizers Need Help Too!

Future Mom’s Boxes episodes: The Gangster Hideout, Saving the Photos, Sharing the Photos, ???

Copyright 2018 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Seana Turner on December 3, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    I think the idea of setting up a family website is a wonderful idea. What a tremendous gift to give to your family. It is also so practical because you can continue to work on it, update it, bring in pictures and quotes and all kinds of things. I don’t have one, and I have to be honest and say I’m not sure I would be the best family member to set this up. However, I would be very happy if someone else in my family decided to set one up. Should I send out some hints??

    • Hazel Thornton on December 3, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Do you have a designated family historian? If not, hinting might not work. If so, though, hinting might be quite welcome and appreciated!

  2. Linda Samuels on December 3, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Your family is lucky to have someone as devoted to the family history as you are. Your solution for creating a family website is a beautiful idea and great for easy editing. Way to go, Hazel! We don’t have anything like that. At one point, my dad was the family tree person. He passed on some things to me in the hopes that I’d continue with it. I’m afraid that while I’m interested, I’m not that interested in searching the trails more than I already have. My brother is pretty good about keeping up with family members and finding new ones. Maybe a family website it in our future. The only site we currently have is one that includes all of the digitized family photos, films, and videos that came from my parents. As far as I can tell, the family rarely uses it. But it’s there, and we have two hard drives as back-ups too.

  3. Sara Skillen on December 4, 2018 at 6:42 am

    I have always wanted to get into genealogy more (particularly for my mother’s side), but I’m not at the stage of my life where I can devote enough time to it – or what I think is enough time, anyway. I had an aunt and two uncles who were very devoted to research on my dad’s side, scouring rural areas for family cemeteries and writing letters to anyone they thought might have a tidbit of information. I often think that if they were still living they’d be totally blown away by all that technology has done for genealogical research. Anyway, someday I’ll get into it, and I’m excited to know about Tribal Pages – what a great idea!

  4. Janet Barclay on January 11, 2019 at 11:35 am

    This is so interesting! I’m fascinated by my family history, but am reluctant to invest too much time or money into it, as I don’t know who else would find it of interest. I look forward to learning more about Tribal Pages.

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