Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tell your family story online

This is the presentation I used for my talk at the IAJGS Conference last week. The slides are a bit wordy, so you don't need me to tell what they're about here. Some of you may recognise yourselves in there.

And this is from the handout:
How can we tell our family stories so that they can be heard? How can we make our family memories and the fruits of our research available to family members? How can we involve them in telling their own stories? And how can we reach out to others who may share the same roots in family or place?

This talk will look at ways in which we can make use of online social media platforms to share our stories. We will look at how we could use a blog platform to tell the story of a trip, or to collect together brief family tales about people or places, and we will see how we could create our own web-site to tell our family stories in a more structured way. We will also look at how we could organise our visual and audio materials, and other types of document, and make them available to our readers.

The platforms we look at are freely available, and mostly free to use for both authors and readers. They are also very flexible - they are easy to use at a basic level, but can be developed into something more complex if so desired; authoring can be individual or collaborative, and sites can be private or public.

The examples shown in the talk arose from a visit I made with three cousins last year to Belarus, looking for the roots of three of our families.

My son, the genealogist

I have just attended my first genealogy conference - the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS), in Paris. It was four days packed full of fascinating talks and meetings, dealing with all aspects of Jewish genealogy. There, that's three times I've used the word already, and until a few years ago I don't think it had ever crossed my lips.

In the past three or four years I seem to have taken on the role of unofficial family historian. The impetus undoubtedly came from the death of both my parents, and a desire to try to recapture some of the things they had told us over the years about their lives and those of their own parents; things which we had carelessly forgotten, concentrating on our own lives, as we all do.

We tried to construct a family tree, comparing notes with cousins, fretting over gaps in our knowledge, puzzling over inconsistencies, wondering who else we might be connected to. Names and places, and the stories they held, were vaguely recalled. Wherever we turned, we found ourselves in blind alleys, facing brick walls. It was some consolation to find at the Conference that these are common experiences - these last two paragraphs could have been written by just about everybody there.

Eventually some of us decided to pay for some professional research, and undertake a visit to Belarus to see what we could find. You can see an account of this trip in the Belaroots blog, and I have begun to gather and recount some of the family stories in the Belaroots Stories web-site.

I now find myself joining societies, signing up for discussion groups, subscribing to family-tree websites and online resources, querying databases and poring over spreadsheets, obtaining census forms, birth, marriage and death certificates, passenger lists, naturalisation documents, visiting archives, searching through school records and electoral lists, consulting old maps, tracking down streets and houses that no longer exist, taking cousins on walks, writing to people I didn't previously know existed who may or may not be related to me - and much more.

I'll be posting here about some of my family finds, as well as about some of resources I come across, about ways of telling family stories, and about issues that arise from trying to tell the Jewish story in particular. So if you're related to me, or just interested in family histories, you're welcome to keep coming back. I'll let family members know via Geni, and anyone else via Facebook, when there's a new post - or you can probably 'subscribe' to this blog, or 'follow' it, somehow.

And I can just hear my father proudly pointing to me as he utters the immortal words, "My son, the genealogist". Thanks, Dad.