Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not Just a Spot on a Pedigree

I believe when ordinary people think of genealogy a mental image of a pedigree chart with some names, dates, and places comes to mind. Average people aren't heavily engaged by this. If they don't know who the people are, they aren't likely to care. What is the magic blend of genealogical data and other artifacts from a person's life that changes them from a spot on a pedigree to a real person in the mind of their descendants?

I tried an experiment recently. I wanted to tell the story of an ancestor of mine with enough fidelity that a group of people, with no relationship to her, would come away realizing that she was not just a spot on a pedigree, she was a real person. I had 5 minutes to do it. That's not a lot of time to help them care about my ancestor. At the same time, it is an eternity to try and keep a group of people focused on a 'spot in a pedigree'. I decided to create a video that would highlight a few quick artifacts of her life. My objective was to have the group make the jump from 'spot on a pedigree' to 'real person' without saying a word. I've included the video below. Those of you that are not members of the LDS Church will notice that the video has strong LDS overtones.


Regina Gualco said...

Wow. Wow. I love family history. I love YouTube. I never thought to put them together.

Your video is really inspiring. This week I have been pondering how to make our family history come to life for my sister. She finds the litany of names and dates boring, but she recently started peppering me with questions like "was Nannie an only child? Just how many brothers and sisters did Guido have? How many stayed in Italy? What about this guy Nannie was first married to? And what about Nana? I never really knew her." I see a video in my sister's future. Thanks!

Andy E. Wold said...


That was incredible!

Thank you for the hard work,

Anonymous said...

Nice video, but I suspect it's preaching to the choir. I'm not sure as a non-genealogist would pick up on some of the things. Personally I'd suggest highlighting parts of the census and use period photos and drawings to illustrate how bits of information help us picture someone who got married, had children, and moved. I know that's what you were trying to do, but I suggest more photos/drawings and a stronger tie between them and the "dry, dull documents" by having them share the screen and sync with the highlighting of the document rather then alternating.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic work - thanks very much for the experience Dan.


Venita Parry said...

Hi Dan,
What you've done is great! Is their any chance that your ideas will be incorporated into the New FamilySearch? If you are connected with that project, I would love to chat with you. Do you Skype?

FHTC, Provo

Dan Lawyer said...

Thanks for some great feedback. I really appreciate the observation that the video isn't quite there for consumption for those that aren't already interested in genealogy. It does need more period pictures and visual elements to really tell the story. Perhaps a remake in the future.

I've also noticed that people who don't have a strong feeling toward family history aren't drawn to a presentation like this unless it is about their family and they understand how the subject matter relates to them. It is so critical that their first experience takes them very quickly to something that is relevant to them.

tim said...

I find that most people aren't interested in the family history of others even when they are pursuing genealogy as a regular pastime. Someone is only going to be interested in your ancestor when they share that ancestor AND are interested in family history. Everyone is too self-involved in their own findings and puzzles to be that interested in your's. Doesn't matter if your ancestor lead the charge up some hill in Scotland or started the Chicago Fire, and there's little way to package it to make those who don't share your heritage or your interests take much notice.

That's why I'd like to see some way for the internet to help connect distant relatives who do share the heritage and the interest. And if the documents highlighted in your video are openly accessible on the web (I hear the church is going to bring more of their holdings online), then those who do have some hint of interest will be more inspired to follow through because they can find people to share info with, and family history will be less about trying to access old documents across oceans.