Get It Together

Get It Together

A collaborative family history Web site spreads out research tasks and pools genealogy finds. Here's how to expand your family tree by teaming up online.

When Kevin Macomber grew frustrated with the duplicated genealogy research he found on the Internet, he decided to do something about it: Why not use the Internet to pool family data? His Macomber Project <www.macomberproject.com> has evolved into a Web site with more than 160 active researchers. The site boasts databases of military records, photos and close to 2,000 family burial sites. As new researchers come on board, Macomber identifies which branch of the family they belong to, then connects them with their own mini-research group.

You too can use the Internet to divide research tasks, share findings, upload documents and post family photos. Your shared family history Web site may not gather researchers by the hundreds (well, at least not right away!), but it can definitely bolster your research. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at what’s involved in a successful collaborative site.

Working as a team

Every family has scores of branches to research. Using a family Web site makes it easy to break down research tasks, avoid duplicating efforts and share findings. Almost 300 Wickware/Wickwire families use their Web site <www.wickware.com> and newsletter to share stories, photos and genealogy research. Webmaster Rick Wickwire says that when one person sends information, it inspires other members to send their data.

The basis of the Wickware/Wickwire project is a book published about the family in 1909. Current members have attempted to update it by finding missing ancestors and bringing all the lines forward to the present day. Thanks to collaborative research, enough information has been added to expand the original 283-page book to between five and seven volumes.

Your own site can be the place for contributors to pool census data, listings from city directories, marriages, land records and wills. You can work through research problems, too. This often happens on a family bulletin board — an area of the site where contributors can post ideas or questions for everyone to read and respond (GenForum <genforum.genealogy.com>, for instance, is a network of bulletin boards). Sometimes the biggest brick-wall busters come from family members sitting around the cyber table and “what-if-ing.” These brainstorming sessions might spark a long-forgotten name or story.

WEB SITE STARTERS

SCANNING SECRETS

• How to Scan Photos for Web Pages

<aspin.asu.edu/????pctp/photscan.htm>

• Scanning 101, The Basics

<www.scantips.com>

• Prep Your Photos for the Web

<www.graphicssoft.about.com/compute/graphicssoft/library/weekly/aaooo516a.htm>

• Restoration of Genealogical Photos

<www.scantips.com/restore.html>

• The Virtual Vintage Image

<freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/????wflawrence/>

PHOTO-EDITINC SOFTWARE

• Adobe Photoshop

<www.adobe.com>

• MGI PhotoSuite

<www.photosuite.com>

• Photo Impact Imaging Software

<www.ulead.com/pi/runme.htm>

WEB-PUBLISHINC SOFTWARE

• Ixla WebEasy

<www.ixla.com>

• Microsoft FrontPage

<www.microsoft.com/frontpage/>

• Netscape Communicator

<home.netscape.com/computing/download/>

FREE WEB SPACE

• Freeservers.com

<www.freeweblist.freeservers.com>

• Roots Web Free Pages

<accounts.rootsweb.com>

• Homestead

<www.homestead.com>

For links to more Web-publishing tools, go to <www.familytreemagazine.com/articles/octoo/servers.html>. For a 10-step guide to constructing a family history Web site, see the October 2000 Family Tree Magazine.

Picturing the past

Although hundreds of people may descend from a common ancestor, sometimes only one branch ends up with old photos. Posting pictures to a family site is the easiest way to share photographic treasures while ensuring that they don’t get lost or damaged. An “album” or “gallery” can also solve photo mysteries: Many old photos are unlabeled, and uploading them to a well-visited family site can help identify both people and places.

The Photo Album pages on the site contain pictures of ancestors and current family members, as well as photos from the family’s English town of origin, Wickwar. On another family site called The Unwritten <library.thinkquest.org/C001313/>, three teenage cousins, Karisa, Mandy and Charanna, bring their family to life with “photo stories”: family photos with an accompanying narrative, such as a newspaper article or handed-down story. For example, their great-grandmother’s photo story contains a picture of her as a young girl and tells how the family fought illness during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Although family members can take digital photos of old pictures, the easiest way to digitize a vintage photo is to scan it. Everyone then sends scanned images to the site’s Webmaster to upload.

Documenting your kin

Online images aren’t limited to family photos. You may want sections for images of records, writings and personal items. This is an easy way to quickly (and cheaply) swap birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, deeds and military records. But don’t stop there: Upload entries from a journal or diary, a Civil War regimental history, a dance card, Valentine, V-mail, calling card or handkerchief. Anything that can be scanned or photographed can go on your site — and supplement every contributor’s family history.

The Wickwires turned their digitized document collection into a “Museum” page. It showcases an ad for the family business, a stock certificate, books written by family members, a business invoice and promotional matchbook. The museum displays each photo as a thumbnail (small image); clicking on a thumbnail takes you to a larger image.

Getting technical

Although collaborative Web sites depend on the work of many individuals, the task of coordinating efforts and keeping the site updated usually falls on one or two members.

That’s generally the project coordinator and Webmaster. The coordinator organizes the data everyone has already collected, then sets up research groups with specific tasks, such as census transcriptions or the research of a specific line. As data comes in, the coordinator puts it in an organized fashion to send along to the site’s Webmaster.

The Webmaster handles the technical aspects of the site, such as creating pages and uploading documents. Depending on how computer-savvy your family is, Webmasters may need to explain scanning techniques, photo formats and e-mail attachments. Creating a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page for new members can be a real time-saver.

Webmasters don’t have to be Web-publishing whizzes, though. In the case of the Macomber Project, Tim McCumber volunteered for the job, even though he had no Web design experience. Tim bought a copy of Microsoft FrontPage and learned on the fly. As data arrives, Kevin organizes it and then passes it along to Tim to post online.

Rick Wickwire and his son Trey use much the same method. Rick keeps everyone in the family informed about research, photos and the Web site via a newsletter; then, as information is returned to him, he sends it to Trey, the Webmaster. The father and son devote several hours each week to the family’s site.

Although families are more geographically scattered than ever before, a family Web site can pool energy and resources unlike any time in the past. Isn’t it time to get started?

From the August 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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