Sharing What You Know

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: November 21, 2002

You’ve spent hours digging through courthouse records, scanning endless reels of microfilm, conducting thousands of internet searches, interviewing distant relatives in person and through the mail and carefully documenting the information. You’ve filled up a dozen notebooks, have reams of photocopied documents and hundreds of pictures. The shelves are bulging with references book marked to the important few paragraphs of interest to you. How do you share it?

Most genealogists dream of the day when they can publish their own family history. Few actually ever do. When they join the ranks of our ancestors, their work is boxed together and, with any luck, gets handed over to one of the descendants who has shown some interest in the work. Often it will languish for years before being searched through. Things that were ‘known’ are no longer assumed and documentation was filed in a proprietary system that Great Aunt Daisy never shared with anyone else.

The biggest challenge to traditional publishing, actually getting the information down on paper and to a printer, is the drive to perfection. ‘I really wish I knew who so-and-so’s father was. Once I have that, I can print it!’ ‘I’m still waiting on the picture of what’s-his-name.’ ‘I don’t have the document that proves that relationship and I’m not going to print without it.’ ‘It’s take fifteen years to get that side of the family done, it will take me another fifteen to finish the other side.’

If you are going to preserve your family history, you need to share it! Otherwise there is a real risk that the work you have done will disappear without a trace. And while printing up your work is a great way to create a fairly permanent record, there are faster and more effective ways. With today’s technology there are several inexpensive and efficient ways to share what you know.

My favorite means of sharing information is through the use of HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language. If you are reading this article on line, you are looking at HTML. This is a standard format that can be read by any web browser. You don’t have to get really fancy to create a family history. And the beauty of this is that it is easy to change whenever you find a new picture, or can document that connection.

Most of the newer word processing programs have the ability to save a file in HTML format. A number of the Genealogy Programs contain features that allow you to save the diagrams and charts in HTML. By learning some of the very basics of using HTML, you can quickly link these together in some sort of usable format.

Publishing in paper form has some major drawbacks. Pictures and graphics add a lot of cost to a book, so most people have to limit the photographs and documents that they reproduce. The ability to scan documents and photos, as well as add current pictures electronically provides a much more visually appealing product.

Publishing a web site on the internet is fairly inexpensive. These days just about every Internet Service Provider includes several Megabytes of web space to each user for self publishing of web pages. Many have a fairly simple interface you can use to put pages in your area. This can certainly get you started.

Or if you are a little more comfortable with the technical requirements, you can register a special domain name and set up a site on your own. Still another alternative is to set up a location through one of the genealogy web sites that house these items free of charge, though you may be subject to ‘pop-up’ ads.

Not comfortable with putting your information on the web? Or want to share information you’re your immediate relatives that includes data on those still living, but don’t want to share with the world? You can still share it using this technology by creating a ‘web site’ on your own machine and burning it into a CD. You can then share the CD with anyone who has a CD-ROM reader and a web browser on their computer. With a bit of work, you can design a nice CD cover and label to put on the CD, creating very professional looking results.

If you want to get really fancy, you can even include sound bites and movies on the CD! This may require various new software packages and interfaces that allow you to plug in video machines and tape recorders, but is a great way to preserve the information!

There are literally thousands of web sites full of family trees and genealogical information. Do be careful of what you use from the web. And try to be careful of what you post on the web. Clearly document what you know for fact (and how you know it!) and what you are only guessing, and why you think that may be true.

All in all, putting together all your information into a web site is a great way to share. You are providing the information to others, you can include more graphics and it is very flexible. By using links, you can connect various topics together. You can even provide pages full of little facts and tidbits that just don’t fit in the normal flow, to document those items that don’t seem to fit anywhere, but are too important to not include. Building your own web site can be a great web to get tangled into!


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Updated on 10/25/2005