Crowdsourcing Your Family History: When Everyone’s Involved, Genealogy is Preserved


Are you researching your Arkansas family this summer? Arkansas is a Natural State for genealogy. Family history is the glue that holds our state’s history together over time. Luckily, finding out more about our families can be enjoyable, too, especially when many members assist with small tasks that utilize interests, talents, and social media that they and you may already be using.

Intergenerational Work

  • Start with careful, documented research. Have you used the extensive resources at the three locations of the Arkansas State Archives, online or in person? You can learn more about your family farm or the family business. You can read about your family in historic newspapers, locate original emigration records online, find granddad’s military records, and locate great-grandmother’s recipes.
  • Have you engaged the younger members of your family in the “tech part” of genealogy? This connects them to family history early.  It also helps older family members who aren’t tech-savvy who might need help in navigating the web. This ultimately means that when the rich family history is passed on when someone dies, younger people have a stake in preserving the record. Family trees are now conveniently displayed on cell phones though the use of apps, and youths enjoy that convenience.
  • If there are very busy or older family members who aren’t interested in conducting research on others, have they gathered the relevant information about themselves and documented it for the family? This is a commonly under-emphasized task; we’re so interested in documenting distant ancestors that we forget to document ourselves, and key family history is thus lost. 

Social Media

  • Has an expert shopper in your family/ fellow family history researcher searched eBay for photos, books, and artifacts about your family? You might be surprised about what’s available at your fingertips, and at low cost, too. A recent eBay search turned up 382 results for “Arkansas genealogy” alone. Most of us have ancestors who lived in other states as well.
  • When you’re scrolling through Facebook to see friends and family, have you joined any of the more than 12,500 Facebook genealogy groups (in English)? More than 60 are about Arkansas. You can problem-solve and meet new cousins for the next family reunion from all over the world in those groups. (If Facebook is unfamiliar for you, ask a tech-savvy family member to assist.) Genealogist Katherine R. Willson updates the list frequently.
  • Many people follow genealogists or genealogy groups on Twitter as well, and these are often connected to helpful genealogy blogs or they conduct genchats. Pinterest, a social medium that relies heavily on grouped images, often has critical documented information about communities or topics through pictures.

Heritage Tourism/Genealogy Travel/Reunions

  • Have you followed up on research by doing heritage tourism within Arkansas? Genealogy travel is an important growing sector of the tourism market. You can easily visit the locations where your family members lived that you’ve not yet explored: walking in their actualfootsteps can help you grasp their surroundings and stand a little taller.  Use Google to plot their addresses (homes, businesses, schools, cemeteries) ahead of time so the walk is authentic. And then see what else is in those communities that made their lives vibrant.
  • Visit the historical societies, and meet the people. Visit the farms and churches. (Call or e-mail ahead because hours are often quite limited when organizations are staffed by volunteers.) For more information on genealogy travel, please see AY’s article from June. For extensive information on travel locations and festivals in Arkansas, see filmmaker Gary Jones’ Arkansas Travel Channel.
  • Is there a skilled organizer in your family who can organize an Arkansas family reunion that brings together both family members and their treasured family resources? The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has some suggestions to help.
  • Thinking about organization and planning, have you considered how to protect your precious family history gathered at reunions in case of a disaster – such as tornadoes or floods? When personal family items are lost during severe weather, those are often the possessions the owners most miss. Having an emergency plan now could save heartache later.

Photographs and Videography

  • Have you made videos or still photo collections from ancestor photos ? How about reaching out to other family members to see what photo history they may agree to share? Today’s family history research is about collaboration. Get the “big family picture” by locating and preserving the individual photos first.
  • Do you enjoy creating videos, or have you hired a professional videographer to document your family history for permanent use? iPhone amateur videos have a small role to play here, but preserving family history visually for future generations is often worthy of more long-lasting professional videography when quality is at stake. You’ll want some video of current family members dressed up as well as in casual clothing. Casual clothes may look okay contemporaneously, but more formal photos that show ancestors at their very best are appreciated by descendants over time.
  • Have you used YouTube for genealogy? There’s a treasure trove of historical and family history in videos there.  More than 37-million “hits” come up for “YouTube and Arkansas” alone.
  • There’s something for everyone, irrespective of their talents and attitudes about technology, in family history. Sometimes life is about risking everything for a dream that only you can see. Our ancestors took such a  risk when they emigrated and helped build Arkansas and America, and that’s why we’re here today.

Let’s thank them:  Commit to taking the time to find and share your family’s heritage, honor it, and breathe life into your forebears again right here in The Natural State.

Jeanne Rollberg is a genealogist with American Dream Genealogy and Research who is also on the boards of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. She teaches genealogy classes at LifeQuest of Arkansas.

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