Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Story Behind The Family History Guide

Now that we've crossed the "finish line" by officially releasing The Family History Guide website, I thought I'd take some time to describe how it all came to be - or, "how the race was run."

You'll notice the allusions to running in this post, and that's not by accident. Just over three years ago, I decided to do something about my sedentary lifestyle. I had just watched an episode of "The Biggest Loser" where the show's contestants were trying to complete a full marathon - 26.2 miles. I remarked to my wife, "I bet I could do that." Big mistake - the next week I had signed up for a gym membership and was on the treadmill. I thought I was going to die, running four minutes without stopping. But with patience and perseverance - and remembering my old high school running days - I completed my first marathon in June 2012. And in the next two years, I completed seven more - from St. George to Bear Lake and points in between.

What does all this have to do with The Family History Guide? For the past seven months, I feel like I've been running a marathon of sorts, assembling a website from thousands of scattered family history pieces across the Internet. It began with a vision of what might be, continued with many small steps, and culminated yesterday with the website release.

Now let's go back to the starting line to see what kind of insanity must have overcome me to tackle a project like this (The Family History Guide, not the running ... although insanity helps in both cases). In December of 2014 I was volunteering at the new Sandy Granite Family History Center. I noticed that guests would often ask the same questions - some answers were covered in our quick reference guide, and some were not. I decided to put together a bigger reference - the Help File, a document with categories and links to documents on the Web. Then I thought about how few of our visitors were taking advantage of the great family history videos available on the Internet, so I created the Video File - a document with links to videos on the Web. But the two documents were not connected to each other ... what I needed was a central place to find resources, and step-by-step instructions on how to use them. I didn't want to create another link repository - those have been done, from small to large (think Cyndi's List).

I knew what I needed do. I asked my brother John, a professional web designer, to create a website that would be attractive and easy to use. My part, as a professional technical writer and instructional designer, would be to create a learning flow that would layer the family history information well, so as not to swallow the new family history learner in a sea of information.

It felt great - the content, design, and direction were coming together well - sort of like I felt the first few miles of a marathon felt, where your body gives you that runner's high. But there were a lot of difficult miles ahead, sorting through oceans of information while keeping the focus on the easy, the doable, and the meaningful.

After a few months, I shared a link with what I had done so far with Bob Ives, Technology Director at the Sandy Granite Family History Center. His reply - "We need to talk." My first thought was that I was in trouble somehow - but Bob had immediately grasped the possibilities of the site and was quite excited about it. Together we formed The Family History Guide, LLC. The next person who caught the vision was Sue Maxwell, noted family historian and blogger (granitegenealogy.blogspot.com), who has lent valuable support to The Family History Guide through social media.

And that takes us to this morning - where I'll wrap up the blog post for now, as Bob & I are scheduled to appear on K-Talk radio in a bit, to chat about ... what else? ... The Family History Guide.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

As we get closer to the "finish line" (July 25 website release) for The Family History Guide, the enthusiasm is picking up strongly. We just presented The Family History Guide (FHG) to the UVTAGG (Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group - sorry about all the acronyms in this sentence ...) The response was overwhelmingly positive, with many attendees remarking that this is just what they had been looking for to help with family history training.

The FHG has also been put through a blitz of activity at the Sandy Granite Family History Center, with over 50 consultants finishing the initial phase of training on the site, with several rounds to come. Response has been likewise very positive, both for consultants and individual learners.

And noted genealogist James Tanner had some interesting comments about the solid instructional design of the site and its potential for helping learners get engaged with family history. His blog posting is available here: http://rejoiceandbeexceedingglad.blogspot.com/2015/07/beta-release-of-family-history-guide.html

To us, these events have been quite encouraging - when people see The Family History Guide in action, they begin to see more possibilities for what they can do. And that's exactly what we were hoping for.

Next milestone: adding The Family History Guide to the FamilySearch App Gallery, which should happen sometime after July 18. We'll keep you updated in our next blog posting.

CEO, The Family History Guide, LLC

PS - Even though we are crossing the "finish line" in a few weeks, our work is never done ... just like genealogy research!