Electronic text comes to family research

When my grandfather passed away in January, I made a resolution that I would do what I could to ensure that he was not forgotten and that my descendants would know about him. So I started a little project that blossomed. The Brackbill Wiki is a set of pages I set up to collect family genealogy information, primarily original documents and pointers to photos. In the process of getting the site together, I also collected a bunch of information about various family members, friends, and institutions.

The core of the site is a set of documents from my grandfather and other family members that he gave to us or that he left behind. In particular, other family members and I are in the process of transcribing four years of his journal that span from the time he graduated from the state teachers’ college to the time my mom was born. The 1939 journal has been completely transcribed and the 1940 journal is in progress. We also used the site to provide a new home for my sister’s project, “Great Aunt Eva’s Blog,” which disappeared when her old blog host shut down. Esta is in the process of bringing it back on the new site right now.

There are a bunch of cool things that have come out of the process of transcribing these journals. I’ve gained a new appreciation for my grandparents’ lives (just how did they work six days a week and go out every night to choir practices and committee meetings? I only work five and I’m exhausted when I get home), for the people they spent time with (Twiddley!), and the infrastructure in which they grew up. I’ve also gotten to know my grandfather, and his sense of humor, a little better.

What occurred to me the other day was how this project is analogous, on a humbler scale, to big digital humanities projects like the Valley of the Shadow project, in which former UVA professor Ed Ayers and a team of students indexed and digitized reams of original materials from two Civil War era communities. In this case, our scope and our team is quite a bit smaller, but thanks to the wiki technology we used the material is coming together quite a bit faster.