I’ve been in the mood to finish things left unfinished lately. In Linchpin, Seth Godin talks repeatedly about the importance of shipping, that is, to take what you are working on and bring it to completion. He says that it is your lizard brain — your amygdala, your survival instinct, your resistance — that tries to prevent this.
I liked the book. You should read it. It will, I hope, get you off your tail and do something. It helped me ship two projects. This is one of them.
kittell.org was my Christmas gift to my dad in 2008. Yeah, it’s like being a kid again and making crafts instead of buying a gift. In the 1990s, he did a ton of research on the Kittell family history. I vaguely remember this period because it meant that I spent a lot of time in the Parlin-Ingersoll Library in Canton while he thumbed through books and microfiche.
Now it sits in binders at home, lining several shelves. Why? In the early 1990s, where else was a body of work like that going to go? Into a book, I suppose. The shelf was a dead end — a shame for all of that work to stall like that.
Hey, 2008 — the Internet. Let’s get that stuff off the shelf.
The real prize is wiki.kittell.org. (Yes, you know, I am a MediaWiki devotee.) I’m proud of that. That’s where I started adding the family history and linking it together. In early 2009 I added profiles for over 100 Kittells. Each person gets a page with their vital data. Each page links to other relations — parents, siblings, etc.
The first challenge was organization. How would you look for a certain person on the site? An obvious answer is search. However, I also wanted to make it possible to browse through the history by date and location. It is an unnecessary feature that fulfills my curiosity for seeing who lived when and where (and how and why and with whom).
So, have a look at a representative page, say, John Kittle (1808-1869).
The key part is at the very bottom: the categories. John was born on January 20, 1808. Click on “1808 births” to see who else was born in 1808. Then go up a level and see “1800-1809 births” or see other events from 1808. You can go up a level from 1800-1809 births and see “1800s births.” Or you can start from John’s page and find who else is buried in West Ghent, New York, go up a level and find everyone born in New York or people that were born in West Ghent.
And on and on.
That system of organization is my favorite accomplishment on the site. It didn’t come right away. First I added those 100+ profiles, then I thought about how to organize them, then I had to go back and spend a few months changing every profile to look a certain way and delete old, unused categories. Ugh.
Organizing by categories like this came in handy. I use the CategoryTree extension to show nested categories. This means: on the front page of wiki.kittell.org, you can expand the 1900s births category to see each of the decadal births under that, then expand one of those to see individual years, then expand that to see people born in that year.
I know this is arcane, but it took me a long time to figure out a method for organizing so you should at least act like you’re excited while you’re reading this.
The second challenge, discovered later, was managing citations. Where did the information come from? I added information but gave no attributions, no way for anyone to check my work. People of the Internet, I’m sorry: that was a jerk thing to do. Always cite your sources, and don’t trust anything that doesn’t cite its sources.
I installed the Cite extension to manage references. Then I had to find the sources I used. Then I had to go back again and modify all 100+ profiles to include the references. This took a long, long time, and was completely unrewarding — nothing but spinning tires in the mud. But now it’s done. Done. Now we can go somewhere.
Where to from here? Step one is to build the community — that is the reason for setting up the blog and forum on kittell.org. How do I get others to join? I don’t know. I think I’ll try to answer questions, point them to where the information lies on kittell.org. Instead of the typical, “Hey, come look at this site!” approach, I’ll try to make it useful instead of saying that it’s useful. I’ll do my own work and talk to myself on the site until someone joins me.
And, of course, I’m going to keep looking for more information — more data, more photos, more vital records, more resources. Genealogy — if I’m qualified to call this genealogy, I don’t know — is a funny animal. Sure, we each have a finite number of ancestors who lived a finite number of years in a finite number of places. But the search for all of this is endless. It will never, ever be finished before we ourselves get our own “deceased on” dates to describe us. It is intoxicating.
Since 1642 there have been Kittells — and Kittles and Ketels and von Ketelhuyns — in America. Friends, family: it’s time to come home.
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