Integration of Family Records into Community History

  • William Sims BainbridgeEmail author
Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


A challenge for any form of family history is the mortality of its creators, and thus the perishability of any archive maintained by members of the family it concerns. Plausibly, some kinds of community archive might have much greater longevity, and thus we should seek ways to integrate family histories into community histories. A pioneering example of a large-scale community history archive is the Valley of the Shadow, a digital archive developed 1993–2007 at the University of Virginia, offering substantial data and documents for the period 1859–1870 concerning two counties that were on opposite sides during the American Civil War. The inequality of traditional historical accounts is demonstrated by the paucity of information available about the African-American population from that period, but also exhibited for most Americans of that era who were neither rich nor well-educated, let alone free. While there is ample reason to criticize elites for publicizing their lives at the expense of everybody else, often the elite adopt new technologies earlier than others can afford them, and thus serve as explorers for the rest of us. An admirable example is the oral history project developed over the past half century by the libraries in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the time of this writing containing more than 950 interviews and 138 books. A related example is the set of Facebook groups for alumni of the town’s public schools, and a 2001 website for one graduating class. The chapter discusses the durability of communities, drawing upon the “Middletown” studies of Muncie, Indiana, that have continued since 1924, and outlines approaches that could help establish a new profession of family historian, building upon the earlier profession of genealogist but incorporating social science and employing information technology. The book ends with consideration of a research agenda that could develop a much richer concept of family history, not only preserving and memorializing our ancestors, but also giving our own lives today a greater meaning.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent historianChantillyUSA

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