My cousin Miriam and I have always been the genealogy geeks of the family, independently finding and sharing little bits of our family history as we discover them. Miriam, a graphic designer by trade, even made a photographic family tree at one point, as well as publishing a booklet of her mother’s story about the tiny Russian village she and my grandmother (and their five other siblings) grew up in.

Over the years, we’ve had countless emails between us, sharing photos, answering questions, sharing links to articles. I have a copy of the booklet and photographic family tree and many, many family photos, going back to my great-grandparents in their youth. I’ve done some research on and JewishGen and I’ve saved and printed census documents, ships’ manifests, marriage license applications, and saved screenshots of written histories. The documents, photos, and links are all over the place. And while some of those sites allow you to save documents into files within the site, they’re not easy to share.

My Factr stream “Grossman Family Photos” collects all of those bits and pieces, scraps of paper, and links in one place. I went back through my emails with Miriam to collect the links to articles about a particular street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where my great-grandfather lived for a while when he first came to the United States. I added the links as posts to the stream. I posted a link to the digital copy of my great-aunt’s memoir booklet. There are links to articles about the history of the village that the Pilchman family came from. The links appear as distinct posts, with editable images, titles, and descriptions—clean and clear.

I posted a photo of my grandmother on her wedding day on the stream. I was looking at the photo and wondering about her attire, wondering what year she married my grandfather. I know from the 1930 census (a photo of that census page, describing the members of the Pilchman household, is also on the stream) that my grandmother still lived with her parents. I know what year my father was born, after my grandparents were married, but I didn’t know the year of the wedding. So I went looking for the New Jersey Marriage Index, and once I located it, I was able to find the year my grandmother AND her sister (Miriam’s mother) married, and post a photo of the marriage index page on the stream. Using the Factr browser extension makes that easy. I can save any page to my stream while I’m on that page. (See article “How to Install Factr’s browser extension for Chrome”).

With Factr, I’ve been able to start sharing and combining all of our joint research. I recently learned that my cousin has original documents I’ve never seen (the visa application form that my great-grandfather submitted to bring my great-grandmother and the seven children to the U.S.; the embarkation cards for the ship they sailed on). Those items are now part of the stream.

I’ve realized I can use Factr for all sorts of joint research projects. For a more general project, we could create a public stream. For the genealogy project, we can create a group that encompasses more members of our family and create other family streams to share with them (photos, artifacts, informational writings).

I chose Factr for this project, rather than, say a private group on Facebook, for a number of reasons. One of my friends has a group on Facebook sharing his family history. He’s invited all the members of the family line to join his private group, which is open only to the family (and a few honorary members), but he doesn’t really have control over the information, nor the group, other than determining who is invited to join. It becomes much more conversational and ragged (and impossible to search). On Factr, I can determine the order in which the posts the appear, I can easily edit the posts, including dates. I can invite people to be viewers, contributors, editors, or administrators--I can share, while still maintaining control of the stream content. The members of the stream can still have conversations about the content—there is a comment feature under every post—but it can’t go off the rails like other comments sections. Even better, the information is not shared with anyone you don’t want to share with. I’ll never see an ad for pop up in my Pilchman Family stream.

I’ve been casually gathering genealogical information for years now. I’ve had information scattered to a lot of places--old-school paper files, digital files, in my “shoebox” on Ancestry, and in emails. Now I’ve put all those pieces of information in one place. As I continue to fine tune my family genealogy stream, I’ll put the entries into chronological order and edit the captions and descriptions to be more uniform. I’ll tag them so I can I can filter for information about specific family members.

But the big achievement so far is this: I’ve gathered my file cabinet, my bulletin board, my notes, my shoebox, my photo album, all into one place. It’s been a little like switching to a smartphone from a paper datebook, digital watch, wall calendar, notebook, and alarm clock. Using Factr, I streamlined, collected, and archived my big genealogy project. I’ll continue to work on it in much more manageable, shareable, and enjoyable format.

–Deborah Grossman