The Trouble with Tree-Thinking Part II

Are you ready to go family-viral? Here's how.

By Eric Peterschmidt

In my prior post, I shared my secret for capturing family history. That secret? Take an event-based approach! So many meaningful memories come from your past interactions with family and friends while you were traveling together or gathered for a special event. You can read all about it here.

But how do you do that? How do you capture and share event-based stories? Especially if you’re conditioned to think first about the family tree when it comes to family history?  

Here’s the problem with tree thinking.  

A good story is like a favorite Christmas tree ornament. You always want to find a special place on the tree for a favorite ornament… a place where others can see and appreciate it, too.  

What branch will you hang it on? Which side of the tree? How high or low?  

What if you have more than one favorite ornament? You’re not going to hang them all on the same branch, are you? 

What if you want to decorate more than one tree? Do you place all your favorite ornaments in that special replication machine to create duplicates of them? Oh, wait… you say you don’t have a replication machine?  

Now what if others are helping you decorate those trees? Surely, they have favorite ornaments, too. Where will those go? What branch? Which side? How high or low?  

And so it is with the family tree. There are a lot of branches on that tree… and a lot of people with stories to tell. Where do you hang your favorite stories on the family tree? Where do others hang theirs? And how do you tell each other where to look for those stories?  

Family trees are wonderful, but they clearly come with some challenges.  

Let’s explore a typical scenario.  

A family member gets married… let’s say he’s the groom. Some branches of your family tree attend the event, as do some branches of bride’s family tree.  

Do you share EVERYTHING about your family tree with the bride? (Likely yes.) With her ENTIRE family? (Likely not.) 

If you want to invite wedding guests to add their own candid photos to the wedding album, how would you do that? (You can’t… not conveniently anyway.)  

How do you attach stories to the photos in the wedding album? How do you share the album with your family tree… and with the bride’s family tree… in a way that will make sense to any viewer?  

Does it make sense to put everything in one album? Or might there be a rehearsal album… and a wedding album… and a reception album?  

Were there separate family gatherings that occurred independent from the scheduled wedding events? What do you do with those photos and stories? 

Will EVERY story be meaningful to EVERYONE from both family trees?  

Is your head spinning yet?  

So, how does an event-based approach to creating a family legacy address these challenges? It might help to walk through an example of how we would tackle it with TightKnit. 

John and Edna Smith pulled together all of their family photos. Some were actual printed photos (which they digitized), and others were sitting in various digital albums. When they joined TightKnit, they created different albums for different types of events.

In this example, we’re showing two of them - Kids Growing Up and Family Reunion 2017. These albums were shared with other members of the John and Edna Smith Family, who could then add their own photos to these albums, if they had any to share. And of course, everyone participating can ask questions, add comments, and even record their own memories. 

Then, guess what happened? One of John and Edna’s kids got married! When Sue Jones married Ed Smith, the wedding photos, of course, needed to be captured into their own album – and a whole other family would, no doubt, like to be involved also. Ed created another family group – the Jones/Smith Extended Family – and invited members of the Jones family to participate in the newly created album, Sue Jones and Ed Smith Get Married.  

Fun, right?  

Now, both the Smith the Jones families can add their own photos to the wedding album, make comments, ask questions, and record or type their memories on each photo.

If he wanted to, Ed could even share an album with a group that included wedding guests – and give everyone who attended a place to upload all of those cell-phone candids  that the wedding photographer didn’t capture.  

More fun!  

But wait! The Jones family LOVES this, and they start creating story albums of their own. No need to share these albums with the entire Smith family also – so they create the Bill and Tina Jones Family group and share their family albums with just the members of that group.


Now you’ve created a totally different kind of tree – a tree that’s tied to events and lives well-lived. You’ve captured memories and shared them with the people who are most interested in them – without having to share everything with everyone. That’s pretty powerful, wouldn’t you say?   

So, what do you think? Do you want to hang a good story on a branch of the family tree and hope someone sees it? Or would you rather gather around that story with those who can contribute to the storyline?  

It’s time to turn tree thinking upside down.  

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