Ponga Blog Post

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash
January 12, 2023

52 Ancestors in Pictures

If you're joining in on the #52Ancestors campaign to focus on an individual ancestor each week of the year, then we've got a great way to leverage that genealogy work in your collection of family photos.

Last week Amy Johnson Crow kicked off her annual project to encourage families to tell their stories with the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks campaign. The campaign boils down getting you started by...

  • starting with a simple storytelling challenge
  • providing a calendar of themes all year long
  • creating a community of like-minded family historians

Amy's brilliant campaign cuts a mountain family history down to little mole hills of individual stories. Each of these should be something to you can explore a week at a time, if you have the time. If you don't, that's okay too! The idea has spawned over 32M posts on the topic on the web today with 52-Ancestors' communities on Facebook, blogging sites, and private groups.

Ignite 52 sparklers in your family tree!

We believe this kind of small, bite-sized storytelling efforts can spark storytelling throughout your family. So here's a way to use your effort to tell your 52 stories in 52 weeks into a sparklers throughout your family tree. When you explore family photos, a sea of faces can be intimidating when you don't know anyone's story. Your research into individual stories will help you understand the characters while Ponga helps you connect those stories to the people in your collection of family photos.

Ponga preserves not only your pictures but also your stories. Using Ponga as part of the 52 Ancestors campaign you can ...

  1. Celebrate your stories with the magic of photographs to bring out the color of each individual character
  2. Preserve both your photos and your stories for the generations that follow.

Our members have shared some wonderful stories of their own discoveries while focused on individual ancestors. In this delightful post by Victoria MacGregor, "Hidden Memories Ignite a Spark," a photograph of an ancestor playing a violin sparks a conversation among cousins who hadn't connected since childhood. It's a story revealed through a photo of an ancestor playing a violin and the conversation it sparks.

While a part of that story may be perfectly relevant to share in social media or on blog posts, the commentary that followed is what made it so personal and compelling. Ponga created a private environment where those conversations could happen.

In our view, these stories are what make these photographs — and really any artifact that can be photographed — so important. Stories reveal the individual and why they were important.

At Ponga, we've focused on three areas that might help you explore your ancestors' stories: Simplifying Organization, Exploring Details, and Crowdsourcing Stories.

Simplifying Organization

Many people scrupulously protect, digitize, and back up their photos with little visibility to what's actually in each image. While the backups and protection are critically important, a little technology can take you gliding over the massive chore of identifying people now and them later.

Knowing who was there can help tell a story

At Ponga we've added best-in-class facial organization tools to quickly and easily sort your photos for you by the people in each image — all without compromising your privacy.

Add photos to Ponga, and those IMG_0001.png files are quickly sorted for you. Look at any one picture, and everyone's labeled so you can focus on the clues to understand why, when, and where. After only a few dozen photos of each individual, a narrative emerges of who they were and what they cared about.

Crowdsourcing Stories

If you want to know more about your own family, ask a cousin. Your cousin's stories about their aunt might be interesting variations on the stories you heard from your mother. Age differences and birth order can mean that a cousin was at your mother's wedding 70 years ago.

When you know they were there, you're presented with a great opportunity to ask — and don't forget to record their answer. While taking notes can be helpful, qualities conveyed by the human voice in audio recordings or body language in video can be compelling. Audio and video be more compelling than notes. Use it. Texting can be more convenient, do it. Don't be shy and don't let software hold you back.

Crowds — in private

Keep in mind while that the authentic stories shared in families might celebrate triumphs, they can also describe tragedies. These are stories of divorce, adoption, and pain. These are sometimes the most important stories to be told. Who's listening usually affects the story. The way we see it, the story you tell in your living room is very different from one you might tell in the town square.

The same is true for the sharing of images. When you paste an image into email or a post on Facebook, you can easily lose control of both the narrative and the image file. In Ponga, you share an image as a private link. Period. Only invited guests can see it, and though they can take a screenshot, they cannot download the image. You manage control by privately sharing a link to a picture. Your free guests can explore the picture and add comments of their own without modifying or repurposing the image.

Specific questions, specific answers

Having control gives you a much more structured way to solicit feedback. You can use selections to ask, "Do you know why he's holding her hand here?" for example. Ask a specific question and you're more likely to get a specific answer. You can capture answers in comments they record or type into selections, or in a live screen sharing session you record in video. Since you have the control on screen to zoom in and out of details, you can capture their feedback live. Here's an article about Using Zoom to Capture Family History in Ponga.

52 Ancestors’ public yet private stories

Public… Public sharing can be fun — and useful. Publishing your 52 themed, ancestor stories in public to social media, websites, and blogs can be a great way to memorialize, remember, and celebrate an ancestor who has passed. It can also be a terrific way to solicit answers to mysteries from relative strangers. Their feedback and stories can in turn become a part of other stories of yours.

Screenshot from Ponga interface with a post from 52 ancestors embedded
Screenshot from Ponga interface with a post from 52 ancestors embedded, in this case, as an example, a link from The Simple Living Genealogist.

Yet private … Ponga makes it possible to weave these public stories into your private stories too. It can be a great way to privately record or contextualize the details that might not have been so flattering. In the Ponga Tip, "8 Social Media Conversations Referenced in a Ponga Picture" we share some nifty strategies for weaving these posts into Ponga pictures. Note the particularly useful tip in the Twitter section about archiving a social post to the Wayback Machine.

Summary: Tell your ancestors’ stories as you see them

We look at the 52 Ancestor challenge as one might consider a challenge to write a haiku. A form of expression with tight constraints that can make it easier to focus on the story you want to tell. Using Ponga you can contextualize a picture to focus your explorer on your story.

Photos can present both facts and clues. Annotations present connect visible clues with context. Facts might tell a story, but so often, the interesting bits hide in the soft squishy clues. This is why we thought Ponga might be a fun way to explore your 52 ancestor stories.

As in a news story, you can explore a photo to discover who was there, where they were, why they were there, what happened, how it all came together, and when it happened. With Ponga, you a great deal of flexibility to capture what you know where you learned it, then step back and see how the details come together. You get a quick and easy way to put names to faces and the freedom add any other bits you know or suspect, then reach out to privately crowdsource more.

To capture stories that are still alive with complex emotions, disputed facts, and contradictory perspectives, Ponga may be your perfect way to combine public and private stories and media. You can leverage public links to add context from public blog posts, maps, music, documents, and interactive media. Such richness will give future generations a new way to understand the nuanced experiences of those who came before them. Ponga's privacy controls also let you control who has access to the richer, more personal story.

To learn more, join us for our family history series of webinars that focuses on each of these three areas. The webinars are free and available now on-demand at ponga.com/events

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