At some point in the early 1990s, having been researching my father’s Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor family of cousins for a decade, so many offshoots had become known that I decided to “shoot the moon” and try to find all cousins everywhere. The paradigm changed from tracing backward in time to exploring forward from long ago to now.
It was an audacious idea and bound to fail. But what a ride it would prove to be.
One cousin, Eugene Podraza in New Jersey, suggested we meet. This resulted in a new tradition — a joint research trip out of state. Since then, he and I have gone on more than 20 annual summer journeys to Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas and the District of Columbia. My archive of books, papers and photographs filled shelves and filing cabinets. Cousins asked if I would “write a book.” My answer was “no,” but I needed a way to unite all of the data and share it with others.
And then the Internet was invented.
At the time, I was head of media and public relations for Buchanan Ingersoll, one of the nation’s 100 largest law firms. I had built the firm’s first two generations of web sites. “Hmmmm,” I thought, “perhaps with the right type of creativity, a website could leverage the family research, reach unknown cousins, capture the imagination of students and expand our family knowledge.”
In May 2000, with help from cousin-advisors Douglas A. Nicklow and Aimee McCabe-Walker and law firm colleagues George Patrick Baier and Jacque Rowden, I launched the site known as Minerd.com. This included taking a week’s vacation to complete writing all of the text and biographies, and prepare photographs, for the initial launch.
My goal was to create interesting biographical and feature pages loaded with names, keywords and photographs – a type of People magazine for one average American family. Each bio was linked to bios of parents and children, so that all paths ultimately led back to the southwestern Pennsylvania pioneers, my fourth great grandparents, Jacob and Maria (Nein) Minerd Sr.
I also hoped to attract cousins whom I suspected would find the site after curiously googling their own family names.
The strategy worked far beyond what I had imagined. In the first year, Minerd.com attracted more than 21,000 visitors, averaging nearly 1,750 per month. They made contact from all across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, and from Canada and Europe.
Within a year, Minerd.com received the “Best Site Pick” Award by the Golden Gate Genealogy Forum, at that time a large, popular genealogy forum based in Massachusetts. Three years after launch, in 2003, the site was named one of the top family websites in the nation by Family Tree Magazine. It was so named again in 2008, among the nation’s “10 personal genealogy Web sites” that “are the cream of the crop,” said the magazine, “Take some time to visit them. They might inspire you to clean up your existing family history site, or to put your own fascinating family story online.”
Over the 15 years, the site has attracted more than 2.8 million viewers. Approximately 1,400 distant cousins and others around the world have made first-time email contact, providing comment, documents and photos to expand the biographical stories significantly. Grandparents have used the site to educate grandchildren. Students have relied on it for school and 4-H projects. It was part of the Pittsburgh 250 anniversary celebration. Writers have mined the content for articles, TV shows, websites, blogs and books. State parks have used images and text for educational markers. And cousins cleaved from the clan through adoption or divorce have plumbed it to learn the truth about their shrouded pasts.
Today, the site continues to protect and preserve a fragmented family history and culture against the ravages of time and erosion of memory, public disinterest, destruction of interpersonal relationships and dispersion of families. When I hear of families breaking apart so often, I realize this website has an unprecedented way of re-connecting them (us).
Perhaps the most heartfelt example of Minerd.com’s impact is a memoir by our cousin Melinda Brooksher — entitled “Come Back to Pennsylvania.” Her branch has resided in Kansas since 1886. She wrote of her visit here in 2002 to attend our national family reunion, having been connected early to Minerd.com’s content about her people:
We have always known that our roots were in Uniontown. But the thought of ever going to Pennsylvania had never crossed my mind. And now I hold the honor of being the first of my branch of the family to return to Pennsylvania. It was such a spiritual experience for me that I cannot find the words to express just how much it meant. I walked where they walked, experienced the same sunlight at the same time of day that they might have been working, loving, struggling, and all the great day to day stuff that makes us all unique.
Hey, if I can do this, you can too. What’s stopping you from creating your own family history website or Facebook page?