Sharing Canadian Culture. Creating Digital Stories.

This post explains how I decided to connect my family history research with a digital education project. Some topics I explore include: project inspiration and goals, personal genealogy research, Canada 150, immigration, digital storytelling, and e-learning.

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Project Motivation and Goals

As a teacher interested in digital media I’ve been keen to explore building educational media and e-learning websites. Ancestry Project is a chance to continue the experiment. It launches though at an interesting moment in our history.

Canada 150 celebrations will take place in 2017. It’s an ideal time to consider who we are and to connect together different groups among the multiculture. Many of us do this every day. From a teacher or trainer to a graphic or curriculum designer there are opportunities to find new ways to discuss culture, history and migration.

I believe, for example, that the traditional stories about immigrants need to be subverted. Ethnicity in Canada often carries the burden of mistreatment of new immigrants, or the baggage carried from war torn lands abroad. If we’re telling the stories of Chinese, Syrian, or even Scottish Canadians, can we aspire to relate positive stories?

Conventional narrations focus on hardship and suffering, from migration horrors, to building the railways to the difficulty establishing careers in foreign lands. But the role of immigrants has changed. Skilled workers bring smarts and often succeed quickly in establishing new lives in Canada.

There are also heroes from immigrant or ethnic communities. Ancestry Project will explore the lives of Canadians such as John A. Macdonald, Paul Anka, David Suzuki, Olivia Chow, Donovan Bailey, and Peter Mansbridge. Each of these figures represents the best of us. If there are notable figures from other immigrant communities you will be welcome to share your knowledge about them with other AP users.

Researching My Family History

One of the main reasons this project exists is because I undertook research of my own family history back in 2012. That year I started working on a poster for a family tree and I first registered with the Ancestry website. It’s been an amazing journey. I discovered a lot of interesting things, both in consultation with family members (particularly my father and great uncle Crawf) and through the use of the Ancestry website.

When I look back on it, I didn’t expect to get very excited about exploring my family ancestry. I always thought I had a typical family and that we weren’t in any way exceptional. I didn’t realize my family’s’ stories were worth exploring and telling, until very recently.

I come from standard Scottish-English-Canadian stock. My ancestors are primarily from England and Scotland. I’m a 4th or 5th generation Canadian (dependent on what you call a first generation Canadian). With the help of my father and some time spent on I’ve identified some of the places that the Simpsons came from – mainly small towns near Glasgow, Scotland. My mother passed away years ago, and I’m sure if she were alive I might have a better understanding of where the English side of my family came from. It’s an exciting journey though and I know I’ll be rewarded when I dig further.

Scots to Canada / Online Course Design

To fulfill the requirements of a course I took while taking the E-Learning Certificate at the University of Toronto I created an online course. “Scots to Canada” was both a multi-section web-based course and an exploration of my family history.

While building the course out, I dove deep into my family tree research. The Scottish side of my family (great grandfather Robert and great grandmother Martha) both arrived in 1912. They travelled separately from Scotland and met in Canada.

So in fact the element of immigration history can be new or old – but the unifying factor is most of us are descended from immigrants.

Creating a Digital Education Project (Using a WordPress Website)

During the last two months I have been sketching out how this e-learning program will work, brainstorming the content and reaching out to people I think might be interested in the program.

The backbone of the project is a WordPress website. It’s my favourite platform, very flexible and visually capable. While adding media, blog posts and links to content is quite simple, there is a need to determine the best systems for the tasks of allowing and monitoring user access and building engaging e-learning content. While various plugins can help with membership and restricting content, the best solution as I’ve determined, is to use a dedicated LMS plugin. There are probably a half dozen with good reputations, but the clear leader at this point seems to be LearnDash. A future blog post will discuss the various DIY and pro options WordPress website users can implement to set up their own online courses.

I launched the website in November  and I am optimistic that many educators will recognize the potential of this project and join us from all corners of the country, and beyond (anyone anywhere can register). I would like to work with hundreds of teachers, youth workers and educators via the website. But there’s also a face to face component.

Digital Storytelling 2.0

Digital media and digital storytelling play a prominent role in this program. I’m interested in building on what people have been doing and refining what’s possible. To that end I’ve coined the term digital storytelling 2.0. If you’re familiar with the genre, digital storytelling often relies on a convention of combining recording voice with still images to produce short confessional first-person videos, primarily about personal experience. My intention is to build upon this, but also empower students and teachers to broaden their toolkits. Websites are great places to host digital stories, and stories can be modular – told through a flexible combination of images and media (photos, graphics, audio, video etc).


In the end we’re all linked – by general human history and ancestry, and through shared experiences and culture. The opportunity though to explore personal family histories is amazing for teachers of history, language or digital media. From family trees to digital storytelling, there’s a wealth of inspiring and unifying information and stories. I welcome you in the exploration process and thank you for your interest in Ancestry Project.