About the Virtual Kindred Project

The Virtual Kindred project is a collaborative space for compiling the ancestral narrative of two families that merged in Massachusetts during the 1940s and 1950s.

The project traces back five generations of both families and its purpose is to create a pivot point between the past (our ancestors) and the future (our descendants) by allowing us a place where we can compile all we know about our predecessors and ourselves to hand on to the generations that follow us. What we have compiled here is not just the data – the facts about births, deaths, marriages and so on, but our memories and stories, our insights and our questions.

Our family has long been scattered. Our ancestors came to North America from Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and England and as well many of our present kinfolk live far away not only from where they were born, but from each other. We do not have a place where we regularly come together to share and collaborate on the stories that illustrate how we have come to be who we are. Though many of us have gathered treasured snippets of our ancestral story, we have not had a place where they can be woven together to define our place of belonging within an extended ancestral narrative. 

As is the case with many other families, it is unlikely that all of our kindred will ever again live in immediate proximity to each other, nor will we have the benefit of telling and retelling our mutual tales around a shared campfire. But we have a great advantage that our migrating ancestors did not have. Though my kindred and I are separated by vast geographical distance, cyberspace allows us a sense of instantaneous connection and a place in which we have been able to forge (and/or reforge) vital connections. Virtual Kindred might be considered our campfire. 

What is Virtual Kindred?

Virtual Kindred is a cyberspace platform through which members of my family, my kinfolk, can meet to collaborate on creating our ancestral story. It consists of several, interrelated parts: The Pilgrimage - a virtual experience in which my kinfolk can seek and find our mutual ancestors; The Ancestors - individual pages for each of our ancestors spanning 6 countries, 5 generations and over 300 years; The Kinfolk - living family members, representing 3 generations; and The Pilgrim - pages that contain an ongoing blog of my musings about such things as ancestry, kinship, pilgrimage and belonging and as well provides examples of my artworks, poetry, essays and other writings.

What is The Pilgrimage?

The Pilgrimage is a virtual experience and was designed to be a world where my family can cross a varied virtual landscape to discover petroglyphic markers that represent the birthplaces of five generations of our ancestors. The Virtual Pilgrimage is based on the actual one I undertook in 2008 that entailed travel to England, Norway, Ireland, Nova Scotia, New England (Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine), Washington D.C., North Carolina and Colorado. Along the way, I produced and installed three petroglyphs to mark points of ancestral encounter and exchange. 

Like my actual one, the Virtual Pilgrimage is designed to be open-ended. There are no definitive goals, kinfolk are free to discover whichever ancestors they choose in the order they choose. There are trails that mark the way across vast distances and through dense forests, but kinfolk are free to stay to the paths or strike out across the landscape. A fundamental and transformative experience of my pilgrimage was that of being lost – wandering without a specific destination, but with only the goal of discovery and the Virtual Pilgrimage has been designed to duplicate this. It is inspired by Robert Frost’s The Road not Taken1 and the words of Daniel Boone:

“I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days2

The Virtual Pilgrimage was created as a collaboratve effort and I am deeply indebted to my son, Max Frankel, for his expertise, insight, fortitude and forbearance during its creation. His is the 3D genius that allowed the creation of this world. I am – as always – immensely proud of Max, but our collaboration on this project has allowed me to appreciate the extraordinarily skilled, talented andvisionary man he has become.

Working together with him on this project has held profoundly personal significance for me but as well holds a great depth of conceptual cogruity andsubstance. At its outset, this project was motivated by my desire to acquire and pass on knowledge to Max about our ancestry so that - unlike me - he would always have the security of knowing where and from whom we have come. In working with my son in a virtual medium, I have engaged the next generation of my kinfolk to work in a new artistic medium to create a work that links us back to our ancestors and forward to our descendants so that they, too, will always know who we were and where they come from. 

Our collaboration further illustrates how I have seen myself throughout this project - as a pivot point between the past and the future.

How can The Kinfolk participate?

The Kinfolk have access to a private area of the Virtual Kindred website where they can collaborate in compiling information about who we are and what we know about our ancestors. All ancestor and kindred content is private, and protected by password.

Kinfolk can take a Virtual Pilgrimage in search of our mutual ancestors and by logging in to the virtual kindred website, can access detailed information about five generations of our ancestors. As kinfolk move through the virtual pilgrimage, they will discover petroglyphic stones that represent individual ancestors. Clicking on the petroglyph, allows password protected access to that ancestor’s page where our collaborative resource of data, stories, comments and photos are compiled..  

Kinfolk can add content, comments and photos to any of the Ancestor pages. Content might include specific recollections about times spent with ancestors they have known, stories told to them about the ancestor, questions about or a sense of affinity for a certain ancestor. Kinfolk can also comment on content submitted by other kinfolk or the might upload photos – of people, places, or objects (etc) that have relevance to the ancestor.

Kinfolk can add content and photos to their own Kinfolk page. Each of the kinfolk has their own profile page where they can upload content and photos about their lives: their history, family, work, interests, etc and add comments to entries made by other kinfolk to their pages.

Kinfolk can comment on each other’s Kinfolk pages. Kinfolk can add comments to each other’s pages.

What does it mean to collaborate on an Ancestral story?

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors' wisdom.” 3

Beyond the facts of our ancestor's lives, this is a place for us to compile the stories that will let our descendants know who they - and we - were. It's about the details that made our ancestors individuals: who liked their coffee so strong you could stand a spoon up in it? Who made mittens out of old carpet or added ragtime rhythms to hymns played on the piano?

It also provides a place for compiling information about who were are: a place to tell our descendants the odd little details and quirks about us, their ancestors.

Who is The Pilgrim?

I am an artist, mother and traveller fascinated by how the sacred is known and how it manifests in everyday life. My current artwork addresses the connections between belonging and ancestral landscape and engages the practice of pilgrimage - of walking ancestral ground - to discover the location of my ancestral sacred space.  More detailed information and examples of my works can be found on The Pilgrim pages.

1  Frost, Robert. 1920. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company. Bartleby. Accessed May 22, 2010. http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html. 

2  Farager, John Mack. 1992. The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, 65. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

3  Angelou, Maya. 1991. "I Dare to Hope." The New York Times, 25 August, E15.