All of the families coming to EverPresent have stories to tell and we often put the spotlight on our clients to share their memories. For Black History Month, we asked Jim Spencer to share his experience compiling his history and genealogy together as a person of color. EverPresent’s relationship with Jim Spencer spans the entirety of the seven years we’ve been in business beginning with his first project in the summer of 2013 scanning his family photos.
He has come back again and again to bring not only his rich family legacy to life online, but also to shine a light on Black History in Cambridge, MA.
What began with 213 photos on a USB of his personal archive has expanded into an interactive experience and deep dive into the history of his family and the lives they have touched.
EverPresent: How did you first hear about us?
Jim Spencer: I was in the Burlington Mall and saw a flyer! A relative had lost priceless family photos in a fire and I was concerned that all my photographs depicting the history of my family would be doomed to some trash heap upon my passing. Seeing the brochure was serendipitous and I called right away.
Vanessa Boucher: I was first introduced to Jim by one of our original consultants because he wanted a website made that he could share with his family. He needed something beyond our standard digital platform that contained not only all the photos he was scanning, but also a variety of historical background, video and audio and he wanted it totally customized.
EP: What was your first experience with us like?
JS: “More than I could ever hope for. You made easy, which I thought would be very hard. In addition, Vanessa helped me put together a website complete with family stories, documents, and even recordings from my old Webcor Tape Recorder that I got on my 10th birthday in 1957.”
VAB: When we first started we didn’t have a family history website template, so we made one of our own. We have spent many hours together bringing this website to life and this project has touched every department and service we have:
- Categorizing his photos into the different branches of his family
- Expanding those family lines into sections for photos and videos and stories
- We built masonry galleries for different groups of photos with the family like “Mom & Dad”
- Built a slideshow gallery of a book he had written about some of his family so it could be read without transcribing it into the site
- Transcribed handwriting on the backs of photos into the online captions
- Transferred video tapes and captured reel-to-reel audio for visual galleries
- And more!
EP: Do you think personal/family memories projects like yours enhance the broader narrative of Black History – if so, how?
JS: My family history has given me a sense of who I am. I have often wondered if memories can somehow be carried by DNA for unlike general history–I CAN FEEL MY FAMILY HISTORY IN MY BONES. When I read my grandfather’s World War 1 Diary, I actually thought that I had seen the places he had been and intrinsically somehow felt that I was remembering some of his experiences-very strange.
Knowing my family history has given me a sense of responsibility to forward their positive goals and earn the respect of ancestors long gone.
“My grandfather, Bruce Wright, was a great influence in my life. He left Springfield, Illinois at 8 years old after the death of both parents and lived with his Aunt, Gertrude Wright Morgan and Clement Morgan, who was the first black mayor of Cambridge, MA” His World War 1 memoir was published by his grandchildren.
VAB: When we started this project, I was both a designer and a consultant and I was entrusted daily with the handling of precious memories from many families. As it so often happens, most families are satisfied with knowing their memories are protected digitally and are too overwhelmed to contemplate what else they could do with them.
Jim Spencer had no qualms there and we dove right in.
This project was the first truly meaningful project I’ve had the pleasure of working on at EverPresent. Our mission is to bring family stories to life and for many of us here, we gravitate towards this job not only for our backgrounds in media but our interest in history.
EP: What’s the relationship between your own family history, Black History, and Cambridge’s history/growth?
JS: My family was instrumental in the formation of the NAACP. My aunt and uncle Clement and Gertrude Wright Morgan helped found the Niagara Movement, which was the precursor to the NAACP. Clement Morgan Park, named for my uncle, and Morgan Avenue, named for my aunt, stand for my family’s contribution to the City of Cambridge.
VAB: Jim takes great pride in his family heritage and I took pride in building it into something. Some of the members of his family that I’ve learned about include Bruce Wright, who wrote a memoir about his experience as a black soldier in World War I and Gertrude Wright Morgan, the first black woman to graduate from Springfield High School. One of his ancestors, Pvt. John Harvey, fought in the Civil War after the Emancipation Proclamation, and there’s more than that – all viewable on the family website.
Mr. Spencer has seen us grow from a small office of 13 people to a new headquarters on Needham Street that holds 80 people across multiple departments. For every expansion we’ve been through at EverPresent, he has continued to expand on his work with not just his family website but books as well.
EP: What do you think about the way we’ve grown since you started working with us?
JS: EverPresent has grown substantially in the last seven years and with that growth has come incredible sophistication. My family’s history was somehow put in my hands and thanks to EverPresent, I feel I have done my ancestors proud. In addition, I have started a project to highlight the accomplishments of Cambridge Black Trailblazers that had yet to be recognized. Vanessa was so important in helping me get that off the ground.
VAB: I’ve held many roles at EverPresent as I’ve grown with the company over the last six years and currently, as the Marketing Director, I have fewer and fewer opportunities to work with clients. So when he came back recently looking for help on a project to celebrate Black trailblazers in the city of Cambridge, I was thrilled. His and his family’s connections to the city of Cambridge go back extensively and he takes as much pride in that as he does in his lineage.
Initiated and launched by Mr. Spencer and a committee of dedicated contributors, this website was created as an extra resource for a bookmark project to educate the Cambridge community and school children about Cambridge Black History.
EP: Is there any historical aspect of the African American experience that you think gets overlooked or glossed over, whether during Black History Month or year-round?
JS: Black History has been largely overlooked. Films like “Hidden Figures” have surprised a great many by revealing just how crucial my people have been to the development of this country.
EP: Are there any specific resources or advice that African American families should consider when researching their own genealogy?'My advice to Black Folks researching their #ancestry is to search out a Black #Genealogist. Researching records of slaves and Native Americans ... quite a few challenges.' - Jim Spencer, EverPresent client. Click To Tweet
JS: I have done considerable writing about my personal and family history and confess I often feel unappreciated for my efforts. My hope is that somewhere out there is a young family member who in the future will happen upon my work and feel that he has found A GOLD MINE!!!!!!
We hope to work with Mr. Spencer on more projects as he continues his mission to preserve as much knowledge as possible on his own family, but also Black History in the City of Cambridge for a new generation.