Creating A Digital Experience To Connect 10 Million Names

Hookson worked with American Ancestors to launch 10 Million Names, one of the world’s most ambitious and far-reaching genealogy projects.

A “Moon-Shot” Project with Enormous Impact

In 2023, American Ancestors launched 10 Million Names, one of the world’s most ambitious and impactful genealogy projects. Hookson, American Ancestors’ longtime digital partner, helped create a comprehensive digital strategy for 10 Million Names that matched the project’s ambitious scope. In addition to other technologies, Hookson leveraged the Drupal multisite platform to produce a highly interactive, user-friendly flagship 10 Million Names site, which serves as main resource for African Americans who want to research their family history.

Connecting African American People with the Stories of Their Ancestors

The 10 Million Names project aims to be one of the most important genealogy projects ever to be undertaken. Its mission is to collect data that will tell the stories of the estimated 10 million people of African descent who were enslaved in pre- and post-colonial America. During this time data about enslaved people was either unrecorded, obscured or altered, which has made it very difficult for their descendants to carry out family history research.

10 Million Names aims to change this by supporting the documentation of family stories through a free online research tool. A huge public awareness campaign was kicked off by ABC News with a segment about NFL star and anchor Michael Strahan’s ancestry on the flagship morning news show Good Morning America, the most-watched morning television news show in the US.

10 Million Names on ABC News flagship Good Morning America show

10 Million Names in the News

The site launched on 2nd August 2023 with a segment on ABC News‘ Good Morning America. Other media coverage came from the news platform, (Alabama’s most visited news site), and a guest segment on the Politics Nation show with political commentator Al Sharpton on MSNBC. Throughout 2024, 10 Million Names has continued to attract high-profile media attention from ABC News, including a feature segment on Prime Time with Lindsay Davis, and stories on, national public radio, and regional TV news stations across the country.

A Fresh New Look

A New Brand, For New Audiences.

Joining the Multisite Platform

The Drupal platform supports shared and reusable content, for a super-smooth admin experience.

Collaborative Design for Success

Naturally a high profile project such as this required its own distinct and compelling brand as well as an associated look and feel. It was essential that the design process was collaborative in order that the final outcome was welcomed and supported by stakeholders. The phased approach to design was developed in close partnership with American Ancestors over months, and involved deep user testing with key stakeholders to ensure the design met an extensive list of criteria established by the 10 Million Names Advisory Board.

A Brand Strategy Informed by Research

For a project as important as this, it was essential to do thorough research to ensure we understood the landscape the new brand would be joining. This would help us develop a compelling brand personality and inform the creative approach.

To that end we compiled a wide range of “comparator” brands and grouped them using mood boards according to their brand strategy and visual approach. This helped us to understand where the 10 Million Names brand could be positioned in order to create a visually unique brand that sits comfortably alongside partner brands.

We worked closely with the American Ancestors team in developing a branding brief that explored a number of possible approaches. This approach enabled the views of stakeholders to be sought throughout the process, so they felt a sense of ownership in the brand.

Securing Stakeholder Support

Having agreed on the brief for the brand identity, we developed a number of creative options to support the research findings. These were shared with stakeholders, including the scholars involved with the project, as part of creative development research. Feedback was used to inform subsequent phases of creative development.

Building a Brand Toolkit

Our initial focus was the development of a striking logo for the 10 Million Names project with a memorable icon and typographical style. Once this was completed, these elements could form the basis for a toolkit that would ensure all 10 Million Names communications look consistent. The toolkit includes a colour palette (with primary and secondary colours), typefaces and guidelines for use, as well as logo and image guidelines.

We also developed a strapline and motion graphics animation for the project, both of which form part of the brand toolkit.

As the toolkit is in a digital format, it can be build upon as the project develops and expands.

Unique Imagery

Building on the toolkit, we developed a unique approach to images that could be adopted across the website. We utilised the bank of historical documents and ephemera from American Ancestors’ collections, along with some beautiful historic portrait photography of African American people.  A set of composite assets were created that incorporated portrait photography with maps, documents, certificates and other photographs.

We created a series of arresting visual assets to create a seamless image strategy across all communications.

Whatever a user's motivation they can perform an action at any time, on any page during their visit

A Website to Gather Stories and Data

Part of the family of American Ancestors websites, the website has a key role in gathering family history information from the descendants of the 10 million enslaved people. This will be used by scholars to piece together the stories behind the 10 million names.

Drupal Multisite Support

Fast Activation and Unique Design

Thanks to the groundwork put in place when building the multisite platform, the setup and customisation of the site was quick, straightforward to implement, providing a unique design for minimal front end effort.

Reuse of Content

The multisite platform has enabled the American Ancestors team to re-purpose digital content from other websites within the family. By cloning pages and changing the theme, content can be re-used across multiple sites while keeping the user within the 10 Million Names website.

Shared Functionality

One of the main advantages of a multisite platform is the ability to re-use functionality across multiple sites following a single investment. The 10 Million Names website has been able to benefit from this and will continue to do so as the website develops.

Currently the site benefits from the existence of reusable content blocks that can be easily added to multiple pages, a shared email sign up, a shared universal navigation and footer (enabling users to reach the wider family of American Ancestors websites). It also incorporates the multisite’s approach to adding captions to images and adding audio or video files to blocks. Integration of Jira and HubSpot maximised opportunities for collecting data as part of the ongoing sales and marketing process.

Future planned developments will incorporate the use of protected content as well as adding a member login to enable members to access protected content.

Strong, Stable and Easy to Manage

As part of the Drupal multisite, the 10 Million Names website benefits from the high performance hosting package (ensuring super-fast page downloads and maximum availability). It is managed as part of the platform, meaning that it’s a cinch to keep the site’s software and security requirements bang up to date.

Tracking Journeys and Actions

The website has been created with conversion at its heart and there are a range of ways users can act or get involved with the project. For example, we designed and built a specific block which can be maximised or minimised on each page, to hold all the important calls to action. This maximises the number of opportunities an individual has to get involved: they can perform an action at any time, on any page during their visit.

It’s Personal

Due to the high profile nature of the project, we expected users may visit the website multiple times. We wanted to keep the experience fresh and tailor the content to suit a user’s position on their engagement journey. We devised a user journey where during an initial visit users would be presented with the overview animation, to provide an introduction to the project. During any future visits they would be presented with alternative content in the form of the call to action block in order to encourage actions. This was then delivered by setting cookies to control what content a user would see.

Analysis and Analytics

The high profile media launch led to a huge influx of traffic from the outset so it was vital that actions and user journeys could be measured through Google Analytics. As Jira and Hubspot provide CRM support, they were integrated with Google Analytics in order to track end to end actions. This means we can track and report on all activity from playing the project video, through to donating, volunteering or sending in family history research data.

SEO Optimised

In order to ensure the website was easy to find and visible on search engines, we ensured all pages were optimised effectively. The effort has been rewarded with 68% of visitors arriving on the site through organic Google searches (compared to an industry average of 53%).

Conversions Optimised.

Individual actions are tracked through Google Analytics reporting

Action Heroes.

Our call to action block maximises engagement opportunities

Timeline Map

The team at American Ancestors were keen to show how slavery spread and declined across the USA during the countries formative years. Our proposal was to build a timeline map using React that would enable users to control both the date and state for which they wanted to review data. This would then be displayed on a map of the USA for each decade as it moved towards its formation. We worked closely with American Ancestors to understand the datasets they had available so we could design a map that would best reflect this.

Cross-device Performance

We created a bold design, clear UI and engaging UX that would ensure users had a positive, fun experience. Adjustments were made to ensure users could navigate and view the content effectively on any device.

A Powerful Historical Tool

For each decade from 1790 to 1860 the map can be updated to show the states which had joined the Union. On hover, users can see each state’s population data showing the white population alongside the free Black and enslaved Black population.  The result is a powerful educational tool, which enables users to track the rise and ultimate fall of slavery. Using React means there is no lag or delay in the data updating.

Effortless Updates

To support the map’s front-end, we added new content management features for the map in the Drupal multisite platform. We then built an accompanying REST API endpoint that could provide all the latest data to the map from the Drupal CMS. This functionality allows the American Ancestors team to add more statistics and expand on the map information over time, without any technical input.

Our timeline map charts the prevalance of slavery in the USA.

An Animated Vision

To launch this exciting project we were tasked with creating a short animation. This would be used during the official launch of the project via the website as well as introducing presentations.

Assets That Tell Stories

We wanted to get across the stories and names of real people that sits behind the project.  Our evocative and compelling visuals drew from the huge repository of historical photographs, documents and ephemera. We created a series of arresting visual assets comprising the names of enslaved people, along with their faces and documents related to their lives.

Bringing the Stories of the 10 Million Enslaved People to Life

The assets were developed into a storyboard which was then used as the basis for the animation. The final animation comprises a transition from the individual stories which then transition to the 10 Million Names branding.

Our evocative and compelling visuals drew from the huge repository of historical photographs, documents and ephemera related to the 10 million enslaved people that were held within the NEHGS archives

Future Hope Through Collaboration

We are truly honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the American Ancestors team on the 10 Million Names project. The resulting creative and digital outputs, highlight the injustices faced by the people who were enslaved in America. It also provides hope and optimism that the network of scholars and individuals brought together by the project will help to tell the stories of those 10 million people.

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Our products and services helped American Ancestors to bring a beautiful and powerful creative and digital project to fruition.

Are you looking for a partnership to power your organisation? If so, we’d love to get to know you. Connect with Hookson today to start a conversation.

Visit the 10 Million Names website.