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Dracut Man Stacks the Decks with Family Trees, Fun

January 5, 2019
Tim Crowley of Dracut, who started Our Cards to let people create playing cards with family members on them, from information on geneology websites. SUN/Julia Malakie Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

DRACUT -- Electronic family trees can be somewhat difficult to navigate. You can’t see much information at once, and they’re not very interactive.

But what about a deck of playing cards?

Our Cards, founded by Tim Crowley, allows amateur genealogists and others to turn their family trees into playing cards -- and fun and informative gifts.

Millions of genealogists have done the work of compiling family trees, but struggle with finding ways to share their findings that are often locked away in computers or password-protected accounts, Crowley said.

Some genealogy sites will sell family tree posters, for instance, “but it’s not something you can interact or engage with,” he said.

“It’s difficult to be able to describe or display that to other people, so this is really the only way that you can, that I know of, to be able to share that exploration, and share the stories with others,” Crowley said.

He started the web-based business, run out of his Dracut home, in March, and it went live the day after Thanksgiving.

Before this, Crowley worked in financial technology for more than 20 years, first with Fidelity Investments, and more recently, Santander Bank in Boston. When he was laid off about two years ago, he began to look for work.

In late 2017 he came up with the idea that would lead to the creation of Our Cards.

Crowley was listening to National Public Radio and heard a story about how the U.S. Army during the Iraq War had developed playing cards that had the faces and information about different terrorists, “so soldiers could learn more about the people they were looking for,” he said.

Instead of terrorists, he put his own relatives on the cards, and distributed them to family members as Christmas gifts.

Crowley envisioned multiple generations taking time away from their electronic devices to socially interact with one another around the family-centered cards.

“They could have card games -- grandmothers with grandchildren and so on -- to spend some quality time but also to learn about the family and to share each other’s stories,” he said.

His relatives -- who loved the cards -- suggested other people might be interested in them, as well.

Creating that first deck was incredibly time-intensive. Crowley had to interview family members to obtain all the information he needed, and he had to input everything manually.

So when he decided to turn this into a business, he knew he’d need to make it easier and more accessible for himself and the general public.

Crowley hired a developer team from Peru -- a country he came to know during a high-school exchange experience -- and they helped him create proprietary software and extraction processes that allows users to import their family tree information from a number of genealogy platforms, including Ancestry, MyHeritage, Geni, Family Echo and Findmypast.

The OurCards.com website shows users how to download their Gedcom (genealogical data communication) files from the platforms, and import the data into Our Cards’ proprietary software.

Those who don’t have electronic family trees -- or whose trees are lacking information or photos -- can still add and change things manually, Crowley said.

Each card includes the person’s name, two photos, birth date and location, current residence, death date (if applicable), spouse’s name, and two factoids about them, he said. If you don’t have 52 (human) family members to include, you can always create cards with family pets and treasured memories like family vacations or family recipes, Crowley said.

On the back of the cards, users can pick between an automated photo collage, flag of their chosen country or other image of their choosing, he said.

Crowley said it was difficult to find a printer at first, because many were not interested due to the small size of each project. But then he found AlphaGraphics in Nashua, which he said has been great to work with.

While sales have started out a bit slow, he said he is absolutely loving being his own boss.

“I like the work I did before, but there is really nothing like having your own business,” Crowley said.

He said he wants to extend the product line to other themes, such as sports teams, other school groups and professional organizations, such as fire departments.

Decks sell for $39.95 each, and gift cards offer deals for multiple sets.

For more information, visit www.ourcards.com or facebook.com/ourcards .

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.

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