A Boy and His Grandfather Travel through Time

Kai and Carl with their animal friends.
Secrets, magic, and a kingdom at peril—a description of some current television shows, yes. It is also how photographer and genealogy enthusiast Carl James is introducing his four-year old grandson Kai to their family history in an exciting new way, even though they live 1,000 miles apart. Carl lives in Springfield, Missouri and Kai in Richmond, Virginia.

“We only see each other in person once or twice a year, but we Skype quite a bit,” Carl says. “His mother and I brainstormed on how we could stay in contact more often. We came up with the idea for a genealogy book in which Kai and I would time travel to learn about our ancestors.”

After a visit to Springfield by Kai and his family, Carl sent them home with an empty three-ring binder, to which he adds installments combining photos, clip art, and text.

The story
“My family had some history with James VI, who was king of Scotland in the 1500s. The story I’m doing for Kai has him as a knight—Sir Kai, Lord of Wales—and me as Opa Carl, Grand Wizard of Nottingham. Opa is German for grandpa. German is one of three languages Kai is growing up with; the others are Spanish and English."

Sir Kai rides a horse named Flame and Opa Carl has an owl named Hootie on his shoulder. King James the VI, whom the story identifies as Kai’s uncle, tells Opa Carl the kingdom is in danger from people who want to overthrow the king. "Included are members of the Clan Ruthven who are related to us and living in the castle," Opa tells Kai. "The king wants you to investigate the clan to find who he can trust."

Opa Carl and Sir Kai can travel anywhere, past or future. "No one can ever know we are from the future,” Opa Carl cautions. Carl can send Hootie as a scout. Hootie is a shape shifter, an American Indian term for an animal that can change into other creatures. Hootie becomes Mimi the mouse, Ring the raccoon, or Scooby Doo the dog.

A world-wide adventure
Besides the fun of the story—Carl says he is having more fun than Kai—Carl makes the genealogy book interactive for Kai by hiding Mimi and other animals on pages for Kai to find. He also drops in photos of Scotland he took as background for the characters. As the ancestry story develops, Carl will add maps and photos of Japan, England, and Ireland.

How long will it take to finish the project? “Kai likely will be grown,” Carl says.

Carl is a registered architect. He started drafting when he was nineteen. After two years of college, he became an architect’s apprentice for twelve years before passing the Missouri registration examination. He worked for eighteen years for Warren & Goodin Architects and Engineers in Springfield and designed hotels for John Q. Hammons. Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire in 2007 at age fifty-nine.

His book, Aux Arcs, Black & White Photography of the Ozarks Region, combines his love of photography with his poetry. Other of his photographs, poems, and essays are on his website, Liteworx Productions.

What fun new way have you found to tell your family history? Or, tell about such a project by someone you know.

Image: From a page in the James genealogy book. Courtesy Carl James.


  1. What a fascinating concept and project! I can see something like this working with one of my granddaughters. Hmm. Thanks for sharing. I wish them well.

    1. Let us know, Sharon, when you get something like this going with your granddaughter and what fantasy world you used.

  2. Oh, my, this is a brilliant, fun idea for youngsters! I did write my mother's WWII memoir with a young (middle-school and teen) audience in mind, since my mother's grandkids were those ages at the time. I included cute illustrations my mom drew and children's songs from Japan. Carl's concept is wonderful for the younger set, making history interactive in a personal and fun way.

    1. Wonderful that you included your mother's drawings, Linda. I'm sure that strengthened her ownership of publishing her story. Interaction is the key, because it goes beyond dusty old facts.

  3. Delightful! I'll share this with others.