Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Save Family History with LOCKSS

To keep family history alive, start to share now within the family and, if you choose, outside the family.

The idea is LOCKSS

Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Genealogy guru Amy Johnson Crow writes about LOCKSS as a way to prevent genealogy from being lost due to disasters, etc.

Multiple copies within the family

Inside the family, I've been sharing bite-sized (and longer) writeups of family history for a few years. At top of this page are just a few pages from the many booklets I've created, focusing on Civil War ancestors and their spouses, special heirlooms created by ancestors, and an ancestor's military career. Even an ancestor coloring book is a simple way to keep key genealogy details from being lost.

Every descendant receives a colorful printed copy because, well, copies keep ancestors alive for the future. Recipients may flip through the booklet only once and put it on the shelf, but they have it. Some day, when they're more interested, they can take a closer look.

Also, I've digitized 500+ pages of minutes taken at family tree meetings from my mother's Farkas family, 1933-1964. Some cousins received a spiral-bound hard copy, at their request. Younger cousins requested a flash drive OR a PDF file to download. Perhaps the digital format will need upgrading in the future, but having multiple copies (digital/print) circulating in the family gives me more confidence that these documents will survive well into the future. 

Also, I've been experimenting with video-based family history. (I offer a few ideas in the new edition of my book.) Relatives do say they watch, and enjoy...but whether they will ever watch again, I truly don't know. The format is MP4 video and perhaps will be upgradable in the future, as needed. Meantime, multiple copies circulating = better chance the stories will survive, the ancestors will be remembered.

Multiple copies outside the family

Friends and cousins have already shared family history booklets with a variety of institutions that invite submissions, including the Family History Library and the Library of Congress, among others. One couple I know wrote family histories and had them professionally printed and bound for donation to history societies and libraries where their ancestors lived and worked. 

Consider whether a genealogy library, museum, archive, or another institution would be interested in having copies of some or all of your collection, and/or whether you can digitize your collection for yourself and possibly for others.

For instance, the Kentucky Genealogical Society offers special grants to help local museums, libraries, and archives digitize genealogical materials, such as old family letters and other documents of interest to Kentucky researchers. If you have Kentucky-related materials, do check this out--the clock is ticking on this year's grants.

DIY digitizing: The Dallas Genealogical Society highlights how family historians can digitize their own materials for free by going to the Heritage Lab at the Dallas Central Public Library. The Heritage Lab has an impressive array of equipment for use by the public. If you're in the area, this would be one way to transfer those old Super 8 home movies to MP4 video, and share widely within your own family.

However you decide to share, LOCKSS can help keep family history safe for the future. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Family History: Don't Keep It to Yourself!

Don't wait to share what you know about your family's history. 

Maybe you're just beginning your research or, like me, you've invested years in your ancestor search. Either way, share now to get the info to relatives and (if you choose) make it available to other researchers.

Some clues are better than NO clues

Consider this list of Steiner siblings, jotted on the back of a 1930s business card by my hubby's grandfather, Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). The list included his wife, Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948), and her eight older siblings, with birth years as remembered. 

How lucky that Brice wrote down this information--not wanting it to be lost--and my sister-in-law shared it with me, clues to be followed up. Not every detail in Brice's handwritten notes was correct, but the clues were much better than beginning with nothing. I'm so grateful he didn't keep it to himself.

Thanks to this listing, I had a head start in locating vital records, burial places, and other facts to flesh out and verify the family tree. Brice left other handwritten clues, too, steering me in the right direction to identify members of older generations. In turn, I've shared this list and similar genealogical clues about deceased people on my public family trees, to allow other researchers to make use of them. 

Share works in progress?

Even if your family tree information is incomplete or hasn't yet been verified, I encourage you to discuss with your relatives with the warning that your research is a "work in progress." 

Hearing what you've learned may help your relatives recall something from the past. I still have relatives casually mention key details previously unknown to me--leading to interesting breakthroughs! When something I write on a pedigree chart or family tree chart has not been confirmed, I include a question mark or "circa" or "about" or some other indicator that this is a "work in progress."

In addition to public family trees on multiple genealogy sites, I have a couple of private family trees on Ancestry. I use these for experimentation and I fully recognize they're not ready for prime time. Still, private trees can be helpful to other researchers. 

Recently, someone asked to see a private tree, listing his ancestors with that surname. Unfortunately, there was no connection. My ancestor had changed to that surname as an adult, and no one else on the tree carried that surname. Although disappointed, the other researcher was able to move on, investigating different possibilities in trying to locate more of his ancestors. 

To be continued . . . with a post about LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe).

For more ideas about keeping family history safe for future generations and researchers, please check out my newly-revised book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, 2d edition.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Reorganizing Family History, Part 2


I'm beginning to reorganize family history by moving some old photos from archival boxes (which I love) into archival albums (to encourage browsing). My handsome new archival photo album just arrived (made by Pioneer Photo Album). As the photo above shows, each page has room for 5 photos, each up to 4 inches by 6 inches in size, two vertical and three horizontal. 

The pages are bound. They can't be added, removed, or moved. Of course, photos can be moved out of individual sleeves. But once captions are written, they stay where they are. This means I have to be sure of my organization before I write captions.

Still, the new album is good-looking and sturdy...with a total capacity of 500 photos. I think I can make it work without having to redo the flow of photos more than once (or twice).

Still experimenting, open to changes

Clearly, I'm still experimenting as I transition to archival albums for most photos. I'm willing to try a different album or format. My goal is to save these photos and organize them so they make sense to people who never knew these faces or names. If I have to make a change, I'll do it. In fact...

Next time, I'll buy albums with pages that can be moved. As I develop my organizational strategy, it would be more convenient to move an entire page (photos with captions) instead of having to unload photos from a page that isn't in my preferred order and load them onto an entirely different page. 

Many old family photos/postcards fit 4x6

As shown above, I tested sleeve size by inserting two photos of my hubby's uncle, one at the wheel of a toy car and one in the saddle of a pony. They are the typical size/shape of US postcard photos produced a century ago, and they fit perfectly in the album's archival sleeves. 

Unlike the postcard photos, many photos left by my late dad-in-law are quite small (2 inches by 3.5 inches). I'll try putting two side-by-side in a single sleeve.

Photos larger than 4 inches by 6 inches will have to go in a separate album. That's a project for later in the year.

Inside the album

This particular archival album has room for writing captions in between the photo sleeves. My usual preference is to type instead of writing by hand, but this format will encourage me to be especially neat and careful in captioning.

Looking ahead, I'll clearly hand print captions, guessing future generations may not be able to read cursive.

The sleeves aren't see-through on both sides, so backs of photos won't be visible. So I'll either transcribe captions or indicate that a caption is on back if viewers are really interested.

Also, the album is quite tall and wide. Most likely I'll stack albums on a bookshelf, rather than having them upright on the shelf with the spine out. Or I'll try a different album format for my next purchase. 

Organize chronologically or ... ?

Because many of the old photos have no dates, but are interleaved with photos that have dates, I may begin by sorting according to decade (1900-1910, 1911-1920, etc.). This is only one possibility, but it seems most logical to try chronological order first.

After sorting chronologically and scanning, I would slip photos into the album and judge how things look. Wherever possible, I'll keep photos grouped together if they are clearly from the same day or occasion. 

In some cases, I may choose to group photos according to (1) ancestor (baby/child/adult photos of a paternal grandfather on consecutive pages) or (2) occasion (wedding or vacation) or (3) place (Cleveland, Toledo, etc.). If I use one of these groupings, I'll guesstimate a decade or date to put these pages in an approximate order.

My plan is to wait to write captions until the photos are in sleeves and my husband and I like the flow from first page to last. 

More adventures in reorganization await. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reorganizing Family History, Part 1


The longer I'm involved in family history, the more I appreciate practical organization.

Not just for myself...but for those who come after me.

Genealogical materials for my husband's family tree are in one set of archival boxes, while my family tree items are in a different set of archival boxes. All are clearly marked by name or surname. 

These boxes are being passed down to different heirs, one on each side of the family.

Too many archival boxes?

Lately, I've been the happy recipient of genealogy materials from relatives and FAN club members. Not just photos and negatives from my late father-in-law, but  photos and documents from other ancestors. All need to be stored safely, which is why I just received a fresh shipment of archival boxes, above. And I'm keeping my label maker handy!

My bookshelves now hold 36 boxes in all. They are neat, they are safe, they stack well, they keep contents intact. They are my favorite way to safeguard genealogical materials like photos, original documents, etc. This organizational method has worked well for the past decade. And boxes are easy for my heirs to move and store.

Yet just yesterday, I began to wonder if I have too many boxes. This led me to Part 1 of my reorganization experiment.

Album experiment

Now and in the future, family members might actually prefer to view old photos in a more traditional album format. This could encourage them to open the album once in a while, instead of leaving boxes unopened on a shelf. 

Hoping my hubby will be part of my experiment, I asked whether he would prefer to put corners on photos or slide photos into the sleeves of an album. He was squarely in favor of an album with sleeves. So I browsed good quality archival photo albums and purchased one that holds 500 photos, up to 4" x 6" size, with space for captions alongside the sleeves. 

How to arrange the photos was another big concern. A number of friendly folks at #AncestryHour on Twitter suggested arranging photos chronologically. This approach will guide descendants through the Wood family's history, visually and with brief captions. 

When the album arrives and I begin this reorganization, I'll post about the process and lessons learned. 

Reorganization issues

I have to consider safe storage for the negatives that accompany many of my late father-in-law's century-old photos. Because negatives can't be safely stored in the same sleeve as the photos, I'm thinking about separate storage and a numbering system that indicates which negative corresponds with which photo in the album...which adds another layer of complexity to the reorganization process.

Another issue: How to accommodate photos with notes on the back. An  #AncestryHour friend lets the notes show by not putting two photos back to back in the album. It's something to try if my new album (currently in transit) has clear sleeves that work in this way. 

Reorganizing family history will be a long-term process, best accomplished little by little. But then again, genealogy is a long-term process. If I tackle the photos in one archival box and get them situated (in order) in the album, I can return to caption them at a later date. It's a learning process...

One photo at a time, one box at a time, one album at a time, I'm learning more about how to reorganize family history and plan a future for my family's past.

-- This is my entry for the Sept 2021 Genealogy Blog Party.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Finding a Farmer in the 1950 US Census

None of my immigrant ancestors lived on a farm after arriving in the United States. Several in-laws were born on farms, but by 1950, they lived in cities. 

Still, I wanted to experiment with the super-useful "Unified Census ED Finder" on Steve Morse's One-Step page to locate someone living on a farm in 1950. 

Remember, we need the Enumeration District Finder before the 1950 US Census is indexed. Not being able to "search" by name, we're going to be browsing the Census by address, one page of one ED at a time, in search of ancestors. 

With cities and suburbs, that's not so difficult because we can narrow things down by including cross streets and back streets (see my earlier post here). Then we only have to browse pages of one ED (or perhaps two).

What about farm addresses? In the past, farms might get their mail via RFD, not listing a street address. Without an address or at least a specific street, the ED Finder can't help us narrow down the number of enumeration districts we'll have to browse. Time to experiment!

First step: Try to find the 1950 address

For my experiment, I chose Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT, which has been in the Lyman family since 1741. (I've visited the orchard in the past and enjoyed the sunflower maze, by the way.)

My reasoning: If the family's name is on the farm, I can more easily find the owner in a Census or other document. Luckily, the website has a timeline and indicates names of owners through the years. 

Checking for a 1940 US Census or WWII draft registration or a local phone or farm directory with the farm owner's name will help me guesstimate a 1950 address.

Very quickly, I found WWII draft registration cards for one of the owners, John Lyman, and his son. But no street address, only the town and county names.

In the 1940 US Census, the Lyman family was living on Center Street, no house number. John Lyman told the enumerator he had his own business, managing Lyman Farm. Also, the Census asked whether the address is a farm and the enumerator has written "yes." So now I'll try Center Street as a starting point for the ED Finder.

Next: Use ED Finder to narrow down browsing possibilities

In the Unified Census ED Finder (be sure it's set for 1950), I entered Connecticut as the state and Middlesex as the county. Middlefield wasn't listed as a town, so I chose "Other" and typed in Middlefield.

The result is shown at top. No streets available, but three possible EDs to browse.

But wait. See the words "More details" on a link to the right of the three ED numbers?

When I clicked, I saw this table of street boundaries. Helpful hints!

Looking for a better street address

Before I can narrow down the EDs, I still need to know where Center Street is in Middlefield. Consulting maps, I found it's no longer a street in that town, even though it may have been a street in 1950. 

NOTE: You may find this situation if your ancestors lived in rural areas. Some towns made an effort to provide both street names and house numbers so emergency services could find anyone if necessary. Having a street address also meant the tax collector could locate a particular property. Not all areas have street addresses, to this day. Also, street names do change from time to time, especially as areas become more developed.

I conducted an online search for "list of streets in Middlefield, CT" and came across this contemporary listing:

No Center Street listed. But there is a Lyman Road! Hmm.

I reread the history of Lyman Orchards and learned that the huge farmhouse was converted to a wedding venue 20+ years ago. The address today is: 5 Lyman Road. 

Evaluating ED details to narrow the focus

With that in mind, I'm evaluating the details of the three possible EDs for farmer John Lyman. Two seem to be focused on Middletown, which is adjacent to Middlefield. I pulled up a listing of contemporary streets in Middletown for comparison purposes.

Looking at the ED 4-41 details, Westfield and Camp are in the listing of streets I found in Middletown. So I'm not making 4-41 a priority. Butternut, Wadsworth, and Cross are also in the listing of streets in Middletown, this time for ED 4-42. Not making 4-42 a priority. Both of these EDs appear to be more focused on Middletown than Middlefield.

Therefore, my educated guess is that I'll find John Lyman and family in ED 4-31. That's the main ED for Middlefield town. Let's see what happens in April of 2022!

-- "On the farm" is Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge for week 37.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

In Rome on September 11th

On September 11, 2001, hubby and I were vacationing in Rome. After learning of the deadly attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, we rushed to an Internet cafe to check on the safety of New York City family and friends--all OK, but in shock and mourning.

During the next few days, as we walked through the streets of Rome, we were approached by locals and tourists alike, who asked if were American and then offered condolences and comfort. 

We were visiting the Vatican Museum on Friday, September 15, when a solemn, multinational three-minute silence was observed. Everything and everyone paused throughout the Vatican and all of Rome and beyond, heads bowed as we held in our hearts the many lives lost and the many lives changed forever. Still remembered in our hearts, two decades later.

Friday, September 10, 2021

1950 US Census: Which Ancestors Were Working?

One of the key questions I hope will be answered by the release of 1950 US Census in April of 2022 is which of my ancestors were working, and their occupations.

Overall trends in 1950 employment

Shown in the above table from a US Census special report issued in 1953 is a comparison of how many men and women in each age group (14 and older) were working in 1950, compared with 1940. These aggregate statistics provide context for understanding the situations of my ancestors who were enumerated in 1950.

Notice that in the lower bar chart, significantly more women were working in 1950 (solid black bar) compared with the number working in 1940. The big exception is women aged 20-30ish. 

Given the unprecedented Baby Boom that took place from 1946 on, I suspect these women were taking care of children and homes, not working outside the home in 1950. That was the general pattern in my family tree, although some women were in the work force in addition to being wives and mothers. In most cases, my female ancestors were working as teachers, I understand from family documents and stories.

Occupations and "not working"

I'll be interested to see not just who's working, but what occupations they were pursuing. For the teachers, enumerators were supposed to note the subject being taught--a bonus detail for me as the family historian.

The Census also noted when people over age 14 were not working, and why. Enumerators the reason why someone was not in the labor force, classified as (1) keeping house, (2) unable to work, (3) in an institution, or (4) "other" - meaning students, retired, seasonal workers, etc. 

I expect a number of my ancestors to be in the "other" category of reasons for not working, due to retirement or being full-time students. 

Can't wait to find out when the 1950 Census is released next year.

-- "Work" is Amy Johnson Crow's theme for this week in the #52Ancestors challenge.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Looking for Free, Downloadable Genealogy Forms?

I really appreciate free, blank genealogy forms I can download and use in analyzing research sources and recording my family tree. 

Forms help me stay organized and record data in a standardized format. 

They're also great for sharing information with relatives and researchers.

Here are just four of the many sites that offer downloadable genealogy forms for free:

  • FamilySearch. A great source of downloads for everything from blank Census forms (Canada, UK, US) to blank forms for pedigree charts and research logs. Scroll down for links to lots of other excellent sources of free downloadable sources (via Cyndi's List, and more).
  • Misbach. Not all forms are free on this site, but there are good selections that cost nothing. I especially like the free pedigree charts and free 6-generation fan chart.
  • National Genealogical Society. A bit of color adds to the readability and appeal of these free, downloadable charts. Just type in your info and these are ready to share. 
  • Kentucky Genealogical Society. Whether or not you have Kentucky ancestors, these free downloadable charts are pretty and add a touch of color to your family tree details.

Although it's easy to electronically share these forms after I've entered data, I also like to print and put into my files (and send to relatives), as backup! Check whether your local genealogical society has forms for free download, or use one of these sources. Write it down so you and later generations will have the information you need.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Try Indexing Your Family History Materials

Have you tried indexing diaries, letters, and other family history materials inherited from your ancestors? There are four great reasons to index:

  1. You can trace the movements and activities of ancestors through a period of time and notice gaps or changes that may reveal turning points in their lives.
  2. You can compare details in these family documents with official government records and other formal records, to identify discrepancies or confirm info.
  3. You and your relatives (and future researchers) can use the index to look up specific ancestors and turn to the proper place in any set of documents, instead of paging through to search.
  4. You may discover new clues as you index, or by comparing the index with what you already know about your ancestors. Thanks to indexing my father-in-law's diaries, I was able to identify his first cousins in an old family photo! 

In the new edition of my best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, I include the sample index form shown at top, along with instructions for how to create an index. 

If created digitally, the index can be sorted and searched electronically. Entering the year first in the "date" column allows me to sort by year, handy when I'm comparing and contrasting multiple documents or events in family history. Similarly, entering names with surnames first allows sorting in that manner.

Remember to note who created the index and when. Also note where the original materials are located, especially important if you are designating an heir for your genealogy.

Please feel free to adapt my sample form to your own indexing projects. Who knows what you'll find as you read through family history again!


Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, 2d edition is now available in paperback from (US, UK, Canada, and other nations). Or preorder the ebook edition for delivery to your digital device on September 15th. Thank you!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

John Wood Had a First Wife? Turn on the GPS!

Genealogy is never finished! There's always someone or something to research on the family tree. 

But in the 23 years I've been looking for ancestors, nobody ever mentioned that hubby's uncle John A. Wood (1908-1980) was married twice. 

Until this week. 

An older relative in the Wood family remarked, in passing, that John was once married to "Louise" or a lady with a similar name. A new clue.

I already knew about his wife Rita, named in my father-in-law's diaries and letters, as well as in John's obit and as the informant on his death cert.

John and Rita married in 1951. Their marriage cert has no information about previous marriages. I turned on the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard) as I dug deeper into John's life before Rita.

Which John Wood is which?

Finding the correct John Wood in a veritable forest of men with similar names would not be easy. 

Luckily, John's obit (and several Census records) showed his middle initial and other details not shown on other documents, including the fact that he worked for DuPont for many years.

Looking for "John A. Wood" and "Louise" together in a Census in Indiana (where he was when he remarried) led me to two records on Ancestry. Both showed John married to "Elsie," and working in the chemical industry. That could very well be DuPont, but I had no real proof as yet.

Next, I redid my search with "Elsie" as the wife and immediately found John's World War II draft registration card. This seemed to be the correct John A. Wood--it had the correct birth date and birth city, and it listed his middle name as "Arthur," the only place it ever appears. Arthur is a family name on John's mother's side. 

I really felt on firm ground when I read that John's employer was...DuPont! His wife, "Mrs. Elsie Wood," is listed as the person who will always know John's address. So John's first wife was clearly a lady named Elsie (not Louise). Numerous clues led me to this conclusion (GPS).

When and where did John and Elsie marry?

Next, I searched for John and Elsie's marriage on FamilySearch, and found a record of their marriage in Porter, Indiana, on November 19, 1928.

My timing was good, because (as the citation at left shows), this Indiana database is only available online as of April, 2021. 

Even without the image (which I'll see soon), this transcription indicates I have the correct John A. Wood. My evidence, a la GPS: he is most definitely the son of James E. Wood and Mary Slatter, exactly as shown on the transcription. I need to see the image with my own eyes to suit GPS standards, but all the details in the transcriptions are a perfect match with existing evidence.

Now, with Elsie's maiden name and birthplace/birth date, I've been researching her background, adding her parents and other relatives to my husband's family tree.

If not for (1) a relative's casual mention of John's previous marriage, (2) his consistent use of a middle initial, and (3) a record of his employer/industry, I might never have been able to track down this ancestor's first wife. TY to the GPS for guiding me in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Coming Soon: Second Edition of Planning a Future for Your Family's Past

September 1 is publication day! 

I'm releasing a new, thoroughly updated edition of my popular genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

The new table of contents is:

  • Chapter 1: Organized storage for your genealogy collection
  • Chapter 2: Organize your photos, images, and movies
  • Chapter 3: Organizing digital files and emails
  • Chapter 4: Inventory and index your genealogy collection
  • Chapter 5: Record your family tree
  • Chapter 6: Family artifacts: keep or give away?
  • Chapter 7: Find outside homes for artifacts
  • Chapter 8: Who wants your genealogy collection?
  • Chapter 9: Write your genealogical "will"
  • Chapter 10: No obvious heirs? Try these ideas
  • Chapter 11: Keep family history alive for the future
The paperback version is now available through (US, UK, Canada). Later in September, the paperback will be available at

As of September 1, Amazon is accepting preorders for the digital book, to be released on September 15.

Please watch for more details to come. Thank you!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

How a FAN Club Member Identified an Ancestor for Me

I've been scanning old photos and negatives left by my father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986). 

At left, a 1919 image I blogged about just recently, remarking on the fashions.

This came from a set of negatives that Ed had marked as "Baker family, 1919."

I know the names of these two sisters, who were Ed's first cousins, but not which is which in the photo.

At right, a photo that my hubby and I believe shows Ed with these same two cousins, 50 years later. No caption, but a family story gave us confidence that these were the Baker sisters. Which is which? We had no idea. Until now.

Hearing from a FAN club descendant

This week, I received a message from a gentleman (Pat) who noticed the Baker names on my public family tree.

Pat is not related to the Bakers or to my husband. 

Here's where it gets a little convoluted. Pat is the executor of the estate for a lady who was the executor for the estate of one of the Baker sisters. In other words, he's the descendant of a FAN club member.

Connecting through my public family tree

When Pat's mom died, he inherited her boxes of stuff, including boxes from her  dear friend, Edith, who died a few years earlier. Pat's Mom wanted her friend's photos and letters to survive, so she bequeathed them to her son. (She wisely planned ahead before she joined her ancestors.)

Now Pat is sorting the bequest and looking for descendants who would like to have some of the items he inherited.

Pat noticed Edith and her sister on my Ancestry public family tree and sent me a message. I confirmed how Edith was related to my father-in-law and thus to my husband. 

Then we exchanged photos. He shared a photo of Edith in her later years. We are so grateful he did.

Eureka! Thanks to the FAN club, I now know exactly which of the ladies in both of these photos is Edith and which is her sister. Edith is on the right in the later photo, on the left in the younger photo. And Pat can see how lovely Edith was in her youth.

A good reason to have a public tree...even without photos, it serves as cousin bait and FAN club bait, with ancestor names/dates/locations visible and the option to send a message. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Celebrating My 13th Blogiversary

Today is the 13th anniversary of!

On August 25, 2008, I wrote my first genealogy blog post, about searching for my great-grandpa's death date and place. 

Now, 13 years later, I'm still discovering new things about the life and times of great-grandpa Mayer Elias Mahler (1855?-1910), with even more research in my future. Between my ancestors and those of my husband, plus new techniques and experiments, I never run out of genealogical activities to blog about.

There are still plenty of family history projects in my future as I work to keep ancestors' names, faces, and stories alive for the next generation. These days, many projects (such as 10-minute videos) are bite-sized, but I do have other ongoing projects, such as photo and slide digitization, preservation, and storage.

The ancestor landing pages across the top of my blog summarize what I know about the main surname groups...and serve as cousin bait for distant relatives who "land" on my blog after doing an online search for someone in their family tree. 

A heartfelt thank you to the many cousins worldwide who have been part of this ongoing journey and generously share what they know about our family tree.

Also, special thanks to my genealogy buddies all over the planet, who continue to inspire me. It has been fun to participate in #AncestryHour, #GenChat, #OurAncestors, and GeneaBloggers Tribe, plus be a member of (and sometimes a speaker at) virtual and in-person genealogy groups and conferences.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Emotion and Family History

The latest in a series of bite-sized family history videos are in progress. As I wrote recently, we're using old photos and headlines as visual cues in a slide show while my husband or another family member narrates the story for a brief video. 

The stories are family history for the younger generation, but we, the narrators, actually lived through these experiences. Then and now, the experiences evoked emotions that we want to share.

The first story my Sis and I are going to video is about going to dancing school and performing in recitals. The story was inspired by one of our favorite family photos--this adorable little dancing tomato girl.

Narrating the video combines facts and memories, sometimes with a bit of research to support (or disprove) parts of the story. I was able to research the location of the dancing school, among other facts. I also remembered how my parents complained about the extra cost for costumes, at a time when the household budget was increasingly stretched.

Adding emotion to family history

Emotion plays a role in our choice of topics for these videos, and in our enthusiasm for telling the stories we want future generations to hear. Enhanced by our positive or negative feelings, if the overall story can touch the heart in some way, it will be remembered. 

If we merely recited names, dates, places, and relationships as old photos appear on the screen, our audience members would probably not respond as strongly. Not every story will be "fun" but we hope that the next generation will remember at least one or two points from each video.

Family history foundation beyond emotion

There has to be a solid family history foundation to any story, beyond nostalgia or reminiscences. For instance, the "history" part of the dancing school story is that it was a tradition in my mother's family to send children for lessons, often music or dance (or both). 

Our first cousins all took lessons of some sort, I know from family tree letters and documents (and from personal memories of the past). The athletic cousins took up sports. Some cousins had piano teachers come to the house or went to photography camp, etc. 

Other "history" elements in the dancing school story: how our parents managed to pay for these lessons...and their pride in our performances and sharing our (fairly slow) progress with the wider family. 

We didn't grow up to be dancers or musicians, but our parents gave us an opportunity to widen our horizons. And we have photos that remind us of that history and of how we felt about it, photos that help tell a family history story for future generations.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Experiment: Bite-Sized Family History Video


This week, my hubby and I experimented with videoing a bite-sized family history story from his childhood. Every Sunday, his Dad would take the kids (pre-school age) to church while Mom stayed home and cooked a big dinner. 

After church, it was still too early to bring the kids home. Mom needed another 30 or 60 minutes to finish cooking and set the table. So Dad took the kids to a nearby railroad yard, where they all watched trains being made up. When they returned home, Sunday dinner was on the table. 

Here's the three-step process we followed to get from "story" to "bite-sized video."

Step 1: Find visuals

Visuals are, of course, a big part of any video. We had a couple of good photos of the kids at the rail yard and in the car.

To add more to the story, I found (via free, somewhat generic photos of a railroad yard and a church. These would be good enough to convey the sense of childhood Sundays.

Step 2: Create a slide show

Next, I created a slide show (I use PowerPoint) with a simple colored background, making the photos the center of attention. 

I added headlines at the top of each slide, partly to guide the narration and partly for viewers to read. I used present tense for these headlines, to make the story feel "in the moment" rather than "in the past." Example: "After church, Dad drives to..."

Not visible in this illustration are the names superimposed on one of the photos, to clearly caption who's who even though one of the children is narrating the story. Also, I included an approximate date on one of the slides.

Step 3: Record the videoconference

Once my husband was happy with the four slides and had thought about what he would say as a voice-over, we began a videoconference (in this case, Zoom). He shared his screen with the slide show, and then I began the recording. He narrated the four slides in about eight minutes. I stopped recording, waited for it to be converted to mp4 video, and then we played the video. 

Our first try was pretty good. We did a second take, and that one was better, with my husband adding a few specific details he had not mentioned the first time. 

More ideas to try

Because the video was short, we were able to email it to recipients. (A longer video, too large for email, would have to be sent a different way.) Although we're still waiting for reaction, hubby and I enjoyed the process so much that we're already thinking about our next bite-sized video of family history.

Next time, we'll figure out how to have the narrator (my husband) visible on screen as he tells the story and advances the slides. Or we might include a recent photo of him next to a photo of him at the time of the family-history story he's telling.

Another plan is to have a sibling reminisce with him, via videoconference, with slides on the screen. The headlines could be a starting point for discussion as the photos stimulate memories from the past.

Also, I need to add my husband's name and the date of recording to one of these slides, so future viewers know who is narrating and when.

Have you tried videoing a family history story? How did it work? What did your family think?

--Post is part of the August Genealogy Blog Party