Sunday, January 29, 2012
This week’s assignment for you genealogical do-it-yourselfers is pretty simple and can be a lot of fun, depending on your family!
Take your box of unlabeled photos over to the homes of your various relatives who live geographically nearby and see how much information they can add to your lost and lonely photos. Alternatively, invite a crowd of them over for dinner, keep the food part casual so you aren’t fretting, and spend the afternoon looking at those old photos together.
Engaging your family in your project is always a good idea. You never know what tidbits of information someone else has that is so commonplace to them that they assume everyone else knows it. Or else they think that the things they know aren’t important because they are dates or places, but “mere” stories about the past.
In my own family both of those scenarios have played themselves out time and again. Because I have lived away from home since I was 18 – sometimes simply living on the other side of the state, but most recently living on the other side of the country for the past 17 years – there have been many moments that I have missed out on in our family.
But my three sisters all lived within no more than an hour of my parents for years and still live very close to my mom. The result is that they have been around to hear stories and ask questions that I could not. I may know the facts, but they know the good stuff.
This has been helpful in identifying photos, as well. While they may not know the year the picture was taken, they often are the ones who can tell me who the subjects are and what event is occurring or where the action is taking place.
My cousins on my mom’s side of the family are all close in age to me, some older, some younger, so we communicate with each other still. They are another source of information – they can recognize their parents as kids, and they, too know stories that I have never heard.
But some folks might find themselves in my husband’s position. He is the youngest son of two effectively only children. So no aunts or uncles (the one uncle they had died when he was still a young man so no aunt or cousins there) and no cousins to lean on for information. To make matters even more difficult, his mother has descended so far into the depths of dementia that she is no longer communicative. That leaves dad as their only source of information.
Fortunately my father-in-law is the kind of man who knows his family history and is willing to talk about it. He has spent hours sorting, organizing, and labeling his collection of family photos. And any questions that his sons have (or any that I have as the busy-body family historian daughter-in-law) he is willing to answer and tells great stories that are either brand-new pieces of information or old family tales.
“But what if dad won’t talk about his past?” or “what if I am the oldest generation?” I hear some of you plaintively wail.
No worries. You have the internet!
Do a family search on your name. I bet you find someone somewhere with the same last name who either does family history or is part of a clan that has a newsletter. Introduce yourself. Join in. Share the information you have and ask your questions there.
About a year ago I found a group of ladies and gentlemen who I call my cousins. They are all related to me through my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, and have worked on their family research for years. One intrepid cousin runs the family newsletter that she puts out every quarter, and there I can find new bits of information as well as post my “who is this?” photos and gain assistance (or at least sympathy) from distant family members. Sure, it can be a slow process, but some progress is better than none!
So this week gather up your family and your pictures and see what you can come up with. Hopefully the results are fewer photos in your “unlabeled” box AND closer family ties.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Earlier this week my nephew, Grant, texted me to ask some questions about our family’s history. I gladly complied, and probably gave him considerably more information than he needed or wanted. Later, as I was chatting with his mom, my sister, she mentioned that she often wondered about our family’s past, new I would have the information available, but hesitated to ask me for it because she didn’t want to bother me.
If only she knew! Like many other genealogists and family historians, I love the chance to talk about my subject. And if the subject is my family – I’ll go on forever! Ultimately what we decided was that I would write a blog every week (Family Fridays) about some person or aspect of our family history.
Naturally this conversation took place yesterday, so here I am – in need of a subject for this blog. Strangely enough, I spend all of my time and energies on writing my clients’ family histories, and haven’t written much about my own family. I have scads of information, but I have yet to take the time to coalesce it into a narrative. Guess that’s going on my to-do list.
For this week I thought I would introduce my sister and her children to a few of our family members for whom I have some sort of photographic evidence. Pictures are always nice, and that will show them some faces to go with names. Next week I’ll have an actual story.
On mom’s side we have Austin Cecil Tasker (the man on the right and Edith Mae Wise. Austin did not go by that name – he was either “A.C.”, “Cecil” or, oddly enough, “Tom”. Edith knew him as Cecil (and was upset when some strange men came to their house demanding to see Tom!)
Austin Cecil’s father was James Edgar Tasker. We have several photos of him, but none of his wife, Ida Miller Tasker (yes, her middle name was “Miller” and she, too was a Tasker before marrying a Tasker, distantly related). Why Tasker men pose in front of cars I'll never know.
James Edgar’s father was John Henry Tasker. I like this photo of John Henry with his long beard and watch chain.
Edith’s mother was Griselda Mae Paul (I love that there is a “Griselda” in our family!) While I don’t know where this fountain is located, I like how tall and strong she looks (Edith was small and thin) as well as her shy smile.
Griselda’s mother was Marian Willman. You can see where Griselda’s strength came from, can’t you? She looks elegant in this studio photograph, and I enjoy noting the details of her clothing – the pleated polished cotton shirt, the lace collar, the pin stripes on her skirt. And oddly enough, not a single piece of jewelry.
This is John Paul, Griselda’s father, looking dapper in his hat with a flower in his lapel. Since Marian doesn’t appear to be as dressed up as John, I wonder if he is heading out to some function or other for the day….
And here is the oldest family photo that I have seen on our mom’s side of the family. Meet William Pringle, Jr. of Huntington, PA. William was born in 1790, and luckily lived until 1874. I suspect this photo was taken in the last 10 years of his life. Unfortunately men’s clothing provides many fewer clues as to the possible age of the photo, so I find it much more difficult to “date” men’s pictures.
It looks like this is going to take more time than I realized. Mom’s side of the family is complete, but Dad’s side REALLY liked to have their photos taken, so I think I will save them for next week. But I do have one last photo to show today – it’s not of a person, but since Missy didn’t know we were related to anyone named “Fluck” I had to show her this one.
Johannes Adam Fluck (a “slopification” of his German family name “Pflug”) was born in Mainz, Germany around 1700. He married Anna Maria Dui in Germany, and they immigrated to Philadelphia in 1744. Their children had awesome names like Ludwig and Casper (sadly our direct ancestor was John Phillip). This gravestone is a great example of “handmade” headstones – crudely carved, but with the important information: his name, his year of death, and an angel.
So, until next week, when I show off some of the other side of our family, keep on finding and cataloging your own family photos. And Missy – if you have any photos that I don’t have, you should scan them and send them to me!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I suppose this is odd, but I love graveyards.
We lived near one when I was growing up, so I have played in it, rode my bike along its paths, picnicked on the top of the tall family stones, and collected the discarded flowers for my mother. I went in search of graveyards while honeymooning in British Columbia. (Seriously, are there NO graveyards in Canada? Once we left the big cities, we found nary a graveyard, cemetery, or boneyard!)
I like the large, ornate monuments: the guardian angels, the chubby cherubs, the weeping willows.
When I heard about the Victorian habit of making a table grave to picnic on and remember their departed loved one, I was entranced.
I love medieval monuments to dead kings and queens, dead priests, and dead saints.
Fields of tombstones are heartbreaking.
As are those of our loved ones.
But my favorite tombstones are those that tell the story of the person who is buried there. This one is particularly interesting because it is not only a marker for the dead man, but a political broadside against the occupying British.
One of my favorite genealogical finds has been findagrave.com. This is an army of volunteers, including myself, who go out and photograph grave markers, then upload the photos with information on the deceased. You can go there and find some good soul has photographed your ancestor’s grave, enabling you to see it hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
And best of all, you can request that a local person goes out and finds the grave that you are interested in and some kind stranger will do just that – head out, hunt for it, photograph it, and upload it. All of us who are interested in genealogy should consider doing this as a way to give back and help others in their quests for their ancestors.
I think the reason that I find tombstones and graveyards so interesting is that they tell wonderful stories if we take the time to listen to them. Sure, there is a name and a date or two to read. Maybe some other data, but often times if you stop and think about what you are seeing you find a much greater story.
Several years ago I was traipsing around a Civil War battlefield in Mississippi and of course ended up in the little cemetery that had been created for the Union dead. There were maybe two dozen of those ubiquitous white marble headstones. I strolled among them and discovered one that reminded me just how far from home these boys were and how great the sacrifice both they and their families made.
Attached to the back of the “official” marker was another marble marker. It told the same basic information: name, date and place of birth, date and place of death, unit in which he served. But at the top was inscribed “Our Beloved Son”. And it hit me that this young man from New England had died a world away from his family. So far away that they would never visit his grave or see the place where he died. There would be many questions that his buddies could never answer for the grieving parents. All of their love and longing and grief could not bring him back, alive or dead.
All that they could do was commission a headstone to mark his burial place, letting all who cared to walk behind know that he was their beloved son.
Monday, January 23, 2012
As a girl-child I grew up knowing that I was “supposed” to be a boy. So were my three sisters. Why do I have three sisters? Because none of them was a boy. I’m pretty sure that had Barb been a boy there would be just two of us kids.
Growing up we always heard stories of my Dad’s life: snowstorms, adventures, school stunts, etc. And we heard stories of his family, particularly his dad’s side of the family. It seemed that only the boys counted.
Fast-forward to more recent times. I am now a genealogist, family historian, and regular run-of-the-mill historian. I am not a radical feminist. I am merely interested in ALL of the truth of my story, not just part of one line.
On my Dad’s side I have discovered the female line is very interesting. It makes me sad to realize that none of my Grandma’s stories were preserved, so I am left with a lot of questions that genealogy won’t ever be able to answer: what did her mother do after her father died in his early 30s? what did Grandma know about her father’s father, a Civil War soldier who suffered from PTSD and abandoned his family? when did she leave school and why? did her family value education? did she have to help support the family after her father’s death?
Then I turn to my mother’s side of the family.
We have a murdered lady on that side of the family. THAT story is full of intrigue and also demonstrates the biases and bigotry of the time as two men were hung for the murder when clearly one of them was in jail on another charge when the murder was committed. But they were Irish Catholics in a land of German Protestants, so….. And besides, the man who benefitted from Polly’s murder, a neighbor who coveted her farm, was too important to bring to trial for a sordid murder done by bashing an old woman’s brains out.
Then we have a man who married the gal who lived across the street – they didn’t speak each other’s languages and neither spoke English, yet their son was a school teacher.
We have a family line that splits and then reconnects about three or four generations later when Tasker married Tasker.
We have fires, floods, romance, and tragedies all along my Mom’s side of the family
In other words, they are just as interesting as my Dad’s family.
I have a son who is also a history buff. He tells me that genealogy isn’t his “thing” yet he is always interested when I impart some tidbit of family history to him. I make certain to be fair-minded and even-handed: I alternate between my Mom’s family and my Dad’s family. And sometimes I do some research on his Dad’s family so that he isn’t completely in the dark about half of himself.
Because ultimately, isn’t that why we care about our family history and genealogy? Don’t we believe that the stories of our past somehow explain who and what we are today? And if we fail to learn about a full one-half of our history, we will never be able to learn the lessons, or uncover the great stories, that our past can offer.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Your task last week was to complete three generations of your family tree: yours, your parents’, and your grandparents’. I mentioned three kinds of forms that you might find useful for your genealogical work and provided you with a website (mine!) that is offering those charts and forms to you for free (new website for that, by-the-way…go to http://www.hfvideo.com/Resources.html where you can order free copies of the blank Pedigree Chart, Family Group Record, and/or Research Checklist).
As you filled in the blanks you no doubt found some easy to do and others were more troublesome. Let’s talk about the issues that might come up while preparing a family tree.
First, names may not always match. This is especially true when it comes to middle names, but I have seen it happen with first names as well. Usually the difficulty lies in spelling – is it Catherine or Katherine? Sometimes it is the correct variation of the name – was her name really Elizabeth or was she simply named Betty at birth? And then you have flat out discrepancies – we agree that his middle initial was “W” but was it William or Wesley?
Second, dates may not match. This one can be a real pain, believe me, I know. Your dad may remember his mother’s birth date with ease, but isn’t so sure about the year. Or your mom knows the year when her mother was born, but cannot remember if the day was the 25th or the 27th. And when it comes to wedding dates – yikes! My husband’s grandparents eloped and then didn’t tell the family that they were married for months. Trying to keep track of the actual day that they were legally and officially married can be a tough one.
Speaking of marriages, weddings can pose a whole set of issues themselves. Accurate dates are sometimes difficult to discover. Locations of weddings can also prove difficult to find, especially for family members who were married in a time when it was not so common for every person to announce their wedding in the newspaper. And then sometimes discovering a wedding date can cause a bit of turmoil in the family when someone counts to nine and discovers that a child was born awfully premature.
This is when I remind my clients of one of the foundational mottos of my work and my philosophy:
Our purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families. While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors, or put an end to a family legend, a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as they really were and are.
I firmly believe that if we approach our family’s past with an open mind and a willingness to accept each ancestor exactly as he or she was, then we will discover that we are a part of an amazing and interesting family story. Since none of us has a life that would withstand to serious scrutiny it seems unfair to judge our predecessors harshly. We don’t have to like every decision that was made in the past, and we might regret some of those decisions deeply, but we have the benefit of seeing the long-term results of those decisions where our ancestors simply did what they thought was best in their time and place.
So now that you have your partially completed family tree, and your blank spaces, contrary data, and difficult facts, what do you do?
This is where you get your family to help you.
Call your parents, your siblings, your grandparents (if they are still alive) and ask them to clarify information. Make a note of what they tell you. Ask them how they know – sometimes there is some lovely little stash of family information that you didn’t know about. Maybe a grandfather who was interested in family history or an aunt who wanted to join the DAR and did the requisite research to prove her (and your!) lineage to an American patriot. Ask nicely, pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top, to borrow this treasure trove.
If you are granted the right to look over the charts or notes or whatever form your relative used to record the family history, first of all TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT. Second, make a copy of everything (with his or her permission, of course). If it is too fragile to photocopy, I suspect that you will find today’s cameras do a great job of photographing written documents. It might be tedious to do, but it will be invaluable to you in your future research. Bind your copy together so that pages don’t get lost, and number those pages. Include a page that tells where you got this packet – who put it together, when, where, and why – and then include your name and date as well.
Now if you don’t have the great good fortune to have such a repository of genealogical information at your fingertips, don’t despair. You can still plumb the depths of your family’s knowledge. Continue making those calls, sending those emails, mailing off those letters. Ask for clarification if you have conflicting information. But beware of starting a family quarrel over the date of grandma and grandpa’s wedding!
By the end of the week you should have a fully completed pedigree chart for your generation and the two preceding it. Or if not, you are well on your way to making it complete, pending those replies to your queries.
Congratulations! You have begun creating your family tree!
Next week we return to those photographs you started working on at the beginning of the month.
 I have just spent months trying to find a lady who was less-than-honest about her age. Once I ignored the year of her birth and simply looked for her using her birth month it was pretty easy to find the right gal.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The other day I was talking to someone who carefully explained to me that genealogy wasn’t real history. This person was referring to my business, and was obviously unaware of my education and background in history. He went on to tell me that history is “merely” an art form and not to be taken seriously, and that genealogy is a bastardization of history and so is to be taken with the same degree of seriousness as one would palm reading or astrology. (my apologies to all the palmists and astrologists out there)
Rather than amuse myself by using my rapier-like wit to pierce his foolish points and arguments, I merely nodded and said “Really? Do you think so?” and left it at that. Miss Manners would have been so proud.
But it got me to thinking about genealogy and history and their similarities and differences.
There are those who tend to agree with my acquaintance: genealogy isn’t real history. And there are, amazingly enough, those who, like Michel Foucault and Michael Haitt, seem to think that genealogy is superior to history (see his article /http://michaelhait.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/genealogy-and-history/)
I think they are both wrong.
Hear me out.
Genealogy is the study of our ancestors and their descendants, and usually it results in a chart or list. Very specific information is sought in genealogical research – the precise name of that father, and the exact birth date of that mother.
History, on the other hand, is the study of events in the past, and usually results in a narrative history. History usually speaks in generalities, unless it is biography.
It is easy to see why the two camps could be at war. They seem to be fundamentally opposed to each other, seeking very different outcomes.
In my mind a good historian is a good genealogist, and vice versa. Let’s be honest here: no one really likes reading a pedigree chart. They may be fun to unravel to the end to see how far back you can go, but they have no stories, no personality to endear their subjects to us.
Similarly, no one likes to read a giant stack of generalities. We want to know the details of the story. We want to know what it means to me.
This is why the history I have taught for the past 20 years has been in the form of a story.
And why the genealogy I do is also in the form of a story.
Whether it is history or genealogy, my methods are the same:
· I compile the facts to arrive at the truth.
· I create a specific person’s life story.
· I use generalities to breathe life into the facts.
· I use primary sources whenever possible.
· I also use secondary sources whenever necessary.
My goal in genealogical research, whether for myself or for my clients, is to find the truth, regardless of what it is, and then tell the story of that truth.
This is often a hard thing to face, which is why I broadcast my philosophy everywhere that a client might look (I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings about what I am doing!):
My purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families. While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors (or put an end to a family legend) I believe that a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as they really were and are.
Monday, January 16, 2012
We’re fully into January. How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? If you are like most Americans, they have probably begun to slip a little. But remember, you have a resolution that is guilt-free and does not involve calorie-counting. You are working on putting together your family’s history.
Up to now your tasks have focused on family photos – finding them, sorting them, labeling them. I hope that you have made good headway on that task. If you are still working on it, that’s fine. Sitting down with a pile of photos, an acid-free pen, and a cup of tea sounds like a great winter’s evening task to me!
But it’s time to start doing some detective work. It’s time to start working on your family tree!
Click on this link: www.jrjamesfoundation.org to find three free forms that will help you with this task. The forms are provided by my company, Heritage and Family. All you need to do is complete the request (name and email are all that are required – in the comments section let me know which forms you want) and I will email a copy of each form to you as a PDF. From there you are free to make as many copies as you need for your personal use.
The first form you want is the Pedigree Chart. At the top fill in the blanks: for the first page you write a “1” for “Chart ___”, and leave the rest of the header blank. Those parts are completed on your second and subsequent forms. Don’t forget to complete the title that runs along the left side.
You are the #1 person on the form. Complete your information (ladies, use your maiden name for the last name/surname) as it has been done on this example.
This is a good time to decide how you are going to standardize your information. For instance, dates: today’s date can be written as 1/16/2012, or Jan. 16, 2012, or January 16, 2012, or 16 January 2012. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. Choose the style that seems most natural to you and stick with it. I have used the “16 January 2012” for twenty years or more not sure why, but it’s my style of choice.
For the place information you want as much detail as possible. In genealogical circles it’s typical to write a location as city, county, state, country. So my place of birth would be Somerset, Somerset, PA, USA. Again, choose a style that is comfortable for you when it comes to state and country names and then make that your standard. I only include the country if it is other than the US. If there is no town name, I will substitute the township name. If a township name and a town name are available, I write them all in: McMurray, Peters Township, Washington, PA. In my mind, more is better than less when it comes to information, and you never know when the name of the township might be important or useful!
The second form that you might like is the Family Group Record. This is used to record all of the information for one family. In this example you can see how to complete the form. If you have more than six children in a family, simply uses a second sheet, note each page (1 of 2, 2 of 2), renumber starting at 7, and continue with the rest of the children.
The idea behind this form is to capture one distinctive family unit with all of their information. This is useful when you find something labeled “Aunt Hazel” and wonder who in the world she is? It is normal to want to focus solely on the folks that are in your direct line, and gloss over the rest of the family (second husbands or wives, siblings, etc.) but sometimes those people provide more information about your direct ancestor.
Many times I have found myself with spotty information about a parent, but by researching the siblings was able to discover mom’s maiden name, or the year mom and dad got married. Being a good genealogist means being a good historian: you want to gather all the information available to you and then sort through what is and isn’t applicable. It saves time and effort if you do it that way, too – no need to go back and re-search for a name or date that you read somewhere last week.
The last form, the Research Checklist, is for us genealogy geeks who really want to be sure that we have covered all of our bases. The Research Checklist is used to verify that we have looked in every corner and under every rock to find all of the information possible.
You start by writing the name and known information about an individual at the top of the form. Then, as you look up records you check them off on this form. Mark “N/A” for forms that are not applicable to this person (for instance, most of the years of the US Census!) As you find a source you can make notes to let yourself know that you did use it and what it disclosed. I make a check mark if I found information in the source and write “none” if the source ought to have information on my subject but did not. That lets me know that further detailed research is in order for that source.
Now you don’t need all three of these to get started on your family tree, but I wanted to let you know what they are for so that you can decide what works best for you.
For this week’s assignment you really only need the Pedigree Chart. Start with yourself as #1, and then complete the information for your parents and grandparents. If you are feeling really motivated, go ahead and add sheets two, three, four, and five to get started on your great-grandparents. (Note: the person in #4 on chart #1 become person #1 on chart #2; the person in the #5 spot on chart #1 becomes the #1 person on chart #3; and so on.)
If you are feeling super-genealogical, go ahead and make a Family Group Record for each family unit: one for you, your spouse, and children; one for your parents, you and your siblings, etc.
I hope you find this part of family history to be fun – seeing those blank charts filling in, and knowing that because of what you are doing, your family history is going to be preserved!
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Running a business is a lot like having a child. There is plenty of excitement and passion to get things started, then a lot of waiting, growing more uncomfortable every day while the little details are worked out, and finally the big day arrives amid much pain and a few tears, then relief and joy. But it’s not over, because there is a lot of hand-holding, reassuring, trial and error, more tears, giggles and baby steps, and suddenly one day everything is moving along on its own and does not require your attention every waking moment.
At least that is how I think and hope this is going to be!
Last spring I started my first business. Two actually. But I quickly realized that I can barely handle one, let alone two. So the second one is sitting around feeling sorry for itself no doubt.
The one that made it is History and Heritage LLC. But, because I have to do things in as complicated a manner as possible, we are dba (doing business as) Heritage and Family. You can’t blame that one on me…the state of Oregon won’t allow me to have the name Heritage and Family, saying its too close to another company name. pish-tosh
So what does this company do? Glad you asked! Heritage and Family is “the premier family history and genealogy research service”. We do family history with the focus on the HISTORY part. Anyone with a subscription to any one of the genealogy sites out there can make you a family tree. Shoot, you can do that on your own.
But when you hire us to research your family we research the history of the family. I recently completed a project for a client who wanted to know more about his great-great-grandfather. It would have been an easy thing to say “Here are the dates and places.” and call it a day.
That’s not how I do things.
Instead I researched the area where Great-Grandpa Dustin lived, I research the local economy, uncovered information about the landscape, I found books and diaries (some in French so I had to brush up on my French to finish this one!), made discoveries about the religious life of the people, and on and on. I traced his family’s migrations, and learned some “why” and “wherefore” kind of things.
And when it was all said and done, I had converted those three lines of facts into ten pages telling the story of Dustin.
So that’s what I do.
But I tend to think and ponder a bit. And I keep thinking about my Dad’s passing over five years ago, and all the things I miss, stories I can’t quite remember, and details that only he would know. My mother-in-law has descended into the depths of dementia and everything she knows or can tell us is locked up inside of her, rendering her effectively mute.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is a way to prevent this from happening to other people. And that I am uniquely suited to help them preserve their family’s memories and history.
And thus my latest company was born: HF Video.
Our premise is: Your family’s history is worth preserving.
Our offer is: A movie that combines a video recording of your loved one telling cherished stories, together with old family photos and music from your family’s history. This is the story of you. This movie tells who you are: the songs, the stories, and the memories that stitch your family together - young and old - across time and place.
The website is almost ready (I’ll post the address on Monday) but in the meantime, here are two videos that you might find interesting.
The first one - http://youtu.be/nbIB5R6GybM - is a brief vignette showing just a little bit of an example of what we can do for your family history.
The second one - http://youtu.be/-UYSl81Znf8 – is a longer sample of what I call Our Greatest Generation. This is a story of your loved one (or a couple) told in the fashion of a public television-style documentary.
So take a look at both of them, see what we have to offer, and let me know if you have any questions.
I have to go now. Seems like the baby needs more attention already!
Sunday, January 8, 2012
I suspect that you have a large stack of photos on your hands this morning. Hope you had fun collecting them, looking at them, remembering, laughing, sharing them with your family. That’s the whole purpose of photos you know; to remind us of past people, events, and places so that we can relive those moments, or remember those events.
If you are anything like me, you discovered you had a LOT more photos than you realized. We had about six or seven albums full of photos, three photo boxes chock full of photos, and another couple shoeboxes filled to capacity.
Now it’s time to start the sorting process. This week it’s relatively simple: sort them into two stacks/boxes/rooms – whatever is the appropriate size for your collection. One stack is for those that are labeled or that you can label. The other is – you guessed it! – for those you are unable to label.
When I say “label” I am referring to documenting the photo: who is in it, when it was taken, where it was taken, and why it was taken.
Yesterday a friend brought me a small stack of photographs that she discovered. They are lovely, clear, well-executed images of the subjects. They should be treasured family keepsakes. But sadly they are not labeled (with one exception).
I can guess at the dates of them, based on the clothing, and two are imprinted with a local photography studio, so it is possible they are still in business and have records of who two of the subjects are. One photo does have a cryptic label: Lotus; Dec.; 1926. Is the child’s name really “Lotus”? If so, what is her last name? December 1926 seems a reasonable date for the image, but that doesn’t really help us to identify the photo. I suspect that all six photographs will continue to be mysteries.
And that is the reason it is important to label photographs. Future generations will look at them, admire them, but having no clue as to who they are or how they are related to them may well relegate your treasured memories to the trash can or the yard sale.
The “who” sometimes is more difficult than you originally thought it would be. You ought to write out the entire name of each person, not their relation to you. Looking at a family photo on my wall, I want to say “that’s Dad, Mom, and the four of us girls”. And it is. But will my grandchildren know who those people are? And in a generation or two, who is the “me” of the label?
So I write John Robert James, Betty Jane Tasker James, and each of the four of us girls, noting who is in the front row, and who is in the back row, and moving left to right. Now anyone at any time will be able to identify the folks in the picture.
Now on to the “when”. Sometimes you know immediately when a photo was taken – it was on your birthday on 1967; Christmas of 1983; your parent’s wedding day in 1959.
Then there will be those photos that you know approximately when each was taken, but not a specific date. Perhaps it was that vacation in 1996. Or during the fall football season of your son’s junior year of high school. Or between the time that your dad got out of the Air Force and before your parents got married. If that is as close as you can get it, that’s fine. Maybe later you will be able to zero in on a specific date, but for now “fall 2003” is better than nothing.
A word about photos with the date on them. Whether from a film or a digital camera, a date stamp can be useful, but only if it was accurate to start with. How many times have we seen digital photos with the “01/01/01” or similar date stamp? And perhaps that film wasn’t taken in to be developed until months or even years later. (I found some 5 or 6 year old film in a drawer several years ago – all of those photos are date stamped for 2005, but some were taken back in the 1990s!) So be cautious about accepting the date stamp on the photo. It might be a good clue, or it might lead you astray!
To be honest, the “where” aspect of the photographic label is one that I only recently began to value. I was usually pretty good about names and dates, but the location didn’t seem to matter. Then I started looking at old photos of my mom and dad in their childhood. Sometimes I recognized places and realized that they are long gone. No one younger than my generation would recognize the back yard of my grandparents’ house, and they couldn’t stumble onto that bit of information because the house has been torn down and there is no backyard any more. So now I always try to include a city and state at the very least. And if I know a street address, I include that, too.
Now for the “why” of the photo. Again, this is often easy – it is a birthday, graduation, wrestling match, dance recital, concert, parade, etc. But sometimes, especially if you didn’t take the photograph, determining the “why” is more difficult. If you suspect that a family member can help you determine the reason for the photo, put it in the “unlabeled” stack. You’ll be getting to that later.
This process may take a while. Days or weeks even. It all depends on how many photos you have and how much you know about them. If you aren’t sure, don’t guess. Put that photo into the “unlabeled” stack and move on. Again, we’ll address all of those photos another week.
One more thing to consider before you start writing all over your photos. Do NOT use a ball-point pen – this leaves an indentation in the photo. Instead, I would suggest that you either use a #2 pencil (but don’t press hard or you’ll leave an indentation!) or an acid-free pen. The one I like best is the Pigma Micron (http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival), which I buy at my local fabric or craft store, but you can also get them online at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Sakura-Pigma-Micron-6-Pack-Black/dp/B0008G8G8Y/ref=dp_cp_ob_ac_title_2). Whatever you use to label your photos, make sure that the ink dries before you stack another on top of it or place in back in the box with the others!
Next week we’re going to move away from your photo collection. I suspect that it might take you longer than a week to label all that you can! Until then, enjoy your photographs.
 By-the-way, knowing the address can lead to a fun experience for you and your kids. Set your child or teen up at the computer, and have them Google the address. Then do a street view of your old house or wherever the photo was taken. See what changes have been made (prepare yourself to be distraught when you find they cut down that big old oak tree!), point out places that still exist, and enjoy strolling down memory lane with your family.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Ready for a New Year’s Resolution you can stick with? One that’s fun and easy? A resolution that does not involve counting calories or hitting the gym?
Don’t get me wrong, eating healthy and living healthy are good things. We should all strive to be the best we can be in all areas and aspects of our lives. And as a genealogist, the longer my family lives, the more I can pick their brains and learn more of my family’s history!
But this year I would like to challenge you to resolve to gather and record your family’s history. And to help you, I will provide a task each week via Twitter and Facebook and then discuss the nuts-and-bolts of it here on my blog. (Do yourself a favor and subscribe to the blog, follow my Twitter page, and “Like” my Facebook page so you can get all the details and all the fun!)
Being a no-time-like-the-present kind of gal, I have already gotten you started.
Didn’t get the Tweet or notice the FB post? Fear not, I’ll tell you all about it.
This week your task is easy – gather up all of your family photos.
Get busy collecting. Okay, we’re done.
Or maybe not.
On the surface it sounds easy. Just go find those photos.
But where are they?
And do you really mean ALL of them? Even the ones with nothing written on them? Even the ones that look silly or are crinkled? Black and white? Polaroids?
And what do I do with them once I find them all?
Let’s start with that last question and work our way up the list.
What to do with them is easy. Find something clean and dry to keep them in. A shoe box works well. Or two or three, depending on how many photos you have.
A large plastic container, Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Container Store, it doesn’t matter who makes it, just be 100% certain that it is clean (no Christmas cookie residue!) and dry. Lid, too.
Some of you will see this as an excuse to dash off to the store to buy some cool new containers, and that’s fine. Others of you will just use whatever you have at home. It doesn’t really matter what you use, just as long as it is large enough to hold your photos without damaging them (and it’s clean and dry – do I sound like a broken record? Trust me, this is important. If your photos become cemented together with sugar, or water and mold or mildew invades your photos, you will find yourself racing against time to copy and save them.)
So now you have your containers. I’ll just be generic and call them “boxes” and you can fill in with whatever you chose.
Which photos do you include?
In a nutshell, all of them.
The ugly shots of you with braces.
The people you can’t name.
The old houses and cars that seem so random.
The big family groups.
The Polaroids, the black and whites, the sepia-toned, and if you are fortunate enough to have them, the glass plates and the tin-types.
Save them all.
If you find any that are fragile, or falling to pieces, or broken, then you want to save them individually in an envelope and then the envelope in a file folder. Ideally you want to use acid-free paper for these, and if you are heading out to the store to buy containers, then you might as well go buy some acid free paper. I can often find acid-free scrapbook paper on packages that are pretty cost-effective. But beware – just because it is scrapbook paper doesn’t mean it is acid-free. So read the verbiage to see if it’s acid-free.
Once you have your acid-free paper, you want to make little file folders out of each piece of paper and put your old damaged photos in the folders. The idea is that the photo doesn’t touch any other paper than acid-free paper. If the photo is small, cut the paper in half and use the other half for another small photo. Your paper should be plenty big enough for any photo you have (some scrapbook paper is 8.5x11, but others is 12x12).
And if you find any that are damp or mildewed, you want to separate them from the rest of your photos. A separate envelope or file folder is a good place to keep them or a piece of acid-free paper folded into a folder. Be sure to label what is in the folder, and keep it with the rest of your pictures.
And now the truly tough question: where do you find the photos?
Since I’m not at your house I have no idea where you keep them, but here are some places I would check:
In the closets (bedroom, hall, entryway, check them all!) – any boxes, lumpy piles of paper, or anywhere else that I find papers. Go through them all and look for photos. (hint: note what you are seeing as you look for photos – you may find that you need those things later in your research, so if you see old documents or letters, you might want to put them on top or stick a sticky note on the box to remind you what is in there.
In the dressers (yes, even in the kids’, but ask before you innocently go digging through them to avoid an angry confrontation and accusations of invasion of privacy) - again, look for boxes, stacks of papers, and envelopes. Find some old envelopes with negatives and no photos? Put ‘em in the box.
Offices – check out the desks, filing cabinets, closets, drawers, cubbyholes, and any place that you or someone else might have stashed something in a desperate effort to clean up before Mom or the company arrived. And see above before you start in on the kids’ desks, and maybe your spouse’s office, depending on your family’s version of “privacy”! This might take a while longer since offices have so many places to stash things. But don’t overlook any place that could hold a photograph.
Attic and Basement – it goes without saying that these are great places to find photos. Time-consuming, but well worth it. Even if the box is labeled “Nate’s Legos” or “Kids’ Books” pop it open and take a peek. Photos are so small and easily slipped into a box as a quick storage place, and a nothing works so well for a bookmark as a photo.
If you haven’t done so already, when you tackle these two places you might want to consider getting your kids to help out. If you can’t interest them in the hunt on its own merits consider bribery. You know what works for your kids. But then attempt to hook them on the whole process by telling them stories about the photos you find. Especially embarrassing ones about you – a teen’s favorite kind of story!
Then look at other places in your home: dry sinks, tea carts, buffets, china hutches, bed-side tables, end tables with drawers, ditto for coffee tables, that junk drawer in your kitchen, magazine racks, and book cases. Don’t forget photo albums, scrapbooks, or the pictures on your wall! (you don’t have to take those apart, or take the pictures off the wall, just make a note to remind yourself that those things exist) Depending on where you open your mail, and how often you clean your car, you might want to check there and the garage, too.
Once you have completely and thoroughly checked the whole house, put all the photos in those boxes, close the lids to keep out the dust, and then put the boxes somewhere that you can easily get to. You are going to work on them again next week.
There, all done for the week. I bet you found a lot of photos: some you had forgotten about, some that made you laugh; some that brought up sweet memories. And, no doubt, some that you have no clue where you got them, who they are, or why you have them.
No worries, we’ll talk about them all next week.
Congratulate yourself on a job well-done.
Now go wash the cobwebs out of your hair.