Category Archives: Ancestors

From the Archives: Act Now to Save and Store Your Old Photos.

Act Now to Save and Store Your Old Photos. If you’re like me, you’ve inherited old photo albums with the pictures held down on so called magnetic pages. The trouble with these albums  is that the adhesive used and the plastic liners damage the photos over time. Removing the photos is a priority. I went looking for help and boiled my research down to these seven essential steps. Step 1. Before attempting any photo removal make certain to scan digitally  each album page so that should a … Read More

As Personal Historians, How Do We Rekindle “The Sacred” in Our Work?

Our people lived as part of everything. We were so much a part of nature, we were just like the birds, the animals, the fish. We were like the mountains. Our people lived that way. We knew there was an intelligence, a strength, a power, far beyond ourselves. We knew that everything here didn’t just happen by accident.

~  David Elliott Sr. (Saltwater People, School District 63 (Saanich, 1990)

This past week I had the privilege of hearing First Nation elder STOLȻEȽ ( John Elliot) of the WASÁNEĆ (Saanich) territory address the 16th Annual APH Conference in Victoria, B.C.  He spoke reverently of the stories that were passed down to him about the land and sea and animals and the values to live by.

I was moved by his dedication to his people and by the importance he places on the preserving and recording of their stories. Too often I find myself caught up in the mechanics of my work as a personal historian. There’s marketing to do, blog articles to write, and deadlines to meet. I forget about the sacredness of our work. And by sacred I don’t mean religious. I mean knowing someone deeply, being touched by our common humanity, and venerating the interconnectedness of all life.

What can we do to rekindle the “sacred” in our work? Here are some thoughts.

Begin with our elders.

We need to connect regularly with our own past and show reverence for our elders. This might mean ending or starting each day with some personal expression of remembrance and gratitude for family members who hold a special place in our hearts. It could mean being mindful of the elders in our community and extending a smile or helping hand.

Make time for reflection.

We need to take time out from our busyness for reflection. We need to connect to our sacred moments. Find a space where you can sit quietly and recall a sacred moment in your life. Remember what was happening and how it felt. Let that moment wash over you.

Listen for The connections.

There’s a Bantu expression, Ubuntu, which translates as  I am because you are; you are because I am. It speaks to our interconnectedness as human beings. When I’m working with clients I’m aware that some part of their stories touches my own.

Create A personal belief statement.

We  need to find a statement that gets to the heart of what we do as personal historians. It’s not just words to use in a tag line but a touchstone that can remind us of why this work is sacred. Start by writing, “I am a personal historian because I believe that…”. Play around with phrases until you have an Ah-Ha! moment. For me that moment came when I wrote, “I am a personal historian because I believe that preserving memories is an act of love.” Whenever I lose my way, I try to remember that statement and why I’m doing this work.

Write it. just don’t think it.

We know how much we learn from listening to our clients’ stories.  But how many of us have actually told our clients this in writing? Too often I’m guilty of not taking the time  to pen a thank you note that acknowledges the wisdom that I’ve gained from my clients.

keep a “thank you” file.

I have a file where I keep the letters of appreciation I’ve received from clients and their families over the years. It also includes excerpts from personal histories that particularly touch me. When I need a pick-me-up, I go to that file and read through the collection. It reminds me of why I do this work and reconnects me to the sacred.

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.

~ e. e. cummings

Photo by Cornelia Kopp

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From The Archives: Don’t Pass Up This Keepsake.

Don't Pass Up This Keepsake. Keepsake by Marilyn Koop is a must-have for your library.  A friend  gave me a copy the other day and I’ve been totally captivated by it. Each page contains a photograph of time-worn hands cradling a loved keepsake. On the page opposite is a cameo history of the person, a brief story behind the keepsake, and words of advice. There are twenty portraits in the collection. All save two were of people living at the Wellington Terrace, an assisted car … Read More

Bringing the Dead to Life: Writing a Biography of An Ancestor.

My grandfather

**LAST WEEK to vote on my poll: How long have you been a personal historian? Click here to vote.**

The other day I was asked if I had any ideas about writing the biography of a dead family member. This struck a responsive chord in me. For some time I’ve wanted to write  about my mother’s father, my grandfather. He was only thirty-two when he died in 1920. A Winnipeg fire fighter, he succumbed to the great flu pandemic that was sweeping the world. My mother was only two when he died and she has few stories about him.

Maybe you’re also thinking about writing the life story of a distant family member. Before beginning, you’ll need to pull together as much information as you can on your ancestor. Here’s an approach I’m going to use for my grandfather’s story. You might want to try this.

Locate relatives and friends. Where possible, audio record interviews with descendants. Try to find out as much as you can, whether it’s first person accounts, documents, or leads to other people who may have information about your relative.  For example, I’ve started to interview my ninety-two-year-old mother on everything she knows about my grandfather.

Research documents. Personal letters, diaries, and wills, as well as census, land, church, probate, and court records, may yield details of your subject’s life. For example, I’ve contacted The Fire Fighters Museum of Winnipeg to ascertain if there are any records of my grandfather.

Search for historical and cultural information. This will give you some clues about your relative’s  life. In my case, I want to find out about the working life of Winnipeg fire fighters around 1920. What were the qualifications to get into the fire department? What did the job pay? How many hours a day did they work? Was there a pension plan?

Read local and ethnic histories. These can provide clues as to how your relative may have lived and provide interesting texture to your story. For example, I want to read newspaper accounts of the impact the the flu pandemic was having on Winnipeg.

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Act Now to Save and Store Your Old Photos.

If you’re like me, you’ve inherited old photo albums with the pictures held down on so called magnetic pages. The trouble with these albums  is that the adhesive used and the plastic liners damage the photos over time. Removing the photos is a priority. I went looking for help and boiled my research down to these seven essential steps.

Step 1. Before attempting any photo removal make certain to scan digitally  each album page so that should a photo be damaged, you can still recover it from the scanned image.

Step 2. Select a practice photo that has no value to you or is badly out of focus. A word of caution. When removing  photos be sure not to curl or peel them back as this could cause permanent damage.

Step 3. Use a piece of dental floss and carefully pull it under one corner of the photo. Using a sawing motion slowly work your way to the opposite corner. With any luck the photo should pop right off.

Step 4. If  a photo is glued so tightly that floss won’t work, then try one of the following removal methods:

a. Use un-do, an adhesive remover that won’t harm photos. It comes with an applicator that allows you to slip the remover under the photo.

b. Place the album page in your freezer for a few minutes. The glue will become brittle, making it easier to remove the photo.

c. Use a hair dryer set on low heat. Run it back and forth on the back of the page holding the photo. Be careful not to overheat the photo as this could damage it. Once the glue has softened, quickly and carefully remove the picture.

d. Place the photo album page in a microwave. Make certain there are no metallic pieces. Start the microwave and run it for five seconds. Check the photo and keep using five  second blasts until the glue softens and the photo comes free.

Step 5. Take your photos and where possible  write on the back the following information: the names of people in the photo, their ages,  the year, the location, and the event. Avoid using a ball point pen as this could damage the photo. Use a soft lead pencil or an acid free pen available from a craft store.

Step 6. Digitally scan your photos, store them on your hard drive, and than upload them to a web based site like Flickr or Picasa. That way if your hard drive crashes, you won’t lose your digitized photos.

Step 7. Store your photos in cardboard photo boxes that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). You can obtain such boxes at Archival Methods, Carr McLean, Light Impressions, Gaylord, and University Products. If you have a large collection, layer an acid free sheet of paper between each photo. Photos should be kept in a cool room with low humidity. That generally means keeping them out of attics and basements.

Photo by iStockphoto

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How to Identify Old Family Photographs.

In a previous article,  How to Make Your Life Story Workshop Memorable, I showed the  photo below from my personal collection.

from Dan Curtis photo collection

I suggested that an interesting workshop exercise would be to make copies of this photo, hand them out to the participants, and then  have them write  what they thought was the story behind the  photo. After people shared stories, I’d reveal the actual story. I haven’t yet used this exercise  but for those of you who read last week’s post and are curious  to know the real story, here it is.

The man second from the right in the group is my father. It was 1941 and he was sailing from England back to Canada on a merchant ship, the Port Freemantle. He was a radio operator and  navigator with the Ferry Command. The men surrounding him were fellow airmen who had recently flown bombers to England from Canada as part of the war effort. What I find interesting is how formally the men are dressed with their ties and jackets. You wouldn’t see that today!

All of this is a way of introducing you to the wonderful world of photo identification. This is fascinating and highly skilled work and no one does it better than Maureen Taylor, also known as The Photo Detective. The Wall Street Journal has called her “the nation’s foremost historical photo detective”. If you attended last year’s Association of Personal Historians conference, you would have had the privilege of hearing and meeting Maureen in person. If you’re not familiar with her work, check out her blog and her articles in Family Tree Magazine. If you have an old photo whose history is long lost, you can send your mystery photo to Maureen and for a fee she’ll work on identifying it.

For those of you who want to do it yourself,  here are some resources to get you started.

***Be sure not to miss Cyndi’s List: Photographs and Memories. It’s an amazing collection of sites that will keep you busy for a long, long time!***

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12 Top Rated Family Tree Makers.

familytree2If you’re looking for a family tree maker, look no further. I’ve assembled twelve of the best. Some are free while others have a modest subscription price. You’ll find some of these programs are relatively simple and others have all the “bells and whistles”.  I haven’t used any of these products myself  so I can’t offer any personal favorite.

  • Family Tree Maker. “Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting on your family tree, Family Tree Maker 2010 can help you create a family tree faster, easier, and better than ever before.”
  • Family Tree Builder. “Family Tree Builder is a brand new, free, and original program for amateur and professional genealogy fans. Packing the most innovative features developed for genealogy in the past decade, such as Face Recognition Technology, Visual Data Entry, Immersive 3D Trees, and Online Family Tree Publishing, it is highly intuitive and a pleasure to use. Create your family tree easily or import GEDCOM, print great charts and reports. Family Tree Builder supports 12 languages.”
  • Legacy Family Tree. “…an award winning professional genealogy program that helps you track, organize, print, and share your family history. Includes source documentation, over 100 beautiful reports, expert merging capabilities, To Do list, pictures, videos, Web page creation, spell checking, Internet searching, relationship calculation, and name tag printing. Import/Export support.”
  • GenoPro. “… a specialized tool for drawing family trees and genograms. GenoPro’s intuitive graphical user interface quickly produces professional-looking pedigree family trees ready for printing or for pasting to any presentation software. GenoPro is more than genealogy; it can visually document an entire community, including emotional relationships and social connections among people.”
  • Geni. “…a private place to build your free family tree.” Voted “The Best Free Software 2009″ by PC Magazine and “50 Best Websites 2008″ by Time Magazine.
  • Simple Family Tree. “… enables you to create and/or view a family tree. It displays ancestors and descendants of any selected individual (it reads and writes files in Gedcom format). You can enter notes, events, marriage details, and an alternate name for each individual. Additionally, you can see the age, birthday, and view a photo of an individual.”
  • The Next Generation. “…a powerful way to manage and display your genealogy data on the Internet, all without generating a single page of HTML. Instead, your information is stored in MySQL database tables and dynamically displayed in attractive fashion with PHP (a scripting language).”
  • Genbox Family History. “.. a tool for managing family genealogy information and producing charts and reports, with support for multiple names, witnesses, event and source templates, a template preview complete with footnotes, and conflicting-event data.”
  • SmartDraw. “Simply input your information, and SmartDraw does the rest, aligning everything automatically and applying professional design themes for professional-quality results every time.”
  • Your Family Tree Website. “…consists of interactive pages that are generated on the fly. These pages consist of Genealogy Charts, Photo Albums, Relationship Diagrams, etc. They are automatically displayed when you click any name or photo in your family tree.
  • RootsMagic. “…a solid program with a crisp interface and simple navigation, easily winning Top Ten REVIEWS’ 2009 Bronze Award. It’s good for beginners who will appreciate the SourceWizard to make sure resources are formated consistently and the Home Page Wizard to easily create pages for the Web. If you want mapping, research and event management capabilities, compatible programs may be purchased on their website.”
  • Ancestral Quest. “Its format is perfect for the beginner and yet powerful enough for the most advanced genealogist. Easy data entry, keyboard shortcuts, scrapbooking, and excellent sourcing capabilities are just some of this genealogy software program’s wonderful award-winning features.”

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The Life Story Quote of the Week.

supper table

It’s not about dinner but the kind of conversations you have with your family and the stories you tell.

Robyn Fivush ~ Professor of Psychology, Emory University

“The family is the first and most enduring group you belong to,” says Barbara Fiese, a psychology professor at Syracuse University. “It provides a sense of belonging for children, adolescents and adults so the individual doesn’t have to feel isolated.”

We help create this bond by sharing our  family stories from the past and the present. Research conducted by Dr. Robyn Fivush shows that parents who take the time to tell their children about family events, inside jokes, nicknames and family successes and failures  produce adolescents with higher self-esteem and self-confidence.

We owe it to our children not only to make dinner a time for the family to gather but also a time to share the richness of our family stories.

Photo by Kirsten Jennings

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The Life Story Quote of The Week.

tree canopy jpg

If you don’t know your history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.

Michael Crichton - (1942 – 2008) American author, producer, director, screenwriter and physician

We live in a world that prizes speed, innovation, newness and youth. We’re constantly looking forward. And in the process we’ve become strangers to our past. We’ve either never heard our family stories or forgotten many of them. We pay a price for this. We feel rootless, unconnected and at our deepest core anxious and unhappy.

Recording  and preserving our stories is not some flight of nostalgia. It is in fact a determined  act to reclaim our history.

Photo by justneal

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Life Story Quote of The Week.

cemetery

To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.

- Chinese proverb

How many of you can name all of your eight great grandparents? That’s the question posed by Dr. Barry Baines at one of his Ethical Will Workshops. I must admit I can only name one. How about you? Probably very few – right? Think for a moment. If you don’t do something to preserve and record your life story then your children’s grandchildren will not know your name. Pretty sobering isn’t it? What are you doing to ensure that your name isn’t forgotten?

Photo by David Fielke

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