Tag 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

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In today’s Monday’s Link Roundup, with the New Year days away, you’ll want to check out 13 Tips for Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions. If you have this week to relax, why not take some time to feast your eyes on 10 books to inspire you to make art. And for a piece of “blatant self-promotion” ;-)   I’d be remiss in not pointing you to the article A gift that lasts beyond a lifetime. It’s about my work at Victoria Hospice.

  • Lives of the dead come to life on tombstones. “A standard Memory Medallion remembrance package costs $225 and includes a barcode medallion for the gravesite, a website of eight photos and 1,000-word story and a printed biography. Family members also can record a video about the deceased that plays on smart phones that scan the barcode, called a QR code.”
  • The benefits of thinking about our ancestors. ” Anecdotally, there’s reason to believe that such thoughts are beneficial. Why else the public fascination with genealogy and programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Now Peter Fischer and his colleagues at the Universities of Graz, Berlin and Munich have shown that thinking about our ancestors boosts our performance on intelligence tests – what they’ve dubbed the ancestor effect.”
  • A gift that lasts beyond a lifetime. “A free program through [Victoria]hospice matches volunteers trained in interview techniques with patients for up to five hours of digital recordings — preferably before they enter the facility.”
  • 10 books to inspire you to make art. “When I finish a long project I don’t actually collapse but rather wander around in a state of unfocused activity. When that happened yesterday I decided to settle down and read. Not knowing exactly what I wanted to read, I pulled a slew of books off my bookshelves. And because I love sorting things into piles and classifying them, I eventually ended up with this pile of ten books that never fail to pull me into their beauty.”
  • Vimeo Video School. “Vimeo Video School is a fun place for anyone to learn how to make better videos. Start by browsing our Vimeo Lessons, or find specific video tutorials created by other members.”

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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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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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Life Story Quote of The Week.


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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You don’t have to be a famous to be recognized.

My grandfather, Jesse Weeks

My grandfather, Jesse Weeks

As a personal historian, one of the great myths that I continually encounter goes something like this, “My life hasn’t been all that interesting. Why would anyone want to read a book or watch a video about my life?” I usually respond to such arguments by asking, “If there was one person among your ancestors you could read about and discover something of their life story, who would that be?” Invariably people have little trouble coming up with a name or two. And when I ask, “So, what about that person interests you?” I’m told it’s because they want to know how that relative lived, so long ago. Or they’ve heard bits of stories that whets their appetite to know more. No one I talk to ever says, “Oh, I want to read about Aunt Mary because she was famous.”

We are intrigued by family who’ve come before. How did they live? What dreams did they have? How did they cope with love and marriage and loss? I think we know deep down that something of who we are today is a result of those who came before us. Call it DNA or something more intangible.

So, to those who say their life story isn’t interesting or worthy of preserving, I say think to the future. One day someone will want to know about you – just as now, you want to know about a long lost relative.

Remember someone in the future wants to hear from you.