Archive for September, 2012

Death, Halloween, and Family Traditions (It’s Almost October!)

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Halloween celebrations have increased through the years, and have become more fun and less morbid. But, like family history, Halloween is still very much about the dead.

Throughout October we’ll bring you several blog posts about death and the dead, some serious and some not. We’ll talk about finding and using death records (such as the SSDI), wills, obituaries, etc., in our family history work, as well as some of the things we ourselves should not leave undone as we contemplate our own eventual deaths. In preparation, we’ve been collecting Halloween memories and traditions from colleagues, families, and friends; playfully inviting coworkers to design their own tombstones (there’s a web app for that) and write their own epitaphs; and even interviewing morticians.

All that’s coming, but first, here’s some background.

A Bit of History

The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve — the eve of All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 by much of Western Christianity, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Traditionally, it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, before moving on to the next world, making Halloween their last chance to take vengeance on the living. The living, in turn, wore masks and costumes to avoid being recognized, and used fire (which turned over time into Jack-o-Lanterns) to ward off the spirits of the dead. There are also some pagan influences.

Learn more of the history of Halloween from this video at History.com:

The spooky side survives, now more secular than religious in feeling, but for most people Halloween is great fun, with costumes, trick-or-treating for youngsters, and parties for youth and adults. The day of the dead is alive with fun and family traditions. (more…)

Stuck Happens! 13 Things to Do When It Happens to You

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Dead endWhether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned veteran at family history, you can’t pursue this historical detective adventure very long before you get stuck. Some name or record will elude you. You’ll run out of ideas for finding it, and you’ll start to wonder if the promised rewards of your chosen hobby are worth the trouble or, on a bad day, even possible. Rest assured: You’re not the first, and there is hope.

A Common Challenge

About 20 years ago I started looking for a marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Benjamin James Morgan and Mary Fischer, who are believed to have married circa 1794 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I didn’t choose this at random. I was looking for something Uncle Shirl, Aunt Gwen, and the other family genealogists had left undone.

I used computerized resources, which were rather sparse then, and paged through microfilmed Chester County records ordered through my local LDS Family History Library. I struck out.

I’m fortunate that I had to go back five generations to find a hole other researchers had left unfilled. But I was living in graduate student poverty at the time, so I could hardly hire a professional genealogist or mount a week-long expedition to the Philadelphia area in search of the record. I needed affordable alternatives. Come to think of it, two decades later, I still do.

It helps see apparent dead ends as something else entirely: forks in the road. When stuck happens, you have at least three options:

  • Pursue the elusive record or relative with laser-like focus. This may lead to success, or it may lead to therapy.
  • Slide this one to the back burner and turn your attention to some other aspect of your family history.
  • Abandon family history in favor of another pastime, such as knitting, lacrosse, or watching reality television.

You’re on your own with the third option, but let’s look at the other two.

Dogged Pursuit

When the person or record you’re stuck on is especially important to you or your tree, you may prefer dogged pursuit. Pardon my changing metaphors, but, if a door you need won’t open, sometimes you can break it down, find another door, or even crawl in a window. Here are some ideas. (more…)

Remembering 9/11

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

As I type, the names of nearly 3,000 victims of the attack of September 11, 2001 are being read from the Ground Zero site in New York City.

I found out early on 9/11 that a plane had been flown into the World Trade Center.  Soon after I was shocked to watch as another plane hit the second tower.  My parents and family across the US watched and called each other as we discussed the tragic events.  As I watched the coverage a reporter felt a huge boom and shake as he reported from the Pentagon which was also hit by a plane.

The most shocking for me as I watched from Dallas was to see one of the busiest airports in the world fall silent for several days.  Usually clogged with air traffic, the skies over Dallas fell into an eerie silence as our nation tried to determine the safety of our travel and take precautions to avoid another such tragedy. The silence was deafening as I realized we were indeed under attack.

Now 11 years later many of our children do not remember the events of that day.  If you have not yet recorded your memories and reactions to this national tragedy – now is a good time to do so.   As the years pass our memories of that day will fade, we need to record them now before that happens.

It is wonderful to see pictures of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.  As time moves on we replace the hole left at Ground Zero and in our hearts with new hope and new buildings but never forget and honor the many heroes of that day.

Click to see more images of the Freedom Tower and Ground Zero at CNN.com

From CNN.com

Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures

Friday, September 7th, 2012

In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”

The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.

This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.

ONE

I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.

Bertha Babcock History 2nd EdI wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.

Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.

My plan was to give a copy to each of my mother’s six surviving siblings, and also to a couple of relatives who helped a lot with the reunion. (My sister and I were in charge this year.) I couldn’t afford to give it to the next two generations, even if my mother’s generation insisting on paying me for what I intended to be a gift.

Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.

TWO

As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.

A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.

THREE AND FOUR

That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at Amazon.com for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at BarnesAndNoble.com for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.

I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.

The old, the new, the Kindle app on my iPod

It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.

If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.

In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.

FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)

My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.

At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.

Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.

As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.