Record a Life Story: Free StoryCorps App

StoryCorps boothRecently a friend sent me a link to a TED talk by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. As a radio broadcast journalist, Dave has spent his life capturing other people’s stories. The profound impact this had on him led him to found StoryCorps, which collects and archives interviews with everyday people.

“Every life matters equally and infinitely,” Dave learned, something we discover as family historians, too. He talks about how inviting someone to talk about his or her life “may just turn out to be one of the most important moments in that person’s life, and in yours.” This is something I try to explain to people about family history interviews: asking respectful questions and listening just as respectfully is a gift we can give our relatives when we interview them.

StoryCorps started with a little recording booth in Grand Central Terminal, one of the busiest places in the world to hold these intimate conversations. Two people share a conversation, one interviewing and the other being interviewed, and a facilitator helps them record the conversation and leave with a copy of it. Another copy goes to the Library of Congress.

In our own ways, we do this when we record loved ones’ life stories. We honor their feelings, experiences and opinions by asking about them and preserving them. Sometimes we share personal moments of understanding, forgiveness or revelation. In my experience, it’s similar to what unfolds in the StoryCorps booths: “Amazing conversations happen.”

In Dave’s TED talk, he shares snippets of some of those amazing conversations, like A 12-year old boy with Asperger’s syndrome interviewing his mother, and a husband sharing his love for his wife: “Being married is like having a color television set. You never want to go back to black and white.”

Storycorp appStoryCorps now has an app that helps people capture conversations like these. A digital facilitator walks you through the interview process, the app records the conversation, and then you can save and share the resulting audio file. Why not record an interview in honor of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day this spring with the StoryCorp app? Or have a meaningful conversation with an aunt or uncle, sibling, cousin or your child or grandchild.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and PodcastGenealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about preserving the stories of your own life in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 116, in which I interview Laura Hedgecock, author of Memories of Me.

Tell Your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy

Do you wish you knew more about your ancestor’s everyday life experience? Use social history for genealogy: to fill in the gaps between documented events.

social history for genealogy family history

Recently we heard from Barbara Starmans, a social historian, genealogist and longtime listener of three of Lisa’s podcasts. She wrote to share a new blog she started.

“While I’ve maintained my Out of My Tree Genealogy blog for many years, I’ve just launched The Social Historian, a longform story website featuring social history themed articles from across the centuries and around the world.”

Social history is about “the lives of ordinary people,” explains Barbara. “It is a view of history from the bottom up, rather than from the top down…. [It’s about] understanding…how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. It is often the minutia of someone’s life that tells the story of who they were and what they believed in.”

“By exploring social history, you will be able to research all the circumstances of your ancestors’ lives and to build their life stories from the details you find.” Barbara send us a great list that we adapted and boiled down to a few core topics:

  • Life cycle: Birth and birthing customs, health and lifestyle practices, medicine, diseases and epidemics, mental health, mortality rates, death and burial customs.
  • Life at home: Clothing and fashion, food and cooking, housekeeping, land and property, alcohol and drug use.
  • Life at work: Economy (prices, cost of living and salaries), occupations, working conditions and the labor movement, businesses and employers, social welfare and relief.
  • Relationships: Morality, marriage and divorce, children and childhood, ethnicity and prejudices,
  • Community life: Celebrations and holidays, traditions, education, language and literacy, religion/church, faith, crime and punishment, societal unrest, leisure pursuits.
  • Game changers: War, emigration, inventions, transportation, communication, slavery and emancipation.

Barbara’s social history blog gives lots of great examples of her belief that “beyond just names and dates, those who came before us have a story to tell….By learning about their time and place and how they lived in it, you can add to your understanding of who they were.”

Resources

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition cover

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke is packed with strategies for learning about your ancestors’ lives online. There’s an entire chapter on using Google Scholar for genealogy!

Where can you look for social history online? I’d start with these sites:

1. Make sure you’re using all of Google’s fantastic resources, including Google Books and Google Scholar

2. Click to find Social history resources at the Library of Congress

3. American Social History Project at the City University of New York

Have fun! I think learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors is one of the most fascinating parts of family history.

media_icon_like_400_wht_9163Thanks for sharing this post with others who will enjoy it!

Genealogy Gift Ideas: The Essentials

Every year people ask me for great genealogy gift ideas, so this year I’m counting down to the holidays by sharing my own holiday list (in addition to the Black Friday specials announced yesterday). Every day for the next week I’ll post my top picks on several topics: The Essentials, Genealogy On-the-Go, Get Geeky, Get Organized and Find Everything, Heritage Home Decor and Genealogy Entertainment. I hope you’ll find some inspiration here, either for gift-giving or for things Santa might bring you.

This week: The Essentials. To shop, please click the links below: when you do, you support the free Genealogy Gems podcast. (Thanks!)

RootsMagic 6Online family tree services are great, but I’m a big fan of keeping your master family tree in software on your own computer. This makes updates and backups easier and leaves your important data in your control. RootsMagic 6 Family Tree Genealogy Software / Book Bundle is award-winning family tree software that I just love. It’s more than just a tool  for organizing family tree data and sources, which are essential. RootsMagic also  has powerful tools to help you share your research with others: tools for charts, reports and even your own book or e-book. Version 6 is for Windows 8/7/Vista/XP and 2000.

 

Evidence ExplainedI’ve heard Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition described as the “genealogist’s bible.” It’s certainly one of the most important reference books you can have on your shelf. The opening chapters, “Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis” and “Fundamentals of Citation,” are a must-read periodically for genealogists who want to really understand how to interpret and cite sources. The rest of her book is a style manual to help readers cite every detail of a source in the right format. 885 page. PRICE: $59.95. Love the idea but overwhelmed by the length and price? Try her smaller-scale book, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian
now in its 16th printing. 124 pp, $19.95.

 

GG PremiumThe Genealogy Gems Premium Membership is possibly the best (and most fun!) bargain around for fun, up-to-date genealogy education, as I hope you Premium Members out there are already aware. This membership gives you Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episodes with exclusive interviews, tips and content; unlimited access to the Genealogy Gems podcast archive with hundreds of hours of programming; and video classes on my most popular topics like Evernote, Google Earth for Genealogy, Google search strategies, organizing your research and more. PRICE: $29.95. Between Black Friday (11/29/13) and Cyber Monday (12/2/2013) you’ll get a bonus ebook!

Longtime Family History Mystery Solved Online

computer_magnifying_glass_400_wht_11672Everyone’s families have a little bit of mystery in their past–or a lot!

TheBlaze.com recently posted this great story about a woman who was able to solve a longtime family history mystery by posting it online at Metafilter.com, a crowd-source blog. She posted this query:

“In my grandmother’s final days battling brain cancer, she became unable to speak and she filled dozens of index cards with random letters of the alphabet. I’m beginning to think that they are the first letters in the words of song lyrics, and would love to know what song this was. This is a crazy long shot, but I’ve seen Mefites [other site users] pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!” Then she posted the “code” from one of the cards.

Within 15 minutes someone solved part of the puzzle: a section of the code was the first letters of the prayer from the New Testament, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”

Have YOU ever been faced with indecipherable notes left behind by a family member? What family history mystery do you wish an online community could help you solve? Share this on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and leave your answers.

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