Recently 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.”
StoryCorps 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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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Recently Genealogy Gems Podcast listener Rosie wrote in with an Evernote question:
“I really enjoy listening to your podcasts. Thanks so much for all your efforts. As a long time researcher I always wondered how the Hunt family got from New England to Ohio around 1800. Not too long ago another researcher found some autobiographical sketches written by Thomas W. Hunt in the Library of Congress. They posted it on Ancestry.com and another researcher sent me the link. I am still trying to figure out Evernote but I am wondering if there is a way to transcribe the sketches from PDF format with this tool.”
Good for Rosie for considering her options for how technology might be able to make the task at hand just a little bit easier!
Currently you must have an Evernote Premium account in order for your PDF documents to be keyword searchable or to annotate PDFs directly. The pdf document that Rosie was hoping to automatically transcribe with optical character recognition (OCR) is in cursive handwriting. Evernote can apply OCR to simple, clear printing, but it can’t read script, especially fancier writing such as this Thomas Hunt sketch or old German script and handwriting.
That would require ICR, or intelligent character recognition, and that technology is still emerging and isn’t widely available to consumers yet.
The Solution: Evernote doesn’t transcribe documents. To get the genealogical content from the sketches into Evernote, Rosie will need to start a new Evernote note and re-type the documents herself. Once that is done, then Evernote can apply OCR to the note and the typed transcription will be keyword-searchable.
A Solution for Type and Printing if you aren’t an Evernote Premium user:
If you are fortunate enough to discover a long-sought after genealogical document such as Rosie did, and your PDF document is typed text or simple, neat printing then you are in luck. There are free conversion tools available online that can do the trick. I use ConvertOnlineFree.com
to convert my PDF document to text. I like it because I can use the tool directly from the web without having to download software to my computer.
(As with all tools we discuss here you’ll need to do your own homework and decide if it is right for you.)
1. click the Choose File
2. select the PDF file I want to convert from my computer
3. click the Convert button
4. save the converted file to my computer
5. copy and paste the text into a new note in Evernote, and OCR does the rest.
How to Use Evernote for Genealogy: The Ultimate Education
Evernote for Genealogy laminated quick reference guide, available for for both Windows and Mac users. This guide is handy for everyday reference, and it’s packed with time saving tips you can use every day in your genealogy research.
How to Add Text to a Web Clipping in Evernote
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Looking for a quick and easy craft to do? My mom made these cute ornaments for volunteers who work in the genealogy room of the public library with her.
These little framed photos of the volunteers’ ancestors would make fantastic ornaments to hang on a holiday tree or–year-round as my mother-in-law does–on a decorative metal family tree.
All you need are copies of old ancestral photos and these basic supplies:
- inexpensive wood or paper mache cutout frames, which you can purchase at craft stores;
- tape or craft glue to adhere the picture to the back of the frame;
- silver spray paint (or any other paint suitable for the frame surface, with a brush);
- Mod-Podge or another acrylic sealer (optional) to protect and further adhere the front of the ornament;
- decorative ribbon or string to use as ties.
This would be an easy family history craft to produce in bulk, and it’s inexpensive! Consider making them for your own family history display or for family gifts. This is a great project for kids to do, as it should turn out looking nice even with young or inexperienced crafters.
Looking for more great family history-themed craft or display ideas? Follow Lisa Louise’s board Family History Craft Projects on Pinterest or Follow Lisa Louise’s board Kids – Genealogy and Family History on Pinterest.
Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. This week’s findings include a major Cincinnati newspaper collection, Cuban genealogy resources, a burial index for New York City and records for a mental hospital in Surrey, England. Might any of the collections below include your ancestor? Check out our weekly Google search tip at the end of the post, too–it’s about finding images associated with the records you come across.
CINCINNATI NEWSPAPER. Subscribers can now search over a quarter million pages from The Cincinnati Enquirer (1841-1922) at Newspapers.com. This collection covers 80 years of history for one of the largest inland cities in the U.S., which was a major landing spot for Ohio River travelers and home to thousands of German immigrants.
CUBAN GENEALOGY COLLECTION. The Digital Library of the Caribbean now offers access to the Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza Collection of Cuban Genealogy. According to the website description, the collection “includes thousands of books, handwritten and typed letters, photos and other primary documents relating to Cuba and Cuban genealogy, collected over four decades by Felix Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza….: rare 17th and 18th century books, long out-of-print publications and periodicals that few, if any, U.S. libraries hold in their catalogs. Additionally, thousands of unpublished family genealogies and manuscripts make this collection particularly significant.” Read more about the collection in this article, where we learned about it.
NYC BURIALS. One of New York City’s oldest and largest cemeteries has put up a free database with thousands of burials, among them Civil War soldiers, former slaves and more. Green-Wood cemetery has about Green-Wood currently has more than half a million burials dating to 1840. Those who find an ancestor in the database should consider ordering a search of Green-Wood’s archival records.
UK HOSPITAL RECORDS. Over 11,000 Surrey, England Mental Hospital admission records (1867-1900) have been newly digitized and published by Ancestry, in partnership with the Surrey History Centre. Each record contains the patient’s name, gender, marriage status, occupation, residence, religion, and their reason for admission (diagnosis).
Here’s your weekly Google search tip: don’t forget to look for images associated with the types of record collections you find! Where one record exists, another may also. For example: search “Surrey England mental hospital,” and then when the results come up, click “Images.” You’ll find tons of photos of that hospital, some of them quite old. You can further filter these (or any image results) under Search Tools. Most commonly when searching for old pictures, I will choose “Black and White” under the Color tab (which naturally limits results to mostly older photos) or “labeled for reuse” under the Usage Rights tab (more likely to find images I can publish). This tip is brought to you by The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke: the fully-revised and updated 2nd edition is packed with great search tips like these!