Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy Records
Today’s episode is unlike any other I’ve done on the podcast. Today we are going to tackle some difficult subject matter: family secrets in genealogy. You know, none of us have a perfect family tree. In fact, I would venture to guess that at some point each one of us who are delving into our family’s past will come across some sad and painful stories. An ancestor abandoned at an asylum, incarcerated for acts of violence, or perhaps who committed suicide.
For Crystal Bell, my guest on today’s show, that sad and painful story was very close to her branch of the tree. In fact, the troubles lay at her parents’ door, and she bore the brunt of the chaos that was created. And yet there is tremendous hope that comes from Crystal’s story. She is a wonderful example of the freedom that can come from facing your fears and breaking down the mystery of a troubled past. It’s what I call the redemptive gifts of family history.
Crystal also shares some of the research strategies that her co-workers at Ancestry.com gave her for taking the next steps in finding her mother, who passed away under an assumed name.
Thoughts from Crystal on responding to the family secrets in your own tree:
“Hatred and resentment only make you look older. They have a great toll on your health. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t hate my mother and father because I don’t know their circumstances were. I can only try to determine their ancestors. I want to know who were my ancestors. Where did they come from?
I feel badly when people…just don’t want to know. I don’t want to die with that sense of abandonment. I want to move on, I want to get past the grief. I want to know who my people were. I just, for the first time in my life, want to experience a feeling of joy and happiness that I feel like I deserve.”
Ancestry.com “Shaky Leaf” Hints Technology
Crystal made connections on her Ancestry.com family tree by reviewing the automated hints provided on the site, known popularly as “shaky leaves.” Learn more about using these in this video.
The MyCanvas service mentioned by Crystal is no longer offered by Ancestry.com. But it is still around! Learn more in my blog post about it.
Here’s a final family history thought for today:
We are not just defined by one relative, or the product of a dysfunctional family or parental relationship. We come from all of our ancestors….
The ones who did amazing things,
The ones who did everyday things,
And the ones who did wrong.
You deserve to know them all, and as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.
A new Mayflower ancestors database can help connect you with your Pilgrim roots. Also, amateur US newspapers: Hill Air Force Base newspaper, Norwegian and African American Mormons, PERSI updates and collections for Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio,...
If you have relatives who have served in the military, why don’t you plan a little extra genealogical web surfing time this week? Here are two sites offering free temporary access to records:
1) In honor of Memorial Day in the United States, findmypast.com is offering free searching of its collection of U.S. and international military records from midnight EDT on Thursday, May 23 until midnight EDT on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.
Findmypast.com hosts over 26 million military records, with an emphasis on 20th-century records. That’s a plus for U.S. military records because so many from the 20th century were destroyed in a huge fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973. For the U.S., you’ll find World War I draft registration cards; World War II Army enlistments and prisoner of war records; Korean War casualties and POWs; Vietnam War casualties and even “casualties returned alive” (people thought to be dead but who came home) and an Army casualty file for 1961-1981.
There’s a much longer list for military records for the U.K. and Australasia, and a short, separate list of Irish military records. I’m guessing many of you in the English-speaking world have relatives who appear in these records.
In December the genealogy records website Findmypast.com released new and exclusive historical records that highlight significant life events of the past. According to the the company, more than 40 million new records are included. Here are all the details from their press release:
LOS ANGELES (Dec. 17, 2012) – …“The number of records released offers findmypast.com’s users a staggering amount of new data, ranging from exclusive United Kingdom records from as early as 1790 to modern-day vital records from the United States that will add new layers of information for researchers,” said D. Joshua Taylor, lead genealogist for findmypast.com, “Findmypast.com is constantly expanding our collections with thousands of new records being added each month. Moving into 2013, we look forward to increasing our record offerings to include rarer, more exclusive materials, in our dedication to provide the most comprehensive family history resource available.”
Many of the new records that can only be accessed through findmypast.com offer a unique glimpse into history. The Harold Gillies Plastic Surgery set, dating back to World War I, contains fascinating records of some of the world’s first restorative plastic surgery, while the White Star Line Officers’ Books include officer records from the Titanic.
Newly added employment and institutional records including the records of the Merchant Navy Seaman (aka the Merchant Marines) provide unique color to family history that can’t be created from just names and dates. Other record sets include probates and wills, such as the Cheshire Wills and Probates, which often offer crucial clues to link North American family trees back to the United Kingdom.
The full set of exclusive records recently released by findmypast.com includes:
United Kingdom Court & Probate
· Cheshire Wills and Probate
· Suffolk Beneficiary Index
United Kingdom Education & Work
· Cheshire Workhouse Records, Admissions and Discharges
· Cheshire Workhouse Records, Religious Creeds
· Derbyshire Workhouse Records
· Match Workers Strike
· White Star Line Officers’ Books
United Kingdom Military
· Army List, 1787
· Army List, 1798
· British Officers taken Prisoners of War, 1914-1918
· De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honor
· Grenadier Guards, 1656
· Harold Gillies Plastic Surgery – WWI
· Harts Army List, 1840
· Harts Army List, 1888
· Manchester Employee’s Roll of Honor, 1914-1916
· Merchant Navy Seamen (aka Merchant Marines)
· Napoleonic War Records, 1775-1817
· WWI Naval Casualties
· Paddington Rifles
· Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 British Navy & Air Force Officers
· Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 Officers of Empire serving in British Army
· Royal Hospital, Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions, 1838-1896 (WO 131)
· Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners’ discharge documents 1760-1887, (WO 121)
· Royal Hospital, Kilmainham: pensioners’ discharge documents, 1773-1822 (known as WO 119 at the National Archives)
· Royal Navy Officers Medal Roll, 1914-1920
· War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers’ documents, South African War, 1899-1902 (WO 128)
· WWII POWs – British held in German Territories
In addition to the exclusive records sets, this recent release includes additional records from the United States, Australia and Ireland. An update to the World War I Draft Cards collection provides registrations and actual signatures of more than 11 million young Americans from the beginning of the twentieth century.
Additional records released include:
United States Military
· Japanese-Americans Relocated during WWII
· Korean War Casualty File
· Korean War Deaths
· Korean War Prisoners of War
· Korean War Prisoners of War (Repatriated)
· U.S. Army Casualties, 1961-1981
· Vietnam Casualties Returned Alive
· Vietnam War Casualties
· Vietnam War Deaths
· WWI Draft Cards
· WWII Prisoners of War
· Kentucky Birth Records, 1911-2007
· Kentucky Death Records Index, 1911-1999
· Kentucky Marriage Records Index, 1973-1999
· Texas Divorce Records Index, 1968-2010
· Texas Marriage Records, 1968-2010
· Northern Territory Anglican Baptisms and Confirmations, 1900-1947
Here’s how to make a family history interview video. We’ll walk you through an easy and quick process that will result in a professional quality video that you’ll be proud to share with your family and generations to come.
My husband Bill does not enjoy being on camera, and if I add an interview to the scenario, I have an even bigger challenge on my hands. Does that sound like anyone in your family?
Getting a family member to sit down and answer questions about their life or an ancestor they remember can be an uphill battle, but the climb is worth it. Each one of us has a very unique view of the world. Even though we may remember the same person, our memories and feelings will be distinctly individual, and therefore are worth capturing.
Father’s Day is just around the corner, and we have a new granddaughter joining our family next month. Now seemed like the perfect time to quickly cobble together an interview video with Bill sharing his memories about his dad. I shared some old photos with him and captured his memories. Take a look:
Maybe you’ve been thinking to yourself, ‘Right now just isn’t a good time.’ But guess what! ‘Right now’ is always the ideal time to capture the memories of living relatives. Don’t wait for the opportune moment to present itself, because it might never come. Right now is the perfect time for you to ask questions and record memories that might otherwise have been lost forever.
If you’ve got a few extra minutes to prep for a more polished interview, follow my recipe for creating a video your family will savor for generations to come.
Even though we may remember the same person, our memories and feelings will be distinctly individual, and therefore are worth capturing.
Ingredients for a Family History Interview Video
(Note: I only endorse products that I love and that’s why I’ve accepted Animoto as a sponsor. That means I was compensated for this post. This post also contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you, because they help support the free Genealogy Gems Podcast.)
To create a video like mine, which in total took me about 1 hour from start to finish to create, you’ll need:
a smart phone or tablet (I used my iPhone 7 Plus to capture video of Bill answering my questions. The iPhone has a terrific camera built in, but any mobile device with a camera will do.)
old family photos (I saved mine to a Dropbox folder that I could access on my iPad)
an Animoto slideshow subscription (test drive Animoto with a free trial if you want to get the feel of it before subscribing.)
a short list of questions pertaining to the photos
a willing interviewee (that was my hubby, although I use the term “willing” loosely here)
Pull together everything before you bring in your interviewee. That way, they won’t start off the interview bored or frustrated while you get things ready. We definitely want to get this off on the right foot!
Setting the Stage
Find a comfortable chair for your interviewee and then place it in front of an attractive background in the room. To get a feeling of depth and a nice focus on my subject, I placed my chair in the center of the room so that the background was in the distance. This setup puts the focus on the person you are interviewing and not the items right behind him.
Lighting can make a big difference in the feel of your video, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. Notice that I kept the background fairly unlit, and then turned on a nice soft lamp on one side of Bill. On the other side, out of camera view, I brought in a second light so that both sides of his face would be lit.
Set up a small, portable tripod on our coffee table in front of my subject and mounted my smartphone (I like this one, which was less than $12). If you don’t have a tripod, just stack up a couple of books on the table to get to the right height, and then use a book on either side of the camera to keep it stable.
The video viewer side facing you as the interviewer
The lens side facing your interviewee
Position a chair for yourself behind the camera, and off to one side. Stay within reaching distance of your camera so that you can turn it on and off between questions. You will want to be off to one side so that your subject is looking at you and not the camera when they answer your questions during filming.
‘Right now’ is always the ideal time
to capture the memories of living relatives.
Start the Interview
Bring your subject in, and get them comfortable in their chair. Have a glass of water nearby for them. Chat with them for a moment about how they are doing, the weather, or whatever else comes to mind (except family history – save that for the video) to sort of warm them up. Explain that they don’t need to worry about the camera, but instead should just focus on talking to you.
To ensure an easy to understand video, encourage them to repeat back the question in their answer because your audio won’t be part of the interview. For example:
You: “What was your mom like when you were a child?” (showing a photo of them and their mom)
Them (OK) : “She took great pride in her home, and she insisted we take our shoes off before entering.”
Them (BETTER) : “When I was young, my mom took great pride in her home, and she insisted that we take our shoes off before entering.”
Folks usually get the hang of it after a couple of tries. Finally, ask them to wait just a beat before they begin talking and to avoid talking over you. Again, the goal is to only capture the audio of the interviewee.
Armed with your list of questions, bring out the first family photo (I did this on an iPad where I had the photos saved in my Dropbox app). On your phone, tap the Camera app to open it, set it to Video, and pressed the big round record button. Move back to your off camera position, and show the first photo and ask your question. Don’t worry about the beginning or the end of the Q&A being messy with getting situated because you will trim that off later in Animoto. After they complete their answer, press the button on the screen to stop recording. It is much easier to work with short video clips rather than one long continuous recording for a number of reasons:
It’s easier to move small video clips from your phone to your computer
Video clips up to 450 MB can be uploaded to Animoto (that’s typically just a little over 4 continuous minutes of video)
One question per clip makes it much easier to move them around in your project to get the exact order you want
It’s easier to interject photos between clips when the questions are individual video clips
Pull up the next photo, press Record, and ask your second question. Repeat for each question and answer. If you go longer than about 20 minutes total, it’s a good idea to stop and ask them how they are doing. Ask if they are agreeable to continuing. Be sensitive to their time and comfort. Remember, people before genealogy.
Post Production of Your Family History Interview Video
Step 1: In the Camera app, tap Share and Save to Dropbox
As a podcaster, pre- and post-production takes up much more of my time than recording. But with Animoto, your post-production time will be really quick. Here are the steps to creating your finished video:
Step 1: In the Camera app, Share your videos to your computer via a cloud sharing service.
Step 2: On your computer go here to Animoto, sign in and click the Create button to start a new Slideshow video project. (For 10 seconds or shorter video clips you can create your video right on your phone in the Animoto app. But in the case of this type of interview, answers will be longer and you’ll want to use the website.)
Step 3: Select a Style and the Song that will play in the background.
Step 4: On the project page, click Add pics & videos, and upload the video clips and photos. Adjust the length of each video clip as desired, eliminating unwanted portions.
Step 5: Arrange the content in the desired order. I chose to show the answer first, and follow it up with the photo.
Step 6: Add Text if desired. You can add text to photos, or individual ‘title cards’ at the beginning, middle, and end of your video.
Step 7: Click Preview to review your video and make any needed adjustments.
Step 7: Preview one last time and click Produce to render your finished video.
Step 8: Download a copy of the video to your computer, and make sure your computer is backed up! (I use Backblaze.) The ability to download HD quality videos from Animoto for archiving is a HUGE reason why I love it so much.
I’ve been having a blast creating Animoto videos about my husband’s family. It’s been a great way to get my non-genealogist husband involved and really interested in family history. Here are two more videos I created about his family: