You May Already Have the Makings of a Family History Video

Think it’s too hard to create your own family history video? Think again! You may already have the foundation already poured!

Video is one of the best ways to tell your family’s story. Imagery, text and music comes together to quickly capture the attention of all ages. But whether it’s a blank computer screen or a blank page, getting started is often the hardest part of any creative project.

That’s why when I wanted to whip up a tribute video to my husband’s father’s Naval service, I didn’t start from scratch. Instead, I turned to small book I created over ten years ago for inspiration and content. My research of his military career has certainly evolved since I first put those pages together. Creating a new video on the subject gave it a nice facelift in a modern medium that everyone in our family loves!

The Foundation

Back in 2006 Kodak Gallery offered one of the first print-on-demand services to the public. It was a tantalizing idea to think of being able to create my own full color, hard cover book. And what would I write about? Family history, of course!

My husband’s father’s military service records had recently come into our possession, and one afternoon I sat down and scanned all of the photographs and documents at a fairly high resolution (about 600 dpi). I created my first book that day using that imagery, and added text where I had more details. The end result was a mighty nice coffee table styled book. Just 20 full color glossy pages double sided, for a total of 40 pages. This was just about all I could expect of the average attention span of my non-genealogist relatives. To my happy surprise, the book was devoured, with many exclamations of “I’ve never seen that!”, and “oh, isn’t that great!

books videofamily history

Fast forward to today. Kodak Gallery is long gone, and today’s relatives rarely have the desire to sit and even flip through pages of a book. What are they willing to spend time on? Video! Brief video, albeit, but video is the book come to life. And so, when in search of a new project to get family history out in front of the clan, I decided to do just that: breathe life into that book I created 11 years ago.

The Process

First, I located the computer file folder containing all of the original scanned images, both photos and documents. I renamed the files to start with a two-digit number so that they would appear in chronological order in the folder on my hard drive. Before I knew it, the story began to emerge on my screen.

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Then it was off to Animoto, the online video creation tool. Animoto doesn’t require any special skills to create professional looking videos. If you can click, drag and drop you can create fabulous family history videos.

I started by selecting choosing to create a “Slideshow Video” and selecting the video style called Old Glory. Being a patriotic theme it already included the perfect music called Presidential Welcome. If I had wanted something a little different, it would have been easy enough pick another tune out of their vast music library, or upload one of my own.

Next, I dragged and dropped the images into my new project. I already had about 25 images from my original folder, and I was able to add 5 newly discovered scanned documents and photos that really fleshed out the story. One click of the Preview button showed me that I already had an awesome video in the works. All that was left was to add a bit of text to the storyvideo project in Animoto

The Video Text

The text part of this project actually turned into a great way to pull my youngest daughter Hannah into family history a bit. She loves making videos on her phone, and during a recent visit she became intrigued by my project. I asked her if she would help me out and use the book as her guide and type captions onto the video images. She obliged, and the next thing I knew she was in the family room, computer in lap, talking with her Dad about his Dad. (This genealogist’s dream come true!) It was easy to add the text to tell the story by adding titles and captions to the video in Animoto.

Time to Produce Your Video

With all the content added, we hit the Preview button, and were amazed how Animoto timed everything to the music nearly perfectly. After a few final tweaks, we hit the Produce button. I must say, I’m really pleased with the results! Watch below, and then leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Make Your Own Video Project

What do you already have lying around the house that would make a terrific video? A scrapbook, or a drawer full of letters and photos? Click here to try out Animoto. I’ve been so thrilled with what I’ve been able to create for my family, that I proudly accepted Animoto as a sponsor of my free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and I happily recommend them. I think you’re going to love how quickly and easily you can bring your family history to life with video too.

 

Noisy New York City, Jamaican Slave Revolt and Other Digital Archive Projects

Digital archives are getting so much better! They’re not just about reproducing historical documents anymore. Multimedia add-ons–from searchable statistics to animated timelines–fill in the gaps not explained by the map keys.

Atlas historical geography of US

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, http://dsl.richmond.edu/historicalatlas/.

Recently, Slate.com writer Rebecca posted on some of her favorite digital archives. Four of the five are of interest to genealogists! Read the article to learn more about them:

Historic_Maps_Video

Want to learn more about using maps in your research? Watch my FREE class on Google Earth for Genealogy. Genealogy Gems Premium members can also watch my NEW video class online, 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps. (Not a Premium member? Learn more here.)

Free Scandinavian Genealogy Webinar

MyHeritage is a leading resource for Scandinavian genealogy research. Now they are offering a free webinar for those researching Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic ancestry.

On Wednesday, April 15,  Mike Mansfield, MyHeritage Director of Content and Jason Oler, MyHeritage Senior Program Manager, will host a program packed with research tips and  strategies for navigating the millions of Scandinavian genealogy records now on MyHeritage. Click here to register.

Ready to learn about Scandinavian genealogy NOW? Genealogy Gems Premium members can access Premium Podcast Episode #15, in which Lisa interviews Scandinavian research expert Ruth Mannis at the Family History Library. Ruth simplifies and clarifies the process and reassures us that everyone can have success finding their Scandinavian roots. If you’re not a Premium member yet, you’re missing out on gems like Ruth Mannis’ interview–and more than 100 more premium podcasts like these and dozens of genealogy video tutorials. Get a year’s access

 

to all of this for one low price. Click here to learn more.

 

Share World War I Family History

flagTo commemorate the centennial of the First World War, and to mark the last full month of the exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture, the Wolfsonian at Florida International University (FIU) created a special Tumblr for sharing family stories, WWI memorabilia, and genealogy research tips called #GreatWarStories.

I first crossed paths with FIU’s Digital Outreach Strategist Jeffery K. Guin in 2009 when he interviewed me for his Voices of the Past website and show. Jeff was an early innovator in the world of online history, and he’s now brought those talents to the Wolfsonian, a museum, library and research center in Miami that uses its collection to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design.

The Wolfsonian team of historical sleuths is inviting the public at large to help them unearth the forgotten impact of the Great War by posting family facts, anecdotes, documents, and photographs. They were inspired by their current art exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture which focuses on artists’ responses to the war. They hope that #GreatWarStories project at Tumblr will be a “living, breathing digital collection of personal WWI stories, photos, documents and letters compiled in remembrance of the transformational war on the occasion of its centennial.”

Great war

Jeff asked me to join in on this buy add medication online history crowd-sourcing effort, and it was easy to comply. Several years ago  in going through the last of my Grandmother’s boxes, I found a booklet she had crafted herself called The World War.As a high school student, and daughter of German immigrant parents she set about gathering and clipping images from magazines and newspapers, depicting this turning point in history. I’ve been anxious to share it in some fashion, and this was my opportunity. Here is the result:

Do you have a piece of World War I history hiding in our closet? Why not join in this experiment in storytelling, sharing and curating, and share World War I family history?

Here are some ways you can contribute:

  • Sharing the story of your family’s WWI-related history through photos, documents, or anecdotes (possibilities include guest blogging, video/podcast interview, or photo essay)
  • Using your expertise and unique perspective as a launching pad for discussing the war’s impact in a different or surprising way
  • Alerting the museum to related resources or materials that would dovetail with the mission of the project

To see the living, digital collection, visit http://greatwarstories.tumblr.comIf you would like to participate, send an email to greatwarstories@thewolf.fiu.edu and the Wolfsonian team will be in touch to discuss storytelling ideas.

Got Criminal Ancestors? How to Investigate Their Crimes

Lydia thinks her great-grandfather was murdered–perhaps even by her grandfather! Here’s some advice for her and everyone researching “cold cases” for criminal ancestors on your family tree.

Cold Case investigate your ancestor criminals

I heard recently from Lydia with these intriguing questions:

My great great grandpa William John Gabriel Nelson disappeared one day, never coming home from work. It was family lore that he had been “shanghai’d.” But even as a child the story didn’t add up. [Through a] few other mentions of the account throughout the years, and recently reconnecting with cousins through Ancestry.com/DNA and your advice to just email DNA matches, I have a growing reason to believe my great-grandfather was murdered. An even bigger fear is that my grandfather may have been the one to do it.
 

All parties involved with this are now dead, so follow-up is impossible with them. But I’m wondering about contacting the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the library to determine if indeed there was a cold case, missing persons report or John Doe. Since this happened in the mid 1940’s, would I contact the LAPD or is this now a job for a historian?

As a citizen, Lydia can certainly contact the LAPD here. It might take a bit of persistence to get to the right person or resource. I would start by asking for how you can find out the status of a cold case from the year in question.

Here are 4 ways to follow up on your own criminal ancestors’ cold cases:

1. Look for cold case files online.

As I often say, all good searches start online because they will help you prepare to go offline. In other words, not everything is online, but searching online first will give you a lay of the land, revealing what is available, who to contact, and where to go in person. Start with a Google search such as LAPD cold cases.  The search results include several good leads:

cold case search

With a case like Lydia’s that is over 70 years old, I wouldn’t expect to pull it up in an online database (though you never know!) But I do see several sites here that provide phone numbers to gain access to those who can lead you in the right direction.

2. Search Google for clues.

Google Drive and other tipsUse Google’s powerful search technology to look for online mentions of the names, places, and dates of your particular case.

In Lydia’s case, she might begin with keywords relating to her great-grandfather’s disappearance, with his name, year, and the place he was last seen. Including descriptive keywords such as disappear, mystery, vanished or murder might also yield helpful results.

Learn more about effective search techniques in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

3. Check old newspapers.

Newspapers in your ancestor’s hometown (or further afield) may have mentioned the incident. With a common name like William (or Bill) Nelson, you may need to weed out the overabundance of unwanted results you get. Let me show you how I did this in GenealogyBank, a popular genealogical newspaper website:
genealogybank initial search
The initial results of searching GenealogyBank (above) for the terms William Nelson and Los Angeles brought up over 1,000 search results! (The red arrow points to the tally.) Since I don’t like wasting valuable research time on irrelevant results (who’s with me?!), I refined the search. I specified Nelson as a last name, William as a first name, Los Angeles as a keyword, and I added a date range: the decade during which he disappeared. Next, I limited my search to Los Angeles-area newspapers, shown below:
genealogybank refine search
This search narrows results down to under 200: a robust number, but at least manageable to look through for relevant material.
I want to be able to use these same search parameters in the future, so I click Save My Search. The search now appears in My Folder for future reference.
newspaper research at GenealogyBank

4. Look for criminal records.

If you knew (or suspected) that a relative was prosecuted for a crime, it’s time to start looking for records relating to the criminal case. There may be several kinds:

  • In cases of suspicious death (where there was a body, unlike Lydia’s case), look for any surviving coroner’s records.
  • If a trial may have occurred, research the jurisdiction to find out what court would have handled it, and then look for files relating to the case.
  • If an ancestor may have served time, look for prison records. Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 29 is devoted to the topic of prison records.

 

Get inspired!

Read this article about a woman who was researching not one but two mysterious deaths on her family tree.

 

Want to help investigators lay to rest their own cold cases?

Click here to read about the Unclaimed Persons Project and how you can help.

Unclaimed Persons Project

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