Archive for the ‘15-Minute Family History’ Category

Last night, while my friend Cheryl and I were sitting in my driveway watching the kids blow up things, we got to talking.

“I once had a friend who said that one of the guys in KISS was her cousin,” Cheryl told me.

“Yeah,” I said, “I had a friend who said she was related to Jesse James.” (Aren’t we all?)

Cheryl went on, “The same girl told me that she had a cousin in Bachman Turner Overdrive when they went through town. In fact, I think she may have had a cousin in every band that played in the 70’s.”

We both laughed. Everyone knows someone who has a “cousin.”

Family history is full of legends and lies. And there are plenty of articles with great advice on how to slog through them in pursuit of your family facts – Cyndi’s List has a whole section dedicated to collecting oral history.  But today is about taking the road less traveled.   Today is about embracing the legends and loving the lies.*

Lucy & Wayne Hancock

Lucy & Wayne Hancock (note the Bible Wayne is holding)

Take my Grandfather Hancock.  (This is, by the way, the first time in my life that I have ever referred to him as my Grandfather.  Anywho…)  He left my grandma, thirty-one and pregnant, high and dry with seven children at the height of the Depression. That’s a fact. My dad, the youngest, never met his biological father. That’s a fact too. But it is at the line where fact meets legend that Grandpa Hancock gets interesting. Wayne Hancock, so the story goes, was a traveling preacher, and would be gone from his family for months at a time. When I was thirteen, I overheard my Dad and a few of his siblings speculating at a family reunion that their father probably had another family “up river” somewhere. Maybe even two! Scandalous – yes. Intriguing – absolutely!

Then there’s his genealogy. Family reports suggest that Wayne was anywhere from eight to fifty percent Blackfoot, but exhaustive research has yet to unearth even one Native American in his line. Oh, and that claimed relation to Declaration signer John? Also unsubstantiated as of today. (Though I admit that I’m still holding out hope on that one.) And finally, even his name is still up for debate: half the family will put their hand on the Bible and swear his middle name was Tecumseh, named for the 19th century Shawnee leader. Cool, huh? But no record supports this, and census records indicate that his middle name began with an “F” and not a “T.” Those who cling to the myth simply dismiss the disparity, blaming Spencerian scrawl.

My point is, yes, I recognize that 98% this is richly embellished family folklore.  But somewhere, under most family stories is a kernel of truth; it just takes the time and dedication to peel away the outer layers of malarkey.  And if even no truth is found when you get to the center, the story still bears recording somewhere (albeit far from the Fact File).  Because whether they are about royalty or riches, rock stars or rogues, these stories are little threads woven into our family fabric.  These stories, and what we think about them, say something not only about their subjects, but about who we really are.  They tell a truth of a different kind.

*Note:  Unfortunately, some family stories are simply hurtful.  Stop them.  This post isn’t in any way about perpetuating painful gossip.

15-Minutes Family History: Consider one family legend.  What are the details of the story?  Do you remember where you first heard it?  Does the family disagree on the “facts”?  What do you think?  Record these things in a journal or other appropriate place; just be sure to note the nature of the entry!

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As a child, much of my time in the weeks preceding Christmas was spent in my mother’s kitchen, turning the handle of a little nut mill, while Mom and her friend, Betty, made cookies with intriguing names like Joe Froggers, Thumbprints, and Swiss Chews.

As we worked, Mom would reminisce about the holiday kitchen of her childhood – where she learned from her own mother, among other things, how to make a perfect pie. As a result, many of my treasured images of my maternal grandmother (who died when I was only three) come not from hazy memory or aging photographs, but from stories told in my mother’s kitchen, evoked by the aroma of warm walnuts and thick chocolate.

Holiday kitchens are filled with family history – heirloom recipes and family stories fold together as readily as melted chocolate folds into beaten eggs and brown sugar. Spend some time with your ‘family chefs’ this season: take pictures, write down “secret recipes,” record recollections – and add another rich ingredient to your family history.

Today, it is my eight year-old turning the crank of the little nut mill, surrounded by the smells of Christmas. Sitting on our kitchen stool, she listens to me as I tell her about baking Swiss Chews with her Grammi; and gaining, I hope, a few sweet memories of her own.

From the kitchen of Clella Mae Hancock

12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped

Melt chocolate over boiling water and let cool. Beat eggs and add sugar gradually, beating until thick. Fold in chocolate and remaining ingredients. Drop onto non-stick cookie sheet or parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 dozen.

Tips for gathering heirloom recipes:

  1. Watch and learn—For those with relatives from the “pinch-and-dash” school of cooking, time spent together in the kitchen offers a unique opportunity to gather family recipes that may not otherwise be accurately recorded – Grandma might “forget” to write down that extra pinch of a special something on a recipe card, but she’s sure to remember to throw it in when she’s making a batch with you.
  2. Ask questions—Find out as much as you can about the history of the recipe. Ask, Who first made this? Do you remember the first time you made it? Why is this a family favorite?
  3. Record it all in your Family Photoloom account. Try to take a picture of the item, and then record the recipe in the “Picture Notes.” The picture and recipe can then be indexed (attached) to Grandma by using the “Other” field in the Relationship Setter.

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Holiday photo-cards are a great source of heirloom-worthy photo-history. They chronicle the growth of children (and the aging of parents!), new marriages, new babies, and sometimes even include pets and home exteriors. For many, the annual holiday photo may be the only image from that year that includes everyone in the family. If you have access to a scanner, take a few minutes to scan these special images when they arrive. Then be sure to upload them to your Family Photoloom account so you can tag each person and link everyone – including friends and pets – to your family history.

But then what? In years past, I struggled over what to do with all those photo-cards once they were scanned – along with the collection of beautiful handmade cards and family letters that arrive in our mailbox every holiday season. In my perfect world, they would be painstakingly scrapbooked and on display in a satin-lined album with gilded edges, but in the rush of the season, they were lucky to make it into the “keep for later” box.

Then a few Christmases ago, I received a festively decorated binder as a gift from my daughter Laura. Filled with plastic sheet protectors and brightly colored paper dividers denoting a decade of Christmases to come, it offered a perfect, effortless solution for preserving our holiday treasures.

To make your own “Holiday History Binder,” all you need is a 3-ring notebook, some acid-free and archival safe plastic sheet protectors, and a little imagination.

Decorating can be as easy as slipping a special picture into the front of a view-binder, or as involved as making a fabric-covered album like the one Laura made for me. Either way, once complete, it takes only a few minutes to slide those special cards, photos, and letters into the sheet protectors, and your holiday history is preserved, ready to share and enjoy for generations to come.

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This has been a pivotal week for our family (and our family history) – my oldest daughter gave birth to her first child, making Scott and I grandparents for the first time, and in the 50-some hours since baby Kyah Renee (the middle name is for me!) arrived, I’ve spent a lot of time holding her and feeling very blessed. These have been blissful, thoughtful moments, and I feel the generations past so very near, looking over my shoulder with great love and affection.

I’ve also had some time to think on less weightier, but nevertheless critical issues – like what I’d like my grandkids to call me. Now, I realize that there’s a better than even chance that at some point, a child, (maybe even this one) may hang an unexpected moniker on me, like Gigi or Mima or Gramma Buttons, but until that time, I don’t want to just be “the nice lady with the long hair who’s always calling us on Skype and sending weird little presents…yeah, Mommy’s mom.” I need a Gramma Name.

We interrupt our blog for this important announcement ~
Voting for Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs is almost over, so please take a moment right now to vote for your favorites. Of course, we hope you’ll vote for Above the Trees – we’re listed in Photos/Heirlooms (Category #9). You can vote for just one blog, or as many as forty.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post…
Family names – that is to say, the names that we call one another within our own families – are an important (and often overlooked) piece of family history. Some are passed from generation to generation. Others come about from childish mispronunciations, or have a special story attached to them. Often they reflect ethnicity, heritage, or culture: in our family, for example, my son-in-law is Armenian, and so Kyah, blessed to live in a trilingual home, will call her Armenian grandparents “Papik” and “Tatik.”

Which brings me to this week’s 15-Minute Family History Assignment:
As family historians, we take great pains to accurately record each individual’s name, but do we take time to record their family names? Was your father “Dad” or “Pop?” Did your brother have a nickname? Did you? What did you call your grandparents? My maternal grandparents weren’t only Lester Alfred and Edna Fern – to me, they were and will always be “Poppy” and “Ma.” Take a few minutes to record those special family names, as well as any stories that go with them.

Family Photoloom Bonus:
Nicknames and universal family names (as in, everyone calls him “Buster”) can be recorded in Picture Notes on the individual’s icon picture, or in an Individual Record as part of their name (e.g., Carl “Buster” Bridgmon).

Two-generation family names (parent/child) are easy to record in the Relationship View. Simply drag an individual into the relationship setter and click on any other individual for whom a relationship has been set. Then record the Family Name in the space provided at the top of the screen. For example, when I put my mother in the center of the Relationship Setter and click on her father, I can record that “Lester is a “Pop” to Clella Mae” in the relationship information that appears at the top of the page.

Grandparent and other multi-generational family names can be recorded in Picture Notes, or in an Individual Record.

P.S. I’m staying traditional for now, and going with “Grammi.”

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I have a lot of opportunities to talk with folks about their family photos, and one commom lament is, “I don’t have anything. It was all lost in a (fire/flood/tornado).” Or, “My third cousin ‘borrowed’ them all years ago, and we haven’t seen them since.” Or simply, “My family didn’t keep any family photos.”

Then we get to talking a little more, and I ask, “You have a picture of yourself, right?”

“Of course I’ve got pictures of myself.”

“What about your parents? Do you have any pictures of them? Or your children?”

“Well, yeah, I’ve got lots of pictures of them. But I mean family history pictures. I don’t have any OLD pictures.”

Let’s stop right there. Remember, the first word in family history is FAMILY. That includes you, and it includes now! And, as with anything, when you are just starting out, the best approach is start simple, and go from what you know (or what you have) to what you don’t know (or what you don’t have). So let’s start with what you do have:

Start your Pictorial Family History:

  1. Make a list of your immediate family members – parents, children, spouse – and look to your own pictures to find an image of each person on your list. You don’t need to start with a lot of pictures – in the case of family history preservation, one picture is infinitely better than none.
  2. If the images you have chosen are not already digitized, scan them, or have someone to scan them for you.
  3. Add your grandparents and their other children (your aunts and uncles) to your list. Do you have photos of them? Scan those too. Also, make a list of what you don’t have. (We’ll discuss how to deal with that in an upcoming installment.)
  4. Create a file on your computer labeled “Family History Images” (or something like that). Copy all of your family history images into that file. (If you have a lot of images, you may need to create sub files.)
  5. Upload your images onto your free Family Photoloom account, and tag all the individuals. Then go into the “Relationship View” and drag each individual into the relationship setter. You now have a 3-generation chart complete with pictures on your screen, with the potential for literally infinite family lines and relationships.

Each of these steps should take you fifteen minutes or less. Do one a day for a week (with weekends off!) and you will be on your way!

Next week: Protecting Your Precious Family Photos

Free genealogy tutorials and classes for beginners:

Do you have a great idea for our 15-Minute Family History series? Email it to me at renee at photoloom dot com. I’d love to hear about how you are getting your family history done, one bite at a time!

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About a month ago, I attended the Salt Lake Family History Expo as a “Blogger of Honor” (cue the Baroque trumpets) and had the opportunity to attend a number of exceptional classes, taught by the cream of the family history crop. I returned home to Oregon all fired up and ready to start shooting out one blog entry after another detailing all the great information I gathered. But then…

…September started, and for anyone with kids at home, you know that what that means. Some days, I can’t find half an hour to call my own.

This all led me to an inspiration: At the Family History Expo, I attended a class called 15-Minute Family History, presented by Kim Woodbury & Deborah Lambert, both of FamilySearch. Kim & Deborah focused their combined knowledge on attacking family history one chunk at a time, and offered practical advice for breaking down this overwhelming lifetime project into achievable bite-size tasks.

That’s just what we need!

So, for the next couple of months, I’ll be exploring this idea, and particularly how it relates to photo-history, in a new weekly series, “15-Minute Family History.” (Can’t improve on that title.) Here’s a little incentive to stay tuned: If you use just one 15-minute idea once a week, at the end of the month, you will have completed a whole hour of practically painless family history work. What if you devoted fifteen minutes twice a week? Or every day? Think of the possibilities!

Want to get started right now? (Prepare for a shameless – but extremely relevant – endorsement of Family Photoloom.) In just fifteen minutes, you can open a free Family Photoloom account, upload a five or six pictures, tag the faces, set all the relationships in the relationship setter, and invite your family to share in their family history. Boom! Family history – 15-Minutes.

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Cemetery Sleuths, Part 1
Cemetery Sleuths, Part 2

Congratulations, Detectives! Your CSI (Cemetery Sleuth Investigation) Team has identified the scene and you’re ready to gather evidence. Here’s a family-friendly method for making gravestone rubbings.

You will need:

  • Tracing Paper or Freezer Paper (works well even if stones are damp or wet) or Acid-free Vellum (for archival-quality rubbings)
  • Thick, dark-colored crayons with the labels removed
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Small spray bottle of water
  • Hand towel
  • Partner
  • Cardboard tube – for storing paper and finished rubbings

Select a solid gravestone and gently clean dirt and debris from the face using a soft bristle brush, and water if necessary. Have your partner hold the paper over the gravestone. (If using freezer paper, put the shiny side down.) With the flat side of the crayon, rub the entire area using gentle, even strokes. Before removing the paper, step back and check to see if you have completely rubbed all areas. When finished, it is a good idea to note somewhere on the rubbing where it was taken. Roll your paper up carefully so you don’t crease it or smudge the tracing.

Cemetery Sleuth Code of Conduct: A good detective never disturbs the evidence. In other words, “Do no harm.” Always gain permission to do rubbings before you begin. Do not do rubbings on thin or unstable stones. Carelessness can cause damage to gravestones, and for this reason, some cemeteries do not permit gravestone rubbing.

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