Sunday, March 8, 2015

Are We Wrong About Preserving Old Photos?

William Setchel Learned, about 1900

I think we can all agree that preserving old photos is a good thing. But it takes a lot of effort to preserve individual photos. What's the best way to preserve them? How will we know they will still be accessible in the future?


When I first got interested in the idea of preserving old family photos my attention and efforts were focused on scanning individual photos. I scanned each photo as both a tif and a jpg file format. The tif is used to archive the photo at a high resolution and the jpg makes the image a reasonable size that can be shared via email or on the web.

I organized my photos with file names that attempted to identify the people, place and/or date of the photos. I also saved the photos to directories with relevant names. I didn't, however, create descriptions for the photos or add meta tag information to the photos.

It was quite a bit of work getting this far!

Digitizing the photos meant that the old family photos were much easier to share. I could share individual photos via email or on Facebook. I could also put a whole directory of photos on a CD or thumb drive to quickly share everything with family.


Soon I realized that simply scanning photos would not be enough to preserve them. And so I entered into the printing phase. As many of you already know, to this day the Library of Congress only accepts printed copies of books. With good reason! A printed book can last hundreds of years. A digital one will become obsolete quickly as file formats change and improve.

Thus the idea of printing photos came along in order to preserve them longer. I admit I never really caught on to the idea of printing all my old family photos. It's just not practical.

My extended family has digitally shared hundreds of old family photos. First there's the cost of printing that many photos, though admittedly these days it's fairly inexpensive. Another, perhaps more important consideration, is that your local pharmacy is now digitally printing them on a laser scanner rather than the photos being processed like in the old days. Laser printed photos don't last as long. And then there is the issue of organizing and storing all the printed copies.

Some of you are very good about spending the time to organize photos into boxes or albums. I am not. And, of course, let's add on the cost of buying archival quality boxes and albums. Yes, it is our family heritage we're preserving but I don't have lots of extra money lying around to spend on stuff like this.

Lastly, I just can't display 800+ photos in my house. I have room for maybe twenty ancestral photos to be displayed on walls and shelves. Any more than that is not an option.

So while I agree that printing is important, it just didn't happen for me.


The thing that has been on my mind lately has been cataloging. I'm starting to think that this is the best way to handle old family photos.

The idea is to create a catalog - a list - that contains the following information (if known): date of photos,  people in photo, location, file name, file formats (jpg and/or tif), description, name of owner of the original copy of the photo, date scanned. I think a file numbering system for the photos would also be appropriate. Photo type and size of photo would be nice too but that might be too much to ask if lots of different people are scanning their own collections.

Then I would print the catalog. I would put the catalog information in the front section and a copy of each image in the back section identified by the file number (this is simply for the sake of formatting and saving space. Photos would take up too much space if interspersed amongst the text.) The catalog would be printed as a book and shared with all family members. [Just to clarify, the catalog would contain the images. And not thumbnails. In some cases they could be full images but if the images are very large they could be reduced to about the 4x6 range.]

I like the idea of a catalog, while not as pretty as albums, because it lets everyone know what photos exist, when they were last scanned and who owns them. Then if an original photo disappears a search can be made from a more logical starting point. The durability of a book means it will last for a long time and we will know that all these photos existed at the time of printing.

A catalog also lets people determine whether they have a digital copy or not, based on the catalog. If they don't, they can then seek it out. People can pick and choose which photos they would like to print and display in their homes or use for other purposes.

What I don't know is whether any photo organization programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, has the ability to print a catalog such as this. I was thinking of creating a catalog in Excel and then formatting the photos myself. Then I would combine the two into a pdf document that can be printed. If the capability were already available in existing photo that might save time.

I asked my friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective  about her thoughts on the best way family historians can preserve their photos when they have limited time and money. Here's what she said:
"Preserving and organizing family photographs doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. It’s all about planning and work flow. Scan, label, and file are the key steps to caring for pictures. Free organizing software like Picasa, money-saving apps like Snip Snap and making use of programs you already have (like Excel) can manage money and minutes. I create an excel spreadsheet when sorting a collection, scan at 600 dpi, upload images to Picasa on my computer and then file everything in acid and lignin free boxes. Take small steps to avoid being overwhelmed and don’t be afraid to ask relatives to help."
More tips from Maureen can be found in her books Photo Organizing Practices and Preserving Family Photographs.

How do you preserve your family photos? Do you like the idea of creating a catalog or would you rather use archival boxes and albums? And if you know of an easier way that I can create my catalog please let me know!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Finding Charlotte

I have been searching for Charlotte for years. I have this irrational emotional attachment to her that some of us genealogists get about our ancestors. I am very protective of her. She died at age 33, a young wife and mother of two daughters. I guess what always bothered me was that she was alone. Her husband and daughters moved away after her death and she was alone in a cemetery without any family nearby.

Charlotte Hill Learned is my great, great grandmother. And one of my brick walls. She died in 1862 and appeared on only one census record with her husband and two very young daughters.

When I first started researching Charlotte some 10 plus years ago all I had was her name, Charlotte Hill, the information about her husband and children and nothing else. That was information that my mother had collected. Other than the 1860 Federal census I had no idea how my mother came up with the rest.

There was a note that Charlotte was from Delhi. I'm thinking "India?" Turns out that was a typo. It should have said Delphi. So now I'm thinking "Greece?"  Turns out that is just one of the many colorful names that New York gives to its towns along with Cicero, Cuba and Painted Post.

I discovered that Delphi Falls is a town in Onondaga County, New York. Associated with Delphi, and just to complete my international tour, is a place called Pompey. At this point I know that in the 1860s one was a village inside the other but I'm still not really sure which was which. Today they are both very small rural places.

I had thought that I could stroll in, use my sharp genealogical skills, and easily connect Charlotte to her family. The genealogy Gods laughed in my face. I found a Hill family in the 1850 US Federal census for Pompey, New York. There was a Charlotte of the right age in the family. The intrigue of unusual names continued with the discovery of a father named Orange, a brother named Erasmus and a later discovery of grandfather named Ensign. What a cast of characters! There must be a story there. The only thing was that I couldn't prove that this was my Charlotte.

I put the research away for many years, frustrated that I couldn't make any headway.

Then one year I was contacted by a 2nd cousin, Barb, who was also descended not only from Charlotte but from the same daughter, Clara Learned. Barb mentioned that she had the diary of William Chandler Learned, Charlotte's husband. I was thrilled to make the connection and to learn of the diary! But Barb had never read the diary so she couldn't tell me much about it. And with it being all the way on the west coast and me here in Boston, there was no chance I could get a peek at it.

Spring forward to August 2014 when Barb notifies me that she and her husband are coming to Massachusetts. She also revealed that she was going to loan me the diary so that I could read it and share its contents with the family. I was over the moon!

We had a very small reunion of Learned descendants which was wonderful in itself. Then I got a peek at the diary. The diary, unfortunately, started in 1866, four years after Charlotte's death.  Luckily, it was not a typical diary of the time with just two line entries describing the weather and what was planted. William Chandler Learned was a teacher and then a Baptist minister. His diary was long form text and he described his feelings and why he made certain decisions in life. A truly extraordinary document that covers the years from 1866 to 1908.

The diary does provide enough information to tie Charlotte Hill to her family in Delphi, New York but I'll save that story for another day. What still gnawed at me was the location of Charlotte's burial. Did she die and was buried in Alden, Erie County, New York, the location of the 1860 census entry? It seemed like the most logical place to me. Unfortunately, without being able to go in person I could not confirm this and there were many cemeteries in the small town of Alden.

The answer came in the form of diary entry. William, now in his 70s and living in Chicago, made a "final tour" of the old places in New York where he used to live. One of the places he visited was Charlotte's grave in Alden.

Here's the diary entry:

Charlotte Hill Learned's Grave as described in William Chandler Learned's diary
Click to enlarge
The entry (dated July 1901) reads:

"                                                            I 
visited Charlotte's grave. I was thankful
that friends had cared for the grave in
straightening up the headstone and
keeping the grass in good order. I was 
pleased to see that one who was Anne
Milne to me was buried by her side.
They were lovely in their lives and in
their death not-separated"
This confirmed for me that Charlotte was buried in the town of Alden, New York! But where? I had the added benefit of learning that she was buried next to her good friend, Anne Milne.

There was no entry for Charlotte or Anne on Nor were there mentions of their graves in the limited transcriptions for gravestones of cemeteries in Alden found on other genealogy websites.

I turned to local sources and found the Alden Historical Society website. I sent an email to the society asking if they had information about Charlotte's gravesite location. Societies often have unpublished transcriptions of their local cemeteries and this is what I was hoping for. I did not expect a reply quickly, knowing that societies have limited hours and are often short staffed.

Imagine my surprise when Alden Town Historian, Karen Muchow replied within a half hour. Regrettably, she had nothing on Charlotte in her records. I decided to try again. I researched Anne Milne, learning that she was the daughter of a Baptist clergyman. She was born in 1841, married a man named Orin Munger in 1862 and then died in 1864. I asked Karen to search for Anne since their graves were side by side.

It took a bit of work on Karen's part but she found them! Charlotte was buried under her maiden name of Hill rather than Learned. Karen was able to identify for me that both Charlotte and Anne are buried in Alden Evergreen Cemetery.

I finally felt at peace. Those of you who are genealogists will understand how I feel. The rest of you will just think I'm crazy. Knowing Charlotte's burial place has connected her to our family. Some day I hope to be able to make the trip to Alden to visit her grave so that she will know that she has not been forgotten.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What triggers your connection to family and the past?

This morning I had the pleasure of interviewing Israel Pickholtz via telephone for the Genealogy Professional podcast.  Israel was born in the United States, Pittsburgh specifically, and then settled in Israel.

I wasn't quite sure what I would encounter when interviewing Israel. I knew he spoke English but I wasn't sure how he would sound or whether he would have an Israeli accent. I went to high school with a boy from Israel so I was familiar with at least one type of Israeli accent.

My mother and her family come from Pittsburgh so I have strong connections, both sentimental and otherwise, with the area. Israel was raised there but left forty years ago.  But I knew the shared Pittsburgh connection would be a good starting point for us.

Imagine my surprise when I heard Israel's voice and it transported right back to my family gatherings. Israel has, whether he knows it or not (now he does!), a Pittsburgh accent when he speaks English.  His speech sounds exactly like that of my Uncle Bud.

I couldn't help but smile to myself the entire time during the interview. I had to wait until the end to let Israel in on my secret.

The surprising thing to me was how relaxed and comforted I found the sound of Israel's voice, the voice of a stranger. My Uncle Bud is someone I love dearly and thinking of him triggers all sorts of family memories for me. The sound of his voice transports me to family events full of laughter and being bear-hugged and twirled upside down as a kid by his strong arms. It makes me feel loved. Israel's voice took me right back to those memories, both recent and long ago in the past.

I don't live near Pittsburgh, and I suppose the accent probably changes with each generation so Pittsburghers today probably sound different. The Pittsburgh accent my uncle has is probably very common for people of his age. Yet for me it is something I associate specifically with him.

It's funny how something that could be fairly common like that can evoke such a strong response even when I hear the accent from a different source.  This was my very first time talking to and getting to know Israel and yet I had an immediate affinity for him because of the way he spoke. I find it powerful that just his accent could be comforting to me and have such a strong impact on me.

There are many triggers that remind of us of our families. Besides language, it could be triggers from photographs, shared membership in a club or organization, a smell, a sound.

Have you ever experienced being transported sentimentally by a trigger like this where you found comfort, calm or a sense of peace, even though logically without the trigger it would not normally happen?

I would love to hear your stories of how you have been transported back. In the mean time, I am going to spend a few more minutes enjoying the moment and the happiness that comes with remembering family memories.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Critical steps BEFORE choosing a blog or website name

This past weekend I participated in a panel about blogging for a genealogical society. I also had a friend visiting who wanted to reserve a domain name for a blog/website.  This really got me thinking about how to choose a name for a blog, a topic I have written about previously.

The more I started thinking about it, the more I realized that a lot or work has to be done before you can reserve your blog or domain name.  This follows whether you are setting up a Blogger or blog or whether you are setting up your own domain.

Here are some things you should consider:

1. How unique is the name you've selected?

You can answer this question easily by Googling your chosen blog name and seeing how many hits come up.  Are there other genealogists already using that name?  Are the words too common and appear in thousands of search results?  Are there one or more businesses in other industries already using the same name?  You want your blog name to be as unique as possible so that when your audience searches for you, your site will appear at the top of search engine results. If there are too many occurrences or variations of your blog name then you might want to consider picking a different one.

2. Is the Facebook page already taken?

People get all excited when they choose a blog name and find that the name is available either in Blogger or as a .com domain.  Unfortunately, they are disheartened after they reserve the name of their choice only to learn that the Facebook page vanity url has been taken by somebody else.  Check Facebook before you finalize your name in Blogger or purchase a domain! You can do this easily by typing the url directly -  Obviously, replace your chose name with the name you have picked out.  All is not lost if the name is taken. You can do variations with hyphens or abbreviations but you will always have to deal with the issue that your audience might go to the other page instead of yours.

3. Is your name too long for Twitter?

If your chosen blog name is lengthy or has multiple words then it may be too long to use the entire name for Twitter. The Twitter username or handle, the word following the @ symbol, is limited to 15 characters. You have two options on Twitter - your username and your real name.  My username is @marianpl and my real name is Marian Pierre-Louis. Real names can be up to 20 characters.  When I set up a Twitter account for my Fieldstone Common show I had to make a decision because it exceeded the 15 character username limit.  I chose to use @FieldstoneComm for the username and Fieldstone Common for the real name. In my profile I link back to my @marianpl profile. It is not as essential that you use your full blog name as your username on Twitter but you will still want to give some thought to make sure you select the best option possible.

4. Test across all social media

Are you using other social media sites such as Tumblr, Instagram or other sites?  You will want to check those sites as well to see if your blog name is free.  Checking across all possible social media sites before reserving your domain name will help you ensure you have the most unique and easy to find name.

Good luck selecting your blog name! Do the up front work but also have fun. And let me know if you have come across any other considerations that should be checked before reserving your blog name.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where Did My British Ancestry Go?

I was alerted by a post on Facebook from Megan Smolenyak that the Ancestry DNA results had been updated and refined.  I had done the DNA test in the last year or so and I was anxious to see what new details came to light.

Imagine my shock when I see the new details virtually erased my British ancestry!  (see before and after image)  In the first round of DNA testing Ancestry said I had 71% British ancestry. That fits pretty well with what I know about my ancestors.  In round 2 Ancestry relegates my ancestry from "Great Britain" to less than 1%. 

I can see that they are now separating out Ireland from Great Britain. I have one great grandparent with ties to Ireland. All the rest of my British ties come from England, Wales or Scotland.  The increase to 19% Irish seems very high. 

Also, my Scandinavian ancestry, of which I have no verification whatsoever from my own research, increased from 12% to 25%.  The only thing I can imagine is that I had long time ago Scandinavian ancestors who settled in Scotland.

Or maybe I'm looking at this all wrong.  After all I really don't understand the ins and outs of autosomal DNA.  Perhaps the testing represents what I've been given from my ancestors passed down through autosomal DNA instead of an even spread of DNA from all my ancestors.  Someone more knowledgeable will have to advise me on this.

At this point I am left with more questions about what Ancestry's DNA testing represents than I am with answers about my ancestry.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Voices from the Past

In 1989 My Mom headed to western Pennyslvania to visit her aunts and uncle and to collect some family history. My mom always brought family group sheets whenever she visited family but this time she also brought a tape recorder. My mom spent over an hour recording stories with her family.

A large hour-long file can be a bit unwieldly to listen to or share with others. If you use an audio editor you can edit down large files into small manageable bits. A file that is 1-5 minutes in length is perfect for sharing. Emailing to your family members or share them on your blog (but keep the files small so you don't run amiss of the hosts TOS).

Small audio tidbits such as this could be just the trick to get family members interested in hearing more!

Here you can listen to a sample of my mom's recording as she talks to her uncle about making wine.
family history.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why House History Clients are Different from Genealogy Clients

You might wonder why I'm writing this post on my genealogy blog instead of my house history blog. The answer to that is it's really directed at genealogists not house history researchers.

Lately I've been writing a lot about being a house historian and how I got started. Many genealogists do house histories part time and some even switch over to it full time. If you're going to make the leap keep in mind that house history clients are very different from genealogy clients. 

Here are some of the main reasons why:

1) They are not genealogists

Most genealogy clients are also genealogists themselves or have been exposed to genealogical research. Genealogy clients tend to hire a professional when they need help in a geographic area far from their home or need help with a brick wall.

Most house history clients are not genealogists nor are they even historical researchers. They do, however, tend to be history buffs. While there are genealogists in the house history community (they turn up a lot at my talks) they usually want to do the research themselves instead of hiring a professional. That makes complete sense because they have the skill set to do it.

2) They have a different agenda

House history clients may not even care about the history of their house (though most will). One common reason that people hire house historians is to determine the age of their house so that they can put an historic house plaque on the front. For these clients the original owner/builder might be the only previous owner they are interested in learning about.

These house history clients may or may not be working with a local historical society or commission who regulates the distribution of plaques. That all depends on the town where the house is located. In some towns home owners put up the plaques themselves. In other towns, epic battles can ensue between historic commissions and home owners about the age of a house. In that case a house historian will be brought in as the expert. In most cases, though, a house history simply hasn't been done yet to determine an accurate year (or range of years).

3) They are focused on the physical

Many historic home owners have specific questions that relate to the physical structure of their house. Sometimes they might want to know when the various sections of their house were built. In New England it's very common for an old house to have additions from different eras. Sometimes they might have a question such "I've been told there was a fire in this house. Is that true?" In cases like these it might be necessary to work with a historical contractor who can "read the walls" in addition to your work on archival research. Building relationships with other historic house professionals such as architectural historians and historic house contractors is an important aspect of house history work.

4) Expect to be given as a gift

A high percentage of house history reports (from my experience) are created as birthday and anniversary presents. Don't expect to prepare a first or a fifth year anniversary present but rather a 20th or 30th anniversary gift. As the years go by spouses look for more unusual presents to give to a partner who already has everything. House histories often make a distinctive and unusual solution. While it's true that genealogy reports are also given as gifts, you'll find it has a much higher ratio among house history clients.

5) House histories are a luxury product

Genealogists who hire professionals generally regard purchasing those services as necessary and essential. They are on a mission to trace their family history and nothing will stand in the way of accomplishing their goal. House history clients do not feel that sense of urgency. They are more likely to be people who have expendable cash and are looking for something unusual to spend it on (see #4 above). Therefore you'll want to pay careful attention to where you target your marketing efforts so that you can achieve beneficial results.

Did these differences surprise you? Have you found other ways in which house history clients are different from genealogy clients? Have you ever considered adding house histories to your range of client offerings? Let me know!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Great new Library Resource

Midwestern Microhistory by Harold Henderson
For those of you planning on doing research at the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Indiana life just got a whole lot easier.

Harold Henderson, CG, of the Midwest Roots blog and Midwestern Microhistory blog has published a new FREE pdf guide for genealogists to research at the ACPL.  The guide has a preparing "Before You Go" section as well as online finding aids. The guide the focuses on what to do after you arrive.

What I love about this guide is that it contains lots of photos and screen captures both of the library and its databases.  It allows the genealogist to become familiar with the library before ever setting foot in the building. That is a real time saver.

Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne: The Genealogist's Unofficial One-Stop Guide to the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center is the kind of tool every genealogist needs to keep in their bag of tricks.

I hope that more libraries (or bloggers!) will consider making a resource guide like this readily available.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Revolutionary Challenge - Following Judy's Lead

Can you imagine viewing the face of someone who witnessed the Revolutionary War? It seems far fetched doesn't it? Not to mention distant and long ago.  Now imagine a child who has little sense of time viewing that picture and imagining the world of possibilities as they create in their mind a story of the birth of the United States. What an incredible way to spark the curiosity of children and adults and give the Revolutionary War and its witnesses a living voice!

A week ago Photo Detective Maureen Taylor and Verissima Productions initiated a Kickstarter campaign to provide seed money for an ambitious project. (For those of you who don't know what Kickstarter is read a quick description from their website.)

Maureen Taylor wants to bring the face of the Revolutionary Era to a documentary.

Check out this video to see what it's all about:

Not long after, Judy Russell, CG, author of the Legal Genealogist blog, presented a challenge offering to match the donation of the first 50 contributors with a $5 pledge of her own.  Please read Judy's post to learn her story and why this was so important to her.

Judy reached her goal!

I don't want that momentum to fade!

I am willing to provide a $5 match, just as Judy did, for the first 40 people who become a backer for the Revolutionary Voices Kickstarter project. All you have to do is donate $1 minimum and I will provide a $5 match.  Then leave a comment on this post or send me an email and let me know about your pledge. After 40 people contribute at least $1 to the kickstarter campaign I will contribute another $200 to the project.

Some people have been having fun with their pledges. Maureen mentioned that she had received a pledge for $17.76 and another for $1776.  Now that's getting into the spirit!


Why am I doing this?

Do I have the extra money just lying around to do this? No, not really. But this kind of project is important to me.  Life is a participation sport and this is the kind of legacy I want to leave behind. I want people to say "Marian helped with that!" and "Preserving history is the kind of thing that Marian got passionate about!" Add in a mix of old photographs and the Revolutionary War and what could be more perfect and meaningful?

I hope you'll follow Judy's inspiration and help me contribute even more to this project!

Foot note:
Is there anyone after me who will take up the mantel after my pledge drive is done? Let's keep the momentum going!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Big News from Legacy in 2013!

So far 2013 has brought good things and lots of exciting news. The latest BIG news, from Legacy Family Tree, is that their webinars are now available 24/7.

I'm a big supporter of Legacy Family Tree webinars and not just because I'm a speaker. As someone who has a young, active family I have a hard time getting to national genealogy conferences. In fact, I have never been to one. When Legacy started presenting webinars they provided an alternate way for me to get continuing education via the internet right from my home.  I can watch a webinar with five kids running around, screaming and playing and no one is the wiser! I really appreciate that.

Just this week Legacy Family Tree has introduced Legacy Family Tree Webinars - a new site and a new approach to watching webinars and learning about genealogy.

The webinars are now available by a monthly or annual subscription. The subscription allows you to view webinars anytime and from anywhere (as long as you have an internet connection) as well as accessing the accompanying handouts. The cost of the subscription is $9.95 monthly and $49.95 annually. Currently there are nearly 100 webinars available for viewing. And you can still purchase individual CDs if that is the route you prefer to go.

Yes, you can still watch the webinars LIVE for FREE. That hasn't changed. Nor has the great door prizes that Geoff gives away each week. This is really the best of both worlds. Free for those who like to watch live and instant access to all webinars for those who like to watch at a time more convenient to their schedule.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

For more information see the press release from Legacy Family Tree.