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For every story told in my family, there are innumerable mysteries. I wish I had asked more questions of my relatives when they were alive to get answers to those burning questions I have now.

My grandmother

For instance, my father’s mother – the one who had 14 children (see Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14)- once told me when I was a  teenager that she traveled in every state in the United States, except 2. She died in 1981 at the age of 84 and to my knowledge she lived in poverty for most of her life. My grandfather died in 1962 and my grandmother never re-married. I don’t know when or how my grandmother did her traveling. I don’t doubt that she did it, but it surprises me that she had the desire to see our country and that I never heard of her travels.

Ruby

I went to visit my mother’s mother in Washington, D. C. in 1983. Ruby left my mother’s family when my Mom was  a baby. She reportedly robbed a train and served 3 or 4 years in prison. (see Archive the Photo AND Tell the Story: Ruby)When I visited my grandmother, the woman who I only saw 2 previous times in my life, I was polite with her, caught up on her current life, let her visit with my 18 month old son, but didn’t ask her too questions about her life. For example, what she did after her prison sentence, what her life was like when she was growing up, how she met her husband – my grandfather, and was it true that she was a secretary for a congressman in Washington, D.C. She did tell me that she grew up Catholic, and that her childhood wasn’t a happy one. She had a doll baby that belonged to my mother that had a ceramic face – and I didn’t ask how it survived her years in prison. I wish I could have that visit over again.

My father - World War II

My Dad was in World War II (see The Front Line) and his war experience at the age of 20 in Europe in the midst of war, must have been incredible. My sisters and I asked him several times about his war years, but he refused to talk about it. We knew he was injured 3 different times (see blog), but he would only talk about the funny things. We have re-created his trek through Europe and the battles that he must have been in, but it would have been rich to hear his impression of this  personal, but historic adventure.  I relished the 50th anniversary of World War II when veterans of this war finally talked about their years in the war.

All Skate

I came across a website a few months ago that features the untold story.  http://www.AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com accepts personal family photos and stories that leave the website visitor wondering about the circumstances surrounding these submissions. For example http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/02/28/all-skate/ shows us a family skating at a local ice rink. I can only wonder about the tradition leading up to this photo.

<Ancestry.com® is having a contest called The Ultimate Family History Journey™ to help their customers find answers to their family mysteries. The winner gets $20,000, 8 hours with a genealogy expert, and additional experts to fill in the blanks. Perhaps that’s how I might get some answers to my questions.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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So You’re the Family Archivist

It isn’t easy being the family archivist and in charge of database of the family stories, documents, photos, and videos. It takes years to research, collect, and verify the family stories, photos, and videos. It also is a mammoth effort to organize this information with a timeline and familial relationships to  give to generations of family members. Where do you start and how do you get a handle on this task? Take a look at these tools that will help you as you take on the role of family historian.

Gathering The Information

Scan photo

Kimmy

Start by asking around the family for stories and photos. Interview your older relatives. Let them know that you are starting the project of gathering and archiving the family story. My Aunt Bert passed along letters that my Dad had written her in World War II when he was just 19. And the only color photograph of me as a child was given to me by my aunt after my parents died. If your relatives don’t remember what might be in that memory box in the closet, ask them to look. Or sit down with them as they go through the box and ask them detailed questions about those photos, making notes as you discuss or set up a video camera to record the details of the conversation.

Look online. The internet is a haven of great information. Cyndi’s List of Genealogy sites has a plethora of links that will help you in your search to find the missing information and also tools to help you organize it. Genealogy Bank is the largest database of historical newspapers from around the country. I found an article from 1897 about my grandfather as a teenager. I also found about 25 articles about my father growing up. It is not a free database, but they do have short-term subscriptions.

Article from Newspaper Archive

Some software packages enable accessing online databases, such as census information. Here is a review of the features of the Top Ten genealogy software packages for a PC and here is a spreadsheet with a listing and features for the Top Ten genealogy software packages for a Mac. Don’t forget about the Ancestry.com as well. It is probably the best known aid in online searches for information. They have discussion groups that allow access to family members only.

Get your kids involved. The Unwritten – Saving your photo Stories for the Future is a website that focuses on children. This website has excellent tips and teaching components for children.

If family members live around the country, set up Google Docs, which is a sharing site where all family members can access the same document. Use this document to write about your ancestors and family and encourage others to add to it. Emphasize that no one is right or wrong about the information – that each entry is just a piece of the puzzle. Everyone thinks differently and has a separate point of view because of his life experience. Pose questions and allow all to answer. Some software programs also allow private forums or discussions that will allow the same sharing among family members.

Organizing It All And Share It With Others

Tell your Story and archive your photos

Picture This! is a company in Austin, Texas that provides a professional service that helps you sort through your heritage photographs. Picture This! digitizes and restores your photos with extreme gentle care. After Picture This! completes the scanning, they return a DVD  with folders of organized heirloom photographs. Often family members add a .pdf document to the folder of photos to complement the photos with the family story.

Videos – reels and tapes – are also digitized by Picture This! for archival purposes and to share with family members. DVD slideshows DVD slideshows and Memory Books are also great options and gifts for family members.

Blogs are great way to pair the family story with photos. It might be cumbersome to write a book, but taking each family story, one at a time, and presenting it in a blog to share with family members is manageable for the writer and for the reader. Picture This! has a blog called Sharing Your Family’s Memories dedicated to telling the family story. Other examples and helpful tips for writing a blog is found at Writing Your Memories and Genealogy Wise. Triggers for writing about family stories is found in a booklet called “Memoring my Memories” by Emily Aulicino. WordPress and Blogger are both free online blogging software sites.

iPhoto is a Mac photo software package that enhances photo organization with facial recognition and editable metadata. This software organizes photos by album, by event, or by person.

Memory Miners goes one step further and uses genealogy software to integrate heirloom photos into the timelines and family tree. There are people views and map views and it creates a GEDCOM family tree complete with photos. Add audio and video recordings with text annotations to complete the family story.

Story Corps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. They collect stories across the country. They have a list of questions to use when getting started with your interview, and they have a mobile bus that travels from city to city with equipment to make a recording of your family story.

LifeStories Alive makes personal history videos for families using their heritage. They create family heirloom in video – digitally mastered records of life stories with personal accounts, photos, and mementos of family history.

Tell me Your Story is another company that preserves your family history. Located in Austin, Texas, this company produces a book from oral interviews that are audio taped. Photos and documents complete the pertinent story. An embossed hardback book on archival paper is the finished product. Contact them directly to get more information.

Back It All Up

After doing all the research and organization, don’t forget the last step. Put this information on reliable media and have it stored in more than one place. Archival DVDs  last 100 years if stored properly. Make sure to back up any information that you have online. Make duplicate copies of photos and videos to a DVD or hard drive. Send this second copy to a place outside your house (sister’s house or safe deposit box) in case of fire. Don’t rely on photo sharing websites for  your backup. The images stored online are usually small and not large enough for archival purposes.

Generations from now, our children and grandchildren will not tiptoe into our closets and retrieve “the box” of photos and documents that tell our story. With a bit of concentrated effort and some guidance from these resources, our stories will be richer and more accessable for those who are seeking their family story.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

Picture This! http://www.picturethisaustin.com

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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My Dad’s mother, my paternal grandmother – had over 50 grandchildren (See: Being a Middle Child #7 of 14). She did her best to make each of her grandchildren feel special, but with that many it was not an easy task. I do remember cheering at a Pee-Wee football game (See: Football Boogie ) and when doing the cheer “Teams in a huddle, Captains at the head. Out comes the coach and this is what he said . . . ” I bent over to be in a huddle and the back seam of my corduroy cheerleading pants ripped. My Dad took me across the street from the park to my grandmother’s house and she stitched up my pants so that I could return to my game. That is one of the few memories I have of being with her alone and having a typical interaction that most grandmothers and granddaughters probably have. Usually there were dozens of cousins there whenever we visited her. I can’t remember sitting on her lap at all or having her visit our house. We had giant family Christmas parties in one uncle’s basement and Grandma would give out 50 envelopes with $1 each in them. All of her grandchildren were remembered equally and fondly, but I missed out on something in that relationship.

Lil at our house for Christmas

I saw my other grandmother only 2 times in my life. She ran off with another man when my mother was a baby and proceeded to rob a train with him. She spent some time in prison (See: Archiving Photos and Videos, But Most Importantly Preserving the Family Story ). She visited our house when I was in 8th grade and I remember almost every minute of that visit, almost like it was a few days ago. My mother  tolerated her mother’s visit, but avoided her hugs and refused to call her “mother”.  She called her Ruby instead. Ruby seemed interested in getting to know us, but didn’t ask detail questions about our activities. She wasn’t around long enough to become very acquainted with the details of our lives.

When I was first married, I heard that Ruby was bitten by a rat while sleeping in her apartment and was hospitalized. Though I didn’t know her, it bothered me that my grandmother was living in such conditions. I received a small bonus at my first job for Christmas and sent her the check that I received. Afterwards, she started writing me telling me bits and pieces about her life.  I visited her  when I was pregnant with my second child. She lived in the projects in Washington, D.C. and when I parked my car to walk to her apartment, I was very nervous. I didn’t know how to start to build a relationship with her. I was intrigued, but didn’t feel I could ask her many questions about her past. We had a pleasant visit for a couple of hours. She did show me a china doll that my mother had when she was a child and introduced me to some of her friends. I wanted to ask her a zillion questions, but instead settled for a few moments of politeness and a short getting-to-know-you session. I remember most that she stuttered when on the telephone, like my mother did, and also made a circle with her thumb and forefinger, weaving them around each other when she was nervous. She was a nice lady, but it was hardly an intimate relationship.

Lil and a Photo of her late husband

While I didn’t have grandmothers present in my life, I did have Lil. She was my mother’s best friend and though not related to us in any way, she was a very special person in our lives. My mother met Lil when my Mom first moved to Ohio to work in factory there. My mother lived with her brother at first, but my uncle moved on and my Mom didn’t know a soul in her new town. She met Lil at her boarding house and they fast became friends. They behaved like sisters.

Lil didn’t drive and lived in an apartment downtown. She was not married and on Sunday, at least twice a month, my Dad would go pick her up and bring her to our house for the day. Lil usually asked him to stop at a grocery store and she would pick up a quarter bag of candy or a box of donuts for our family to share. Sometimes, she would make her famous deviled eggs or pineapple pie to bring. Lil was part of our family celebrations whether it was Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mother’s Day, or all of our birthdays. At the end of the day, we all piled into our car to take Lil home.

One Easter morning, the weather was bad and we were unable to have out Easter egg hunt outside. We improvised and held it indoors. Lil fully participated and allowed us to hide eggs around her chair. Lil was about 5 feet tall probably weighed 200 pounds. She had a very cushy lap to sit on and she was comfortable to cuddle with. That day, we hunted eggs for hours and Lil ended up having an egg in her chest pocket of her shirt dress for quite some time. She laughed until tears rolled down her face, because it should have been obvious that an egg was there. But with her extra padding, no one realized where the egg was hidden until she revealed it. It was an especially good hiding place.

Lil and her pie at Thanksgiving

When I started dating Paul in high school, he and Lil fast became friends. They would conspire against me and gently tease me on her visits. For graduation from high school, she gave me a pearl necklace for a gift. It was very special to get that from her. I knew that she didn’t have much money and that she had sacrificed to give such a gift.

When Lil became older, she had several health problems. I visited her whenever I came home from college. She would sit with me and tell me stories about her life. She told me about her marriage. She knew a man for several years and was deeply in love with him. He was married. He was a doorman for the “mob” during prohibition and made sure that no one entered the speakeasy and gambling facility. My home town was called “Little Chicago” because of the gang activity there during Prohibition. Lil made deposits at the bank for the mob, carrying the money in the pockets of large overcoat to the bank. No one suspected that she was a participant in illegal activity. After several years, he divorced his wife and married Lil. He died after a couple of years of marriage. I heard that the mob family in town paid for her apartment until she died.

Lil died when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. I lived in Texas and couldn’t return to Ohio for the funeral. Before I left for Texas, she gave me a rattle for my yet-to-be-born baby. My heart ached to not be there for her at the end. She exemplified what it was to have a grandmother. And as Barbara Bush said, “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and just being there.” Lil was there for us.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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My Mom couldn’t stand to have a question and not have the answer to it. Our small farm house had two sets of encyclopedias when I was growing up. We couldn’t afford the World Book from the salesman that came by, but my resourceful father found a Funk and Wagnall’s set at a garage sale. It was the subject of many jokes on Laugh-In, but in our household it was a prized possession The set was only 5 years old and had fairly recent information. Through the years, we acquired a used set of Encyclopedia Britannica as well. It was my mother’s treasure to have access to those books and, more importantly, the information contained on those pages.

My grandfather was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse (see The Story Part of Family History)  and he had the strong belief that education could change circumstances for people. They had no electricity in their household, so each night my mother, her brothers and her father would read by lamp light until bedtime. When they didn’t have resources for food, they somehow found a book to read. Perhaps my mother’s thirst for knowledge was part of my grandfather’s legacy.

Scan Photos

Library Contest Winner in First Grade - My essay about my favorite book

As a child, we frequented the library often. They knew us by first name there. All 5 of us would spend an hour picking out our best guess of a new favorite book. I knew how to use the card catalog many years before my peers. It contained the key to finding the next great book. Mom would leave us in the children’s section sometimes so that she could find books that interested her, mostly historical fiction. She actually read history textbooks. We all marched out of the library with a stack of books taller than we were. It was 30 miles to our library, so my mother arranged for the county bookmobile  – a large RV equipped with books – to park in our driveway twice a month. Essentially our books came to us. If we called the library, they would send books that we requested to our stop. My family was their best customer, for sure.

VHS to DVDs, Family Memories

Library contest winner for essay on Favorite Book - 1st Grade

I still surround myself with books, both fiction and non-fiction. They fill my shelves with great reading material, but they also provide comfort of my memories from my childhood. My night stand is filled with my next 15 books to read. It is the best pleasure to read in bed and devouring the story contained in those books. You’ll never find me with a Kindle. I love to hold the paper variety in my hands.

My sister has 4 children and has received a good number of “Why?” questions from her children. She answers them with a very simple statement. She says to them, “Look it up, Mary.”, meaning take after your Grandmother Mary and research it yourself. My nieces and nephew find their answers on the internet. My mother would have loved Google. But then maybe she wouldn’t have had the love affair with books that she enjoyed all her life. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

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I grew up in a Brethren church or rather my parents dropped us off at a nearby Brethren church every Sunday morning. The Church of the Brethren is rather like a Mennonite church. Their “Thou Shalt Nots” number far more than the Ten Commandments. Most specifically, our church didn’t believe in war. There was a volunteer service available to any young men who would be drafted, as they could easily get a 4F status for being a conscientious objector.

Picture This Austin EasterWe felt very welcome there, even without our parents attending with us.  I was sure if I ever heard God talk, He would sound just like Pastor Fells sounded. He had a big booming voice that was clear and kind, deep and warm. His words made sense to me and I felt the community and God’s love that existed there.

It was a bit strange for us to be orphans in our church, orphans in the sense that our parents didn’t attend with us.  We attended Sunday school and then went directly into the church service. I was the oldest girl in our family, so I would round up my three younger sisters and find a place for us to sit together. Our aunt and uncle would include us in their pew, but sometimes we would get moved from one pew to another so that entire families could sit together. I don’t remember getting in trouble for talking or anything, but I’m sure our behavior wasn’t perfect for four young girls under the age of 11. My older brother attended with us sometimes, but he was five years older and probably sat with his teenage friends.

I remember one sermon when I was a teenager that stressed the importance of Baptism and being saved. I was ready to go to the altar to ask to be saved, baptized and then become a member of the church. But before I got the courage to do it, I wanted to ask my parents why they didn’t go to church. Because if they didn’t go to church, would they go to heaven? It concerned me greatly that if we went to church without them, we could also end up in heaven without them.

Campbell0011 - Version 2I asked my Mom  about it first. She had alluded to an incident that happened to her when she was young. She didn’t grow up with her mother as I have explained previously in the post Archive the Photo AND Tell the Story: Ruby. After her mother left their household, my mother attended a church and was surrounded by the women of her church who prayed for my mother. My mother was sensitive and ashamed that her mother was in prison and felt that she was being condemned by these women. She thought they expected her to also end up as her mother had. My mother avoided church all of her adult life because of this incident. She assured me that she didn’t think it was necessary to attend church. She didn’t like being “religious”, instead explained that she was spiritual and believed in Jesus.

It was harder to talk to my dad about it. He joked about everything, and this seemed a serious subject, one that we tended to avoid in our family. I approached him and simply asked him to go to church with us next Sunday, that I was going to be saved and I wanted him to be there. And I asked him if thought about getting into heaven. I will never forget his words and his tone. He was deeply serious and his voice trembled – I couldn’t tell if from anger  or conviction. He told me that it was impossible to dig  a foxhole one morning during WWII and know that while you were digging it that you would be wounded by enemy fire that day. And he was hit by enemy fire that day and hospitalized for 10 months for injuries sustained during that attack. (See The Front Line) He said he knew his relationship with God was solid and that he made his peace with God during that time. I replied “Yes Sir” and didn’t push the matter of him attending my baptism.

I knew that our family was not the usual church family. My parents didn’t feel the need for church. But for some reason, they dropped off us off every Sunday. They gave us the gift of deciding for ourselves. And I do think that it was part of God’s plan.

 

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2009 – All rights reserved.

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My mother

My mother

My mother grew up on the edge. It was the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, but it was in reality it was the edge of society. She was the youngest of 4 children in a one-parent family. Her father was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and her mother spent a few years in prison for robbing a train (See Archive the Photo AND Tell the Story:Ruby ).

As much as my mother told us what her life was growing up in poverty, I don’t think we ever fully grasped what her day-to-day tasks were like. There was no electricity and no inside plumbing. She washed the family clothing down at the spring. Her brothers made a fire in the stove in the kitchen every evening before my mother cooked dinner for the family. They all ate beans and cornbread every day for dinner. My mother reportedly never owned a dress, instead dressing in her brothers’ hand-me-downs. And these hardships were before the Depression started.

But even though there was extreme poverty in may parts of the Appalachian  Mountains, my mother’s family was set apart from the others in the area. They were children from a divorced family and their mother had been in prison. My mother and her siblings were seen as outcasts by some.

My grandmother came back to town when my mother was 5 years old. She was trying to get some of her children back to live with her and her future husband. My mother heard from her father that her mother was going to marry a “half-wit”. My mother sobbed for hours that night. When her father persisted to find out what was wrong. She admitted that she didn’t want her name changed to “Mary Half-Wit”. She told the story in a humorous way, but we could feel the pain of her childhood trying to come to grips with this situation.

Campbell0011 - Version 4My mother told us the story about going to church when she was about 13 years old. She attended with a girlfriend, even though she didn’t have the appropriate clothing. She felt scorned because of this. At some part of the service, all the women from the church gathered around her and prayed over my mother. It may have been a religious ceremony for young teenagers in her church. But in my mother’s eyes, she was being punished for her family’s situation and for her mother’s sins. She never returned to any church except for the few times her children were in Christmas pageants and when we got married. She didn’t belong.

My mother attended teacher’s college at the age of 16 and graduated the year after World War II started. She taught for a year and hated it. She tried different careers, and eventually in 1946 moved to Lima, Ohio where her brother and sister-in-law lived.

Lil - my mother's best friend

Lil - my mother's best friend

She didn’t try to fit in with society there. She worked in a factory and became friends with other women who were seen as “not proper”. She didn’t try to hide her differences and instead she and her friends created their own societal rules. (I later learned some amazing – even scandalous – stories about these women.) They became life-long friends, bound by their similar situations. With them she felt respected, valued and loved. When my mother was with them, she belonged and felt normal. When they were not around, she felt different from most.

They were with her when she gave birth to her first son, fathered by a railroad man who did not marry her. They were her family and part of our lives, becoming more like a grandmother to us than a family friend. Even with their support, I’m not sure my mother ever overcame this feeling of being on the outside looking in. She grew up in poverty without a mother. But with the help of her friends, she found a place to belong.

 

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2009, All rights reserved.

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Touchdown by Fred!

I love football. You can blame my Dad for that. You remember that he grew up in a family of 10 boys. (See Being a Middle Child – #7 of 14). Football was important to him and his brothers. He played in high school and from the stories I heard (from him), he was quite good his senior year. His younger brother was all-state.

There is an old family story about his letter  in football. His school colors were black and red and he was very proud of his big black letter ‘S’. But he never had a jacket or sweater to put it on. It always lived in his special box with his war commendations.

Check out this newspaper article that I found on http://www.newspaperarchives.com about a touchdown pass my Dad’s  senior year.

My dad coached Pee-Wee football for the Bath Cats – the precursor to Pop Warner. He was devoted, even though he didn’t have any boys playing. I got to be on the cheerleading squad. Our uniforms were corduroy pants with a white sweatshirt with a bright blue ‘B’ on the front. We wore white headbands. We did cheers like “Teams in a Huddle, Captain at the Head. Out comes the coach and this is what he says . . .”. My favorite though was Football Boogie. I still remember every word and all the dance motions. “Football Boogie, Yeah Man! Football helmet, football shoes. I’m gonna get ready for the football boogie . . .” I was all of 5 years old and loved it.

My cheerleading years

My cheerleading years

My Dad and my Uncle Jim attended every high school football game  – home and away. Since I was the oldest of 4 girls, I was allowed to go with them. My Mom stayed home with the younger girls, and it was pretty special for me to be able to travel with them to the football games. They talked football, the stats of the season, and during the quiet times, sang along with Johnny Cash and George Jones on the radio.

We took blankets to keep warm and bought popcorn to share. When we arrived home late at night, my Dad would make home-made hot chocolate. It had cocoa, sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk and the taste was exquisite. I still love football, and I still love his recipe for hot chocolate.  I now attend high school football games and have Texas season tickets. I just can’t get enough of football. My Dad would be proud.

*Complete Words to Football Boogie:

“Football Boogie, Yeah Man! Football Boogie, Yeah Man! Football helmet, Football shoes, We’re gonna get ready for some Football Boogie. It’s the football Boogie, Yeah Man! It’s the Football Boogie, Yeah Man! It’s the Football Boogie and we’re gonna win today, today, today. Yeah!

Sitting in the grandstand, beating on my tin can. Who can, We Can. Nobody else can.

Football Boogie, Yeah Man! Football Boogie, Yeah Man! Football Boogie and we’re gonna win Today, today, Today. Yeah!”

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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