Starting the oral history conversation

family_history_daily_main_logoLast month, I read this great interview with D. Joshua Taylor, president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Director of Family History at findmypast.com and co-host of Genealogy Roadshow. The interview was written by Creastleaf for Family History Daily.

I was especially inspired by this question and answer:

Crestleaf: To you, what are the top three most important questions people should ask when conducting oral history interviews with their family members?

JT: First, who was the oldest relative you knew; make that leap from one generation to another while you can. Second, ask them about their childhood – these are the clues and tidbits that we cannot readily find in existing records. Finally, ask them about a memory of yourself – too often we fail to document our own stories.

I think those questions are brilliant! They’re informal, will glean great information, and, I think, spark more conversation.

I just spent some time with my elderly parents on a whirlwind visit to Walla Walla, Washington, with my niece and nephew, who live in Australia. I had hoped to try out those questions but ended up having precious little time for such conversations. When I go back in a couple of months for a more leisurely visit, I’ll be sure and ask the questions. I hope to be able to ask them of my aunt (my father’s sister) as well.

And when I do, I’ll report here. My thanks to Crestleaf, Family History Daily, and, of course, Joshua Taylor for such great information!

Get your ancestor’s handwriting analyzed

page 1 dave's letter to bea testWhen I was at the RootsTech conference, one of the exhibitors in the Expo hall was Nancy Douglas of Write Meaning, a certified handwriting analyst. I’ve always been fascinated by graphology and didn’t understand immediately what it had to do with genealogy.

I picked up her postcard and, after I got home from the conference, I checked out her website.  I was intrigued when I learned that she can take handwriting samples from an ancestor and provide an analysis, giving you insights into your ancestor’s personality.

I have a long, handwritten letter that my grandfather wrote my grandmother a month before they wed. It’s a treasure, because it outlines his father’s work history, his own work and education history, as well as touches on his parents’ unconventional marriage. And, at 36 pages, it provides a wonderful opportunity to try out this handwriting analysis.

Using my Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 scanner, I scanned the entire delicate letter and sent it via Dropbox to Nancy, along with payment of $100. I eagerly anticipate the analysis, which I hope to receive in a month or so. You can bet that I’ll be reporting the results here!

If you’re as intrigued as me and you have access to an ancestor’s handwriting, check out the Historical Family Documents tab on Nancy’s website. And stay tuned for a future blog post on my results!

Making migration more visible

A map, cork board, foam core and frame make a great way for me to map my ancestors!I love looking at my genealogy map, which hangs on the wall in my office. Using color-coded pins with little label flags, I pin my ancestors’ birth and death places.

As much as I enjoy adding pins to the map, I probably let a year lapse between pinning sessions. But just the other day I took a little time (as part as my weekly genealogy research commitment) and added ten ancestors to the map. It was a fun exercise — and it was educational too.

Focusing on ancestors’ birth and death places helps me think about migration. Looking at the map makes that migration feel more real.

I added a generation in my latest pinning session, so I now have five generations pinned on my map. I was born in Washington state; as I go back in generations, I go farther east with the pins. (Not a big surprise, I know.)

In this past pinning session, I reached an eastern seaboard state, Georgia. A glance at the map showed me that the distance from Georgia, where my great great grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth Dye, was born, to Alabama, where she died, wasn’t as far as I’d thought. Margaret was born in 1844 in Henry County, Georgia and was married in 1865 in Shelby County, Alabama. Her husband, Laban Taylor Rasco, was born in Alabama and did fight in the Civil War in Georgia, so maybe she was a war bride? (I’m thinking not because there were many Dyes in the cemetery where she is buried in Cullman, Alabama.) These are the kinds of stories I hope to suss out as I look to go deeper, rather than higher, in my family tree.

The map helps bring questions to light, making migration patterns more visible. I know that there are higher-tech ways to do this. But my old-school map and pins make me happy.

Make your goals visible

2015gengoalsscreenshotToday is the last day of the first quarter of 2015, so I thought I’d take a look at the progress I’d made on my goals for the quarter. Since I try to research one family line per quarter, the end of the quarter is significant. Tomorrow, it’ll be time for me to turn my attention from my Adams ancestors (my father’s father’s family) and start researching my Brown ancestors (my mother’s father’s family), according to the schedule I set.

At the end of December, I put together a nifty table with eight different potential accomplishments for each line. My goal was to check off four per quarter. It was a pretty great idea, if I say so myself. But it fell by the wayside for a simple reason: I completely forgot about it.

I just discovered the goal table on my hard drive a week or so ago. While I did not focus on those goals in the first quarter, I did manage to put Xs in a few squares.

So, as I look to the second quarter, I have printed out the table and put it on my bulletin board where I put other things that inspire me. (Like my written goals for this blog.)

Writing goals is an important first step. But I dare say that remembering them is just as important!