Weekly Planner: Print and Save Holiday Photos

digital camera.jpgO.K., a show of hands. Who took digital pictures this past holiday season? Where are those pictures? Still locked in your digital camera? This week, let’s take some time to print copies and save copies electronically (with a backup) so that they don’t get lost. Send copies to family members via e-mail or on CDs or DVDs and ask that they share some of their pictures with you. For those prints, don’t forget to label them and put them in an album. This is a project that can involve older children and keep them busy on these cold winter days.

The Doors in Your Brick Walls, by Juliana Smith

Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” When we run into those brick walls we often stumble upon in family history, sometimes we’re so busy staring at that one closed door that we overlook a bunch of open doors. Let’s take a look.

Unmarried Siblings
Married siblings with children represent the potential to connect with cousins, but sometimes the focus on our direct ancestor and siblings with causes us to overlook that spinster aunt or bachelor uncle. The fact is, we should be researching every sibling thoroughly because while the records of one child may not include the information you need, those of a sibling may include much more detail–details that can help us past that brick wall.

Died Young
Sometimes there were siblings that we don’t even know about. High infant and child mortality rates were a fact of life for our ancestors. The siblings of our ancestors who were born and died between censuses may hold the key to that closed door. Look for them in family cemetery plots and in vital records indexes. For mothers who were alive in 1900 and 1910, the U.S. federal census asked for the number of children born, and the 1910 census also asks how many were still alive that year. Mortality schedules will also list the children who died within a census year. Once you identify a child who died young, look for birth, and death records, as well as any church or other records that may have been created during their short lives. Continue reading

Build Your Skills: Interviewing Family

Interviews with family members can reveal information not found anywhere else, but the amount of information you obtain depends on both the subject and your approach. Here are some tips for getting the most from your interview:

  • Prepare questions ahead of time. If you go in with only “Tell me everything you know about our family history,” you’re likely to be met with a blank stare. Ask more pointed questions like, “What kinds of things remind you of your mother?” or “What kind of neighborhood did you grow up in?” “Were there other relatives living nearby when you were young?” “What did your father do for a living?” Questions that generate fond memories and personal stories are more likely to be productive and will make your subject feel at ease. 
  • Ask permission if you plan on audio- or video-taping the interview. If your subject feels uncomfortable with either, be prepared with a pen and paper to take notes. Then transcribe those notes as quickly as possible after the interview. Send a copy of the transcription to the interviewee to make sure you have all the facts correct and ask them to add any additional memories in writing. 
  • Let the interview subject talk. Start with a question and see where it leads. Sometimes one question will prompt memories on another topic that you hadn’t thought to include in your list. It also makes the interview more enjoyable for the interviewee. 
  • Bring things to the interview that will stimulate memories, such as a collection of photographs and records you’ve found in your searches. Ask what your interview subject knows about them. He or she may have memories of the day their father was naturalized, or you may find out at last who those people are in that previously unidentified photograph—and where and when it was taken. 
  • If you run out of time, ask if you can phone them later with questions. Or send them home with some written questions that they can answer and mail back. 
  • Be sensitive. If you come to a subject that seems to be causing discomfort for your relative, change to a new topic, otherwise your interview may come to an early end.

Click here for a list of more interview questions.

Tips from the Pros: Buying Used Books, from Juliana Smith

It’s inevitable. When you become interested in family history, whether you were a book lover before or not, you become one. In addition to family history reference and how-to books, you suddenly have a need for atlases, old dictionaries, local histories, social histories, ethnic histories, or anything that will give you a better understanding about what an ancestor’s life was like.

Book collecting can be expensive, but with online used-book sellers you can get some great deals on even recently released titles. One book I recently bought is still in print and usually runs $16.00, but I was able to get a copy through a used bookseller on Amazon.com for about $7 (with shipping). Abebooks.com and Alibris.com are other good places to check for reduced prices on books. Although the cheapest books have typically been used, most that I have purchased have arrived in remarkably good condition. Compare several sites to get the best deal on the books you need for your family history.

Your Quick Tips, 12 January 2009

Book Review on Nineteenth Century City Life
Have you ever wondered what life was really like for your ancestors? If they were working class people in an American city in the nineteenth century, the book Challenging Chicago, by Perry Duis (University of Chicago Press, 1992) will reveal how hard the business of everyday life was for them. For example, we all know that the horse provided transportation for people and goods. The movies give us romantic images of horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping cheerfully along the street. But Duis describes what that meant in real life–streets covered with a semi-frozen slush of manure and snow in winter, muddy manure oozing between the pavestones in spring, and stingy, smelly brown dust covering everything in summer. But people could no more do without horses than we can without the internal combustion engine. A nationwide equine flu epidemic in 1872 killed half the horses, bringing factories to a halt, leaving produce rotting in rail cars, and ushering in an economic panic that lasted two years.

As its title suggests, the book is about Chicago, but in many ways, it paints a portrait of any large city at that time. It covers topics such as housing, work, transportation and food. It describes the shopping options for an urban housewife and the enterprising people who created the “curbstone economy,” buying goods wholesale and selling them to individuals on street corners or door-to-door.

Duis is more historian than popular writer, but his prose is clear and engaging, and he peppers the pages with quotes from writers of the time. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about urban life in the “good old days.”

Linda Kush
Boston, Massachusetts Continue reading

The Year Was 1926

The year was 1926 and in Europe, it was a soggy one. In January, an early thaw and storms caused floods from England to the Rhineland. The warm weather and rains began Christmas night of 1925 and by early January, rivers were overflowing with melted snows. In the British Isles, communications via telegraph and telephone were interrupted because of flooding and cyclones and London suburbs were hit hard with flooding from the Thames. The flooding extended to the European continent including rivers and lowlands in France, Germany, Romania, Hungary, Belgium, and the Netherlands. For more information read this Time magazine article from 11 January 1926 covering the floods.

In the Soviet Union an estimated 10,000 cases of ergotism were reported in 1926. Ergot is a fungus that infects rye and when ingested, can cause convulsions, trembling, delusions, and hallucinations. In gangrenous ergotism, the poison can constrict blood vessels, causing infection and burning pain, eventually leading to gangrene. Although the cause of ergotism wasn’t identified until the mid-nineteenth century, it has since been linked to the spread of the bubonic plague and the Salem witch trials.

In northern England, Scotland, and Wales, coal miners went on strike in protest of a pay-cut. The miners fight led to a general strike when the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C.) joined them in an effort to shut down London and force the government to intervene on behalf of the miners. The government didn’t agree and brought in forces to keep the city running. The strike was over quickly in London, although the miners held out for four months, but they too eventually returned to work with their demands unmet. 
In 1926, Henry Ford created the eight-hour workday and five-day workweek for his employees and it soon became the norm. His motives weren’t altogether altruistic though. He wrote in the company newsletter,

“Just as the 8-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the 5-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity . . . It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege . . . People who have more leisure must have more clothes. They eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation in vehicles.”

In Florida, a land boom was turning to bust. As the Florida population was growing land speculators were buying land in the hopes of turning a quick profit when they sold it. Some were buying the land without having the money to pay for it and hoped to have the land sold before they paid for the property, using the profits to make the final purchase payment. When the land boom finally turned to bust, many speculators were stuck with overpriced land and no buyers.

While over-speculation nudged Florida into a tailspin, Mother Nature gave it an even bigger push–in the form of a hurricane that struck Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Hollywood, and Hallandale. Most of the residents were new to Florida and despite dire weather predictions from the U.S. Weather Bureau, they had no idea how severe the impending storm would be and most did nothing to prepare. When the eye of the hurricane came ashore, the now terrified residents left their homes, not realizing that the storm was not yet over. Most of the 100 people who died in Miami were those caught outside after the eye of the storm had passed.

Photo Corner, 12 January 2009

Mary Carr Kelly, who was born in Cloonshivna, County Galway, IrelandContributed by Ed Kelly
This is a photo of my grandmother, Mary Carr Kelly, who was born in Cloonshivna, County Galway, Ireland, on 5 February 1873. She died at 305 W. 13th Street, New York City on 19 September 1915. The photo was taken at a studio on West 22nd Street, NYC, date unknown.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

20090112Burns.jpgContributed by Tracey Miller, Cincinnati, Ohio
This is a picture of my great-great-aunt, Mattie Beatrice Burns, taken in 1916.

New Free Webinars at Ancestry.com

Ancestry____logo.gifAncestry has scheduled three new free webinars. Each session will last approximately one hour and include a Q&A including a Q&A session. Click on each title to register for the free webinar (required).

Using MyCanvas to Print and Share Your Family Stories
Event Date: 01/21/2009 08:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
Learn more about the Ancestry.com MyCanvas publishing service during a free webinar. John Pereira and Stefanie Condie of the MyCanvas team will be demonstrating some of the program’s features including how to add records and information from your online tree, edit and modify images, apply frames and backgrounds, customize covers and more. They’ll also answer some frequently asked questions and participants will be automatically entered into a drawing for a free padded leather book ($100 value).

Getting Started on Ancestry.com
Event Date: 01/22/2009 01:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
New to the Ancestry.com U.S. Deluxe Collection? Come join Juliana Smith and moderator, Echo King for a one-hour webinar where you’ll discover the excitement of finding your first family member on a historical record. Plus, learn how Ancestry.com can help you piece together your family story by providing you with more than 26,000 historical databases and innovative family tree building technology.

New Site Features Added to Ancestry.com in 2008
Event Date: 01/27/2009 08:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
We’re always trying to improve your experience with Ancestry.com. Come listen to a panel of Ancestry.com product managers discuss a number of key improvements made to the site over the past year, including enhancements to our family trees, searching capabilities, homepage, profile pages, and more. The panel will include Kenny Freestone, Senior Product Manager (Family Trees); Anne Mitchell, Senior Product Manager (Search); David Graham Senior Product Manager (Community); and Eric Shoup, VP Product Ancestry.com.

You can find more webinars in the Ancestry.com Library.

New at Ancestry

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U.S. Deluxe


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