Archive for July, 2007

Some of us favor digitizing all or most of our source documents. But the subject came up: how can you get a complete image of oversized documents, such as maps, plats, etc? I managed to solve that problem with Adobe Elements® (OEM version) which came installed on my computer (did I mention I love cheap or “included” software?) If you use different photo-editing software, take a look at how it may work similarly to the following solution.

To create an image of an oversized document, I place as much of it as I can on my scanner, starting with a corner. I scan that portion of the document to a JPG format then I move the document around, making sure that there is some overlap between scans. Each scan creates a JPG “puzzle piece.”

Once I have created all the puzzle pieces, I bring them into Elements® and use the “photomerge” feature to combine them into a single image. Elements® examines the edges of each smaller image to fit it together, just like a puzzle. The feature works remarkably well. Only occasionally do I have to manually manipulate the combining of images to get the unified image that I want. Once I have a single image, I convert the unified JPG to a PDF file or leave it as a JPG. I personally prefer the PDF as it is a consistent format with all my other documents. But if the image is, indeed, a photo, I leave it as a JPG.

Your photo-editing software may not use the term, “photomerge.” It may go by another term, such as “landscape” or “panorama.”


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Technology Glitches


We are learning that there are either (a) a few backward compatibility bugs in MS Office® 2007 or (b) Sharon just “doesn’t get it.” I wrote the article, “Organizing Documents…” under Word 2003, but since I had to convert it to a PDF using Word 2007, it “buried” the only footnote in the entire document, which appeared on page 2.

So here’s the text of the footnote: “A good way to read this article is to sit in front of your computer and experiment with the features described here as you are reading.” Some of you may have already done just so, but for the rest, I thought I should mention it.

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Luna’s comments the other day started me to thinking about how to make family oral history available to others on a permanent basis. Presently, I do not know of any public archive that accepts the responsibility for preserving the oral history of individual families. We do a disservice to those family researchers who follow us not to consider long term availability. Consider, if you will, the stories you have heard about a genealogist’s life work going out with the garbage because his/her children did not wish to keep their work. Articles have been written exhorting us to donate our research to a library, a genealogical society or historical society just to preserve our work for future generations. From my training, I learned that one of the first questions I should ask and answer before I go out and collect interviews is “what will become of those recordings?”

So the question becomes: what do we do about family oral history interviews? They become more problematic because many of these interviews stay in audio or video format and are not transcribed. Libraries—if they accept such materials—prefer the transcription. (They also have a number of other prerequisites.) The cost of archiving recordings is more than most library budgets allow. Have any of you given thought to what will happen with your oral history research after you die? I am only now thinking about that eventuality, myself. My family is not notable in any way, just regular folks. A few have had experiences that might be accepted by professional/academic oral history projects or programs. For example, Texas Tech University (http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/) is collecting the oral histories of Viet Nam veterans; University of North Texas (http://www.library.unt.edu/ohp/) collects the oral histories of WWII vets. StoryCorps (www.storycors.org) does collect an infinite variety of interviews, but only those recorded in their facilities.

You can anticipate that much of your work will someday find its way to the landfill if other plans are not developed to preserve it. Personally, I would love for generations to come to actually hear the voice of their ancestor, telling their stories in their own words. I would love to be able to hear my Revolutionary War ancestor detail his experiences, not just read a deposition composed by a court clerk. It would be a wonderful form of “time travel.”

So what ideas can we develop to address this archival issue?

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Organizing Documents with Software You Already Have can offer ideas on how to organize your genealogical documents on your pc.

(If you previously attempted to open the file and you use an older version of MS Word (I use 2007), there were some glitches. So, I uploaded the file in pdf format which should resolve the problem. However, you will need Adobe Reader. Most people have this already installed on their pcs. If you don’t, there is a link to on the right of this page, under “Blogroll.”)

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Although there have been well over 100 articles written in the past 25 years touting the benefits of oral history methods in genealogical research, it seems that the actual use of oral history methods remains largely untapped. I have background and training in both disciplines and can attest to the value that oral history methods provide.

So why aren’t more genealogists using these research methods with their families to garner more clues to their ancestral past and to give a fleshly appearance to that skeleton that is their pedigree chart?  If you have undertaken a family oral history project, I would like to hear of your experiences. If you have thought about doing a family oral history project but have yet to start one, I would like to hear why you haven’t begun one. For either group, what you would like to know about family beyond the BMDB?

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Favorite Quotation

A sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.     
John Dos Passos

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While riding on an elevator to the 8th floor of the Dallas Public Library, a young woman spying my equipment remarked, “You must be going to work on your genealogy.”

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s quite the obsession.”

“My mother used to be obsessed with genealogy,” she admitted. “But after she found what she was looking for she quit. Never touched it again.”

“Oh? What was she looking for?”

“My grandmother told her that she would like to have ‘Member of DAR’ carved on her tombstone. So Mom did the research, found the proof she needed for Grandma to join DAR before she died.”

My companion’s story rekindled a question that I ponder from time to time. Why do I research genealogy and family history? I suppose that for every genealogist the answer is different. Moreover, the reason we begin our long-term project often evolves into a different reason for continuing it.

For me, the research aspects of “doing” genealogy began later in life. But, my questions about family began in childhood. I knew my mother’s family well; we lived only blocks away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Yet, my dad’s family existed merely as sparse stories about his boyhood antics. His parents died before I was born. He moved to Texas leaving extended family behind except for a brother and a sister. While I had paternal relatives, they were not part of my everyday experience.

It turned out that some of Daddy’s stories were—shall we say—fanciful? But as a young girl, I loved hearing them and embraced them as truth, something that hindered later research. I was about age sixteen when I asked him more seriously considered questions about his family. Until that moment, I was unaware that my dad had limited knowledge about his people beyond his parents and the one grandmother who were often the targets of his boyish pranks.

Although it was several years before I actually began researching family, it was that day that I was truly inspired to “do” family research. I wanted to connect with the family I did not know.

As if by conspiracy, my dad’s ancestors surely wanted to remain hidden in record. My grandparents lived before the idea of a legal name was formalized. My grandfather used various aliases on record, making research more difficult. When I finally located his death record and obituary, I hurrahed the achievement. A brick wall was penetrated. When I found the same records for my grandmother, his wife, I wept. I transcended time to encounter someone I longed to meet.

For me, researching ancestry is both a scholarly endeavor and a spiritual journey. Genealogy and family history research is a personal journey towards a pre-natal mountain. Some researchers aspire to claim the summit of that mountain. Some, like my elevator companion’s mother, trek only part-way.

Aside from the many details of where my ancestors lived and their occupations, I learned that my ancestral story is one of fatherless households, a pattern repeated through various lines of my father’s ancestry. Fathers who died or disappeared before their sons and daughters became adults, before their grandchildren could grow to remember them. The cycle repeated again when Daddy died at age 49. My children never knew him.

Despite my love for my children, they are not the primary reason that I continue my research. They are simply not interested in “dead relatives.” No, I continue because I thoroughly enjoy the process of research, the exploratory questions and the unexpected discoveries, such as the pattern of fatherless households. These modest achievements better motivate me to continue looking for clues to my pre-natal past. Still, it is not the most salient reason that I continue to research.

The most salient reason is the transcendent experience, that feeling that I get whenever my study touches upon a life, long gone from memory but not from record. The event is always a surprise when it occurs; it is always emotional to some degree.

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