Going through family history pictures for my online exhibits I came across an interesting picture that I have to say I don't remember scanning. One of my favorite things about family history is that there will often be a way go connect ancestors to a larger historical narrative. Many ancestors live through the lives of monarchs, world wars, economic hardships, etc.
The information on the back of the picture caught my eye. It reads: The King got a good Baptist handshake! Stewarts meet Royalty.
The "royalty" mentioned on the back of the picture is King Bhumibol Adulyadej! How did a picture of this man meeting the King of Thailand make its way into my family history?? Well, immediately, I started asking my family members. This is the only conclusion that my aunts and uncles (who would know the origin could come up with). My great-grandmother had neighbors named "Stewart" and they had a daughter that was a flight attendant. She often flew around the world and would take her parents with her. Whether or not that is who the "Stewarts" mentioned on this picture are, the neighbors or not, the fact remains that all the way around the world was a picture of the King of Thailand waiting to be found by a West Texas girl.
I've been sitting on this post for over a year trying to figure out what to say about the picture that I found. This has been a big week for world history. Not only is the American presidential race entering the final stretch (with voting in November), but Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej died. He was the world's longest reigning monarch and had ruled longer than Queen Elizabeth II.
October is Family History Month, and I've been working a LOT on family history in my free time. Not only have I been trying to move my information from my physical external hard drive to my Google Drive, I've also been scanning new documents (which means you can look forward to more blog posts about marginalia and random notes!). This October is the first that I'll be decorating for and handing out candy on Halloween! So, this weekend was a busy weekend of cleaning around the house (specifically the front porch) in preparation for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorating! This deep cleaning of the front porch led to some pretty excited and unexpected discoveries.
When I was cleaning out a cabinet on the front porch this weekend (cleaning is tedious process because every drawer, shelf, and box has to be carefully gone through before discarding anything) I found some sketches and plans for other stained glass windows - and then I found my drawing for my own window.
It nearly brought me to tears y'all. To think that my grandfather held on to my child sketch. It's been twenty years! It was carefully stacked on a shelf in the cabinet along with some very serious, carefully drawn plans for his other windows. I'm going to frame my child drawing. It's part of my personal history. Here's the thing that I think so many of us don't realize: so much of what we do today will become family history or a family memory for the next generation. I'm delighted that he kept my drawing, even more so that I'm woking on my family history museum and it is the perfect contribution. Yes, this weekend I made a wonderful unexpected discovery and to me it's a great way to really personalize Family History Month.
Backing Up Your Family History
I think probably the first thing I thought of when I started writing this post is that no one understands the cloud. And that's true. But here's what I do know: external hard drives crash. It's happened to more than one person that I know personally. In my own research, I hoard family history information in multiple locations. I have folders on thumb drives, hard drives, my computer, paper copies, etc. I'm paranoid - but so are a lot of other researchers out there. But, having a few conversations with some of my fellow researchers we've begun considering the importance of cloud based storage for family history.
Think about it: information constantly being backed up by an external source. It's brilliant. I've been using cloud based storage for years (think iCloud and DropBox) but hadn't really thought about using it for family history. So, I started moving folders and documents over to Google Drive (my personal favorite). Ah, just one more place I can electronically hoard my family history. Not sure what cloud based platform you want to use? Here are my top 3 favorite cloud based storage platforms.
Cloud Based Storage for Family History
1) Google Drive - this one, honestly is my favorite. I started using it because a friend of mine used it. I like it because it is pretty intuitive. You can make folders and subfolders in the main drive. You get 15GB for free (Holy COW) and then you can pay for additional storage (but it's not too much, depending on the package you decide to go with).
2) DropBox - I've used this cloud based storage for years. DropBox was my grad-school reliable storage from device to device (before apple started sharing between computers, phones, etc.). This is basically the same premise. You can basically add folders and sub folders. It's drag and drop - pretty intuitive. You get around 2GB of free storage.
3) Apple iCloud - If you've got an Apple device, you've got an iCloud account. Tis isn't SPECIFICALLY for family history, but if you've got a lot of family history information on your phone or tablet, you can easily back it up to the iCloud. It comes with 5GB of free storage.
Why I Choose Google Drive for My Family History Storage
I choose Google Drive for my own personal use because it came highly recommended from another researcher. I love the chick and drag aspects. My information loads up pretty quickly to it. The app can be a little tricky sometimes (if you are trying to upload a lot of pictures in the app it tends to be slow and sometimes crashes), but I haven't had any problems using Google Drive on my computer. I also really like that Google gives its users 15GB of free storage. Do you know how many pictures 15GB of free storage is? Thousands. It's thousands of pictures. And that's before you have to pay for any of the storage.
Don't wait until your hard drive crashes. Start backing up your family history to some kind of cloud storage now.
A cautionary tale, young researcher, I have for you today!
Do you have a sinking feeling in your stomach yet? Don't worry, you will. One day, when she was working on family history, her happily humming hard drive...stopped. And then, as she let loose a cry of anguish that could be heard from Texas to China she realized that 13 years of hard research was gone. All of her research was centrally located. All of her research was gone.
Everything had to be rescanned. Everything had to be re-located. E-mails had to be searched. Old contacts, if they were still alive, had to be found again. It was really starting over from square one. This process is still ongoing for her. There is a silver lining - reconnecting with cousins that haven't been spoken to in about seven years (not that it was intentional, sometimes you fall out of touch with people) has been great for her. Yet, in her search for reorganizing her information she has found something, and it's a recurrent something, people don't identify ancestry photos specifically.
Photo Identification (that makes you want to bite someone's face):
1. Using nicknames instead of full names. Nicknames are an important part of family history. They give us information about our ancestors. They help construct (or pass on) their identity. However, nicknames are not the way to solely identify family history. If you are going to use a nickname when you identify a family member be sure to mention their given name. Otherwise, unsuspecting researchers in the next generation assume that John Smith's name is really "Bubba." There are also situations that occur with suffixes. Ex: John Smith, John Smith, Jr., John "Bubba" Smith, III. Solution: If you want to include a nickname as a way to identify an ancestor, include it with their given name. Ex: John "Bubba" Smith. That way, the researcher knows that John also went by "Bubba", and this fact can be preserved too.
2. Naming people without identifying their location in the picture. This one is pretty legit for me. It's so difficult to look at a group of people you've never seen before...and the back of the picture just THROWS names out there. No particular order. No rhyme or reason. This is even done with digital copies. A researcher that I know found a picture of her grandfather, his brother, and their cousins. The boys were really generally identified - the caption to the picture listed all of their names. It did not identify the positioning of the children in the picture. This might be THE MOST frustrating thing for a researcher because it's such a tease. Here, right here, are all of the ancestors that you've been searching for. Their names are even listed on the document! The next generation, though, has no idea who anyone is, and so the true identification of the picture hasn't happened and may never happen. Solution: If you know someone in the picture, always label left to right using their full names. That way, no one is confused. You can even specify - Left to Right: John "Bubba" Smith, James Smith (shorter), John Smith, Sr., etc. Or can even use numbers!
3. Using rows...when they're not real rows. This one really applies to large family pictures. The identification by this method can be so confusing. People tend to overlap, the rows aren't neat and tidy, smaller relatives are sitting on cousins laps - there are too many variables. Solution: One way to over come this is by numbering digital copies and creating a legend for the next generation. I'm writing this as someone who has tried to go back to row labeled pictures...and it can be really confusing.
4. Referring to location in a picture...by giving the "placemark" a nickname. This applies to pictures with multiple people and large group photos featuring rows. Often there are smaller ancestors sitting on the laps of their mothers or grandmothers. This maternal (or parental) figure will sometimes be referred to as "Nonna" or "Nan." What's the problem with this you ask? The next generation may not know who "Moo Moo" was! Solution: The solution to this problem is the same as using nicknames. It's important to record the pet names for ancestors. So, be sure that it is documented WITH their given name.
Solution: Make a funny comment on your pictures. I love finding these pictures. I'm reminded that my great-grandmother had a great sense of humor. But, make sure that as you are demonstrating an aspect of your personality and you are identify the subject of the picture.
I saw a post on Facebook about this subject. The user stressed the importance of not only labeling pictures with names, dates, and location but also emphasized the importance of recording information for heirlooms and keeping this list in a safe place or with an attorney. I agree with this. All researchers work hard on their family history. We put a lot of time and effort into our research. We save it for the people who come after us. Don't let all of your hard work go to waste because you didn't want to write on the back of an original picture or you felt that using a nickname to identify someone would be sufficient.
My grandmother was a Southern woman. She was born and raised in Northern Alabama. She never met a stranger, and she loved talking on the phone. When I was a kid she would talk on the phone for HOURS. I remember her sitting in the kitchen rocking chair (because every kitchen needs a rocking chair) by the rotary phone talking to neighbors, friends, fellow church members, and family members. My first real job was working an evening shift at a local hospital. When I would get off work I would call and talk to her on my drive home. She never minded and I loved it because it was time that I got to spend with just her. I would ask her questions about her life, her marriage, and her children. She would tell me wonderful stories. Every now and then I think "Oh I'll call Grandma" still - just out of habit - because she always had time and she was always interested. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts she ever gave was her time (and not just to her family).
My second favorite memory of her involves the church garden. It isn't there anymore. When I was little we were all very involved in church. On Sunday mornings my sister and I would leave Sunday School and run into the Fellowship Hall where the adults were just finishing up their own lessons. My grandparents would be there, drinking coffee and visiting (I can still smell the coffee when I think about this story and see them in my mind's eye in their Sunday clothes...a room full of people I loved, a lot of them aren't living anymore). During the week, my grandparents helped to keep the garden at the church. There was a small garden to the right of the building (it's now got a new building over that spot). Grandma and Grandma kept the weeds low and the wildflowers high. I remember them loading the trunk of their old Buick full of gardening tools and taking us grandkids with them to work at the church. It's a simple memory, but it is one of my favorites.
It's been six years and I still miss the way she would hug - strongly hugging you and and rubbing your back. I can still hear her giggle (and every now and then when I laugh it comes out of my mouth). A lot has changed in six years, but that's the way that life is. Time just keeps marching on. It's up to us, the family story tellers, to keep our loved ones legacies alive.
So. Ancestry.com offers DNA testing. I know, I know. You're thinking "How is this news?" And I guess it isn't really because they have been doing DNA testing for...YEARS now. If you haven't tested your DNA you really should. The results are awesome. Not only do you get to know about the regions your family came from, you also can run your raw DNA and see the amazing gene mutations in YOUR body and try to determine what that means for your current health and your future (terrifying and fun right?). Ancestry.com has a great networking tool set up, and they keep updating and building on it. You can make circles. You can look for people who are related to you - and the DNA even tells you how closely you're related and it's even pretty accurate (which is EVEN MORE AWESOME!). Now that I've done my Ancestry.com DNA plug (which is sooo, sooo, sooo cool) here are some pictures just in case you aren't sold on it:
I have a good friend who is also a family historian/ genealogist for her family. Last night she FaceTimed me around midnight to tell me some amazing news. An unexpected discovery, if you will. She started talking to a cousin that she became aware of through the Ancestry.com DNA program. This cousin had a picture of a group photo - featuring at least 30 people in the picture. My friend asked this newly found, distant cousin to please identify as many people in the picture as she could... AND DO YOU KNOW WHO WAS IN THE PICTURE?? My friend's fourth great-grandmother. Her never before seen fourth-great grandmother. Y'all. This is why the DNA networking aspect of Ancestry.com is so awesome. You get to make connections with other researchers that you are related to and you didn't even know it!
It's kind of easy to ignore the DNA hints. The site doesn't remind you about it all the time. But, it really is a great resource. Through this section of the site, you can network and make a human connection based on your DNA. You never know the information that other researchers have! You might just be given a copy of a picture you've never seen before and see the face of an ancestor that you never thought you'd find.
I'm pretty sure that I've said this before, but I love technology (I'm also slightly afraid of the rise of the machine, but that's neither here nor there for this post). Here's what I love about social media: With a single click family history is now at the fingertips of thousands of people.
Recently, I've tried video blogs. Occasionally I post family history related stuff to Instagram. I think my favorite social media platform is Twitter - there is a great family history community there. So, if you're a family history researcher and you aren't using social media to try to collect more family history information you are doing yourself a disservice. I was talking to a fellow researcher recently and she said that she had started making family groups on Facebook. She found that it was an excellent platform to post pictures, start dialogue, and have people share memories and other resources. So, I took her lead.
I found that starting conversations can be a little hard. People are busy. School is back in session. So here are five tips you can use to start a family history conversation for your family:
How to Use Social Media For Family History
1. Start a group on Facebook. I love groups on Facebook for one main reason: YOU add people to the group. It's kind of like forcing your family members into interaction (which sounds a little mean or harsh but I don't mean it that way). There are a ton of invitations to different things on Facebook every day. They are SO annoying. You don't want to invite your family members to a page - even if it is about family history - because they can ignore it (they might do so before they even realize what it is). But, if you add them to a group it takes some of that annoyance away. You're welcome family. I've got four different family groups that I post to. Some are more active than others, but that's ok! Starting a group is a great way to start a family history conversation.
2. Post pictures. This is really effective at starting a conversation. A lot of people are very visual and they LIKE looking at pictures (that's a lot of what social media is all about - um hello Pinterest!). When I start a group I also like to start a few photo albums and post pictures of different family members to them. This not only posts the pictures so that members of the group can see and interact with them, but it will also organize information so that family members that aren't that familiar with the structure of the family tree can find their loved ones. Photos are a wonderful way to start a conversation. A lot of my family members will look at a picture and it will immediately trigger memories for them (see number four). One of my cousins posted a story about the birth of her sibling because a picture of a different relative triggered the memory.
3. Post records. These can be postcards, report cards, census records, birth certificates and death certificates. These records can start their own conversations. They can trigger memories of school. They can help remind your family of the different places that your ancestors lived - and relatives that remember visiting them there. They can also provide insight into the lives that your ancestors lived. So often, the people that came before us are names and faces lost to time. Humanizing them, reminding your family members that they all attended the same elementary school or church can establish a great connection between past generations and current generations.
4. Post memories. Sometimes all it takes is for one person posting a memory they have about a loved one to start a conversation. This past week marks the sixth year since my grandmother's death. I wrote and posted a blog post of two of my favorite memories of her. It started a conversation - my sister shared some of her memories, a close family friend shared hers, a cousin shared another, a woman I attended church with as a child shared her memories as well. It was a wonderful post (one of my most far-reaching) and it proved to me the importance of creating a narrative. People love reading stories. So share one of yours and see what happens.
5. Ask Questions. I am constantly asking my family members questions. I'll ask questions about where people lived, who their kids were, where people lived, and most importantly - WHO IS IN THIS PICTURE! I love asking questions. Sure, it's pretty hit or miss. Sometimes people have the answers I'm looking for, and sometimes they still need to be discovered (that's why this is an Unexpected Discovery - family history is full of them!). Even if no one knows the answer, it's still a great interaction.
So...have you named your social media group yet?
I love family history and the various ways that it can be approached by researchers! I hope that this blog is interesting and inspiring!