3 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Accomplish Through Family History

New Year’s Resolutions–some love the opportunity to start fresh, set goals, and try new things in the new year. Others despise them because they feel resolutions never work. However, I think the key to success is having support and accountability.

This year, I have a few personal resolutions. I want to read more & watch less t.v. I also want to manage my time better and eat healthier. My resolutions fall into the most common resolutions that people set each year (health, time management, and reading more are all very common).

Other resolutions that are shared by many include: Getting Organized, Learning a New Skill or Hobby, and Spending More Time with Family & Friends. These 3 resolutions can be accomplished through studying family history and, even better, I can help. Having help and support while you strive to meet new goals can make you so much more successful.

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Getting Organized – I can help you tackle those organizational projects that seem particularly overwhelming such as family photos, documents, and heirlooms. Many of us each year clean out closets, and reorganize our possessions, but it can be trickier to figure out what to do with historical objects and fragile family photos. I can help you to organize, keep and preserve these precious items or help you to decide if and where you could donate some items to local museums, archives, or libraries if you so choose. I can also help you to research items, digitize them, and share them with your family members.

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Learning a New Skill or Hobby – While I offer full services to do your genealogy for you, I also offer a more hands-on option for those who want to study their family history themselves, but just need some help, direction, and support. I can help you get started, pointing you in the right direction for resources, tips, and ongoing support as you go. I can teach you how to make use of different tools to help you to be successful in your family history journey. If you’ve always wanted to dive into your family history, but you just weren’t sure where to start, I can help!

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Spending More Time with Family – One way to spend meaningful time with family is to listen to their stories. And when loved ones are no longer with us, to be able to have and listen to those stories still is a comfort. I can help you to properly record and preserve your loved ones voices and stories or undertake a complete family oral history project with multiple interviews, recordings, and transcripts to document your family’s past–a project that the whole family can take on and enjoy together.

History in Song: “Take A Walk” by Passion Pit

This week’s #MusicMonday moves away from songs inspired by big, well-known historical events and takes a look at a song inspired by the songwriter’s own family history.

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“Take a Walk” was the first single off of Passion Pit’s (an indietronica band) album Gossamer (2012). The song tells what sounds like the story of one immigrant man and his family from arrival in the US through eventual financial success and then financial troubles. The songwriter and lead singer of Passion Pit Michael Angelakos (who is of Greek descent) says that each verse of the song is actually about a different family member, telling the story of his own family, particularly several generations of men of his family and how they have dealt with money.

The early lyrics of the song, though about a specific family, speak to the experiences of many immigrants to the United States. Later verses are a bit more specific and speak to the American Dream motif that some immigrants, but not most, were able to achieve. The song goes full circle though to financial trials that stemmed from chasing that American Dream too far. While reflecting on how his family has handled financial gain and strife, Angelakos also tells the story of their migration, assimilation, and change over time, telling what is ultimately an American story.

If you had to write a song about your family history what might it sound like?

Take a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZX6Q-Bj_xg

Full lyrics below:

All these kinds of places
Make it seem like it’s been ages
But tomorrow some new buildings scrape the sky [progress]
I love this country dearly
I can feel the ladder clearly [progress and the American Dream ideal]
But never thought I’d be alone to try [happy to be in the US but missing family and his love]

Once I was outside Penn Station [in New York City, the port of entry of many immigrants]
Selling red and white carnations [starting out as a street vendor]
We were still alone
My wife and I
Before we married, saved my money
Brought my dear wife over
Now I want to bring my family state side [what some call chain migration, when one family member arrives, finds housing and employment and then helps others migrate as well; New York’s Ellis Island would often ask new migrants if they had employment or family in the US to sponsor them–they wanted to be sure new migrants wouldn’t become homeless or dependent on social aid.]

But off the boat they stayed a while
Then scattered cross the coast
Once a year I’ll see them for a week or so at most
I took a walk

Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
I take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk

Practice isn’t perfect
With the market cuts and loss
I remind myself that times could be much worse
My wife won’t ask me questions
And there’s not so much to ask
And she’ll never flaunt around an empty purse

Once my mother-in-law came
Just to stay a couple nights
Then decided she would stay the rest of her life
I watch my little children, play some board game in the kitchen
And I sit and pray they never feel my strife

But then my partner called to say the pension funds were gone
He made some bad investments
Now the accounts are overdrawn

I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk

Honey it’s your son I think I borrowed just too much
We had taxes we had bills
We had a lifestyle to front
And tonight I swear I’ll come home
And we’ll make love like we’re young
And tomorrow you’ll cook dinner
For the neighbors and their kids
We can rip apart those socialists
And all their damn taxes
But see I am no criminal
I’m down on both bad knees
I’m just too much a coward
To admit when I’m in need

I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
Take a walk, oh-oh-oh
I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
I took a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk
Take a walk, take a walk, take a walk

History in Song: “Alive with the Glory of Love” by Say Anything

An alternative rock song about the Holocaust? That probably sounds strange. And the result has been described as an “intense and oddly uplifting rocker about a relationship torn by the Holocaust.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Alive with the Glory of Love” (2004) by the emo/indie/alternative rock band Say Anything, is loosely based on the lives of the grandparents of the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Max Bemis. Both of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

The song tells the story of two lovers during the years of the Holocaust moving from the ghetto, to hiding, to work camps. But does so to an upbeat punk rock beat rather than anything one could call sentimental. A bit irreverent and written with more modern language, the song actually does a wonderful job of humanizing, personalizing, and giving agency to the story of Holocaust survivors.

The terrible atrocities of the Holocaust included dehumanizing entire groups of people including the Jewish, disabled, homosexuals, and others; however, the humanity of these groups lived on in their love for their partners and families, in their resistance, overt and covert, and in their ability to rebuild lives and communities after the war. Some depictions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust can put too much emphasis on what happened to them rather than what they were able to actively do in the face of such great oppression. This song shines a light on the relationships and emotions that victims might have felt when facing potential separation.

This song also demonstrates that all genres of music can be inspired by the past and are often connected to personal and family histories as well.

Music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUws596eChQ

Lyrics:

When I watch you, want to do you, right where you’re standing yeah
Right on the foyer on this dark day right in plain view oh yeah
Of the whole ghetto, the boot-stomped meadows, but we ignore that yea
You’re lovely baby, this war is crazy, I won’t let you down oh no no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
No oh no no no

And when our city vast and shitty
Falls to the Axis, yeah [the Axis powers of World War II consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan.]
They’ll search the buildings collect gold fillings, wallets, and rings [the Germans were notorious for stealing any item of any value from the Jewish people including even their gold fillings and personal effects.]

But Miss Black Eyeliner you’d look finer with each day in hiding oh yea
Beneath the worm wood, ooh love me so good, [this line evokes the image of hiding beneath floor boards to avoid being taken away to the camps. Some Jewish theology equates wormwood with evil or at least with bitterness, but I am far from an expert there.]
They won’t hear us screw away the day, I’ll make you say

(Alive, alive, alive with love)
No I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
Oh no I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you

Our Treblinka is alive with the glory of love [Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in Poland and was the site of the genocide of 700,000-900,000 Jewish people and 2,000 Romani people by gas chamber]
Treblinka, alive with the glory of love yea
Should they catch us and dispatch us to those separate work camps yeah
I’ll think about you, I’ll dream about you
I will not doubt you with the passing of time
Should they kill me your love will fill me as warm as the bullets
I’ll know my purpose, this was was worth this, I won’t let you down
No I won’t, no I won’t, no I won’t
(Alive, alive, alive with love)
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no

** A few details of the song are not representative of the majority of the experiences of Holocaust victims. Since Treblinka was an extermination camp, not a work camp, the vast majority of people were immediately killed upon arrival with just a few men put to work to operate the gas chambers and bury the dead. Gas chambers replaced guns as the primary way of carrying out the genocide.

Organize Your Family Archives (Like Monica Geller): Step 3

Step 1: Start.

Step 2: Keep sorting and do your research.

Step 3: Make some storage decisions.

Now that you have sorted your collection, done your research to decide where each item should go, and assessed the size and condition of your collection, you are ready to decide how you want to store it. Album, scrapbook, or box? This depends on your specific goals for your collection and the features of your collection include size and condition.

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The one example we don’t want to take from Monica–storage.

Have a relatively small collection in good condition and want to whip it out whenever you have company and show off your photos and the stories behind them? A scrapbook may be the ticket. More effort is needed up front to create a visually appealing scrapbook, and care needs to be taken to use archival materials, but this is a viable option if you are feeling creative. This is also a good option if you have photos and related documents that you want to keep together for context. I will be scrapbooking my wedding photos and have made scrapbooks in the past for special occasions and vacations.

Photo albums are likewise easily accessible and easy to share with visitors. A little tricky if you have many photos of various sizes though. And not ideal if you have a large collection and not a lot of shelf space as they can get bulky. Photo albums with caption spaces are great for recording all those details you learned in your research.

Archival boxes are usually best in terms of preservation since they are completely enclosed and will most be most efficient in terms of space if you have a large collection. Boxes are best for fragile photos that can’t stand up to the page turning involved in albums. Photo boxes comes in a variety of sizes.

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Photo box from Gaylord Archival. Image from http://www.gaylord.com

When ordering your supplies, pay attention to dimensions, materials (remember to look for acid and lignin free), and capacity. You may also want to invest in some archival quality pens, or pencils, acid-free tissue paper, folders, envelopes, or archival sleeves, depending on the storage solution you decide on.  Part of the services I offer includes helping you make these supply decisions based on the specifics of your collection.

Now is also when you may want to decide if you want to digitize your collection before you file it all away. It’s a good time to scan, label, and save your digital files before you find a more permanent home for the physical copies.

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No judgement, but join the 21st century and digitize!

In today’s age, I recommend digitizing your photos for many reasons: accessibility, sharing, and preservation being the top. Digitizing your photos means you can access them at any time without physically needing to pull them out–this makes it quick and easy to locate particular images and also connects to preservation. The less the physical copy is handled and exposed to light, dirt, oils in your fingers, etc. the longer it will last.

Finally, the biggest advantage of digitization is the ability to share your family photos with your family and friends even across physical distances. I plan to digitize my family collection to be able to share with my parents and siblings as we are spread across three different states.

Like the physical files though, to digitize you need to consider storage. Depending on the size of your collection, you could need much more digital space than you should probably be putting on your hard drive (it would slow your computer down quite a bit), or then you could fit on a standard flash drive. I would recommend an external hard drive and/or a cloud-based application. My husband and I have an Amazon Prime account which includes unlimited photo storage so I will be making use of that feature in addition to saving the images on an external hard drive. Having two copies helps ensure you don’t lose your files! Other cost efficient cloud options include Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and Flickr. These options are make sharing much easier. And sharing is caring. 🙂

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Stay tuned for next steps including the digitization process, file naming and labeling!

Organize Your Family Archive Like Monica Geller: Step 2

Step 1: Start – Prepare your space and dive in to the sorting.

Step 2: Keep Sorting and Start Researching

So you’ve started trying to sort through your family photos, but may have been overwhelmed by the sheer number you have, or how many you weren’t sure about either the date, the people pictured, or the location.  Deep breath. This may be when you decide to stop and hire professional help. *ahem–me* Or if you want to dig a little deeper for your inner Monica Geller, here is how to proceed.

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I began sorting by decade, knowing that everything would not be in perfect order right away, which is totally fine. Now that everything is roughly sorted, I am going through each decade’s pile with a more discerning eye to the order with the aim to get everything in chronological order, at least to the right year. If many photos are undated, it will be nearly impossible to have the photos in month/date order as even the people who lived through the events in the photos may not be able to remember which happened first or exactly what month and day.

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So if your photos are undated, how do you go about deciding which order they should be in? The first step if possible is to ask the subjects of the photos, the person who was likely behind the camera, or other close relatives who may recognize the subjects, places, or time periods.

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Even Monica could use a little help from her relatives…

 

What some of my research looks like–texts to my mom.

But what if no one remembers? There are other ways to figure out approximate dates. Obvious first options–check the front and back of the photo for the dates that were printed on the photo. Keep in mind that those dates are when the photos were printed, not taken. Depending on how quickly you or your relatives took their film to be developed will determine how close those printed dates are to the taken dates.

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Also common are handwritten dates and other info on the backs of the photos. If there is identifying information on some photos, you can then use context clues for similar looking photos–photos of family members where they look the same age, photos taken in the same house, etc.

 

It is also helpful to pay attention to hairstyles, styles of dress, and background details including signs, places, home decor, etc. to get an idea of time period. (Hopefully your family wasn’t behind the times too much.)

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The size of your prints can also be a general clue to age. For example, standard 4×6 wasn’t the standard until the 1990s. Smaller prints were more popular in the 1970s and 80s. And even smaller prints (like teeny tiny) were common in the 1940s. And finally, if in doubt, using estimations is fine.

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A print from the 70s, two from the 80s (one early, one late), and two from the 90s (one early, one late).

Now, what do you do with the information you gather from relatives and your research about specific images? For now, I would recommend making notes on a separate piece of paper. Writing on the photos themselves is not recommended for two reasons, physical preservation of the photo, and preservation of the context of the photo. If you add your own notes to the back of a photo that already has writing on it, or worse, you write a note that turns out not to be correct, later viewers of the image may not be sure what was written originally and what was added later.

The information is better added later in a caption in a photo album (with an archival quality pen or pencil) and in the digital record’s metadata, which we will discuss more in depth later.

As you go forth and gather information from relatives also consider recording more formal oral history interviews with them. There is nothing like preserving a relative’s voice and their stories. More on oral histories later or contact me to see how I can help.

Stay tuned for next steps–deciding on storage, both physical and digital, and labeling.

Organize Your Family Archive Like Monica Geller: Step 1

So you want to get your family photos and other archives in order but you aren’t sure where to start. Dig deep and harness your inner Monica Geller! Yes, that Monica Geller, from the 90’s hit sitcom Friends.

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Step 1: Start.

Easier said than done, but to get started you have to dive in. But in an orderly fashion.

Start with a dedicated clean, dry space for your project. You don’t want to start and stop this project, having to regather everything every other day, so I don’t recommend using your bed, dining room table (unless you never eat there, which I totally get), or coffee table.

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My space for now and my relatively small family project is a desk in our office/my husband’s man cave, which has been cleared of said husband’s stuff. (read: junk.)

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With clean, dry hands, start going through your collection. If already in older albums(i.e. albums in need of replacing), great! Leave them in for now. See if your collection is already organized in some way, by date, event, or some other way.

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This initial stage is to get a sense for how many items you have, what they are, and what you would like to do with them. And by all means, enjoy the trip down memory lane. That’s what it’s all about.

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In the case of loose photos, especially if they have gotten out of order, just start sorting by whatever parameters make sense to you, but I generally suggest date.

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I took my collection of loose photographs and initially began sorting by decade. I will refine it as closely as possible by year later.

This initial sorting has given me an idea of how many photos there are, what time frame is included, and how much research I might have to do in order to figure out dates, names, etc. It also brought my attention to the fact that some of the images are bent, torn, or sticky–some have tape or glue residue on the back. (Monica would not approve.)

But this is a start and you now have an idea of what you need to do in order to sort better (in my case, some phone calls and FaceTiming my mom are going to be necessary), some problem areas that will need to be addressed (sticky backs), and an idea of how large your project is–something that comes into play when deciding what supplies you will need to store your collection in.

Feeling your inner Monica yet? Or still feeling overwhelmed? I am a Monica and happy to help with your family archiving project. Contact me and let’s talk!

Stay tuned for Step 2 in the series!