Archive for the ‘Saving Family History’ Category

Join the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston for:

Two Talks on Sunday, January 8, 2017
1:30 pm at Temple Emanuel, Newton

Sharon Zane


Sharon Zane will present The Art of Taking an Oral History

Oral histories can be a powerful tool for genealogists. This talk will present techniques of taking a good oral history: what to do and what not do, interviewing tips, how to handle sound equipment, the types of recording equipment available and how to handle them. Case studies drawn from the speaker’s own research will demonstrate how information, casual remarks, and other clues gathered in oral history interviews can lead to exciting, life-changing discoveries.

Sharon Zane has been an oral historian for 35 years. She has completed oral history projects for large corporations, non-profit organizations, and individuals. In addition, she has authored publications based on her oral history work and has served on the board of the Oral History Association for the Mid-Atlantic Region. She is an enthusiastic long-time family genealogist.

Fay Bussgang, in the Spotlight Talk, will explain “How I Put Together a Memoir and Prepared it for Publishing.


Fay will describe the mechanics of how she went about creating her new memoir and getting it ready for publication – in hopes of inspiring others to do the same with their memoirs and family histories.

Fay Bussgang is a former co-president of the JGSGB and an expert on Polish research, who previously edited and formatted two Yizkor books for JewishGen.org. Her new book is My Great Adventure: Europe 1954-55.

Temple Emanuel is located at 385 Ward St., Newton, MA.

Admission is free for members, $5 for non-members.

All information provided by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. For more information on this organization check their website at: http://jgsgb.org.


vea/6 January 2017/vea
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  

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DSC06280I just received the June/July issue of Internet Genealogy.  One of the first sections I go to in each issue is “Net Notes.” It’s a series of short pieces covering recent website activity that may be of interest to readers. The first entry describes some online releases from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC).  I have a special interest in Canadian genealogy so I took a closer look — and came to an unexpected halt. One of the entries cites LAC’s release of a database consisting entirely of immigrants from the Ukraine (1890-1930) arriving in Canadian and American ports. I had just put together a list on Ukrainian genealogical resources for several patrons who needed help on this topic. This entry gave me another resource to add to my list that might help break down some of their brick walls. If it hadn’t been for this article, I might never have found this little gem.

Flipping through genealogy magazines can not only help to keep you up to date, but can unearth treasure you’d never find otherwise. Perhaps some of the following might help you. Do you have ancestors in the American colonies during the Revolution or in the United States during the War of 1812? The Canadian piece also includes references to databases on the War of 1812, and to the Book of Negroes (with 3,000 names of Black Loyalists who fled the Port of New York at the end of the Revolutionary War). It concludes with another database consisting of the recently digitized list of Loyalists and British Soldiers (for the period 1772-1784) from the Carleton Papers.

Other articles in this issue center around saving family stories. One describes what can be done with FamilySearch.org’s Memories section, which is devoted to researching and preserving family stories. Then there are related pieces, “Stellar Storytelling Apps” and “Recording Family Interviews with Audacity.”

DSC06341British genealogy is represented with two articles.  One lists seven websites relating specifically to the Victorian era. The second highlights three free UK websites run by volunteers.

The magazine rounds off with articles on “Researching the Great Depression,” “Supreme Court Cases and Your Family History,” and a review of Yale’s Photogrammar Project that digitizes photographs of the 1930s and 1940s and makes them available online. There are also the monthly features “The Back Page,” “Genealogical Society Announcements,” and additional short pieces in the Net Notes already mentioned.

DSC06342Perhaps I now have you curious, but frustrated because you don’t subscribe to the magazine. Not to worry. The Newton Free Library does. Pay us a visit. You can find this and other genealogy magazines just to the right as you enter the Special Collections Room on the first floor.  Take a few minutes to see what’s there.  Here there be discoveries to be made, brick walls to be dismantled, and gold to be found.



vea/16 June 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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Internet Archive's special book cradle for digitizing books

Internet Archive’s special book cradle for digitizing books

Conservation.  Preservation.  What’s the difference?  These two words are often used interchangeably, but they do mean different things. I often found myself getting confused by the two terms, so I contacted the Boston Public Library.  Stuart Walker, a Book Conservator at the BPL provided this clarification. “Preservation encompasses all the range of things people (such as conservators) do to maintain collections or individual items in the best condition possible.  This includes cleaning, temperature and RH control, education of the public, pest management, disaster preparedness and recovery planning, mass deacidification programs, digitization, etc. etc.  Conservation refers to specific repair work on materials, whether whole collections, or individual items.”

1891 Newton City Directory with Container Plus Separate MapAs you pull together your family documents, photographs, letters, and other materials, you may discover that some have deteriorated. If not now, they may over time. Paper has all sorts of enemies — dampness, heat, light, fire, insects, rodents, even the acid that can be part of the paper itself.  If you look at an old book and see the pages crumble as you turn them, the book is made of highly acidic paper, often from pine wood.  If you look at a book made of older paper, say around the 1770s, it will often be in very good shape.  Why? It’s made using bleached rags, hence the term rag paper.  Photographs pose problems as well.  And newspaper clippings become brittle very quickly.

Durant-Kenrick House, October 2010What if you are concerned about family heirlooms, furniture or even an historic home.  Organizations such as Historic New England (formerly know as The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) are deeply involved in the conservation and preservation of houses built during specific periods and everything that goes into them — clothing, quilts, wall paper, curtains, furniture, cooking utensils, farming implements…

Think about the critical written records of your family, the photographs, the family heirlooms.  To be available to future generations, they must all be preserved and damaged ones may be able to be repaired (conserved).  If this is a concern, you should consult a person with experience in this field for advice. This is not a do-it-yourself project. It is better to leave something alone than to unintentionally do more damage.  “First do no harm” applies to family archives as well as to doctors.

QUICK TIP:  NEVER, EVER use tape on anything you want to save.  Just look at an old book that has been repaired with tape or photographs that have been added with tape.  Tape ruins whatever it touches.


WEBSITES (Just click on the website of interest)

Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library

“Preserving, Protecting, Preserving Family Treasures” from the Library of Congress

FamilyArchives.com  Getting Started

Northeast Document Conservation Center 

American Library Association

Historic New England Library and Archives

Preservation at Historic New England

BOOKS (Just click on the title of interest to see a book’s status)

Baldridge, Aimee.  Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Video, and Personal Documents in a Digital World.  Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2009. 006.6 B19O

May-Levenick, Denise S. How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia, and Genealogy Records. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, 2012. 929.1 L57H

Preserving Local Writers, Genealogy, Photographs, Newspapers and Related Materials.  Edited by Carol Smallwood and Elaine Williams.  Lenham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2012.  025.84 S63P

Taylor, Maureen Alice.  Preserving Your Family Photographs:  How to Care for Your Family Photographs – From Daguerreotypes to Digital Imaging.  Lexington, KY: Picture Perfect Press, 2010.  771.46 T21P

vea/7 January 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy




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Christmas VillageAre you looking forward to getting together with your family this year or are your feelings mixed?  Do people tend to rehash the same old disputes, comparisons, unsolicited advice, etc.?  Why not work at mixing things up? Get people sharing their family stories.  How?

Think a bit about the people who are coming. Getting family members curious about things they’ve never thought about before could be a good start. Think about the family as a whole. Where does each guest fit into the family?  Get people thinking about this family of theirs.  How far back do their memories go? Whose memories reach back the furthest? What are they curious about?  Who shares common interests?  Does one generation know information or skills they could share with a different generation? (Not just older to younger, but younger to older as well.) Do you have old family friends coming?  They probably share a few memories with members of your family that you might not know.

The Basics

Before people get together, do you have addresses, email addresses, and/or telephone numbers for all the family members at the gathering?  Collect them when people get together.  It’s also a good time to ask family members how to get in touch with other family members you’ve “always meant to contact.”

In the course of the day, you might want to ask if anyone at the gathering has done anything with the family’s history or know anyone in the family who does or did. You might be surprised at the answers you get.


I don’t think anything gets people talking faster than looking at old photographs. Do you have old family photos? Do you have any family stories about the people in them?  You could get the ball rolling by bringing some and recounting a few stories.  Hear what other people have to say. Write down their stories.  Or you could have paper pads available for people to write the stories, information or photo identifications themselves.  They should add their names so you know where the information came from. Go through after everyone has gone and just date the notes with the current date.  You know the circumstances now, but will you know where these notes came from and when ten or fifteen years from now.

You could ask people who are the oldest relative they have a photograph of. Or what is the subject of the oldest photograph they own.  Maybe they would be willing to share a copy of it.

If you are having the gathering in your own home, you might set up a collection of photographs, even if it’s just a three ring notebook with photos in acid free plastic sleeves. (You want both to protect the photos and keep them from getting mixed up.) You could set up one with older family photos.  You could set up another with people or places that need identification.  You could set up one with pictures of holidays past. If other people are bringing photos, keep them separate and protected at all times so they can all go back to their rightful owners in the same condition that they came in.  If you have a flatbed scanner set up that you use, you could ask the owner of a photograph if they would be willing to let you scan it (and return it) before they leave.

If you are in another relative’s home, look around for family photographs or other memorabilia.  Ask questions about them. You may not know some of the people in the photo.  You may know the people but not where it was taken or the circumstances.  There is always a question you can think of to get a story or at least more information.

I’ve seen suggestions about setting up a slide show of family photos on a computer or other device.  I always like the idea of flipping through the real deal.  You can go at your own pace or flip back when one photo reminds you of a story connected to another.  Though getting younger people to help you set up something technical that you can use for family to check later would get them involved.  Kids and teens are rarely asked for advice and they know things we don’t.  Helping us might get them curious about what we are doing and why we want to collect these things called stories.

Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts

If you want a quick visual about where people fit in the family, think family group sheets and pedegree (ancestor) charts. If you have already filled out family group sheets and pedigree charts, it might be fun to have them handy to go with the photos.  If you haven’t started yet, you might want to bring blank ones to have people fill out for them and their kids (or their parents). This is where the family group sheets really come in handy.

Talking with Relatives

270. Do not assume anything.  Always ask, especially if you are asking about something specific. Some people might really enjoy recounting memories or stories they know about growing up during or participating in historical events like the Depression, World War II, the sixties, Vietnam… For others it might bring up very difficult or traumatic events they do not want to discuss. Respect their wishes. Also don’t assume if an older relative has a problem with short term memory, that they can’t participate.  Their long term memory might be just fine.

 Two questions you might want to ask could be “Who is the oldest family member you remember?” “What do you remember about them?”

Do you know anyone interested in cooking that might be willing to help those involved with the preparation?  If the cooks don’t want someone “mucking about” with their recipes, would they be willing to share the recipes and/or talk about the memories that go with them while they are cooking? Where did they get the recipe? If not from a family member, maybe from an old cookbook.  Do they still have it? Would they be willing to have their picture taken while cooking? (Digital camera anyone?)

If they are bringing food and you know they made it and didn’t buy it, you could ask them if it’s a family recipe. If it’s something that they discovered, you have a new family story in the making.  Do they have other family recipes that they’ve made or stories about cooking, especially around the holidays?  And sometimes you can get some really good stories about buying a staple for the holiday feast.

Do not make the mistake of only asking the older women about cooking and the men about World War II. Men cook too and women who lived through it have home front memories.  You may also be surprised to find that staid Aunt Sadie was in the military during wartime and stationed overseas.  Remember what I said about not assuming anything.

Be prepared to the inevitable dispute or two or three.  Take down the different forms of a story or identification as well as the names of those contributing each.  It’s good to have them all and some of the details may be able to be researched at a later date.

Another idea I had is to ask everyone to help you create a timeline of events that they remember and roughly when it occurred.  You might be surprised at how far back it goes.

Afterwards: Ideas to Consider

Set up a place online for family access to photographs or stories. Blogs, Facebook (with security filters), Flickr (especially albums), Pinterest, Instagram.  Always check a site’s security filters before you set one up or use one set up by another family member.

You could continue the discussion through emails, perhaps by mailing out a question to everyone who’s interested.  One question at a time should be sufficient.  Just make sure you have a file for them on your computer and you also print out a copy. If some people are really getting into this, they could adopt and research a husband and wife among your known ancestors.

If people give you feedback, do the same for them.  And always thank them, with a handwritten thank you note if possible.  Even the younger generations are impressed with that.  They may never have received one before.

You are building your family story – story by story.  In the short run, you may end up with an interesting, enjoyable family holiday. In the long run you may be building stronger bonds between family members and between generations that could last well into future generations.  It takes work to have fun. And think of the rewards.

4 December  2015/vea
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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The Durant-Kenrick Homestead" October 2012Historic Newton is so committed to helping you preserve your family’s unique history that they want to help. Do you have family photos, slides, documents, or movies that are precious to you? Do you wish to understand what is needed to protect them so they will be available for future generations? Then you will want to come to the Durant-Kenrick House at 286 Waverly Avenue in Newton on Tuesday, November 17th at 7:00. At that time Hisoric Newton will be presenting two very knowledgeable speakers on this topic.

Eric Niloff, owner of EverPresent, will explain the services that his company Picture from Historic Newton on Saving Family Historyoffers.  His business is based on helping people share their family history. Included will be a variety of formats. He will also answer questions about how best to organize these cherished family heirlooms and build a digital preservation plan.

Sara Goldberg, Historic Newton’s own archivist, will guide you in the care of the originals once they have been digitized and returned to you.  She will help you understand what can to done to help these truly irreplaceable family keepsakes stand the test of time.

vea/3 November 2015
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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