Archive for the ‘Sharing 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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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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Special CollectionsThe American Library Association has declared this week (April 27 to May 3) National Preservation Week.  “Every year a branch of the American Library Association invites families and individuals to help preserve the records at their local libraries, and the records they have at home, for use by future generations.”  What starts as a week’s commitment may continue for a lifetime, especially if you get hooked on saving your family papers, photographs, and history.  If you’re curious about what your library is doing and what you can do to help, contact them.  If you want to work on family papers and photographs, you still might want to contact your library. See if it has its own preservation program.  Librarians can offer advice and help.  Other sources of help are local genealogical and/or historical societies.

Below is a sampling of books and websites that may also be of help to  you.


DuMar, Kelly. Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Sherborn, MA: Red Pail Press, 2001. 808.066 DuMAR

Ralph, LeAnn R. Preserve Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories. Colfax, WI: LeAnn R. Ralph, 2007 929.1 R13P


Frisch-Ripley, Karen. Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1991. 929.1 F91U

Ledoux, Denis. The Photo Scribe, a Writing Guide: How to Write the Stories Behind Your Photographs. Lisbon Falls, ME: Soleil Press, 1999. 808.066 C73W

Taylor, Maureen Alice. Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Organize, Present, and Restore Your Precious Family Images. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2001. 771.46 TAYLOR

Tuttle, Craig A. An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs. Highland City, FL: Rainbow Books, 1995. 025.84 T88O


Braun, Bev. Crafting Your Own Heritage Album. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2000. 929.1 B73C  The main goal of this work is to demonstrate how to illustrate and preserve your family history and genealogy in an album/scrapbook format using materials that will not damage your certificates, photographs and other mementos.

Clark, David and Adam Juniper. Our Family Archive: Super-Simple Tolls to Create a Digital Family Scrapbook.  Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009.    I like this book for it’s succinct definitions and explanations. It is actually a good introductory book to genealogy.  It comes with a disk designed to help you set up an online scrapbook that you can use to document your family’s history. You can include scanned documents, photos, family trees… Checking online, I discovered people who used this program  liked it for the online scrapbooking.  However, others had a warning. Be careful investing your time in this program if you want to go further back into your family’s history.  This software does not transfer to other online databases that you might want to use, such as Ancestry or FamilySearch or to genealogical software programs you may eventually obtain for keeping track of your ancestors such as Legacy or Family Tree.  Once you have spent your time entering your material into this program, you are not going to want to do it all over again into another program.  Make sure whatever online program you are using is easily transferable into other programs.


The Keepsake Cookbook: Gathering Delicious Memories One Recipe at a Time by Belinda Hulin. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2011. 641.5 H87K

Charles, Rebecca. Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie: Three Generations of Recipes and Stories from Summers on the Coast of Maine. New York: Regan Books, 2003. 641.597 CHARLES   This book is the best example in this section of what can be done when you combine remembrances of family members with food.

SAVING, ORGANIZING, PRESERVING, CONSERVING5. First checked family records and research

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

Sturdevant, Katherine Scott. Organizing and Preserving Your Heirloom Documents. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2002. 929.1 STURDEVANT


Digital Commonwealth
“Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library”

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

FamilyArchives.com Getting Started

Northeast Document Conservation Center
Preservation at Your Library


vea/28 April 2014
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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