Saturday, 8 September 2012

Recording Dad's story for posterity

My Dad’s Story

My Dad has decided to write a book about his life. I am very encouraging of this plan, as you can imagine, and I told him I would help him to organise the material for him. He has had an interesting life, in Fiji and Australia, and has mixed with a lot of interesting people in both countries.

At first I think he thought that he had to sit down and write the whole thing from beginning to end, ready to be published. He got up one morning and said he had been thinking about how to start it. He wanted to start with the funeral of his late wife, my step-mother, and then go back to the beginning, a time-honoured structure which is none the worse for having been used before.

Write first, rearrange later

I suggested to him that he didn’t have to write it from beginning to end in one go, but should just write episodes as he thought of them. If he remembered something that happened when he was a boy he should write that bit down, and so on. I would then help him to put it all together afterwards; we could rearrange the bits into suitable chapters, and so on. He seemed greatly relieved.

Once the decision to write a book has been made many peopple think that the process is to sit down and write it all at once, from beginning to end. Perhaps fiction is written that way, but factual accounts need not be. A lot of editing and rearranging is usually done on the material before it is ready for publication. He went back to Fiji and no more was said.

Talking instead of writing

Then he rang me and reminded me of our conversation in which he had said he would write a bit each day, every morning. I don’t remember him saying anything so detailed but I was pleased that he still wanted to go ahead and was committed to that extent.

His idea was that he would prefer to talk into a tape recorder. Every morning he could lie in bed and tape his memories, and then label and send me the tapes. I suggested that tape recorders might be rather thin on the ground these days, and he reminded me of his almost-total inability to deal with technology. I said I would look into something for him to record his stories, and send it to him. Although this would mean more work for me I don’t mind.

To have his voice recorded for posterity would be just as valuable as having his stories written down. I’m sure I can get help with the transcribing from other family members. Well, I hope I can.

Recording devices

So I needed to find something that he can manage and that I can play back. He was imagining a little tape recorder like you see in old movies, with little cassette tapes. Even if I could find such a thing, I’d need two so I could play them back.

These days most options are digital, and there is no way that I can see him downloading files to his computer and emailing them to me. He only uses a computer to read the news on a couple of websites, and email is beyond him, despite some lessons from me and others.

I bought a little voice recorder that I could download the file to my computer whenever I see him. I had been going to buy two so that I could send the other one off with him while I took the one he'd just used, but I thought I'd wait and see how he went with the first one.

Plan B

I don't think he's ever taken it out of the box.

So what I do now is sit him down at the dining table and tell him I'm going to record his story. I ask him questions and I record the whole thing on my phone. Smartphones these days have such excellent recording abilities.

He gets tired easily so I have to be careful. Short, frequent conversations are best. I've already learned much about his father and grandparents that I didn't know before.

We haven't really resolved the issue of giving him something to record his story on every day, but he hasn't mentioned it lately and realistically I don't think it was ever going to happen.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Unlock The Past Expo in Brisbane - Mon 25 to Wed 27 June 2012

The 7th Unlock the Past History and Genealogy Expo (and first in Brisbane) will be held from Monday 25 to Wednesday 27 June 2012 at Centenary State High School, 1 Moolanda Street, Jindalee, Brisbane.

With 18 speakers from around Australia and the UK and 60 exhibitors this will be an event not to be missed.
Last year's Expo in Geelong, Victoria

For more information see http://www.unlockthepast.com.au/events/unlock-past-queensland-expo-2012

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Why start a blog?



Starting your own blog is easy, and there are many reasons why you would want to!

1. You can share the stories you have uncovered about your ancestors

2. You can describe the victories you've had along the way

3. You can find new family members

4. You can get the younger members of the family interested by using a medium they understand

5. It's good practice to develop your writing skills

6. It's publishing on a small scale - you don't have to write the whole book in one go!

This post was previously published on a demonstration blog called Family History Blogs on 16 April 2010. The blog has been deleted.

Google+ for family historians

Google+ is the new social network in town. It's a bit like Facebook and a bit like Twitter and a bit different from anything I've seen. It's easy to share stories and photos with a few peopple or a lot of people or everyone.

It's not really a blog but it could perform the same function, since you can write as much as you want in a single post, and add photos to it. You can then put a link to the post on other networks such as Facebook or Twitter. You can share photos in web albums and publish them on Google+, and others can comment on them. It's become very popular with photographers, as a way of connecting with other photographers and for displaying their wares to the rest of us.

Google+ invites and supports discussion in a way that Twitter does not. You can say more, and the conversation is kept together and flows more normally.

I see no reason why genealogists haven't taken to Google+ in the way that those with other interests have, but so far they have not. Many bloggers leave posts to show that they have published a new blog post elsewhere but say nothing about it, thus reducing the temptation to click on the link to read what they have written.

Google+ also has hangouts, which is a communication tool to allow up to 10 people to all talk to each other by voice and video. Video is not essential but it is a bit disconcerting if you can see everyone but one person behind and blank black square. Hangouts can also be used to broadcast to many people at once. Genealogists and families could use hangouts for many, many uses. Some businesses now use hangouts instead of Skype.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Write now, publish later

I've been writing blogs for a few years now, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's this. It is so much easier to come back and finish a post that you left unfinished than it is to write and publish a post from scratch.

What this means for me is that if I have an idea for a post I start writing it. If the post is more about pictures then I'll upload and place the pictures and put in placeholders for the text in between. If it's more about explaining how to do something I'll start writing the explanation, with perhaps a picture or two to illustrate the explanation. If I'm telling a story I'll start writing the story without worrying about whether it has a proper beginning and end. If the post is a list of steps to take or points to watch out for I'll start writing the list, or the explanation of what the list is.

I don't have to finish it. Sometimes I'm too tired, or have something else to do, or I don't really know how to finish it.

When I come back to it later it is usually very easy to clean up and finish one of these posts. I have at least a dozen half-finished posts in draft mode at any one time. Some of them I may never finish, or I might rewrite in an entirely different way. Others will be a great relief to me when I think I should publish something but don't have any ideas. The ideas are already there, waiting for me.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A good reason to write a blog


Blog posts are a snapshot in time. Just as a photograph can tell you a lot about someone, so can a blog post, even when they talk about seemingly trivial things. Even memes, those things that seem to go around like a craze in primary school, can be meaningful.

I have been sorting through old drafts that were never published, and I found this one from October 2008:
Ten years ago I was:
  1. Working on the implementation of a new computer system to prepare for Y2K
  2. Sharing our new house with my sister's family until theirs was ready to move into
  3. Wondering how long my mother's new marriage would last (not long)
  4. Planting Australian natives in the garden
  5. Spending too much money
Five things on today's to-do list:
  1. Give the cat his antibiotics (done)
  2. Call my Dad to see how my step-mother is doing (trying)
  3. Go and see my step-mother in hospital
  4. Meet an old friend for lunch (will do)
  5. Do some neglected housework (not done)
Five snacks I enjoy:
  1. My sister's brownies
  2. Yoghurt
  3. A banana, or some grapes
  4. dry-roasted cashews
  5. Did I mention my sister's brownies?
Five places I have lived (in no particular order):
  1. Beautiful leafy Hornsby in Sydney's northern suburbs (for the last 20-odd years)
  2. Dubbo in Central Western New South Wales (where I grew up)
  3. A flat in Rockdale in Sydney's south (while I was at uni)
  4. A semi-detached house in inner-city Stanmore (when I was finishing uni and starting work)
  5. Suva, Fiji (for about 6 months when I was 12)
Five jobs I have had:
  1. Salesgirl at Woolworths Variety when I was 14 or 15
  2. Sales assistant at Angus and Robertson book store in Dubbo between school and uni
  3. Bar attendant at a couple of southern Sydney pubs while I was at uni
  4. Clerk for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for a couple of years when I finished uni
  5. Computer programmer at the gas company
Five places I would like to visit:
  1. Ireland - Northern Ireland and the Republic
  2. The National Archives of Fiji
  3. Namibia (again)
None of this will have any significance for anyone outside of my family, I suspect. For my close family, however, it may mean a great deal. Not only does it say to anyone who is interested some details of my past and present life, but it has some bearing on other events that had great significance.

I suspect that I didn't finish the post because of what was going on at the time. I did talk to my Dad about how my step-mother was doing, and I went to see her in hospital every day and sat with her while my sister, her daughter, raced home to get things done. We moved her home when the hospital could no longer do anything for her, and after a few days she passed away, in her own bed with her family around her. Only 11 days after I wrote this.

It still hurts that she was taken so soon. 60 is young, these days. Her father lived much, much longer.
I also remember meeting the old friend for lunch. He told me a trick to do with parking near the hospital before the afternoon peak hour.

It was a shock to read through this post after all this time. I thought I would share it with my family, and anyone else who is interested.

Adi, Christmas 2007

[This post was first published on Social Media and Genealogy on 21 December 2010.]

Tumblr for Family History Societies and Libraries


I think Tumblr is a great platform for a blog. You can share enormous photos, links and news, and the format is large and easy to read. It's perfect for a family historian who doesn't want to do a lot of writing, or only occasionally.

Here is an example of a Tumblr blog (mine):

Tumblr blog It's Your World

If you click on the picture you will go to my Tumblr blog.


What does this have to do with family history?

Now this is a personal blog and it's not just about genealogy, so I need you to use your imagination a bit. Imagine you can
  • share a few pictures of historic photos or documents
  • tell a few stories about what you have in your collection
  • tell stories about what other researchers have found to solve their research problems
  • explain what your society does
  • have a link over on the side to let people know where you are and how they can join
The way Tumblr works, and the reason it is so popular and easy to deal with, is that what you share takes centre stage. Pictures are not tiny little things that you have to click on to get a bigger image; it's right there in all its glory.

You can also reblog the posts of other people, to create more interest, although I wouldn't go overboard with this. There is someone on Tumblr called librarianista who shares magnificent photos of libraries (and cafes near libraries, such as the one above). There are historic photos and retro fashion photos, all of which can add interest to a family history society blog, to encourage people to think about the context of the ancestors' lives.

The more popular blog sites are Blogger and Wordpress, and these are the best if you want a lot of control over the layout of the words and smaller pictures within the text. This blog, for example, is written in Wordpress.

The advantage of Tumblr is its ease of use and the fantastic way it displays images. They are BIG. Images are what get people in, no matter what the post, but if the blog is mostly images people will stay and look, and keep looking. And that's what you want.


What, share all our photos for free???

I have heard the argument many times from family history societies - why would we give away our images for free on a blog? I am not proposing you put everything up there. Just a sample is enough. After all, you are not going to attract people to the society to see the photos you have if no one knows they are there.
Once you have a blog, you need to link it to your society website, and vice versa. The point of a blog for a society or library, in the end, is to get people interested enough to go to the website for more information, and perhaps to join.

This post was inspired by this post at Mashable about using Tumblr for non-profits. Whenever I see
something about 'non-profits' I think 'societies'. You can read the post at http://mashable.com/2011/09/16/tumblr-non-profits/.


POSTSCRIPT
After writing this post I came over all enthusiastic and created a new blog on Tumblr called Social Media and Genealogy http://socialmediagen.tumblr.com/ to demonstrate a bit of what I am talking about. It's more for family historians than societies, but it may give you a better idea of what such a blog could look like than the ones that are there now.

[This post was previously published on 17th September 2011 on my Social Media and Genealogy blog.