28 October 2010

Write and Re-write and Re-write and . . .

Marie Larsdatter and Jens Jorgensen who
became Mary and James Johnson
(enhanced from tintype belonging
to [cousin])
Will I ever be finished?  I sighed. How could I be sad or frustrated over finding new pieces of a story about my great-great grandparents, Jens and Marie,  that I've worked on for years and years?  I feel happy about it too, but it seems that I will never get this particular history published to my satisfaction because more material keeps surfacing. On Tuesday I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally added in all the bits that had come to me recently, I did a few little revisions here and there in the 50 pages I've labored over since my first much shorter version in the late 1980s and the major rewrite in 2008. It's part of the book our family history committee planned to publish that year and that we are still working on. Since 2008, we've added more illustrations and I have worked on it whenever I let myself read it again. 

But now, now I have finally added the 1855 Danish census with its further evidence of their conversion to Mormonism and the startling revelation that Jens' sister Maren was also a Mormon. I had tediously updated all 118 endnotes and then turned to another history in the book.

1855 census from Torup Sogn, Frederiksborg, Denmark
(emphasis added)
I was reviewing our most recent research on the Lamb family to see if anything needed to be added to their chapter when I discovered another short Utah pioneer history of Jens that someone had given my sister. Hmm, a few more details. I decided to just tack it onto the end of the chapter.

But it was too late. My mind was already picking up nuances and I had to search again on the internet to try to find answers to a question that hadn't ever been answered to my satisfaction. Nezbet? I had never spelled the mysteriously elusive pioneer company that way before. I just had to google the new spelling. It would only take a moment, I told myself. But then . . . Voila! I scanned the page. Nothing more about the phantom pioneer company, but I was looking at a very interesting website that had only been posted last summer. Someone else was researching and writing about my dear Jens and Marie. And she had access to resources handed down through her branch of the family that I had never seen or heard of. A citizenship document. Letters from Denmark. A new version of the miraculous stampeding buffalo story!
Sometimes I feel like I'm in a buffalo stampede.

I read quickly and excitedly. I faced facts. I had another cousin to contact. I had another rewrite to do. All the illustrations would have to be re-arranged and I wasn't ready to go on to the next chapter yet.

I know this. Everything I write must be reviewed, revised and re-written. Every time I undertake the process, the writing improves. And this fact too. I'm not making this stuff up. I'm writing about real people who are hungry and excited to have their lives known and understood. They help me and for some reason, they are not in the same hurry I'm in to be finished. Jens and Marie and all those on "the other side" seem to have a more eternal perspective. I think I need to learn from that piece of the story too.

26 October 2010

Family History Keeps Happening

Here's a challenge for us all.
Just 500 words a day
(or more)

Writing about the present is just as important as writing about the past. And it turns our hearts to each other just as the family history we do about ancestors does. Today my dear niece had a double mastectomy to rid herself of cancer (second time around). Of course I've been thinking about her all day. I tended 3 little neighbor kids and thought about her 3 little ones. Another niece came over and helped me clean out my pantry and pick some last garden produce. I couldn't help thinking about our garden talks. I picked flowers too and wished I could take them to the hospital where Jen is today. But she lives too far away. Instead I made an arrangement to take to my daughter's grave. That daughter is the same age and good friends with Jen, my cancer surviving niece.

Finally tonight I am so antsy, wishing for word about how she feels, I remembered her blog and went to check if there were any new posts. Bless her heart! She posted last night and this morning before her surgery. I love the way my nieces and nephews blog about their lives. I have several that I check regularly to see the photos and read about their lives. Thanks so much, dear ones. My heart is turned to you. Nothing says loving like something from the pen (computer).

And by the way, Jen's great example, as well as some others, has inspired me to write more often on my blog. Don't forget to write non-fiction in November as well as write non-fiction now. In fact, don't forget to write something every day. To be a writer, write!

24 October 2010

Are You a Family Historian? Then Write about it!

One of Dick Eastman's articles yesterday was about why we study family history. I agree with his premise that many of us are fascinated with the subject because it helps us discover who we are. I too cannot get enough of knowing those people whose DNA contributed to my own. And I love to write down what I know about them and what I think and feel about them too. What really caught my eye though, was a comment made by a person who described himself as "unqualified" to write about his family history.

I don't agree. Any person with the basic skills to read and write, or with a friend or relative who can read and write, can write about their family history. Folks, there are no grades assigned to our family history writing. We are writing for our own enjoyment and for anyone else who cares to read as well. If they do not enjoy it, believe me they will not read it. Many people who I love do not read my writing (including my husband--until I wrote about his dad and mom). And that's fine. It doesn't mean that I cannot or should not continue to write. My writing is a way of expressing myself about a topic that is dear to my heart--my family members.

Recently a dear young friend who has been developmentally delayed her whole life stopped me in the grocery store. "Joy, I wrote my history," she told me excitedly. "My sister helped me." She went on to tell me that since she likes jokes so much, she had included her favorite jokes in what had been written. She wanted to share it with me. She even told me a few of her best jokes on the spot. Her history helped her define herself. I don't think Carolyn would have been able to write that history without help, but she got help and she got something that she enjoyed and was able to share.

The form in which we record our family history varies. It may be a simple listing of facts in a computer program on or on paper. It may be a scrapbook or a journal. It may be a webpage or an entry on facebook. It may be a story for your children and grandchildren or one or several volumes of stories. We are each individuals with individual preferences and talents. But let's not ever stop ourselves by thinking or saying that we are "unqualified" or that we "can't" write. Let's never stop writing from our hearts; let's not stop expressing our individuality. If Carolyn can do it, so can we!

23 October 2010

Illustrations Again

My daughter (full name) casting her first ballot.
This was at our City Center using an electronic
card to download the ballot for her precinct
onto the machine. After she voted by touching
the buttons on a screen, her votes were printed
for counting. She is a student, so she voted in
the early voting provided by our county.
Contrast this photo with the one below.
(My husband took my daughter's photo on 22
November  2010 and I cropped it so she was
the only voter showing.)

  • De Lux election building and voting booth, Lanham, Md., created 4 November 1924 with a glass negative. This photo is part of the National Photo Company Collection in the Library of Congress (Call number: LC-F82- 466; no known restrictions on publication). To find this photo, I searched the Library of Congress website   (http://www.loc.gov) for an election photo. 
An important consideration in illustrating your history is to make sure the pictures you use are of a high enough resolution to print nicely. A picture that is enlarged past its resolution size will be fuzzy and "pixelated." Scan an original photo if you possibly can. An illustration from a book may sometimes work, but it will need to be worked with and won't turn out as clear as one from an original photo. Decide how big you want the illustration to be on your page, then make sure the resolution is at least 300 dpi for that size. A document or something that needs to be read should be 600 dpi at the size you choose (3x5 5x7, whole page, etc.). Most illustrations taken directly from the internet are too small, since a photo does not have have as high a resolution to be seen on a screen.

A picture with many people in it should be big enough to see each person clearly. A very good photo or one that is of someone that figures prominently in the story should be big enough to enjoy easily. A large illustration emphasizes the point it illustrates. The text in a newspaper article or document should be readable. You can make the photos you have any size you like by scanning them at a higher resolution or higher percentage of the original (depending on how your scanner works) and then enlarging them according to what you would like to highlight.

If you get discouraged with putting trying to place illustrations in the text you could have pages with several photos arranged on them like scrapbook pages interspersed with the text pages. Then just make the text double column to make it more readable.

The captions are an important part of an illustration. Be sure to identify any people in the photo in a way that is easily understandable. Don't forget the date and place of the photo if it is known. A little piece of the text could be used as part of the caption if desired. Many readers will first look at the illustrations and read the captions before they read the text, so it's an effective attention-getter to put something interesting in the caption. Generally speaking, captions are published in a smaller font size and are centered under the illustration. Be sure to leave adequate space around the caption so it doesn't run into the actual text.

I believe it's important to identify the source of the illustration. This is vital if you are using someone else's photo. Even if the illustration is from your own collection, a note in the caption or at the end of the history should indicate that. Also important is to acknowledge any changes you have made--a "photoshop" change or if you have cropped it drastically from the original. Making these type of changes can improve your illustration, but should be noted somewhere.

I am interested in various sources any of you have used for finding good illustrations. What are some pointers you would like to share with the rest of us?

18 October 2010

More about Illustrating Your Story

I like to have something to draw the eye or "break up" the page on every 2 page spread. Sometimes it is just indented quotes or dated diary entries. If I have nothing else, I have used text boxes with catch phrases from the text inside. This worked particularly well for my father-in-law's history. His text was taken from interviews and he is a master of the one-liner. The text boxes in his history serve as a quick summary of his story as a person leafs through the book as well as the means to draw a reader who is just taking a quick look into a story.

Using double columns is also easier on the eyes when the text is not broken into by illustration. What are some other illustration ideas? Here are a few:
  • Photographs, engravings and maps in city and county histories.
  • Histories of churches or schools attended--old yearbooks.
  • If you find something in a book, you can look to see where the author obtained it and then contact the owner for permission. Their copy will be better than a published copy and they may have other photos in their collection that would be good.
  • City directories with maps where you could pinpoint their address.
  • Advertisements of family businesses in the directory. 
  • Public buildings or residences still standing from the time. Check obituary for an address.
  • Local genealogical and historical societies for historical photographs may show the same area or activity that you have written about.
  • Take pictures in a museum.
  • Nearby universities and colleges often have collections of photographs.
  • Internet query for what you want--sometimes someone will take a photo of a certain location for you.
  • Check local public libraries and newspapers. Old newspaper articles are excellent illustrations and add spice to the history. Librarians are often very helpful and will check for obituaries and copy them for a small fee. 
  • Look for typical home, school or farm photos of the day--in magazines, newspapers, catalogues, etc. (Many ideas adapted from Loretta Evans, AG, in 2010 BYU Family History Conference)
My great-grandfather's home as it looks today

Pressed pansies found in a letter from Great-grandma to Great-grandpa (from 1900)
What have you found to illustrate your stories?

17 October 2010

Sentimental Sunday: Nothing Says It Like an Illustration

Family "artifacts" are a great way to illustrate a history. Illustrations bring a history to life and they draw the reader into the story. No pictures of the person or too few for your purpose? What about a family heirloom that belongs to you or someone you know. Take a photo of the item (or scan it if that's possible) and use it to illustrate.  Or go to a museum or historical society and take pictures there. The Library of Congress has many digital collections on-line. The legal restrictions for use are included with the item. Some may be used freely; others include known information regarding ownership and who to contact for permission. Work created by employees of the federal government as part of their job is in the public domain, not protected by copyright.

From a collection of kitchen articles found in museum
in the stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas

Roller box used for a teacher's visual aid--made by my
Great-grandfather C.N. Christensen and owned by
my sister Annalee Barajas
My personal experience is that most museums and historical societies are very generous with permission to use a photo if the use is limited to personal or family history use. Of course it is important to give credit for all illustrations used.

Make sure it's okay to use photography in a museum, too. And remember that just because it's on the internet, it's not necessarily free from copyright.  (And it may be too small in dpi resolution for adequate printing anyway--more on this tomorrow.)

15 October 2010

Follow Friday

How would you like to write a whole book (or article for magazine or newsletter) in one month? Nina Amir has given us memoir/family history writers just that challenge. Her blog WriteNonfictionInNovember.com provides hints, inspiration and that most important motivator--a deadline! She also is writing a sister blog (for months other than November) WriteNonfictionNow.com. Her latest post is about the value of a deadline. Check out her great ideas and join me in blogging or writing every day next month. Gulp. Can I really do that?