Family History and Computers

I seem to spend most of my spare time doing family history research. Either that or preparing lessons to teach others how to do their own research. No, I’m not a professional researcher, but it still seems appropriate for me to concentrate my writing efforts on how to help others.

My comments about computers may be best received by people who have not fully book2embraced modern technology, like this delightful lady, or by those just beginning their family history journey. I would like to think there will be insights that will help anybody who cares to read these posts. Depending on your elvel of familiarity with technology, though. you may have a pretty steep learning curve. The best advice I can give is to encourage you to keep trying. It’ll grow on you.

Family history research is a lot easier now than it was 50 years ago when I first book1started my journey, but that does not mean that it is easy. There is still a lot of effort involved, but at least you likely will not need to drag huge tomes from the library shelf to look at every page in the hope of finding one tiny nugget of information. If anything, the process is more cerebral now because computers and the internet have given us so much more material than we had access to before. But traditional research in a document repository still has its place.

I often say that family history should be more than a collection of arcane facts and figures. Not only does finding out background information about the family, the neighborhood, local and national politics, and pictures of where your ancestors and distant cousins lived make it more interesting for you, but your children and grandchildren will love that kind of detail as well.

Remember, you will only be limited by your imagination. The information is out there! 

Stories and Memories for Family History

Stories1

Here is a perfect example of why we ought to write down our stories and record memories and connect them to our ancestors, and how not to do it.

A little while ago I was researching one woman who appeared in all of the available censuses for England & Wales. That’s from 1841 right through 1911. What was interesting was seeing her age in each census. We know they are taken every 10 years, right? But in her case she apparently only aged 9 years between censuses – even before she got married! (I’m guessing she’s the one who gave the data to the enumerator.) But it continued afterwards as well. 

While that is interesting, I then found that when she died, the person reporting the death gave her correct age. So, somebody in the family was aware of the truth (more likely several people). But this gives us some interesting facts to help flesh out her character. She was clearly concerned about what others thought of her appearance, and was sufficiently dominant that her parents, husband, and, later, her children, continued to pander to her – at least, during her lifetime.

Now, I suppose one could say that these conclusions are based on conjecture, but really, isn’t that what most storytelling is? You ask any football fan how a given goal was scored and you will likely get as many variations as there were fans attending the game. Besides, I really warmed to her after I saw what was going on, and it’s so much more interesting than just plain, boring, facts and documents.

So, why am I offering this up as an example of what not to do? Because I did not record this at the time of my research. As a result, I have no idea who I am writing about. I’m sure I’ll come across it one day and will be sure to add the story, but until then I will just have to resolve to be more diligent in my story writing.

At any rate, stories and memories should bring history to life. Don’t know much about a particular family? If you know where they lived you can always research the history of the area and show the type of work they were likely involved in and so forth.

Preserving Pictures for Family History

Family History is about real people, and it helps to bring those people to life if you can include pictures and stories as you gather information. I have had false starts in this area over the years but I would like to think that I am finally getting a handle on this.

I have had a scanner for many years. It works well enough but the software that goes Scanner.pngwith it is somewhat clunky and time-consuming. As a result I was not encouraged to use it a lot. And it doesn’t help that the drivers have never been upgraded from Windows XP, so I have to maintain a really old computer just to be able to use it.

Three years ago I bought a QromaScan at Rootstech. It’s good. It was fun to use at first QromaScan and I still use it occasionally, but it needs to be assembled before use and doesn’t always work as I would expect. Not only that, it doesn’t like the format of English towns. For example, there are several Donningtons in England, so I want to specify the county to avoid confusion. QromaScan doesn’t allow that, so I have to manually change the metadata after scanning which, frankly, is a pain.

So what has changed? Why do I sound so upbeat? One of my purchases at RootsTech this FlipPalyear was of a portable scanner called a FlipPal scanner. It is high on battery use but so convenient. In the four days since it has arrived I have scanned 40 pictures, amended the metadata and placed it all in a spreadsheet. It will even scan pictures still in the frame, as well as being able to split large pictures between multiple scans and then seamlessly stitch them back together. The picture enhancement software is excellent as well.

Next, I’ll talk about memories and stories because without them family history really is nothing but dry facts and figures.