Gifts of Childhood

As a volunteer collections assistant at my local county museum, I am currently assigned to cataloguing shelves of artifacts, such as the school materials I was working on this week. I picked up a small wooden box labeled “Fourth Gift” and was immediately taken back to when my children attended a Froebel school. The Froebel gifts were a set of play objects – you wouldn’t call them toys – created to guide young children to learn about geometry, design, storytelling, all kinds of wonderful things. This fourth gift was made by Milton Bradley, a name we now associate with mainstream games. I wonder how mainstream the Froebel gifts were when this was used?

The ideas of Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) influenced many North American educators and the schools they set up for young children around the turn of the 19th century, which were named after the German word, kindergarten.

This fourth gift looked different from what I remember. It contained several smallish wooden pieces rather than the eight cubes in the Strong Museum collection, which looks more like I remember. But then again, other sources specify oblong blocks for the fourth gift. Perhaps the manufacturer took liberties with the design, or maybe the original contents of the box were replaced at some point. I wonder how many children today enjoy the magic of tiny wooden shapes that can become whatever they imagine.

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What Grandpa did in the army

I have recently had the great good fortune of seeing my grandfather’s Soldier’s Service and Pay Book for his service in the British Army. It was loaned to me by my uncle, his only son. I will have a short time to examine it and even to ask my uncle some questions about the notations in it. It’s pocket sized, with lots of pages, including scraps glued in and several paper-clipped to the back page.

My first step was to scan every page – luckily it opens flat so I can do that without damaging it. For the pages with glued-in pieces, I took scans with the piece in place as well as with it moved aside to reveal what was written underneath. I removed the metal paperclip to reduce future damage and scanned the pieces it held.

I expect my high-res scans will be useful for reference and preservation of the essence of the object, but I will take some time now to examine the real thing before I must return it. I will need to create a citation for it to add to my genealogy records, and I will glean whatever I can from the cryptic entries to support or correct what I know so far about my grandpa’s story.

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A good discussion of research logs

The hunt for the perfect research log got a lot shorter after I listened to the recent podcast from in which Thomas MacEntee discusses his approach and even offers a ready-made template that covers a lot of what I am looking for in a research log. MacEntee describes it as a “record of a data journey” and I couldn’t agree more. As we forage through repositories, both online and in libraries and other institutions, we are acutely aware that the data we are working through should be documented carefully, even while we impatiently want to move on to the next tidbit. And as we document along the way, we know that some data will prove unhelpful, but the very fact that we found it needs to be recorded, so we don’t repeat the search unwittingly months or years from now. MacEntee’s template (free and easy to use in Google docs) is one that could be adopted or modified by a beginner, but some fields – those for analysis and evaluation – will prove invaluable as one’s genealogy knowledge improves with practice.

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What does your research log look like?

Recently an editor friend and I were discussing genealogy research and how we make notes along the way. She was involved in creating a research log notebook some years ago and we wondered about the best approach now that we can have iPads and other portable devices along with us in libraries.

I have been very slow to evaluate the notes I took in Salt Lake City last February, I think partly because they are a jumble of handwritten scribbles in the back of my RootsTech program book, plus a number of PDFs and document snapshots stored in Evernote from my Family History Library searches. I wish I had imposed more structure to the handwritten notes; that’s what makes going back to them seem like a big ugly job. It’s not too difficult to add organization to the bits in Evernote using tags, but even then, I will end up with an assortment of disparate notes that I will be tempted to print out (!) just to organize them.

Is there still a use for handwritten notes? Is there an ideal research log structure, for either handwritten or electronic note taking? How can we make research easier to keep track of? More on this in my next post.

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Spitalfields Nippers

Each of Horace Warner’s evocative photos of grubby east London children, taken early in the 20th century, tell us a fragment of a story, but leave us with so many questions. They look posed in working situations – washing laundry, caring for babies, splitting wood – but I have no doubt these kids did all of that and more to get what meagre food and shabby clothes they could manage. Some are saucy, sad, or forlorn, and some look like tough survivors, but unless some keen genealogist happens to recognize their kin, we will never know how they turned out.

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Uncovering Paper Treasure

I’ve had the immense pleasure recently of helping my mother declutter her office. It’s a big job and will take us many weeks, but fortunately she is keen to be part of the process. Not only that, but she is OK with letting go of lots of paper that has filled her office for years. Part of our process is scanning some of the material to digital form. The files that we are keeping in paper form fall into three categories: archives (important documents including photos), current documents (receipts or bills to be dealt with soon), and what I think of as memory aids. These last include her collections of ephemera from trips she has taken over the years, many of them to the UK for family reunions. Each trip’s folder contains tickets, brochures, receipts and her own diary, usually written in a tiny coil-bound notebook. Most of this will eventually hit the bin, but not before she uses it to recall and write about the wonderful memories that made each trip exceptional. Without her to bring delightful and important meaning to each bundle, it’s just a pile of useless paper.

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iPad app for family interviews

I was reading an article about work productivity, meaning typical office work, citing several iPad apps as must-haves when I discovered SoundNote. Well, genealogy researchers need to be productive, right? This little beauty records a spoken word interview or meeting quite nicely while you type notes using the iPad soft keyboard. Later, you can use your notes to jump to a specific place in the recording. You can even draw with a built-in pencil if doodle sketches work better for you as reminders. The whole thing can be saved to your Dropbox (BTW, that link is a referral for those of you who haven’t tried it!) or to a SoundNote space and you can email the notes including a link to the sound file to anywhere. I sent it to my Evernote account. It’s a great way to be productive!

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Time shifting Geneabloggers Radio

For weeks, I’ve been planning to listen in to the GeneaBloggers Radio show, but I kept missing it. Lo and behold, I just discovered that I can listen in later. And lucky me, I caught the St. Patrick’s Day episode, full of great information and links I can use for my Irish research. Now I’m ready to focus my efforts on great great grandmother Annie Connley Gradwell.

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Catching up on RootsTech Gems

I am gradually following up on the wealth of information that was my RootsTech experience. One of the presenters I had particularly enjoyed was Josh Taylor, of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, who did an excellent presentation on what genealogists need software tools to do for us in the future. Near future, please! I was delighted to find another of his presentations online, one that I had missed. See Geneabloggers for a link to Josh Taylor explaining some of the clever uses of PDFs for genealogy research and file management. Even for me, a longtime PDF fan, this was very useful.

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RootsTech wrapped up

Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive fame kicked off the final day here in Salt Lake City with timely reminders about the value of personal histories and the great value of preserving and sharing them. The rest of the day’s sessions kind of riffed on that theme in interesting ways. An 1848 daguerreotype panorama held by the Cincinnati Library has given up secrets no one imagined thanks to modern microscopy. Patricia Van Skaik walked us through all that had been and will be done to protect and share it.
Lisa Louise Cook of Google for Genealogy did a step by step session on building a mini history tour in Google Earth.
And to end the day, we heard about the phenomenal project to digitize the newspaper, periodical and journal holdings of the British Library. As Curt Witcher said yesterday in his keynote, it’s the best of times to be a genealogist!
And now I’m off to the library.

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