The Historium

History Consulting

What is Oral History?

I think History is commonly perceived to be almost a science, a list of concrete names and dates, unalterably carved into the slate megaliths of the past.  The truth is, history is more of an art.  The goal of the historian is to look at events much like an abstract artist would deconstruct a landscape before setting it onto canvas.  Squint real hard at the historical events and some of your preconceived notions and prejudices begin to fade away from view and maybe for a fraction of a second you can see things through the eyes of those who lived with them. 

Oral history is setting down someone's stories on paper for use as a historical source. To some, oral history is a subordinate form of history.  After all, as we all know, the human memory is fallible (but don't tell my husband that I admitted that!).  Things aren't always as black or white as we perceive them and sometimes we make snap judgments based on our own feelings or circumstances regardless of the grander context.  Take, for example, the story of a wealthy girl who lived through the depression in the 1930s in a beautiful mansion on a bustling uptown street filled with other great mansions.  Perhaps this girl never even realized there was a depression, surrounded by others of like means and with no interest in newspapers or radio broadcasts when she could be riding her bike to the beach.  Does her ambivalence about the Great Depression make her memories of carefree childhood summers any less valuable or valid? 

This question can be tricky, it relies upon us to make a judgement call regarding what is important and what isn't.  Because the vast majority of people were struggling throughout the thirties, can we write off her experiences?  What if she was remembering wrong, and the summers she recalled were actually from the early 1940s?  Oral history requires we reexamine our motives for studying history and the methods we use to distinguish what is valuable in a source. 

There has been a resurgence in the past several years with the establishment of organizations like the Association for Personal Historians and other consultants and even historical societies that are using oral history interviews to enrich our understanding of the past through extensive analysis of these personal stories, memories and experience. 

When it comes down to it, we research history to understand more about the human experience and all of these stories are a part of this experience that connects us throughout time.  They remind us that people are truly individual, but even so, we're all similar despite our circumstances. 

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Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


Red Cross 1942

Propaganda poster to promote knitting for the troops during WWI. Circa 1914-1918.

Propaganda poster to promote knitting for the troops during WWI. Circa 1914-1918.

For all of you history buffs who are knitting fanatics, too.  (C'mon, I know I'm not the only one!) I thought you'd find this as fantastic as I did! It is a collection of patterns from the Red Cross for soldiers at war during World War II. 

I love propaganda posters.  I love how they become timeless emblems of a nation united for a cause.  The idea of knitting for soldiers during times of war is far from a new one obviously.  But the thought of being so generous during times of great poverty, when everything from clothing to food was being rationed.   Did you know during WWII that women's clothing was limited to no more than three buttons? (A good thing to know when you are shopping for vintage buttons!) 

Yet the willingness to fill the need, ripping apart old clothing to make clothing for the men fighting overseas, phenomenal. 

One of my favorite little details about these patterns is that they aren't simply retyped... they are actual scanned images of the original patterns, yellowed, tattered edges and all!

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I hope you all enjoy, to see the patterns Click Here!

The Organized Genealogist: 5 Tips

If you read Sorting It All Out and Filing FTW!, you know the basic idea of how to set up and get started with a filing system for your genealogical records.  The biggest obstacle to overcome is getting started with the process, the second biggest obstacle is setting up a system to help you keep it up.  Here are five tips to help make things as simple as possible:  
      
1. Start Today.  The most difficult thing you can do is get started.  Before you start your mind is zooming 
with doubts (can I do it? how do I do it?), frustrations (this is impossible!),  or denial (it’s not so bad… I don’t really need  to find _________.). It’s time to put all of that noise out of your head.  Don’t think. Just do. That is why we  start big and work towards small.  The more mechanical and systematic you can make it, the fewer excuses you  will come up with, the less intimidating it will be, and the less time it will 
take you.  

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2. Let your Pedigree Be Your Guide.   If you are having trouble figuring out where something goes or how you  want to organize your files, look to your forms.  Your pedigree will show you all your family members in an organized format, it is a visualization of how you want  your filing to be.  Bonus: once you get everything sorted out, your pedigree can function as a map to find what you are looking for.  You can use other family history forms the same way!
 
3. Figure Out How To Handle Difficult Documents and Stick With It. Sometimes a document might list more than one family, more than one individual, or have some other complication that  makes it difficult to file.  When  it comes time to empty out your other folder and file these away, figure out how  you want to do it and stick with it.  

One of the easiest things to do is to make a copy and put it in with both  names or families, but this can prove difficult if you a) don’t have a copier b) have been doing it a while and it is making for extra paper bulk.  Other ways you can handle it are to make a note in the second area saying  “refer to “_______________” under this file, this folder, this box. 
 
Note: you will also have to make a similar  judgment call when it comes to marriage. When does an individual stop being a  part of one family group and become a part of another.  I handle this by making the change at the date of marriage.  Whatever you decide to do, decide early and be consistent
      
4. Make Indexes.  Once you  get all of your papers filed and organized, you might consider making indexes so  that you can refer to them in the future if you can’t remember how you filed  something or if you need to find something quickly.   As mentioned in No. 3, if you use your charts to help you organize your  documents, an index might be as simple as including those in the front of each  section of your files. 
      
5. Keep It Going.  All this  would be for nothing if we had no intention to keep our stuff organized in the  future.  It isn’t as difficult as  you might think.  The most helpful tip I can give you here is to pick a day, weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever you have time for, and spend a little bit of time re-sorting things.  Find a place, whether you start an extra pocket folder in the front of each of the boxes for documents “To Be Filed.” Or just use your “Other Box” as a  transitional holding place between your filing days.  

Have a specific, pre-determined place to put unfiled papers, with the express intention of filing them on a specific day.  That way you won’t fall into the same old cycles, even if you aren’t immediately putting each paper in its specific place. 
 
Follow these easy tips, and set realistic expectations for yourself. Spend a little bit of time regularly keeping up with what you’ve done, and you will be living the dream, you’ll be an Organized Genealogist! 
  
What tips do you have to help with organization and filing?  Lay ‘em on us in the comments!

The Organized Genealogist: Sort It All Out

Is your workspace totally over run with stacks of paper? Dining table buried in “proof” and "evidence” from your family history research?  If so, you are not alone. 

We all know getting our foot in the door is the hardest part.  So, where do you start?

Big to Small
Of course it would be nice to know exactly where every single piece of paper should go, right off the bat.  
But it is totally unrealistic.  Sorting every individual page all at once will leave you in a mess worse than what you started with and feeling bogged down and totally overwhelmed.  Instead, we’re going to start big and  work toward the smaller, detailed organization. What the heck does that mean?  In the same way it can seem daunting to fulfill a huge goal (i.e. lose weight) it can be daunting to take on a huge project like organization.  So, we combat this by breaking it off into bite sized chunks that we can do in our spare time, here or there.  Come up with a way to break up your research into about four groups.  I like the surname of each grandparent  (each of your grandfathers' surnames and your grandmothers’ maiden names).  There are other ways to break it up, but I find this is a good division point.  

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Getting Boxy With It
Get a box for each of the surnames you are using to divide things up and an extra one for “other”papers.  Label each one.  Remember, however you decide to break it up, we are starting with BIG, general headings.  We don’t want to do any detail-oriented work right now.  

If you used my example of grandparents, you would  put any document pertaining to any ancestor of that grandparent in that  box.  So, your grandpa’s dad’s military records, go into your grandpa’s box.  Same with your grandpa’s mom’s baptismal records—even though she has a different surname than the one that is  on the box.  Doesn’t matter.  Any of her parents’ (and their parents’) records will also go in there.
 
Don’t Know? Don’t Sweat It.
 If you get confused or hung up on a record don’t worry about it, put it in the “other” box for now. We’ll go back to it later.  The goal right now is to get every document into one of those boxes in as little time as possible.  The sooner we get this step done, the sooner we get to move on to the next.  When we reach the next step we’re one step closer to conquering our mess and setting up an organizational system that will keep our paper’s straight from now on! 
 
Hopefully, just by finishing this step, you already feel like getting organized will be a bit easier and you can see a noticeable difference in the state of your work space!  

How do you sort your genealogy information?  Let us know in the comments! 

Getting Started With Organization

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
— Marcus Aurelius

We have talked about how setting goals can help propel your family history research, but there is another hurdle that can interfere with your trajectory: disorganization.  Yes, I said it.  And I already know that when you read that word you let out a groan of frustration.  We're researchers, not organizers! 


In the heat of the moment, the excitement of the hunt for details, facts and information about our ancestors, it can be all to easy to just hit print thirty times and leave the stack of papers sitting in a stack on our desk (...or the floor, or the dining room table).  Then, weeks later, you know you printed it... somewhere? In this stack? In that? In the closet? Maybe you ought to check the accordian binder your significant other bought you out of frustration with the stacks of paper in every corner of the counter, the table (and even, you are embarrassed to admit, under your bed)! But, let's be real, when was the last time you used that accordian binder? Would you even be able to fit half of your papers in there? Probably not. 

January is National Organization Month, and a great time to use that New Year Resolution motivation your feeling help you get your genealogy information organized.  

For the month of January we're going to start a weekly series called The Organized Genealogist, we're going to cover some simple measures you can take to get and keep your genealogy information organized. 

Reflecting on 2012

2012 has been a big year! Many accomplishments, changes and adjustments. Whether you are researching your family history, or simply spending time with the family, the holidays are a time to reflect on past, present and future, what you’ve accomplished and what you can accomplish.

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Looking back and looking forward, what are you most proud of in 2012? What are you aiming to accomplish in 2013? Share your thoughts, reflections and goals in the comments!

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