Recording an Interview

It may be tempting to think that you will remember what you are being told, or to try to jot down notes while the person  is talking.  In a jam, you do what  you have to do, but if you have some time to prepare, it is ideal to record the  interview.  Writing while a person  is talking makes you look distracted, it makes it difficult for the subject to  “discuss” a topic with you, and instead makes them feel like they are being  tested or like you are only interested in getting to that “end goal”of  yours.  You might still be able to  get some valuable information, but you are really missing out if your subject  doesn’t feel comfortable enough to open up to you! The other benefit to a  recording, is the ability to go over it a second (or third) time.   Especially if you are nervous or uncomfortable, but even if you are just trying to remember the next question, it is easy to miss bits and pieces of what is said, or to misinterpret information the first time.   A recording provides an accurate record, something that can be referred to as a source and that can be kept for posterity.  
In-Person  Interviews
There are decent recording devices available at any  store with an electronics department from $20-$70.   Keep in mind that often the less expensive models will lack in voice  quality.  If you are recording this just for yourself you may not be too concerned with the end quality, however, if you think you might like to keep the recording, you might want to make sure that the recorder you buy has the capability to hook up to an external  microphone.  Check out Amazon for a  few examples.  
Long Distance Options  
If you are recording an interview that is not in  person, there are a few different routes you can take.   The simplest method involves ye old smart phone.  If you have a smart phone, it is incredibly easy to record a phone call without spending any money at all.  Check out this tutorial using the app iPadio to record a call.  
Another easy option is Skype.  Using free Skype recording software you can get a pretty decent quality recording for a fairly low price.  
For more information on recording phone calls  check out this comprehensive list by Dan Curtis, a professional Personal Historian (i.e. he interviews people like this for a living).  

Carver: Small City, Big History

It is easy to overlook this tiny little town squeezed between the slightly more noticeable cities of Shakopee and Chaska, but for those who take notice there is a quaint little city with a rich history to be found.

Downtown Carver, Courtesy of the City of Carver

Downtown Carver, Courtesy of the City of Carver

The City of Carver was named by Governor Alexander Ramsey after the British Explorer Jonathan Carver who passed through the area in the 1760s.  In 1851 the present cite of the city was settled by Axel Jorgenson who established a hotel on his 415 acre parcel.  A short 3 years later, a company (which Ramsey was a part of) called Carver Land Company comprised of St. Paul real estate investors, bought the land from Jorgenson.   By 1855 the city had a well established business district , 35 buildings and a ferry.

Carver Fun Facts

  • Gold was discovered in Carver in 1858, and a small “gold rush” ensued.
  • After the New Ulm Massacre (Don’t know what this is? Find out here.) many of the displaced settlers arrived looking for food, shelter and protection in Carver.
  • In 1893, Carver got it’s first telephone services.

Carver Hotel, Courtesy of the Carver County Historical Society

So how did this bustling center for commerce wind up being  a small town?  Prohibition saw to the closing of many of Carver’s saloons, which was a large industry in the city at the time, and following the repeal of Prohibition, The Great Depression began.  The economic hardship struck Carver hard, closing many more businesses.  Perhaps it is this same economic collapse that caused the city to be such a gem with many of its historic structures still standing today.


Research Trip to Sherburne History Center


I'm a bit shocked that this was my first time visiting the Sherburne History Center, but it was! I was stunned by the beautiful facility, and the staff was very friendly and helpful.  Their materials were very well organized and easy to find.

I can't say enough good things about this place!  I'm sure I'll be back there again soon to collect more information.

Have you ever visited a local historical society?  What was your experience?

Google's Birthday: Remember when...

My morning ritual is pretty standard. Start the coffee and sit down to check my e-mails before getting on with my work for the day. My home page (like so many others) is set to Google.


It's Google's 14th birthday. Gosh, it couldn't have been 14 years could it? Google has become such an integral part of our daily lives that it has actually become a commonly used verb. Have a silly question? A random factoid to check? Just GOOGLE it!

Do you remember the first time you ever used Google?

I do. I was in one of my first "Technology classes" (mostly an excuse to play SimCity for an hour), and we had a project... I can't remember what the project was, but I do remember using Google to search for information. I also remember using but in retrospect I suppose that doesn't seem nearly as monumental as the first time I "googled" something!

Where were you when you first used Google?

WWII Hangar Dance

WWII Hangar Dance

This past Friday was my husband and my fourth anniversary (how time flies)! To celebrate we decided to went to the Goodhue County Historical Society's World War II Hangar Dance. It was my first experience going to a hangar dance, and let me tell you, it was: Amazing!!

Endangered Cemeteries: Preserving Overlooked Historic Sites

Historical enthusiasts are often quite over-spoken about their passion for preservation,  especially when it comes to books, landmarks, or homes.   But what do we do when one of our richest connections to the past, the places where our ancestors lie, go unmaintained?  What happens when they are vandalized and overgrown with brush to the point where they are unapproachable?

Copy Editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jim Anderson, in his July 24th article "Graveyards Where History Lives On,"  talks about a couple of Washington County graveyards which have been recognized as historically significant places.  One which has been well maintained and looked after, and one in which crumbling head markers and years of neglect are starkly obvious.  The article goes on to say:

There are more than 4,000 cemeteries and farm burial grounds in Minnesota; many are abandoned or under threat of vandalism and neglect, their history forgotten. "I would call it a significant problem," said Bonnie McDonald, executive director of the Minnesota Preservation Alliance.

A significant problem indeed.  I can't begin to convey how many times I have relied upon headstones as a source of information in my research, they truly portray invaluable information about the course of a person's life.  Not to mention the emotional connection I feel with my own ancestor's final resting places. 

So, what can we do about it?

There is a movement right now going on among historians, genealogists and hobbyists of all levels and backgrounds to transcribe headstone listings.  Using the Internet to keep record of the massive lists of names and dates and even photographs of the stones themselves.  Some amazing resources exist for those who either can't travel to the cemetery where their ancestors are buried or are just starting out in their research, to name a few:


If you are so lucky as to be able to visit the cemetery where your ancestors are buried, realize, it likely will not be around forever.  Take as much information as you can, transcribe, take a rubbing, or a photograph.  Next, you may consider donating that information to one or more of the websites dedicated to preserving such information.  Many companies, such as The Historium, who do some of this research on behalf of clients, will offer you the chance to sign a waiver, allowing them to donate information like this to the applicable societies and web resources, that way, the information about these people will hopefully never vanish entirely. 

In history, it is important to remember that the information you are looking at has significance to more than just your individual subject, it belongs to a greater context.  Cemeteries don't just serve as filing cabinets for names and dates of seemingly insignificant events, they tell a story of the origin of a town.  Graveyards portray an intimate look at the times, lives, and circumstances that woven together create cities, counties, and territories.  Of course, there are also other ways to help: contacting historical societies, preservation associations, and even local and state government can help to rectify the situation, there is often a need for man-power and monetary support.  Even though fighting the passage of time can seem relentlessly tedious and sometimes even hopeless, it is so very important that these records remain.