Sunday, April 13, 2008

In Praise of School Yearbooks!

They do not provide proof of lineage or ancestral detail. Yet, as resources for family history and Genealogy, school annuals, or yearbooks are invaluable.

Imagine finding a photograph of your grandfather, star quarterback of his high school team, with the soft leather helmet and no face guard. The image can tell us a great deal about his personality. Or, imagine your grandmother as a cheerleader at the same high school photographed with the bobbed hair, the requisite pom-poms and ovesized megaphones. For a multitude of people these images are easy to conjure. In fact, they require no imagination at all. They are readily available in high school yearbooks and student annuals throughout the country.

Often ignored, these resources can provide us with an abundance of information about our ancestors and our family history. Who knew that Grandpa Jack enjoyed football so much? He never told us he played quarterback, as well as the safety position. And, no one mentioned that Gandma Jane was a cheerleader as well as senior class treasurer. Yet, here in the yearbooks there may be more information that adds color and understanding to our family history.

These details, an abundance of information about our ancestors, and our collateral lines, can be found in these annuals and yearbooks. The challenge is finding them. So, where do you find the yearbooks and school history of your ancestors. The easy location is the local historical society or archives. If that doesn't work, try the schools themselves, or the school districts. A number of school districts throughout the country have created archives and special collections to document their own history. So, search these out, they can provide a wealth of new and fresh information about our families.

As a final reminder, remember, up until recently, colleges and universities also published yearbooks, be sure to search for these as well. They may provide a different focus on the personality or our families and our ancestors.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Saving The Family Records

The post Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita fallout has inspired a variety of publications and resources about weather, disasters, and disaster planning. Included in these publications is a fine pamphlet by David Carmicheal, Director of the Georgia Department of Archives and History. Rescuing Family Records A Disaster Planning Guide is a nice document to help us, as genealogists and family historians, to plan for future disasters. This is an excellent resource reminding us to duplicate our research and store it off site. If possible, store it in another state.

This work is a step-by-step explanation of how to duplicate and store our most important documents and records. Although this isn't written specifically for genealogists and family historians, the information is very applicable and should be considered by all of us. Perhaps most valuable of all is Chapter 4, a checklist of records and documents that we need to save. "Essential Records" as well as "Family Records" and "Family Letters and Diaries" are broad categories included in this checklist. Although this isn't a comprehensive list, is doesn't claim to be. This work is intended to challenge us to think about creating duplicates of our records and research. In addition, we need to answer the question: Where is the best place to store these? Carmicheal makes an interesting suggestion that duplicates should be stored, if possible, at least 100 miles away.

The pamphlet was published by the Council of State Archivists after the multiple disasters that destroyed so much of the South and East coast of the United States. For the ten dollars purchase price, this is a very worthwhile document to add to the library. David Carmicheal and COSA should be congratulated for contributing an excellent document to inspire more thought about our collections and research.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finding Your Civil War Dead

Okay, to start off, we need to acknowledge the quote form Mark Twain: "There are three types of lies in this world: lies, damned lies and statistics." I don't know if that is truly from Mark Twain, but it sums up the next few paragraphs.

You see, there are some interesting statistics about Civil War dead. If you read Drew Gilpin Faust's new book This Republic of Suffering she presents some interesting details that are worth considering as family historians. At the beginning of the Civil War neither the Union or Confederacy were prepared to deal with the massive number of deaths that occurred over the four years from 1861 to 1865. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 620,000 Americans died in the war. Neither side was prepared to provide burial servies nor identify soldiers killed in action. Never was there a rigorous program for notifying next of kin in the event of a death. And this is not simply concerning battlefield killed. If men died in a hospital from disease, it was equally unlikely that any official notification was send out.

Perhaps most chilling of all, Faust writes: "more than 40 percent of deceased Yankees and a far greater proportion of Confederates--perished without names, identified only, as Walt Whitman put it, 'by the significant word UNKNOWN.'" Several thousands of men died and are listed as unknowns, their identifications have long since been lost.

I present this information because so often, genealogists and family historians have asked assistance in finding the location of war dead. In the cases that I have dealt with, the soldiers have reportedly died in the Battle of Atlanta. Unfortunately, the battle of Atlanta extended over several months and encompasses hundreds of square miles of territory. To identify an unknown grave in that area is next to impossible.

I do not intend to be completely discouraging, there are resources for finding Union and Confederate graves in the area. Just north of Atlanta, in Marietta is the national cemetery created after the Battle of Atlanta, for Union dead. There is a similar cemetery in Chattanooga, TN. There are a huge number of identified graves in the Marietta and Chattanooga cemeteries. In addition, the United Daughters of the Confederacy have been diligent in locating and identifying Confederate graves. There is a multi-volume publication, listing cemeteries and known Confederate graves.

So, opportunities exist. However, come into the search with clear vision. Finding civil War dead is a significant challenge. The search can be very rewarding, but it can also be very discouraging. Don't give up hope of a search for the dead Civil War ancestors or relatives. Good luck on the search.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Praise of Studs Terkel

I just finished reading the book Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel. I had forgotten, over the years, that Studs Terkel is a master of Oral History. The dust cover of this book has a quote: "There is no one in the world who can listen like Studs Terkel." This is true. In addition, Studs Terkel is able to edit an oral history and make the words come alive. Although this is one of his most recent books, Terkel has produced some of the most billiant oral history collections around. He has published The Good War ( he won a pulitzer prize for this one), Working, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? and several others.

Hope Dies Last is an excellent study in people, ordinary people, who work to make a difference in life. With this work, Terkel takes us back to the New Deal and World War II, and brings us forward to the present day. All the while, we are exploring society through the eyes of a group of inspirational people. We get to witness the major events of the 20th century, from the war to the Red Scare; to the labor movement of the 1960s and 70s; to the civil rights movment; all the way up to Sept. 11 and the attack of the twin towers. The major question throughout these histories is: why do people continue to strive for the betterment of mankind? After civil rights workers or labor organizers get stomped down, again and again, Why do they continue to rise up and work for a better tommorrow? As Studs shows, hope for a brighter future is the driving force in most of us. It simply is more apparent in some, such as these ordinary individuals.

This book is all very inspirational. Not only does Studs Terkel teach us about the durability of hope, but he is giving us a new twist, and a better understanding, of America in the 20th Century.

Thanks Studs.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

So Much to Do, So Little Time

Today, I am using this blog to try to organize my thoughts and tasks. I have too many projects sitting in front of me that require attention. And, I am not that good at multi-tasking. At this point, I have an article on transcribing and editing oral history, it needs editing for publication. I have a book review on best practices to save and preserve valuable documents in the event of natural disaster, it also needs editing. I have grant applications worth about $40,000 that need to be reviewed. And then there are the on-going projects, my family history, updating class schedules for the classes I teach while taking care of three dogs and chores around the house. Thank goodness I took a day off work, so I could get all this done.

Okay, I feel better now. I have had a few minutes to vent. Now I can get on with my day. There really isn't that much work to do afterall.