Last month, we began the process of pulling our own records together. Of course, the stories that make up our own LifeStory might take more than one month to pull together. Mine is a work-in-process. Whether you love to write in a journal by hand, enter into a computer or use your phone, there is never a better time than now to start! (I recently started using Prixm on my iPhone to do my daily journaling.)
Setting our sites
The next step in our journey is to tap into our own living relatives for stories. Just think… if you have a living grandparent, they will have stories about their grandparents and those are your gg-grandparents! I’ve learned the hard way that we can’t put off contacting those important resources – our family, when life is so fragile and we are never guaranteed “wait time”.
And if you have elder family members, then it is a win-win to take the time to visit with them and listen to their stories. And don’t forget to ask them to see photos! Those are the best story-starters but you will want to have something handy to take notes (audio, video or handwritten!) Can I just say that the I always get an instant up-tick in my own feelings when I have made the effort to go see my elder family members, either in person or by phone call. I’m betting that your elder relatives will get a similar reaction as well.
On to Generation II and III
This month, as we go back to basics with our family histories, it’s all about the next two generations, or as we better know them, our parents and grandparents. I know that sometimes families, for better or worse, can get a bit difficult or make us uncomfortable, but they are who they are, which is our family, so let’s get their information written down and pulled together so that we can continue on to see where our journey takes us! We are who we are because of where we came from or even in spite of it, right?
Need a handy sheet to help track the documents? I’ve got you covered. This PDF is a fillable form so you can save it, open and type in all your information, or just go ahead and print it out to take along with you to get help in filling it out! (It’s for your personal use. Enjoy!)
Where to find birth, marriage and death documents? Do a quick Google search to see where your state or region’s vital records can be found. For me, here in Indiana, I can find, birth, death and marriage records right on Ancestry.com and yes, that would be the copies of the original documents! If you don’t have a subscription, don’t forget to look to your public library to see if they have a library edition or consider taking a free trial. They also have month-to-month subscriptions if you want to take it for a test drive! Not all states have their vital records online so you will need to get copies directly from your parents and grandparents or check to see if any family members have copies. And if you can’t locate them personally, then check in with the County or State where they were born, got married or passed away to get “genealogy” copies. (You probably don’t need certified copies so make sure to ask!)
Who doesn’t love Goals?
So, our goals for this next month? Contacts, contacts, and more contacts. Get creative if you like but take this as a gentle nudge to take that step. I’d love to hear some of your stories! After my mom passed away back in 2000, I made a point to go visit and/or call three remaining elderly relatives of mine who were all in their late 80’s and early 90’s. Not to be a Debbie-downer, but now, some eighteen years later and they are all gone as well as my own father and brother. I will always count our talks and visits with these precious women as some of the most special times I had after losing my mother.
The documents are an important part of the puzzle because they give us directions as to our next step in our family history journeys. More important than stories? Mmmmm…. that would be a tough one for me so let’s call them equally important and something to try and work on together!
Note: I have been posting monthly heritage articles for Scrapaneers since December 2016 and this article originally appeared February 22, 2019, on The Scrapaneers’ Society website in a series titled “Family History Basics.” My articles are meant to encourage us all to get our own LifeStories written down and I’ve been given permission to repost them here on my own website. If you are interested in learning more about digital scrapbooking, The Scrapaneers’ Society has wonderful classes available from beginner to advanced.
This project is very near and dear to me. I have actually applied these changes to my parents’ binder and I will be changing all my binders over to this format one by one. The side benefit to working on this project is that I have pulled all my documentation into one place (the binder) and it has become a far better Life Story Book. You be the judge. Here is my research binder after its transformation.
(This was made for my own personal use, but if you see some digital scrapbook paper that catches your eye, I will post a list of my digital papers that I used at the bottom of this article. Some of them are rather old, but I will try to give credits where I can find the information!)
I am so excited to bring you this third tutorial that looks at the finishing touches that can be added to your Research Binders that will give the tabs a much needed update. Gone are the old tabs with the names typed so tiny that you can hardly read them. This tab system is simple, beautiful and very effective. (And I love how much nicer the whole book looks and feels!)
If you love the look of the dividers, they are an Avery product (Avery® Durable Write-On™ Plastic Dividers With Erasable Tabs, 8 1/2″ x 11″, Multicolor, 8 Tabs) and widely available at office supply stores. My favorite page protectors to use are the heavy weight non-glare sheet protectors. They are easy on the eyes and give added protection to the document.
Like the Beautiful Borders?
If you see some borders on pages, I haven’t left them out of the tutorials on purpose; I promise! They are Welcome gifts that I send out to anyone that signs up to be a part of my Life Story Community. I am commited to transforming all our rich family documentation into amazing presentations that will captivate our family’s attention. That’s the goal, right?
This has been a project that has made a profound difference in my own Research Binders. As we digitize everthing in our lives, there is still a place for hard copies — they can be viewed any place and any time — even if we don’t have wi-fi! I will be re-working all my albums in addition to any digital Life Story Books that I prepare.
I’d love to see some of your own updates – please post them to my FaceBook page, “It’s a Life Story”, email me[Michele at Lifestory dot com], or tweet me a picture[ at MicheleKerr on Twitter].
I would love to hear any stories of family members’ reactions to the binders!
Here is a list of some of the digital scrapbook papers that I used in my own personal family history research binder:
Welcome to the second of three tutorials where we look at making a few changes to our Research Binders in order to make them a bit more reader-friendly.
I’ve got a some information following the tutorial in case you find that you have any questions. Hopefully, I’ve addressed them all but feel free to send other related questions my way! If you haven’t seen the first tutorial in this series, you might want to read through that as well since I address a lot of basic information that you might not see in this second tutorial like background papers and using Picasa tools.
As I have explained in the first video, I am showing you the changes that I have made to my own personal family history research binder. I love the digital scrapbook papers that I have used. If you see some that catch your eye, you can find out where I got them at the bottom of this tutorial!
Video #2 – Beautify Your Family History Research Binders – Photos are Up Next Using Picasa
While working with clients for almost ten years, I have given back many a research binder filled with lots of wonderful documents detailing the lives of their ancestors. When I hand over those binders, one of the first things that I usually suggest is that they add family photos to the album to bring it to life. Today, I’m suggesting that we can take a couple more steps that might result in the binders actually being looked at by family.
The idea that your research binders won’t be enjoyed without sprucing them up doesn’t apply to everyone. This is just a trend that I have seen over quite a few years and a large majority of clients! They either do all the work themselves or have hired it done only to find out that no one in their family seems to care. To their family member’s credit, I also know that family history is something that we all have to be in the right place and time to want to become involved. — I’m suggesting that we can nudge things along if we try a few things within our binders.
In my first tutorial I ended with the thought that we would all “love to lure our younger family members into looking at their family history and taking an interest.” Well, if you have ever watched the younger family members scanning their phone “feeds” of Instagram or FaceBook or whatever app they are fond of, you will quickly see that what gets their attention has to have something that draws them into the story or picture.
I’m not suggesting that we need to change our book solely for the younger family members, but that we can reach more generations if we combine those valuable documents with photos and stories – kind of tying it all together into an easy-to-digest format.
Stories – Got them?
Of course, there is always a little ground work to do before heading into any project and this one is no different. We need to have stories before we can incorporate them into our research binders. As you are pulling together the photos that you want to add to your binder, I suggest that you take copies of those pictures and make a few visits to family members that either knew the people in the photos or were actually in the photos themselves. Then I would prepare to make some notes as they reminisce about the event that was happening or something in particular that sparked a memory. It is these little bits of stories that make such an impact when adding it to your family history binder.
While I have your attention, I’d also suggest that you take this opportunity to get a video or audio record of your interview. Then I would save those clips to be enjoyed at a later time and possibly even added to a digital version of your binder. (Just thinking ahead!) It also helps to be able to listen again and catch everything that was mentioned without having to stop the flow of the story as it is being told. Lastly, I suggest that you go ahead and leave the copies of the pictures you have been looking at with the family member as a thank-you. Of course, if you send them a copy of your finished page that includes their story, that would be even better!
No Pics? No Problem — but Time is Wasting.
If this is where you are lacking, then again, I would make a point to contact all the family members you can get to and see when you might visit them. Take along your smart phone and an app like “Heirloom” to scan the pictures. If you don’t have to take the photos out of their sight, it is more likely they will relax and then you can proceed with listening to their stories. Don’t be surprised if you don’t leave them with a real good feeling – talking with your family about their past makes them feel important as well as loved. A win-win situation in my mind!
I’ve said it before, but most of the older family members that I interviewed several years ago have all passed. If I hadn’t taken the time, I would have missed out on all their stories. Lesson learned the hard way.
Organization strategy – Who Needs It?
That title is laughable, I know. Once you start to collect any family documentation, stories, and or pictures, you quickly find out that you will need some type of organization. It can get crazy real quick.
To keep things simple, I would have a main folder on your computer titled with the Project name such as “Julian Family” or “Genealogy of John and Susie.” Then within that main folder, I would add the Surnames that you are starting with. Within each Surname folder, I would add the names of both the husband and wife that heads up each generation in a Last Name, First Name order such as “Julian Nathan.” And then, within each of those folders, I would add folders that have titles such as:
Childhood through High School Years
Land records (if you have enough that warrant a separate folder)
Work / Business
Here’s an example of what my folder looks like:
These are all simply suggestions and obviously they are based on a more recent generation – in fact these are the same titles that I used with my father’s folder. Just take a few minutes to jot down some ideas of what you think might work and then look through your binder to verify that it all makes sense. There is nothing worse than starting to organize things and quickly realizing that it just doesn’t work!
Once you are set with the format, then you can begin to scan the documents you have already located or download them directly into the folder that they belong. There are a lot of organizational plans for family research, but if you are going to try and tie them together for a presentation, this works well for me. I can have a visual idea of everything that I want to include in the binder and it is easy to pick and choose what I need!
Picasa – Love for Photos but Definitely Not a Word Processor. Did I mention it’s FREE?
As long as we all go into this project with the idea that we are going to keep costs to a minimum – FREE, then we can come to terms with the limitations that we will encounter. Picasa is a very user-friendly photo editor and photo management software. I’ve been using it for years even though I also have Lightroom and PhotoShop. It’s quick and easy to move around in and you don’t have to take a refresher course everytime you want to use it! By the way, I also have PhotoShop Elements and it is an excellent bridge product between Picasa and the full-blown Photoshop, but my focus with this tutorial was on FREE and EASY.
So, when you are preparing to tie the photos together with stories and documentation, you will want to have an idea of exactly what you want to get across with each page. In the page that I’m demonstrating with this tutorial, I am enlarging a section of a 1940 census so that I can see what was entered for my family. In my description of the census, I will explain the column entries and if I have any background information, I will add that in as well. All the stories for that one page can be kept in one document for easy retrieval and then saved in the appropriate folder as well. As I’m working in Picasa, I can then simply copy and paste (Control-V) into Picasa.
This might take a bit of trial and error but it is really worth it and you will quickly get an idea of how much you can add to get the desired effect. You might need to adjust the size of type if you want to add more to a line.
Important Point for Adding Text
The important point here is that you will want to manually add RETURNS into your text so that it will pick up on the returns when it gets pasted into Picasa. Otherwise, it will become one long line of text and you will need to place the returns manually within Picasa. I think you will agree that doing it ahead of time is a good thing! You can always adjust the end of a line by deleting the <return> and adding it back at a different spot, but experiment first.
One other thought: When you paste your text in Picasa, it will be huge and you will need to shrink it down. That works for me, but it might take some getting used to when you are starting out!
I never know if anything I ever post will help anyone. But I can sincerely see the difference it has made in my own family history research binders and I am hoping that it might prove helpful to someone else. You might choose a different path to change up your binder, and I’m OK with that. I’d love to hear about the changes you have made and what has worked. And if you have taken it to a family get-together and have some reviews on how well the change-ups worked, I’d love to hear about that as well!
Here is a list of some of the digital scrapbook papers that I used in my own personal family history research binder:
Let’s face it – most of our family history binders need a little bit of help when it comes to eye-appeal. But who has time for that, right? Our research binders are a result of months, if not years’ worth of hard work and now I want you to think about how they look?
Well, let’s look at it from the opposite angle; we have to do something in order to draw the elusive family member into our stories. Plunking our tomes of family history research into their laps and expecting our loved-ones to want to read them might be asking a bit too much. Or haven’t you experienced the eye-roll when you have tried to do just that?
Maybe I’m over-exaggerating a bit much — but then again, maybe not… What draws you into reading a magazine? The cover most certainly. And once you have started to look at a magazine, it had better have some pictures as well to break up the stories, am I right? You know I am.
Let’s make just a few easy changes and see if you don’t love your binder even more! I am suggesting that we change up the title page, add some pictures in a beautiful way and make-over those ugly tabs that we are so used to seeing! It’s not that hard and I, for one, am more than willing to try something so easy if one or more of my family members might be tempted to open up their own family history.
Three Simple Changes
It’s really pretty easy. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be breaking this down into those three DIY parts: 1) title page make-over, 2) adding photo pages with stories or at least captions and some comments, and 3) a major tab re-do that will instantly change the feel of your binder. And to help with the Title Page Make-over, I have decided that a video might work best. Before you check it out, you will need to install Picasa, a free photo editor/management program. We are going to use it kind of like design software.
Picasa is easy to set up and you can get it Here. This easy to use software can scan your computer to add all your photos and you can also use the folder manager (in Tools) to decide which folders to continuously monitor. I have been using Picasa for years and it is my go-to photo archive manager as well as a quick editor. For my purposes this time, I’m using it as a design program on a very simple level. Of course, you could purchase Photoshop Elements or even Photoshop, but for my purposes with these changes, Picasa fits the bill.
This week we are making changes just with the title pages.
[Please note that if you are not feeling comfortable enough to purchase Becky Higgins whole Heritage kit designed by Celeste Knight ($21.99) then you can easily just start with the title cards, journaling cards or filler cards. Individually, they are $3.99 each. There is a lot available online for free as well; just google “free digital scrapbook kits.” One of my favorite sites is ScrapGirls. I would suggest that you watch the video and then decide. Also remember that you purchase once and use many times!]
If you do purchase a digital kit, you will need to download the kit and unzip the files. No problem! Here are the directions for that as well. In order for Picasa to show your new papers like photos, you need to make one quick change once you have Picasa up and running:
Go to Tools and choose Options. Then click on File Types and click on all the formats available. Click on OK and you should be good to go! If you don’t do this little step, you might not see all the beautiful papers that you just downloaded .
Now that you have the house-keeping all done, give it a try! I would love to see what you come up with for a title page.
One more reminder: You aren’t making this only to please yourself; remember the goal. Wouldn’t we all love to lure our younger family members into looking at their family history and taking an interest? For inspiration, you might look around at Pinterest or Instagram to see what is catching their eyes!
Over the next two weeks, I will be posting new videos and/or tutorials on how you can spruce up your own family history research binder. I hope you give the ideas a try and please let me know about your success stories!