Your birth: when, where, parents, surrounding circumstances and conditions.
Your childhood: health, diseases, accidents, playmates, trips, associations with your brothers and sisters, unusual happenings, visitors in your home, visits to grandparents, relatives you remember, religion in your home, financial condition of parents.
Your brothers and sisters: names, date of birth, place of birth, accomplishments, names of spouses, date and place of marriage, their children.
Your school days: schools attended, teachers, courses studied, special activities, associates, achievements, socials, report cards, humorous situations, who or what influenced you to take certain courses or do things you might not otherwise have done.
Your activities before, after and between school sessions: vacations, jobs, attendance at church, other church functions, scouting, sports, tasks at home, fun and funny situations.
Your courtship and marriage: meeting your spouse, special dates, how the question was popped, marriage plans, the wedding, parties and receptions, gifts, honeymoon, meeting your in-laws, what influenced you most in your choice of spouse.
Settling down to married life: your new home, starting housekeeping, bride's biscuits, spats and adjustments, a growing love, making ends meet, joys and sorrows, your mother-in-law, other in-laws.
Your vocation: training for your job, promotions, companies you worked for, salaries, associates, achievements, your own business.
Your children: names, dates and places of birth, health of mother before and after, how father fared, characteristics, habits, smart sayings and doings, growing up, accomplishments, schooling, marriage, vocations, sicknesses, accidents, operations.
Your civic and political activities: positions held, services rendered, clubs, fraternities and lodges you have joined.
Your church activities: as a young person, through adolescence, churches attended, church positions, church associates, church certificates, answers to prayers, necessity and power of love.
Your avocations: sports, home hobbies, dramatic and musical activities, .reading habits, genealogy, travels, favorite songs, movies, books, writers, poems, etc.
Special celebrations or holidays you remember: Easter, Christmas, national and local holidays, vacations.
Your plans and hopes for the future.
Your ancestors: your impressions of those you knew personally; a general sketch of those you did not know; father, mother, grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives.
Your encouragement and counsel to your descendants: carrying on family traditions and activities; their obligations to their country, church and family; your suggestions to your progeny and others on honesty, humility, health, diligence, perseverance, thrift, loyalty, kindness, reverence, the Bible and other religious and edifying books; service to fellow men; your belief regarding God, etc.
Never underestimate the effect you may have on unborn generations in helping them through the trials and tribulations of life by the written word of advice you leave your children, grandchildren, etc. If you would like them to live upright, honest lives; give them the benefit of your experiences.
Job, of the Old Testament, lamented the fact that his words were not written when he said,
“Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever!1”
But they were written, and he then gave his beautiful testimony of the Redeemer which has been used countless times as the text of sermons in both Jewish and the Christian worlds. Your communications to your descendants must be written. They will also appreciate your life story as a precious treasure, and bless you all their days for it.
Hints on writing your life story: tell your story plainly and with directness; write truthfully of uplifting, refined and honorable occurrences and experiences. Humor helps to make for easier reading.
If you can give the whys of your decisions and changes in activities it may help others. Illustrate with as many pictures as possible. Make several copies, or better still, mimeograph or print and give one to each of your children and grandchildren. Place copies in local and national libraries and/or historical societies.
The public library in Lancashire, England is a well-funded and progressive organization. They have a policy of offering library cards to anyone who requests one--you do not have to live in Lancashire or even be a resident of the UK.
Their online collection includes a number of resources useful in genealogical research, such as the 19th century British Library Newspapers collection, Who's Who and Who Was Who, and the Dictionary of National Biography.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good"
- 1 Thess 5:21
Over the years I've applied time to the study of numerous family histories. There is much to recommend them, for history is largely composed of the testimonies of eyewitnesses, and much of our personal history comes through these channels.
Family traditions also become mangled with time. People consciously or inadvertently embellish the story, and these additions can expand such that they overwhelm the essential events.
It's important to look objectively at your own family history before using it as the basis for research. Most traditions started with an essential truth. Look for elements you can prove before moving events and relationships out of the speculative category. Sometimes that proof will be very hard to obtain, but it's best never to assume something is true simply because everyone, including family, believes it.
There is a difference between recording family traditions and stories and using them as the basis for genealogical research. Use your time gathering as many stories as you can--they will be priceless in later years, but look skeptically on them when it comes to research.
Remember that your family will likely not share this enthusiasm for accuracy--worthy though it may be. People simply dislike having their treasured memories seriously questioned, let alone disproved. Proceed carefully but "prove everything."
Here is a recent (October 25, 2010) presentation summary from Salt Lake regarding the future they envision for familysearch.org:
Many thanks for your excellent paper and your thoughtful contribution. A few suggestions you may want to consider:
1. Media Obsolescence
I'm not sure the example (page 4) of the phonograph LP as an enduring media form is a good one--this is more likely the exception than the rule. There have been many popular storage formats over the years that are now very difficult to work with at present owing to the lack of usable technology. The computer 5 1/4 inch floppy disk and the open reel tape recorder come to mind--the latter having a history almost as long as the LP (ca. 1950). Users are likely better off assuming that obsolete technology will disappear and planning for orderly migration to the mainstream of what the market supports at present.
2. Archival Video
I had difficulty understanding your reasoning (page 6) surrounding appropriate formats to archive digital video. Quicktime is Apple's proprietary container format and is burdened by the same limitations and issues that surround all proprietary formats. Many times highly successful companies can and do disappear quickly, often taking their proprietary formats with them. As with other container frameworks, Quicktime relies upon encoding schemes (file formats) that are almost always lossy by their nature.
The Quicktime File Format (QTFF) is the basis (mostly) for the MPEG-4 file format; hence it is hard to understand why MPEG-4 should not be preferred, as it enjoys much wider acceptance.
Likewise, the Audio Visual Interleave (AVI) is a container format that (usually) employs lossy encoders. There is little to recommend AVI over more current container technologies, such as MP4 (the typical, although not the exclusive, container for MPEG-4).
Except in very unusual circumstances, users will archive their video using some form of lossy file format/codex--the alternative is simply too unworkable. An uncompressed standard definition DV AVI file, for example, can run around 30gb per hour, which is beyond the means of most users to store--and unnecessary.
Users are likely better off with widely-accepted, non-proprietary current container and codex technologies, such as MP4 and MPEG-4, while recognizing that these (like AVI) are lossy formats and some quality is invariable lost, especially with repeated reformatting Such standards themselves will need to be reevaluated in the future as technology continues to evolve.
It's been a long time since most of us received a real letter by mail. E-mail has pushed most non-business letter-writing to the background.
You would think that communication might have improved in the e-mail era. Frequently this isn't so. E-mail has become an excuse for sloppy writing, incomplete sentences, and an overall carelessness that comes close to offensive.
While researching genealogy you will frequently find it desirable and necessary to reach out to family and other researchers for assistance. You're much more likely to get what you need, or get any response at all, if you follow a few simple suggestions--whether your communications will be electronic or by post:
1. Neat and Complete
Among the most offensive of messages are e-mails where the sender includes the entire message in the subject and omits the body of the message. Take time to make your e-mails neat, well-formatted, and complete. Include your full contact details (including a physical as well as an electronic address), write in complete sentences, and use the same format you would if you were writing a letter to be printed.
When you're asking for genealogical information, consider whether your reader will be more likely to read and respond to a postal letter as opposed to an e-mail. A modest amount of formality shows respect for your reader and indicates that you take the subject and the possible response seriously.
Carefully explain what information you're looking for and what response you would like. never assume your reader understands genealogy or research--or that they might be able to read your mind. Describe your question without going into needless detail but thoroughly enough so that the reader understands the question and its general context.
If you take time to think through the specifics and the explanation of your correspondence, your reader may be better able to help you because answers you didn't anticipate may be triggered by your thoughtful questions.
The recipient of your e-mail or letter doesn't owe you a response; many letters will go unanswered. Most people have as full a schedule as you do and their time is quite as valuable as yours. Letter-writing is also intimidating for most people and hence tends to fall to the bottom of their project list.
If you respectfully ask for the recipient's help and indicate your seriousness by an informative and well-prepared letter, not omitting "please" and "thank you," a response is more likely to be forthcoming. Don't be afraid to follow-up with a second request after waiting a reasonable time for a response, but don't start believing you can nag the reader into a reply.
The balance between adequate information and explanation and useless detail is sometimes a fine one. The art of letter-writing includes using appropriate brevity so that your requests are concise and respectful of the reader's time. Letters so brief that they leave the reader guessing at your meaning are disrespectful.
Concise letters are aided by proofreading. Every written document needs an edit, even a quick one. Editing means checking for grammar and spelling errors but also eliminating repetitive material and excessive detail.
Requests for genealogical information that begin,
"Tell me all you know about ..." or,
"Send me all your information and research ..."
... are likely to go unanswered. Make your requests not only specific but modest, or at least reasonable, so that the reader doesn't feel you're either waisting their time or taking advantage of their prior research. Temper your desire to expand your own efforts with someone's help with the knowledge that some success and mutual sharing early on may lead to broader cooperation later.
6. Supportive and Sharing
Once you've indicated the desire for help in specific areas, explain that you're also willing to share the results of your research. This again shows your seriousness, and it's only fair. You may be reluctant to send the results of years of research to someone you know only casually or may have never met, but you can offer to share the results of your specific research requests with everyone who responds.
This is often enough incentive for serious researchers to cooperate--but make sure you follow-up promptly on any commitments.
Avoid the impression that your request is casual, ill-conceived, or that you are anything other than a serious researcher. Careful spelling checks and proofreading are essential.
You should also avoid making inflated claims for your research, no matter you good your intentions. Genealogical books are exceedingly difficult to write, almost always lose money, and are frequently only of marginal value. Serious genealogical researchers know this, so if your requests include the explanation that you're writing a book you will need to provide enough detail about the project (and its timing) for the reader to decide you're not wasting their time.
Remember that "publish a book" to many researchers means "put up on The Internet," which is not the same thing and something many people want to avoid.
If you're serious about family history, you need to put the day-to-day cares of life aside at least for a while and focus on what you have, how you will acquire more, and how you will care for your collection.
If family history is a bit less of a priority, and everything else just seems so much more interesting and important, I can promise you that the day will come, perhaps not too far distant, when photographs will be among your most treasured possessions.
Our lives can change radically and quickly. We usually have a view of our own situation and surroundings that is limited and fairly comfortable. What we don't expect is how external events will force us to change that view--many times when the tools and opportunities are no longer with us.
For some time I made part of my living as a photographer and I've been involved in production projects more heavily in recent years. When my wide passed away in 2007 I had a number of pictures, many excellent ones, but not nearly as many as I should have. I had some video of her I had preserved over the years, but no real interviews, family stories, or shared memories.
What a tragedy--I should have known better.
In a short time those pictures I had become among my most treasured possessions and I would have given a great deal to have more. Each of us faces a similar situation, whether respecting parents, siblings, or children. If we fail to develop our photographic record while we have the opportunity, we will surely lose that opportunity when we least expect to.
Have you ever heard of "Dead Fred?" One of this site's purposes is for users to post photographs that lack adequate identification or information in hope that someone can make a family connection and provide details. Your parents and grandparents--the same ones who gave you those pictures you've been ignoring--are the source for details, background, and family history recollections about those pictures that will be lost forever when they are wrong.
Recently a genealogy newsletter I occasionally read commented that our family history may be lost in two or three generations if we fail to preserve it. The writer is wrong: it takes only a single generation to lose almost all contact with even the comparatively recent past.
Here are five good reasons you should pay attention to your old photographs, and how you will go about acquiring new ones:
1. There is no better time.
We always assume, for some peculiar reason, that we will have more free time in the future. Even if the assumption were true, which is usually is not, we may not have the financial resources, the access to family members whose history we want to preserve, or the health to do what we want to do in the future. We need to start today with the time and resources we have available.
2. You already have old photographs.
Even if you didn't realize it. Every photographic print you have is deteriorating, some slowly and others surprisingly rapidly. One an image deteriorates, some of the changes can be compensated for, but the character and detail of the original is lost forever and can never be recovered.
3. Many old techniques were better and deserve to be preserved.
Photographic prints made prior to about 1985 are usually superior to those produced later, when low-cost processing techniques came into widespread use. The color and artistic techniques used on professional portraits, for instance, were frequently costly and represent a true lost art in this age of digital image manipulation. These treasures need to be preserved.
4. Images tell a story that words never can.
The personal insights, interactions, and memories preserved on film are at least as important as personal journals. Pictures allow us to see others as they saw themselves and appreciate their priorities, lifestyles, and relationships in unique ways.
5. Digital technology makes creating new pictures easy and cheap.
There is no financial excuse for not taking as many pictures as you can. Digital photography imposes no penalties for mistakes. A quality digital camera is a wonderful tool, but it can never substitute for a photographer who won't take pictures. Buy the best camera you can afford and stop waiting until you have good equipment to start taking as many pictures as you can.
One professional photographer I know, the recipient of many awards, purposely uses very modest equipment as proof that expensive and sophisticated set-ups are not essential to top-quality results. Put your effort into taking more and better pictures--but take pictures!
About 1996 I was an early pioneer of making family history available online (wardell-family.org). Seems commonplace these days, but it was new and unique for the time. I might do it different now, as privacy concerns are much more defined in recent years, and I while I was preparing all the material I wondered whether it was really worth the effort.
This picture of my mother was taken when she was five years old. It was kindly sent to me by a lady who had known her as a young woman, although she never provided many details about the relationship.
Some photographic restoration provided this charming picture. But for The Internet, it would have been lost forever.
The message here is that our history is rapidly disappearing. I read a quote recently that suggested all the details of our lives would be lost in two generations if we failed to document it ourselved. This is incorrect: it will happen in one generation.
David Wardell has been active in genealogical and historical research for over 30 years.