Memorial Day

Yesterday I went to a local Memorial Day Ceremony (I’ve never been before). By far the most moving thing was the segment where all the veterans stood up and introduced themselves, their branch of service, their rank, where and when they served. It filled me with awe, the places some of these men had been. Plenty of Korean War vets, Vietnam Vets, and Veterans from WorldWar 2. And a handful of those who’ve served more recently. There was a man who’d fought and been captured in Bataan; he was a prisoner of war for 2 or 3 years. A man who’d landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. A man who’d been in the battle of the bulge. (We ate cheese and crackers for Christmas, surrounded by Germans, he said.) A man from Holland who was not a veteran, but who was freed by U.S. Forces, and wished to thank United States soliders.

I thought of the Veterans Oral History project. Wondered if these stories have been told and recorded.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 30, 2006 in • Oral History ProjectsPersonal History
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“What happened?” How hard it is to ask…and yet the answers explain so much

This account by a woman who goes by Woldoog describes what she learned after asking her Vietnam Vet father what happened to him.

He shared with me truths about war that no father is anxious to share with his daughter – truths about existing in a state of sustained fear, the horror of invoking death, what a person is capable of doing in order to preserve one’s life and the lives of others – all truths that set the course of his life, and mine, forever.

As far as I know, Woldoog didn’t record the conversation.  It was a talk that happened over a couple of log days. And a powerful one at that. Go and read it all.

But it makes me wonder about the tough conversations within families. Tough to get started, the ones that begin with uphill battles of soul, where the unspoken rules—the ones that say “We don’t talk about that”—are finally overcome by that long awaited question that finally (finally!) tumbles out. The “What happened?” question.

I asked my Grandpa that question. They were questions about how family members died. His two oldest boys: drowned. Before my Mom was born. And a conversation about how my grandmother died. It was a ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2006 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Willa Baum, 1926-2006

An obituary for Oral Historian Willa Baum, written by her son, Brandon. “Her pioneering work in oral history methodology and interview techniques served asjavascript:void(0); the foundation for the establishment and growth of oral history as a unique academic discipline.” She’s the author of two books on Oral history, and Co-editor of an anthology.

Willa loved being involved in oral history, not only because the work was important, but because it allowed her to meet people of the highest caliber and interview them about the events and issues they felt most passionately about.

Through her interviews at ROHO, Willa got to know Earl Warren, Golda Meir, and Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, David Brower and many others. She prided herself on being clever enough to hire a group of top notch women interviewers, each an expert in her field, who “wanted something intelligent to do.”

[...]Willa was also instrumental in establishing oral history as an accepted discipline by working with colleagues from around the country to develop professional ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Oral HistoriansOral history in the news
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Playing with MemoryMiner (of which more soon)

(updated) I’ve been sitting down and seriously working in MemoryMiner, MacOS software for organizing family photos based on person/place/date and interconnections. Tomorrow, I’ll attend a local Macintosh event where John Fox, MemoryMiner’s developer, will attend. I’m compiling a list of questions for him about the software, and will probably record an interview. (yes, more podcasting is in order!) My goal is to create something to show with MemoryMiner for the upcoming session on Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Vloggercon in about (gulp!) three weeks.

UPDATE: After sitting down with John Fox at the MacGathering, I’ve gotten some of my “why does this happen when I do that?” questions answered (always a good thing) and I’ve gleaned a couple of news tidbits to share about MemoryMiner. Version 1.1 will be out very soon (a matter of weeks, not months). It’s got more compatibility with other software, specifically:

Genealogy software’s GEDCOM file format. Export your work from Family Tree Maker or Reunion or others (lists of Windows and Mac genealogy applications) and import it into MemoryMiner. (Don’t repeat work you’ve done already. Yay!)

Mapping software: Use Google Earth to pinpoint a location where a photo was taken, and export ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 18, 2006 in • Family History Software
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OurStory launches, first impressions (it’s Beta, and it breaks)

(updated) OurStory, a web app for sharing personal and family stories, just launched. I’m trying to check it out and got stuck at the new user registration page. The Terms of Service is two words shy of 3600 words–oof! (It’s displayed in an impossibly small box, 9 lines high. It took me over 40 clicks on the scroll bar to scroll through it all.) And that doesn’t count the privacy policy, which I think is more important– if I’m going to put stuff from my own life–words, photos, media files, onto their servers, I want to know what sort of safeguards they have about that data, and whether it’s still “mine” or does it become “theirs.”

My thoughts and expectations, before even seeing what’s inside: I expect that the site will provide a way for me to organize things. It will ask questions to spark stories. I assume that it will allow for uploading of pictures. Movie files? Audio files? Don’t know yet, but would assume so.

One concern I have at the outset is that I must register before the link called Q&A works (it leads to a register screen). Since the site has hinted about asking life questions, I don’t know whether Q&A refers is a differently-named FAQ  about the site or not. Also, the site doesn’t have a set of screenshots displaying what it’s like once you’ve signed up. The site is in beta, and no doubt the ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 17, 2006 in • DigitalityFamily History SoftwareLongevityPersonal History
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Granddad blogging: Oral history project

The Vol Abroad blog posts weekly entries of transcripts from interviewing her Grandpa. Lots from WW2, and Tennessee. I’ve read the first few posts, and Granddad blogging looks to make for one of those great read-it-all-in-one-sitting stops on the web….well, until you catch up to where she is now. New installments every Tuesday.

From Vol Abroad’s introduction to the series:

I have started with the WWII transcripts, because that’s where we started recording, but I will also share other stories, some of which cover aspects of Tennessee history that I have not seen recorded. I had promised my grandfather that I would give the recordings and transcripts to the University of Tennessee, which I haven’t done (yet), but in the meantime, I am publishing them here.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • AfterwardsOnline Oral History CollectionsTranscription
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Oral history aids those with dementia

The BBC has a short audio story (3-4 minute, Windows Media or Real Audio) news story. “An archive of conversations with people who have dementia has lead to a change in practice at some care homes.”

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 16, 2006 in • Oral history in the news
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Open discussion thread: Have you tried it? Or do you want to? What was it like?

Have you conducted some form of oral history with one or more person in your family? What was it like? What did you learn? What would you like to know? What are the “stuck points” that prevent you from doing so? Did you overcome them? How? Now that you’ve done it, how do you feel about it?

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 15, 2006 in • Do it: YourselfInterviewing
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StoryCorp’s Question Generator

Storycorps has an online tool to generate questions for an interview. “You’ll start by writing your own questions, then we’ll suggest questions that, in our experience, have led to great interviews.” I didn’t try this for my interview with my Mom yesterday (just over 3 hours in two sessions. Which is a lot!). But maybe I will for a future interview. By the way, the StoryCorps web site doesn’t keep the questions; it emails them to you. You may also print them off of the web site. They come in two forms: Remembering someone (i.e., Mom, tell me about your Mom, my Grandma), and questions to elicit descriptions about his/her own life.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Do it: YourselfInterviewing
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Mothers and Days and Procrastination

My heart goes out to fellow weblogger, Robert Scoble, whose mother is gravely ill. He’s in Billings, Montana, to be with her. Tomorrow, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to drive for just under an hour to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day and spend the time looking at old family photos and recording oral history of her Mother’s side of the family (my grandmother graduated from Billings High School in Billings Montana. Small world.) Oh, and just so you know, that’s Mom up in the masthead of this site. My nephew is interviewing her.


I feel as though any discussion of what this site is about is a poorly-timed. too-loud shoutfest that intrudes on Robert’s time with his Mom, but I know there are a whole lotta bloggers and blog-readers who are getting a sudden moment to reassess the value –and fragility– of life, This site is dedicated to one of the Noble Deeds Oft Procrastinated… “Oh man, I’d really like to sit down with Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/etc and get him/her to tell me the stories from his/her childhood.”

My Mom’s Mama left Billings for her birthplace, Cambridge Massachussets, to attend MIT and then went on to Schenectady, NY, where she worked as an engineer for the General Electric Company, met and then married my Grandpa, eventually left the GE Labs to raise a family, and then went back to work again to support the war effort in 1941 or thereabouts.

I didn’t really know her; she lived on the other side of the country, and died in 1967 when I was just shy of 8 years old. She died when her daughter (my Mom) was 34 years old. At this point, my Mom has lived more years after her mother’s death than the 34 years they lived in common. Mom and I navigate a new mother-daughter ground ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 13, 2006 in • Personal History
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From camcorder to iPod

Engadget previews Bella Catapult, a portable digital encoder “that will let you toss those MiniDV cassettes straight out of your bag and replace them with your iPod or nearly any other USB 2.0-compliant storage system.” Due to ship 2nd half of 2006. Price: under $300. Looks sweet.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 11, 2006 in • VideoVideo: Hardware
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History Channel wins Peabody for Documentary of Civil Rights Oral History

Civilrights.org describes the documentary, Save Our History: Voices of Civil Rights, which intersperses some of the hundreds of personal eyewitness narratives with big picture overviews of what was happening at the time.

A&E sells the DVD for 25 bucks. Here’s what the Peabody Board had to say about the special.

“Not a professor or celebrity in sight. Just men and women, white as well as black, recalling their personal experience of ‘the movement.’ The History Channel special was eloquent, moving, invaluable.”

The Voices of Civil Rights oral history project is a joint project of the AARP, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and the Library of Congress. In 2004, the project took a 70-day bus tour across across the country, collecting personal accounts. [bus tour page]

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Oral history in the newsOral History Projects
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Google Trends (new!) on Oral History

Google Trends is the newest internet shiny toy. It measures trends for terms used in searches, and for terms appearing in Google News. Here’s the trend on Oral History. The latest high point was linked to a news story I didn’t notice (huh?). Ah, I see why. The date was April 12. Taxtime. Talk about your news blackout period. I’ll rectify that in the next post.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Oral history in the news
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Maps and Family History (book review)

One of my favorite blogs, The Map Room, reviews Walking With Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide To Using Maps And Geography. Jonathan Crowe, The Map Room’s author, notes the book’s “assertion that place is central to genealogical research”– you gotta know where to look to find the good stuff, and maps are a genealogist’s friend.

What intrigues me about maps and family history is a slightly different use for them—a memory trigger. The common wisdom for conducting your oral history includes the helpful suggestion, “Use photographs and documents to help trigger the narrator’s memory to describe past events or locations.” Photos are, of course, so freakin’ obvious… First as an identification of who’s in the picture—and how they’re related, and where the picture was taken. And second, as a trigger to the significance of the persons, place, and that time. “Here’s Old Uncle Jake who used to visit us every few years. Let me tell you what he used to say when he’d come to visit us…” or somesuch. But the “and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • BooksInterviewing
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Gilroy Oral History Exhibit

The Cannery Tales. My goofy prediction: No vampires will be part of the Saturday exhibit (May 13, 3-5pm). Gilroy is California’s garlic capital, though this history is more along the lines of tomato canning. (if you want to toss tomatoes at me for my bad joke, I won’t say I don’t deserve it.) The old cannery buildings are being demolished; new development will house the oral history project.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Oral history in the news
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