Personal History

The recollection of one's own life. May or may not include Oral History, but it's closely related.

After two decades, the conversation that changed EVERYTHING

My grandparents on their wedding day. 21 years later, I learned about a conversation that changed everything – everything – I thought about what happened on March 8, 1986. Over two decades after that harrowing event, knowing about that conversation has made all the difference.

I’ve written about this March 8 day before, in 2007 in a post “Why International Women’s Day is Hard.”

The kernel of the story is hard: Early that morning, my grandmother woke up. Fell. Pain. Broken hip. (this, some three months after falling and breaking her hip. The first time.) What we know comes from grandpa’s phone call. She fell. Broke her hip. She’s gone and by the time you get here, I’ll be gone, too. Gunshot wounds. Police tape. News stories, and shock.

The new revelation came to me a few months after I wrote the above blog post. I re-read it again, and thought, My perspective on this has completely changed. (If you want to, go read it. I’ll wait.)

Caution Tape
...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 08, 2013 in • AudioAudio: HardwareInterviewingPersonalPersonal History
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Interviewing Family At Thanksgiving: What Happened Last Year & This Year’s Plans (Updated)

Thanksgiving Table Setting What can you do to interview family and collect histories and memories of elders and relatives when you get together with family at Thanksgiving or for the National Day of Listening?
I wrote about this last year, with a collection of ideas I culled from the internets. I adapted one of those for our family gathering last year. I’ll describe what we did, what I learned, how this year will be different, and brainstorm some variations on a theme.

I started with Beth Lamie’s idea, Draw From A Hat. Put a set of questions in a hat and draw one out and ask. Repeat. That was the inspiration: That, and “Get the kids involved.”

But of course, somebody has to think up the questions that get placed into the hat. I focused on this with my nieces—two girls, aged 9 (nearly 10) and 4. Let them be the ones to come up with questions for everyone.

What we did to prepare for Dinner Conversation

I arrived at their house, got them to step away from the computer and the Tee vee (sigh. yes. true.) with an aunt-ish scheme: Think of some questions to ask people at the dinner table. Instead of generic questions that would apply to anybody, I ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 22, 2011 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Digital Family History as understood by Digital Natives with 500 IRL Facebook friends

Maiden Aunt w iPod It’s not the same thing as what Ye Olde Maiden Aunt used to collect and curate. An intriguing article by fellow Association of Personal Historians member Jane Lehman-Shafron, she notes the current trends (look! TV shows! Newspaper articles!), but also points out how family history in digital form is being used by the next generation, the Digital Natives who grow up immersed in computing technology.

The form that family history is taking changes with the times. 

Today’s younger generations are more interested in family history than ever before. The whole country is. But they are demanding that those maiden aunts (and all the rest of us who fulfill the function of “family historian”) get with the times. They want their family history accessible and they want it compelling.

Speaking as the


single Aunt whose spent a lot of time in the technology industry—I’m even called AuntiAlias—it’s a computer graphic pun (know what anti-aliasing is?), I’m one of those Aunts who is pushing everyone forward in digital pursuits when it comes to family history.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2010 in • DigitalityGenealogyPersonal History
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I’m following Digital Death Day today. Remotely

Digital Death Day: RIP, bits What happens to your bits after you die? That’s the premise behind the Digital Death Day unconference, currently in progress. (On twitter, check out the #ddd2010 hashtag). I’ll be posting provacative tweets and topics here on an ongoing basis.

Why does Family Oral History deal with digital death? The recordings of conversations that are saved in digital formats is the deliberate creation of digital bits that are meant to last longer than the speakers whose voices are recorded therein. It’s an edge-case of the central phenomenon explored at the conference. What happens to your bits once you die?

Here, in no particular order, are tweets from those in attendance, as a kind of thought-piece about the digital lives we have. Plus, for me, having experienced three deaths of people close to me in less than a year (and many more remote as friends’ parents shake off this mortal coil), it’s highly relevant.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 20, 2010 in • DigitalityLongevityPersonal History
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The Interviewer’s Goal: Enabling a Mental Journey into the Past

image Stumbled upon this awesome description of The Interviewer’s Dream Moment, posted by Don Ray. It’s part of the setup for a story he’s going to tell, but it jumped out as the! most! perfect! description! of a kind of zen state of interviewing:

Countless times in my 30+ years as a reporter, producer, author and teacher, I’ve looked into the eyes of people I was interviewing and realized that they weren’t there with me—they had taken a mental journey into the past. They were somewhere else. I eventually learned to remain as silent as possible so that they could stay in that place—any questions would quickly bring them back to the present.

He goes on to talk about an experience where he was transported into hiw own past, back in Vietnam, trying to save a dog’s life. It’s a story worth reading for its own sake.

The unwritten part of this process for the interviewer is to ask the right kind of question that facilitates the ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Tartan Thoughts: So, there was, like, this big Genealogy shindig in Salt Lake City recently, and…

image So I hear there was this great gathering of genealogists in Salt Lake City recently, at an event that goes by the acronym NGS. Many people attended, and blogged about it. I read a few of the roundups, but one in particular caught my eye – the Ancestry Insider post that included a link to a movie. About family with a clan. And a tartan. I’ll embed it here, with color commentary.

About the Clan McCloud. So you know, McCloud is an anglicization (americanization) of the spelling of the name McLeod or MacLeod.

Oh, that photo at the top of this post? Those are my parents and Dad is wearing what we call the Loud MacLeod tartan—also known as the bumblebee tartan. I can’t say as that tartan goes well against my particular skin tones. I’ve written about my family’s erstwhile and dubious MacLeod connections in my story Not from the Isle of the Lewes. The blood is fake and mythical, but our experience meeting Chief John MacLeod of MacLeod was very real.  Alas, most of my good photos of that trip are all slide transparencies. There is much to scan, and I’ve not even ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 14, 2010 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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“It was like I had opened up a history book and was able to ask it questions”

Louise Bibby Hocking, of It's My Life DVDs Grandpa’s 94-year old cousin. His name’s Keith. That’s who Louise Bibby Hocking of It’s my Life DVDs went to interview. She was Late. Lost. Flustered. But she finally arrived, and then it all changed. Her account of her day, what she discovered, and what it was like describes exactly why I am so jazzed about interviewing family members.

Let me give you a little more from her story, with the quote that makes up the title of this post:

But eventually I got to asking him about his grandfather, who he knew very well – my great great grandfather. As Keith told me about the “jolly” fellow who was my great great grandfather, and then spoke of his great uncles, I was suddenly hit by an amazing feeling – it was like I had opened up a history book and was able to ask it questions.

She goes through all the high points. Of the get around to it to make that call.

Being in her own head while en route. Getting lost. Having misgivings. Regrouping. (deep breaths!)

Arriving. And then the magic when the stories unfold. Comparing ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 06, 2010 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Wordless Wednesday, 5 years after 05/05/05 Family Reunion Edition

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Click the big wide photo to enlarge.
Photo taken by camera timer. But it was my camera.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 05, 2010 in • Personal HistoryPhotographs
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Thoughts about Faces of America

Just watched the first episode of Faces of America American Lives, the annual February PBS documentary by Henry Louis Gates Jr. He looks at the immigrant experience, and the family history that brought certain people to the United States – the parents and grandparents of Americans of note– Kristi Yamaguchi, Yo Yo Ma, Mike Nichols, Louise Edrich, Mehmet Oz, Elizabeth Alexander, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria and Mario Batali (I guess we hear more next time from Stephen Colbert, Meryl Streep, and Queen Noor). The heart of this episode dwelled in the events of World War II, and the way that great event shaped the lives of ancestors of Yamaguchi, Ma, Nichols and Edrich.

One trademark about these Gates productions is the revelation about an ancestor. You watch Gates direct the person to turn the page of the book and take in the surprise fact about the Ancestor To The Celebrity. What did figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi’s grandfather do when he served in WW2? Surprise! What became of the other family members of Mike Nichols who stayed in the old country? Surprise!

Some surprises are affirming and uplifting, others are revelation of unknown tragedy, examples of prejudice and injustice. Still others exemplify the torn loyalties of new Americans who support their adopted country that is now at war with The Old Country.

“Faces of America” illuminates the ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 10, 2010 in • HistoryPersonal History
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Census 2010: A family history perspective

Pia Lopez of the SacBee opines that the census is much more than How Many People, What Ages are they? She describes all her family history that’s contained in census past. She recounts everything she knows of her family history that’d be lost if a proposed law that asks Just Four Questions Only (name, age, date of response, number of people living in one household) had been in force at the time her ancestors filled out the census. enacted.

From my family’s oral history, I knew that my mother’s grandfather had left Ireland for New York in 1893 and that he worked for James Butler’s Irish neighborhood grocery store chain.

But the June 6, 1900, census snapshot fills in a whole lot more fascinating detail. Martin E. Roache lived at 551 W. 152nd St., near Broadway (one block from the Hudson River) in Washington Heights, Manhattan. He was boarding with the Schmidt family.

The husband, age 42, had arrived from Germany in 1875 and was a baker. The wife, age 39, was born in New York, the daughter of a German immigrant and a native-born New Yorker. They had two children, ages 10 and 5. The older child was attending school. A ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 05, 2010 in • GenealogyHistoryPersonal History
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MemoryMiner 2.0 is out!

MemoryMiner 2.0. Cool. Been looking forward to this, and readers of this site’s comment threads have had a slight heads up this was coming. The announcement arrived as I was out of town for the holiday. MemoryMiner’s developer, John Fox, is the digital family photo Santa. I came up with a wishlist of items while working with the till-now current version, will have to download it and check out the new version.

UPDATE: I’ve been taking a look at the demo movie, and I like the things I see in there so much that I’m putting the movie here, too.

Thought this movie is for the Mac version, MemoryMiner is cross-platform. Looks as though, at this point, MemoryMiner 2.0 is Mac-only at this point. I’ll get you more news about any plans for MemoryMiner 2.0 for Windows.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 31, 2009 in • Digital StorytellingPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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MIT class of 1920: A gift in my email

image This image is a gift, one I received in an email. My cousin sent it to me a couple of weeks back. Subject line: “Grandma Joe* Graduation Photo.” She went to MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and graduated in 1920.

I have Grandma’s letters that she received when she was at MIT, and one or two photos from that time, but this unexpected one is a beaut.

click to enlarge

[Welcome, BoingBoingers & followers of @Xeni!
Stats about early MIT below; or maybe you’d be interested in a foto essay of my other, non-techy Grandma and her 1924 climb of Mt Rainier when she was 23 years old.]

Of the 40 people in this photo, Florence, also known as Flossie (upper right)—is the only woman. The photo arrived in email all by itself. The only clues were the file name and the subject line. Other than knowing that Flossie graduated from MIT in 1920, I don’t know much else about this photo. But one good gift leads ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 10, 2009 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Bizy Backson

I’ve been otherwise occupied for a while. As said in Winnie The Pooh, Bizy backson. A while back I mentioned that I might as well name this site Family Medical History Using Offline Tools, and that is so. My father is reaching the end of a long, long road. He is now at home, receiving hospice care. So. Well. suffice it to say, I haven’t been stoking this site with a ton of new posts and articles.

I’m going to be attending the Oral History Association annual meeting in Louisville, KY this month. I’ll be speaking there about doing family oral history (don’t take it personally? But I have to take it personally!)

There’s a part where I’ll talk about what it’s like to listen to oral histories after the interviewee has died. As I’ve been putting together the presentation, I planned to talk about my grandpa, and tell the story of my boyfriend’s Mom. But I don’t know that I want to talk about my reactions to listening to oral histories I’ve recorded with my dad—and my reactions to them—in real time.

I did write some reflections and reactions to interviewing Dad… not long after an ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 02, 2009 in • HousekeepingPersonal History
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Playing with MemoryMiner export

MemoryMiner and exporting. I’m figuring out how to export a library and then transfer that to my laptop, so that I can show you MemoryMiner if you’ll be at the SoCal Genealogical Jamboree (Twitter hashtag #scgs09) this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The app is available on both Mac and Windows; I’ve got the Mac version, of course/ The export process isn’t the most obvious, so I’m writing about how I will accomplish it.

How I will... notice the future tense. This is still a work in progress.

The photo library dates back some time, and individual photos reside all over the frickin’ place on my computer—some in iPhoto libraries, some in folders each of which representing different scanning session, the most recent of which was an ego-scan session to compile a set of photos of myself for a birthday party invite. The photos themselves are pretty large, if they’re PSD (photoshop) files, because I scan them at fairly high rez. Many photos are over 20MB in file size. The largest, I think, is around 60 MB.

I decided to work with an external disk drive (easy to change from my main desktop computer to my ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 23, 2009 in • Family History SoftwareHow-ToPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Flying Thuds into North Vietnam

F105s in Thailand Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North. Air & Space Magazine, Smithsonian. On the weekend of April 4 & 5th, I was in Arizona to attend a wedding and to interview my uncle for the Veterans History Project. Among the many things my uncle did in his Air Force career was to fly F105s as a fighter pilot, flying 5 more missions than the required 100 missions into North Vietnam that completed a tour of duty.

My uncle mentioned that the latest Air & Space magazine had an article on the F105s. I found the article online; hence this link and post.

Other things my uncle mentioned that the article does not:

The tires would last for two flights. Takeoff, land, takeoff, land, change tires. That plane was so heavy on takeoff—what with fuel, external fuel tanks, and the ordinance they had on board, the plane was heavy at takeoff—50,000 pounds. Sometimes they had to rolling at 300 mph before the plane got airborne. Landing, the plane was 25,000 or 30,000 pounds. (I’m reciting the weights from memory; I’d have to go back and listen to get exact figures, but the point is takeoff weight was close ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 14, 2009 in • HistoryPersonal HistoryVeterans History Project
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