Personal History

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

Wordless Wednesday: Doris rides Pete

Click to enlarge

Great Aunt Doris atop her horse, Pete. Found in letters among Christmas Cards. She hand colored this herself. More photos of Doris

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 04, 2009 in • Personal HistoryPhotographs
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Recording Memories before They Slip Away Completely

For Better or For Worse, 8/3/2008 Mementos Help preserve memories. From the Mayo Clinic’s suggestions for helping people with Alzheimer’s cope with the disease. “Alzheimer’s steals away memories, but tangible mementos can help people remember their past.” [via Storycatching, by Pat McNees]

This is a counterpoint to the stance I took during the Q&A article, “I want to interview my parents. Does that mean I think they’re at death’s door?” In the Q&A, I assumed from the questioner’s age that his parents were in good health. But there are those whose parents are not in good heath, and Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia come and steal away what this article calls the tapestry woven from the memories of events in a person’s life.

Alzheimer’s disease gradually robs people of the memories that make up their tapestries. You can help mend these holes by creating a tangible repository of memories — in a scrapbook, videotape or audiotape.

In addition to writing memories in ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 13, 2009 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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72 years ago: Thanksgiving from Denver

I’ve dipped into the letters to my grandmother again. Here are excerpts from a letter postmarked November 26, 1936. It was written Thankgiving night, during the Great Depression. My great Grandmother just arrived in Denver on a bus, and wrote her daughter. Background: Sometime before this, my great Grandmother divvied up the bills with her husband, said, “Here’s your half,” took hers and wandered to other places, supporting herself by teaching school. This letter is on Taos stationery, but it was sent from Denver, Colorado. The long paragraph about half-way through is a snapshot of economical eateries, free Thanksgiving dinners and oh, the crowds! So, for a Thanksgiving in an economic downturn, here’s a little Depression-era color for you.

. . . . .

Dover Hotel, 1744 Glenarm
Denver, Colorado
Thanksgiving evening.

Dear Flossie,

And now are you surprised I resigned my job in Taos last Friday, at the close of my month, went to Albuquerque that night on the bus and the next night took the bus up here.

The in-laws returned for the winter and three women were just one too many, and I was the one. They wanted me to stay but it was too hard on my ego. And I decided I could earn anywhere as much as I was getting there. For some time this city has been drawing me. So in Albuquerque I got a manicure, my eyebrows shaped, and subtracted three more years. That makes you a co-ed, but don’t complain as long as I do not put you ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 26, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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Towers of Gold: History of the man indistinguishable from history of the State of California

imageIt’s a personal family historian’s Best of All Possible Worlds scenario – follow a hankering to learn more family history for the sake of the kids, and go to the state historical society, discover not just one but dozens of boxes of archived materials about Great-Great Grandpa, and spend the next 8 years researching and writing a book about how that Great Great Grandpa, Isaias W. Hellman, helped make California. Frances Dinkelspiel’s book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California was released last week.

I first learned of Frances Dinkelspiel and her Great Great Grandfather during Southern California’s record rainy season in 2005. Kevin Roderick, of LA Observed, published her rejected op ed about the rainiest season ever. I was blogging the wet season, so I linked to it in my research of writings about the wettest year on record (1861) in CA. From that time, I intermittently followed Ghost Word, the blog of Berkeley-based Frances Dinkelspiel, which covered writing, journalism, and her work researching and writing about Isaias Hellman.

detail from birds eye view map of Los AngelesThe story of Isaias Hellman in California begins the decade after statehood (1850) and ends just after WWI. In 1859, Hellman emigrated to Los ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 17, 2008 in • BooksHistoryPersonal History
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Rock star son’s quest to learn more about quantum physicist dad

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, a recent PBS/Nova episode rocked my world recently. (my S.O. tivos Nova, and kept this episode for me). Mark Everett (the E of the band Eels) goes on a quest to understand more about Hugh Everett (his dad) and dad’s radical theory of quantum physics.

The musician son who didn’t inherit dad’s math gene seeks to learn about the remarkable theory his dad dreamed up.

[from the show’s about page:] “My father never, ever said anything to me about his theories,” Mark says. “I was in the same house with him for at least 18 years, but he was a total stranger to me. He was in his own parallel universe. He was a physical presence, like the furniture, sitting there jotting down crazy notations at the dining room table night after night. I think he was deeply disappointed that he knew he was a genius but the rest of the world didn’t know it.”

Mark Everett jokingly admits that he can barely tabulate a restaurant tip, let alone understand ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 10, 2008 in • Documentary FilmsPersonal History
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“Burn that letter I sent”—83 years later, I’m glad she disobeyed

I’ve spent today delving into the letters in the attic. After reading a few from 1917 (and doing my normal note-taking and free-writing about them), I sorted through other stacks of letters. Separated a bunch (1921-1925) into piles by year. Found some written in spring of 1925– a few months before my grandparents got married. Jackpot! Motherlode! Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s weary load, it was. Mama’s (Fannie’s) reaction to news of her daughter’s engagement. Which take different forms over five or so letters as the unwelcome news settles in. But the Jackpot letter was the one in which my great-grandmother describes to her daughter her own marriage to Ben.

She said, I thought I might write this story in a letter for you to read after I am dead. But then she thinks the better of it, in light of young women who make mistakes and say, If I only knew! If only my mother told me. So she wrote that letter. And today I read it.

Dear web reader, what a tease I am! I’m not going to dish all the dirt. But there’s dirt. It’s juicy. It’s filled with a recounting of disappointments, mostly of the checkered path of my great-grandfather’s so-called career. He went from job to job, and not in a good way. There’s some moral failing, too. Over two generations. And near moral failures. It’s frank. As Fannie said, I want to wipe the slate clean.

There’s ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 20, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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Jeannette Rankin, first woman congressperson

Transcript of an oral history interview with Rankin. I just read two letters written by my Great Grandma Fannie in 1917 that refer to Jeanette Rankin (she was elected in 1916, began her term in Congress in April, 1917… This was when the state of Montana granted women the right to vote, but before the right to vote was won nationwide.). Rankin wrote my great-grandmother to ask her advice on matters of “Indian Affairs.” Fannie taught school on the Crow reservation.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 23, 2008 in • MemorabiliaOral History ProjectsPersonal History
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She Went West and Climbed Mt. Rainier

image In 1924, the 23-year-old woman climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Edith kept a photo album, and wrote captions in white ink. She called herself Edy. I previously blogged about her mother, Jenny, whose childhood was marked by over-protection: Jenny’s parents hovered over her, and protected her so much that she felt stifled. That’s what parents do to the remaining child when the elder son leaves to seek his fortune and is never heard from again. Jenny wouldn’t let her daughter’s dreams be stifled the way she herself was stifled. So when Edy announced she wanted to go west, Mom told her daughter, “Go, go.” And Go she did. Including climbing to the top of a volcano.

The album is a record of Edy’s western sojourn. She worked at a Veterans Hospital. There’s a photo of Edy in uniform standing behind a man in a wheelchair. Lots of pictures of friends, of cars, picnics. Photos of a horse (“Chief”)  When I first paged through this album, though, I was amazed at these 8 pages of photos of her trek to climb Mt. Rainier. It takes a lot of pluck and stamina to make a climb like that.


The Mt. Rainier National Park web site describes the climb:

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 01, 2008 in • Personal HistoryPhotographs
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Shades of the Departed Guest Blog

Hooray for Footnote Maven, who invited me to guest blog at Shades of the Departed. My post is about interviewing people about photo albums. Why photos rock, and what sorts of practical things you can do during an interview. You may already be a winner! Read the entry to find out why. (I certainly won-in a slightly different way. Thanks to fM for the nudge to write that post. If it weren’t for that deadline, I might’ve waited a little while longer before blogging here again.)

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 20, 2008 in • InterviewingMemorabiliaPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Family Health Care Time Space Continuum

Another long break. I’m back. (I think.) You know, I talk here of recording family histories, or family stories, but since April I’ve been in a slightly different mode: family medical history. It’s not from long ago; it’s current. And, depending on events (which included nearly 3 weeks of hospitalization or skilled nursing facility-ization), I find myself leaving the land of so-called normal to a different mindset– the health care time-space continuum. That place is highly absorbing, but it’s nothing I wish to talk about here. Hence the silence. (But the patient is home again, which is a nice improvement.)

I suppose if I were to relate it to the topic at hand—recording and preserving family stories—I have two things to say:

Though I have been around family members quite a bit, I find myself with zero interest in doing any interviewing. (well, one channel of my lovely stereo microphone went kaput and I haven’t had the energy or the inclination to even begin troubleshooting it beyond confirming that yes, there’s no incoming signal from the one mic.) No interest. None. Was this helped by the fact that I’ve already conducted some interviews of the family member? Probably. Though there are questions I’d still like to ask, stories I want to hear.

The Pros in the Oral History biz toss ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 19, 2008 in • HousekeepingInterviewingPersonal History
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Billings, Montana—History by Mystery

imageI didn’t set out to just up and explore factoids of Billings, Montana, where my grandmother grew up. No, it sort of seeped in on me gradual.

First, I’ve been reading those letters from time to time (and describing my research methods). There’s a whole slew of them written from Billings. The news and tidbits (and clippings) has driven me to find out more about Billings, Montana. The letters drive the research, and the research informs the letters.

My great-grandmother in Billings wrote to her two daughters, Florence and Doris, in Boston. Florence is my grandmother, Doris my great aunt. I have Florence’s collection of letters. But the photos you see here are from Doris’s scrapbook. The fetching young woman with the 10-gallon hat is Doris. She was a horsewoman and a painter.

Panorama of Billings. 1915. Click to enlarge


Both girls were born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but their Papa got work that vaguely had to do with the railroad. They lived first in Minneapolis, and then in Billings, Montana. By the time the correspondence with the girls began, no mention was made of the railroad, but the occasional letter ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 01, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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Valentines from hearts now stilled

Love is stronger than death. It’s still not too late to talk Valentine’s Day, is it? Erika Hayasaki wrote a lovely story that the LA Times ran on Feb 14th, about a cemetery tour that focused on love stories. With a little research, Gwen Kaminski, who works at Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia, found that the dead do tell tales. Well, okay, she found the tales and she told them. In addition to being a nice read, finding this story in the LA Times is a continuation of my theme of people I know in news stories last week.

I found the paper and read the story at a local lunch joint on Valentine’s Day. I kept wondering how an L.A.-based paper was covering a story based in Philadelphia. At the end, I noticed the byline (didn’t see it at the beginning)—Erika Hayasaki. Erika used to volunteer with WriteGirl (a nonprofit mentoring program that pairs women writers with teenage girls; I, too, am a volunteer)—until her employer, the Los Angeles Times, transferred her to their New York City bureau. Aha!. In fact, I’ve recorded an interview with Erika on the art of interviewing that I need to process and post in my start-it-up-again-podcast for this site. I’ll consider myself nudged.

Love. Cemeteries. There’s ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 19, 2008 in • Personal History
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Creating Memories Using Maps

A blog called Very Spatial links to a number of sources for using maps to create (or preserve) memories. An old post here was one destination, but the others in the post are worth a peek. Did you know the USGS has a Maps and Genealogy page?

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 10, 2008 in • MemorabiliaPersonal History
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Nat’l Museum of African American History and Culture

Natl Museum of African American History and Culture - Sojourner Truth NMAAHC launches an online museum before its physical museum is constructed. Sponsored by the Smithsonian, the site hosts online holdings from its own archives and includes a Memory Book where people who to tell their own stories (mostly text-based) and submit images may do so. [via WRT] The virtual museum has lots and lots to explore.

The site makes prominent use of tags. So the Sojourner Truth entry, for example, is tagged women’s rights, abolition, activism, autobiography. The flash-based navigation widget toward the top of the page (or in a larger, separate window) allows you to explore different connections, from moments in history to topics to persons. You can follow threads that connect one to the next. With each click, the navigation widget loads up a new page and redraws new connections.

The virtual museum has ties to StoryCorps. There a page with 45 audio excerpts of StoryCorps Griot interviews. Go. Click. Listen.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 09, 2008 in • Online Oral History CollectionsPersonal HistoryStoryCorps
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Apple goes to Erie Museum Lecture

I love the internets. Yesterday, I did a news roundup and saw that a lecture would be taking place today in Syracuse at the Erie Canal Museum. I drooled at the topic: Myth and History. When family or community stories are mythologized – whether by accident or on purpose – and how this isn’t so great for future generations. I’d love to go. Now, I live in the Los Angeles area, so of course I wasn’t able to get there. But I happen to notice that Apple of Apple’s tree recently blogged about a house in Syracuse. Hm. Is Apple close to Syracuse? Does she know about the lecture? Is her schedule free? I sent her an email. Her answers: Yes, She does now, and Yes!!! Color me stoked.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 19, 2008 in • GeneralPersonal History
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