Personal History

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

The face Dad always drew on the birthday cakes

the face, thesneeze.comHow to Draw a Face: A Mystery. A son asks his father the story behind the face that Dad always drew on cards and birthday cakes. [via boingBoing] A delightful story in three parts, 60 years in the making. “The only reason the internet exists is for this conversation to be on it!”

My father has been drawing this same ‘face’ on my birthday cards and cakes for as long as I remember. I recently started pressing him for info about this face that he’s been drawing for 60 years and it all unfolded with a completely unexpected and satisfying ending.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 04, 2008 in • Personal History
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Year out, year in

image A year ago, I wrote an overly ambitious set of goals for the year. I knew at the time that it was overly ambitious. I go back and read it and cringe at some things. And say hooray over some others. My resolution for 2008 is more modest…. it’s illustrated at left, and explained later on, after I review the planned and unplanned accomplishments of the past year.

Goals accomplished (in one form or another)

  1. Interview Dad. Yep. Did that in 2007. On more than one occasion. Even transcribed a bit from one interview here. And pondered what happens during an interview, too.
  2. Digitize a certain cassette tape recorded the morning after Great-great-Uncle Frank’s Hundredth Birthday party. Did that. It was actually recorded in 1980. CDs have been distributed to immediate family, one cousin, and —as of a few days ago—a first cousin twice removed (Grandpa’s cousin). This last point is cool. I also know the birth order and names of all family members of that family.
  3. Letter scanning. I originally set out to scan and digitize them. Decided fooey, forget ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 01, 2008 in • Personal History
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StoryCorps appointment—yeehaw!

In the last few days, I did what I wanted to do two years ago– book an appointment on the traveling StoryCorps booth. My brother and I booked two back-to-back appointments for the StoryCorps booth for a Saturday in January at MacArthur Park, Los Angeles. We’ll each interview one of our parents. I am so stoked.

Two years ago, I receive the weekly email updates for StoryCorps. I followed their progress of the West Coast booth… and the year ended in San Francisco. No new place or date was announced. Then it was the holidays, and I turned my mind to other things. After returning from the mental sojourn, I discovered that StoryCorps was in the general LA area, and all times were booked, sorry. This time around, I got in on the appointment-booking day (first attempt was 5am before starting another leg of the families holiday roadtrip adventure). They weren’t taking bookings at 5am, but they were later that day, when I was in the presence of Mom and Dad and Bro4. Bro4 and I each got on the fone ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 31, 2007 in • Oral History ProjectsPersonal History
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Y2K Retrospective

I write this entry for the Carnival of Genealogy on the 107th anniversary of my grandfather’s birth. The theme for the current carnival is Y2K and the new millenium. Though I could mention the “party like it’s 1999 events” – and shall even do so – what happened in the new month of the new year that began with a 2 and not a 1 – is something that affects my life, this site, and even this carnival to now.

(Y2K itself took place at the recently visited cabin, the one that survived the Slide fire. On new year’s eve, it snowed, and the trip up the mountain was a slow, slidey trek. I came with friends. My parents came up later. The Y2K bug manifested itself in my dad’s carbide cannon that would not fire—turns out the water into which the carbide pellets were dissolved to create acetaline gas was, in fact frozen. On the Thanksgiving visit—interspersed with trips down the street and in the village to survey burned down cabins from the fire, I looked over the cabin log book. The books of entries of cabin visits that stretch back to 1968 are the only items truly worth saving from the cabin. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 15, 2007 in • Personal History
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Genealogy Carnival: Carousel (+ one Techish highlight)

The 36th edition of Genealogy Carnival is a carousel, or free-for-all. (I missed submitting an entry. Have I mentioned I’ve been busy?). Go read them all. One in particular I found striking, Technology and Early Adopters in Your Family Tree, by Thomas Macentee. Electricity, telephone, plumbing. How they did without, how they did. My grandpa wrote a 15-page double spaced paper for his family during the final years of his life, called “Twentieth Century Developments.” I wrote about it at great length in the comments, and am posting the same thing here, too–with some additional quotes.

My grandpa offered up his observations about various and sundry inventions and changes he’d observed in this lifetime in his “Twentieth Century Developments” paper.

There’s lots to do with transportation, beginning with railroad (his grandfather—from the 1880s and uncles worked for the Denver and Rio Grande RR in Colorado). Then, in 1912, my grandpa’s father bought a Model T—and his description goes into the art of car-care before there was much in the way of documentation.

For the first 12 years of my life we had nice old black Jim, our horse, and his buggy for transportation. Then Dad bought the Ford. I never knew where he bought it or how he got it to Walsen, but it was ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 20, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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Memory Miner is now on Windows!

imageGo and get it! Just in time for Family Tech Support Holiday, I mean, Thanksgiving! wink I kid (but I have blogged Thanksgiving Tech before), but it’s true.

MemoryMiner is a photo album and then some (it won best of show when it was introduced at Macworld in January 2006)—import your photos. Identify the people in the photos, the places, and the date the photo was taken (even if your date is approximate). The more you add and work with, the more you can look at photos differently. Let me see photos of Grandma Kitchens, taken in her childhood and teens (1901-1920) before she married Grandpa and became a “Kitchens.” Click the icon for her, and move the date sliders to show 1901-1920. Voila! Your photo album just got rearranged to show only those photos.

Since early in the days of MemoryMiner (Mac), photo libraries have been sharable. So ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 19, 2007 in • Family History SoftwarePersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Yearning and Family History (from the Oral History Assn conference)

“Yearning,” she called it. Yearning. Her word leapt at me with all the force of being the right, true, word describing what’s within me. Her story: An experienced oral history interviewer visits a distant family member and is very quickly drawn into a story of trauma, of holocaust, of fractured families. The Q & A brought forth uncanny connections between her story, and other stories of fracturing, family, holocaust and slavery.

The panel at the Oral History Association conference in Oakland was called Community and Individual Memory. One presentation, about how the City of Fremont celebrated its 50th anniversary, is worth its own short post. This post is about a presentation by Rina Benmayor,  on yearning and family interviewing.

Benmayor is one of the founders and directors of the CSUMB  Oral History and Community Memory Institute and Archive. She’s an experienced oral history interviewer. In her presentation, she describes how, after doing some family research, she went to northern Greece to visit a relative (grandmother’s cousin*), whom she calls “Duka.” They had not met before. Benmayor brought her ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 18, 2007 in • InterviewingOral HistoriansPersonal History
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A blaze of story

Southern California is burning up. Again. best wishes to Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings. I just saw that evacuations are being issued for Chula Vista, where he lives.

My brother lives in San Diego county; he got a 6am robo-call saying No School and other local news alerts related to fires in the area. I always think about the things I’d take if I had to (bummer about that small car!). In his case, he keeps meaning to unearth a tape he made with our Grandpa. Er, this is a thought I have on his behalf, not a thought he has.

Also, the San Bernardino Mountain fire is threatening the family cabin. I think this is the third alarm. First was in 2003. We keep saying that the only thing worth keeping and saving are the three log books. Each visitor to the cabin writes in them. They date back to 1968.

I remember after the 2003 fires that ravaged San ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 22, 2007 in • MemorabiliaPersonal History
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Is it witchcraft?

When I re-read a letter I got from my Dad’s cousin Lainey in 1987, I encountered a family ghost. Well, not exactly, but a couple of family witches. So for the current Hallowe’en themed Carnival of Genealogy, I’ll post the excerpt of her letter.

Now (and here comes a genealogical “goodie”!) take a look at Chart #27. Fine person #1 ... Rebecca Carrington. Boy, oh boy—what a discovery! Her parents were John Carrington, a carpenter by trade, and Joan [__?__]. John was charged with witchcraft 9and so was wife Joan) in 1650. His (and soon after, hers, too) trial was held in Hartford, Connecticut on Feb 20, 1650. the jury came in with a guilty verdict on March 6, 1650 and they were both hanged as witches shortly after in Wethersfield, Conn. where they resided. How their daughter Rebecca survived that awful tragedy, growing up to marry a well-to-do merchant, Abraham Andruss, and settling in Waterbury, Connecticut—would probably ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 15, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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A Grandfather’s War Stories

Kenneth Harbaugh reflects on stories his grandfather told him about World War 2. (links goes to page on NPR with link to 3+ minute audio file). Harbaugh describes being a young kid listening to the humorous twists to his grandfather’s stories (“War, for all I knew, was fun”), and then, as they both got older, the stories took on a different meaning.

When I was nine, my family visited the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, near where the Battle of the Bulge took place. I had never seen my grandfather cry before. But watching his face as “Taps” was played, I finally made the connection between the tales he told and the real cost of his war. I began to ask for the other  stories, as much as I knew they might terrify me.

Besides being just a good story about a grandson and grandfather, two other things about this audio essay struck me:

The stories change over time, as the listener grows old enough to hear the more difficult parts of someone’s life story. And, for all I know, the aging witness to past events wants to pass ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 10, 2007 in • AudioPersonal History
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Two Rings, One Message.. a story from Podcast Expo

Yesterday, I re-met Ron Ploof of Griddlecakes Radio, audio storyteller. He said, “Listen to Two Rings, One Message.” I just did. It’s a story that begins during WW2 and continues to the present day. A story of war, of love, and the inspiration of lost –and found– heirlooms. The story itself begins about 5 minutes into the 26-minute episode.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 29, 2007 in • Personal History
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Liar, liar!

Larry Lehmer talks about Liars. Or stretchers of truths. Fabulists (not to be confused with fabulous, or its shorter cousin, faboo). His post points to a faboo post about a fibbing Mom. Ann Hagman Cardinal tells her uncle a story her Mom had told her, and he –with other family members present – tells her the truth. That conversation sets her on her path as writer and storyteller.

I just stared at him, heat rising from my chest to my face.

Finally I sputtered, “What? Mom made it all up?” I began to recount the other stories she had told me. One after another, they were confirmed to be fiction. I was furious. Beyond furious. How could my mother feed me these lies year after year? And I believed her! I could just see her talking to me over her shoulder in the VW van, her self-righteous lecture about not telling stories ringing in my ears.

I stared at my half eaten lunch, tears gathering in my eyes. My cousin Jose Luis took my hand and said, “Annie, what does it matter if the stories are true or not? Isn’t our family as defined by the stories that aren’t true ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 26, 2007 in • InterviewingPersonal History
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Father’s oral history about, well, a digital tool

This past spring, I interviewed my dad, with the Veteran’s History Project in mind. Dad was in the Navy, going to school on a ROTC scholarship, and serving in and around the Korean War. We paged through a scrapbook that his Mom kept for him, and he told me stories about the pictures and items therein. The stories from that interview session mostly concern his beginnings in the Navy. I asked him a question to clarify a term he used about his training, and he told me two related stories about his work in the Navy. (oh, and digital, in this case, refers to fingers, not bits)

I wanted to clarify something he mentioned earlier. I asked, “When you said ‘the physical aspect of naval training’ and that was when you were talking about navigation… when you say ‘physical aspect’ what [did that mean]?”

Well where you learn how to use a sextant, how you use a bearing circle, how to determine the direction—the ship’s compass, and the various aids to navigation that you would have. You could use your sextant to determine the altitude of stars, but first you had to learn how to identify the stars.  I still have a sextant; people don’t tend to use those anymore because of the advent of the global positioning system. But I still have the sextant, and can operate it. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 15, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal HistoryVeterans History Project
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NOT from the Isle of the Lewes

My dad went to the local highland games, wandered the clan tents. Looked at the names of the septs. Aah, MacLeod has a whole Lewis side to it. Dad’s middle name is Lewis, it’s a family name that comes from his mother’s side of the family. Lewis, yep. That’s it. So I’m a MacLeod, my dad says. From Lewis part of the clan, from the Isle of Lewis, or from MacLeod of the Lewes. My dad joins the clan society. Even takes the whole family along to Scotland back in 1982 to something called the Clan MacLeod Parliament, to meet Chief John MacLeod of MacLeod. Nice, fun story. But it misses an essential thing or two.

image It does not miss tartans or kilts. Nope, Dad loves to wear the yellow MacLeod of Lewis tartan. Also known as The Bumblebee tartan, or the “Loud MacLeod” as you can see here at left (good shot of shirts, parents’ faces, not so much. Hence pixellation.)

image It does not miss the trip itself, which made quite the impression on them and on us. We went to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, seat of the Clan MacLeod. (And yes, he wore the other tartan, the MacLeod of Harris tartan.)

I’ve danced on the gunyard. Climbed both of MacLeod’s tables (mountains with flat mesa-like surfaces). I even created a certificate—on paper plates (we do what we can with what we’ve got)—for those few of us ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 01, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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Letters in the Attic: Not digital, but analog

I have a bunch of letters to my grandparents that date from 1906(!!) to 1940s. I considered how to process them digitally. Should I scan? Should I play with metadata? I did a test of scanning, during one of the scanfests. Feh. Too much trouble, given the volume of letters and the amount of time each one takes. I decided to do good old fashioned manual index-card method to keep track of the letters. Here’s the method I’ve devised.

I’m going with analog for several reasons. I want to work in a comfortable chair, away from the computer. I feel as though the task of designing a database would take up too much overhead, making me focus far more on my tools than the letters.

Here’s my work process for going through the letters: Notebook, index cards, letter, pen, pencil, reading glasses.


Metadata, manually described.

Even with my manual index card method, I needed to think about what to put on the cards. Here’s my list of metadata:

  • Postmark date
  • Postmark place
  • From Whom (and where)
  • To Whom (and where)
  • Date of letter, if it differs from postmark by too much
  • A physical description of the contents (3 sheets, ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 28, 2007 in • Personal History
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