Personal History

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

Family historian or genealogist?

Jasia ponders the differences between personal historian and genealogist. I’m glad she did. I’ve been a sometime participant in the carnival of genealogy, but sometimes have felt shades of sham (note: I said sham, not shame!) because I’m not doing research into who begat whom and when. Partly it’s because others in my family have done so. I am far more interested in the stories, the histories. So I’m a Family Historian. There. Glad we got that settled.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 24, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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(UPDATED) goes beta: Their Terms of Service Stopped Me Cold

The promise of is compelling. Store information about your life. Forever. They’re thinking way far ahead– they’ve established a non-profit foundation to store the stories in perpetuity. Sounds great. But I’m not going to use the site. (Well, beyond a quick signup and look see.) The Terms of Service has a big gotcha in it: You grant and its parent company, Eravita, a 6% (minimum) royalty of any money you make on the proceeds of any commercial creative endeavors of the story of your own life.

UPDATE: I heard from the site’s COO. They’ve changed the TOS and deleted the objectionable part. Continue reading the original post and, at the end, the relevant portion of email from’s COO.

The TOS was brought to my attention by my friend Cynthia, who visited the site the first day it was open.

Today’s the first day I’ve had a chance to visit, and I’m rockin’ back on my heels. I’m scared to even sign up to see what is behind it. 

Here’s the part of their TOS in the big capital letters (side note: Why oh why does the most important stuff get printed in all caps, which, when presented in paragraph form, make the most important stuff the hardest to read?)

Note: They updated their TOS, view note at end of this post for more info.


Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 07, 2007 in • DigitalityFamily History SoftwareLongevityPersonal History
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Memorial Day: Mom on the radio

A blogger named Merujo notes that her sister taped a talk her mom gave to the U.S. Air Force Association about her involvement as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) in WW2; it’ll be broadcast today on the radio in a part of Illinois called the Quad Cities area (of which I know not). Later, the station will put a link to the audio up on its site.

For more background, she has a commentary on a radio station (Honoring Women at Arlington) about her mother. I do happen to know that the Veterans History Project is looking for oral histories of Women who served in the military– including WASPS.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 27, 2007 in • Personal HistoryVeterans History Project
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War Records

On yesterday’s Morning Edition, NPR described how opened up a new section of war records. Dating back to the 1600s . Cost to digitize: in the millions. Free access from a few days ago till D-Day anniversary, June 6. (after that, pay) Use this as an opportunity to do some research. Then interview living family about their memories of the people and events whose records you found.

This can be addicting. I found my grandfather’s WW1 draft card. smile

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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While There is Still Time

A Mother’s Day story by a son whose mother recorded her memories as a gift to her son.

“I may have told you this” she would begin, and without hesitating for a response, proceed to retell her mother’s perspective about episodes in my young life from her adult point of view back in another age. I had heard most of it before. I so wanted to hear it again

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 15, 2007 in • Personal History
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An Old School Mystery

It’s amazing what you find when you search the web. One day I happened to go poking around through the old, old, archives of MIT’s school newspaper. My grandmother graduated from there in 1920. A while back they scanned old copies of the paper and uploaded pdfs and text that was generated from an auto-OCR process. Yes, I found my grandmother in the pages of the paper. In fact, she worked on the paper, so her name is on the masthead/credits. One story, though, surprised me. I hadn’t heard anything about the events described in it from any family member. I found out about a significant traumatic event my grandmother went through… by searching on the web.

The Tech, the MIT newspaper, ran a front page story in its issue of April 2, 1919.

This is the first story:



Electrochemists Are Victims of Automobile Accident in Governor Square Last Sunday Evening


As a result of an automobile accident in Governor Square last Sunday evening, two Technology students, Joseph Coleman Deyette ‘20 of Portland, Ore-,gon, and -Miss Florence Fo-ler ‘20 of Billings. Montana. are now in the Commonwealth Avenue Hospital in a serious condition. The accident occurred as, the couple, returning home from Boston, were crossing Commonwealth avenue in front of the Hotel Buckminster. An ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 02, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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Oldest college graduate to become oral history source

You’re never too old to learn. 95-year old Nola Ochs will graduate from college next month. Her history prof wants to interview for oral history after she graduates. She’s provided a personal perspective to events in his history classes.

Todd Leahy, history department chairman, wondered at first if Ochs could keep up with the other students. After her second week, all doubts were gone, as he discovered she could provide tidbits of history.

Leahy, who had Ochs in four classes, wants to record oral histories with her after she graduates.

“I can tell them about it, but to have Nola in class adds a dynamic that can’t be topped,” Leahy said. “It’s a firsthand perspective you seldom get.”

For instance, Ochs offered recollections of the 1930s Midwest dust bowl, when skies were so dark that lamps were lit during the day and wet sheets were placed over windows to keep out dust that sounded like pelting sleet hitting the ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 28, 2007 in • HistoryPersonal History
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Why I love the Web: Historical Documents That Find YOU edition

Last summer, I posted something here about some oral histories and photographs from the town where my grandfather grew up. Search engines crawled the posts. Someone had a document from that place. Date: 1915. Searched the web for the “Walsenburg, Colorado, genealogy” and found me. Told me about the 1915 book from the town. Was I interested in buying it? Yes, please send photos. I saw the photos, asked the price (reasonable). Sold! My check is in the mail.

imageSo let me spell the reasons why I Love The Web:

  1. Search Engines crawl this site. So if I write about stuff that’s important to me (er, that’s obvious by inspection), then they’ll pick it up.
  2. Someone finds something and thinks, This is important to someone, but not to me. Goes to search engine. My site shows up.
  3. How would the person have known of my interest otherwise?
  4. Happy feelings all around about serendipity and the kindness of strangers

Oh, this wonderful individual does genealogy… and so knows that such an item might be of interest to someone.



Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 27, 2007 in • Personal History
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Two new web sites: Scrapblogging, and a “coming soon” one for personal stories

Scrapblog: a Scrapbooking website. [via TechCrunch] Do your digital scrapbooking online. A perfect follow-on to Scanfest. I spent about 10 minutes playing in the preview section, the scrapbook pages are very nicely designed, and it seems pretty dang easy to use.

Before I even had time to try it out, I see via Scripting News that there’s a new site coming: Story of My Life. I signed up for the beta, looking forward to more.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 30, 2007 in • Personal History
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Carnival of Genealogy #20: A Tribute to Women

Carnival of Genealogy is up. I’ve been making my way through all the entries as genealogy bloggers remember women in their lives. Great stories and remembrances of women– many grandmothers. It’s SO worth a visit. Since my entry was (probably) the biggest downer of the group, I’m happy to see that the theme for next time around is more in keeping with the goofiness of April Fool’s Day. Deadline is, of course, April 1.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 19, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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Why International Women’s Day is Hard

International Womens Day How did a woman who left New York for the west, and rode a horse named Chief and climbed to the summit of Mt. Rainier in her 20s, in the 1920s – how did she come to this?

It’s International Women’s day, March 8. Blog posts abound. I write this after the fact. Not because I forgot about it, though the 8th was a busy day. But because I have a hard time with International Women’s Day. March 8, that day, has a different meaning to me.

[Note: see update at very end]

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.

He came from gun people. We have pictures from long ago of him, holding a rifle, crouching low beside a big gleaming trophy. Another photo shows two teenage boys (my dad, my uncle) standing each with his gun on either side of a deer carcass. We’ve gone out to the desert on family trips— set up empty sodapop cans on a log and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 17, 2007 in • Personal History
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“Now, where do we take this to have this developed?”

A must-listen story: Memories – both visual and aural (MP3, 8+ mins). Brooks Jensen describes a tape recording he made with his grandparents in this podcast episode (his podcast home page– on photography and the creative process). [via email from Ralph Brandi]

Brooks Jensen totally nails one point, and says it so well. (I’m both pleased to hear him say it and a tad jealous that I didn’t think of it in these words. ) 

I have for years and years understood that we are—you and I—the first generation in the history of the planet to have such capabilities so easily. For you and I, recording audio and capturing that sound of people’s voices—that living sound—we are the first generation who can do that. At least we’re the first generation who can do it so easily, so inexpensively, so readily, with such portable equipment. and with the incredible advantages and quality that’s available to us with the with exigent technologies.

Another thing ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 08, 2007 in • Personal History
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My life: children and videorecorders

My Life as A Child- A 6-part documentary on The Learning Channel. Make friends with the video recorder, never watch the tapes. Looks interesting, I’ll have to see if it can be recorded on my boyfriend’s TiVo (I’m TV-less).

Each one-hour episode of “My Life” has the look of a home video, switching among the stories of three or four children. The 7- to 11-year-old subjects, mostly identified only by first names in the series, made their cameras part of graduations and lying-in-bed ruminations. The young filmmakers were free to focus on whatever they wished, guided by the producers’ questions about their particular challenges and what defines them and makes them tick. The children delivered hours of tape to be edited.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 26, 2007 in • Personal History
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When family stories are top secret

Chris Dolley finds out what his dad did during the war. Dolley’s Dad took his secret to his grave, but a BBC interview with another seaman revealed the essential clue. [via The Genealogue] This is one of those cases where presonal history intersects with History (cap H) history. And demands of History (or State secrets) required a big blank in the personal history record.

So I clicked the link. And found an interview with an able seaman from the Bulldog talking about the North Atlantic convoys and the day they captured the German submarine U-110. My father was listed as one of the eight men mentioned in despatches for their part in capturing the submarine.

I was amazed. I’d known that my father had been ‘mentioned in despatches’ but had never been able to track down what for. His service record didn’t say - which the MOD admitted was strange - and he’d never spoken of it. My mother had told me that once, after a large amount of drink, he’d started to tell her about something he did that had saved a lot of ships but he’d denied it all the next day and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 12, 2007 in • HistoryPersonal History
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Memories of War

Young Voices in Wartime : I heard a tantalizing portion of Talk of the Nation last night*: Discussion of diaries kept in wartime from WW1 to Iraq. While fascinating in its own right, it also brought out the issue of memory.

Right as I arrived at my destination (and, therefore, had to shut off the radio, dangit), a discussion about the nature of memory was in full swing. A diary kept at the time often surprises the writer when he or she reads it later. A caller, born in 1932, kept a diary during WW2, and said he was surprised at what was there—it was as though a different person wrote it.

In my own experience of re-reading diaries of younger days, things that stand out to me later aren’t necessarily the things i wrote about at the time. Memory can be tricky that way. (Something to bear in mind when asking someone to recall stories from his or her youth. Yes, those are recolletions, but the sifting of ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 02, 2007 in • Personal History
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