Personal History

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

The Memories of Others

are the memories of ourselves. A wise, reflective post by Merge Divide. He touches on the importance of hearing stories from your forbears.

I’ll give you a little taste of the post. Really, just go there and read the whole thing.

My dining companions and I discussed the lives of our forebears. Even though I know both of them extremely well, I discovered that there are formative experiences from their lives that I am largely oblivious of. Much of their own personal stories have been influenced by interactions with people who are long gone.

Have you ever sat down and talked about the people from which you descend? Genealogical research seems to have become immensely popular over the last generation, due to the radical improvements in information technology. [...] But while a genealogy can be intriguing with its ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 04, 2007 in • GenealogyPersonal History
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Happy New Year

Happy 2007! I live in the greater Pasadena area, and that city throws a big annual floral New Year’s party for a large number of visitors and an even larger television audience. We were wakened by the non-stealthy roar of the Stealth bomber (& 2 fighter escort jets) at 7:30 this morning– the jets fly in wide circles near the mountains before they start the parade just after 8 by strafing the 5+ mile route. We went outside to look, and discovered that the best way to spot the jets is to stand outside and shiver for a bit waiting for the next pass; by the time the sound reached us, the jets receded from sight.

My first in-person viewing of the parade was 1983, and believe it or not, the memory of that day is relevant to this site’s theme of digital tools for preserving memories.

On New Year’s Day in 1983, I worked the parade. I walked up and down two aisles of bleachers right near where the parade turns the corner, smack dab in the prime TV-camera viewing region. I sold Kodak film to loyal alums and boosters of the two college football teams. I did it to raise money for an overseas trip I took in the spring of that year; my school had exclusive rights to sell Kodak film along the parade route.

Today, while watching the TV coverage of the parade—-what? You think I braved the crowds to go down to the parade route? If you don’t live within walking distance or snag an invite to a parade-viewing party, the best way to watch it is in HiDef TV a few miles away. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 01, 2007 in • DigitalityLongevityPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Genealogy as Graffiti

Thought provoking: Genealogical Graffiti and the Personalization of History, on the blog Drawing Parallels, written by a student of public history named Kris. It’s a surprising meditation on the nature of graffiti (art done outside the “mainstream” and outside “established channels”) and genealogy, which is, I guess, looked at askance by public historians.

When I asked a few friends where they saw history in their everyday lives, most responded with the same answers: Museums, monuments, old buildings, television. When I asked these same questions to family, I received another answer that has come up several times in Donald Spanner’s Archives class – Genealogy.

To me, genealogy seems like a natural corollary of social history. At its outset, social history sought to tell the historical narrative of those who had not previously been included. Genealogy seems much the same, as family members seek to understand their own history. In less than one hundred years, we have gone from a bottom-down approach of history, to a bottom-up one, and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 29, 2006 in • GenealogyHistoryPersonal History
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Holiday Shopping at Library of Congress

Here are some way-too-cool items that you can buy from the Library of Congress gift store. You can spend a good amount of time browsing through all the offerings (I have!). Recordings, maps, photos, clothing, books, posters, and much more.

Recordings

image A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings

Since 1928, Library of Congress fieldworkers have gathered thousands of American folksongs in farmhouses, prison barracks, and schoolrooms across the nation. Researchers traveled the back roads of the Delta, the Appalachians, and the Great Plains using battery-powered disc-cutting machines as they ventured beyond the grid of rural electricity. Here are 30 of the greatest performances from the legendary Library of Congress recording series.

Here’s a list of all the other folk recordings available... What a tremendous array of recordings from various places and sub-cultures. See anything that matches where your family ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 10, 2006 in • AudioGeneralPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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How I might keep track of a bunch of old letters

I have a bunch of family letters. The letters in the attic from this site. I wish to set up some sort of systematic way of digitizing them. This post is an articulation of a possible scheme for doing so. It’s not even a proof of concept, it’s just the concept– a plan of action thinking through what I’d like to try to do.

Scan all those letters? I am a masochist. But if I want to scan them all and somehow make sense of them digitally, that makes me a systematic  masochist.

The letters are mostly to my grandmother. Some are to my grandfather from his sister and parents. But they’re basically the attic-box correspondence with their family. My great-grandmother wrote her daughter weekly. In addition to the news of doings from home and her teahing jobs, the dispensing of advice and how to cook this or that, my great-grandmother’s letters include fascinating details such as prices for objects, newspaper clippings, and a prodigious dose of nagging “Why don’t you write me?”, and more.

When dealing with ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 18, 2006 in • DigitalityLetters in the AtticPersonal History
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aaaand Action! This is your life

Starring in your own movie about your own life. Marsha King of the Seattle Times on the trend of people to hire others to make custom movies, books, and other biographical memoriabilia. Mentions the Association of Personal Historians.

As a man who rarely talks about himself, this wasn’t his decision ... to be a movie star.

His adult children, nudged by a grandkid who heard about the idea, hired a film company to capture his personal story on a professionally produced DVD, complete with live interviews, old photos and music.

“He just had a lot of stuff to tell. We’ve been wanting to get it down on paper,” daughter-in-law Kathy Echelbarger said. “We just thought it’s a great way to get all this family history.”

The explosion of interest in tracing one’s roots has given rise to another phenomenon. Ordinary people—particularly baby boomers and their elderly parents—are hiring filmmakers and writers to immortalize ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 14, 2006 in • Do it: Hiring HelpPersonal HistoryVideo
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Boots on the Ground: The Technology I Use

James L Clark, (US Army Civil Affairs soldier serving in Iraq), draws his personal history of war inspiration inspired by past war historians, and takes full advantage of personal media to record his personal history of the war in Iraq. He describes the equipment he uses to make photos, video, and audio recordings.

Not many people think about their deployment as being anything more than just that—a deployment. They accept their responsibility, duty, and privilege to serve our country in a war zone as “just part of the job.” The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the incredible opportunity that each soldier has to document not only “the” war but “their” war.

Dr. Forest C. Pogue was an official US Army historian during WWII and attained the rank of master sergeant. He was a proponent of “oral history” techniques and collected many such histories from the war during his career. During D-Day, Dr. Pogue (then SGT Pogue) interviewed wounded soldiers about their experiences both on the ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 19, 2006 in • AudioAudio: HardwarePersonal HistoryPhotographsVideoVideo: Hardware
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Podcast 3: MemoryMiner and John Fox

An interview with John Fox, MemoryMiner’s developer. MemoryMiner 1.1 (MacOS) is released today, July 14, 2006, MemoryMiner for Windows is in development. I interview John Fox about the software and his inspiration for creating it. (Interview from May, 2006)

Show notes:

MemoryMiner homepage

Subscribe to the podcast feed

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 14, 2006 in • Family History SoftwarePersonal HistoryPhotographsPodcasts
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In the first person: Spanish Peaks

There’s a brilliant site out there: In the First Person. It’s a repository of kerjillions hundreds thousands of first-person narratives: Oral histories, memoirs, diaries, letters.

3,350 collections
650,000 pages of full-text by more than 15,000 individuals
pointers to some 3,500 audio and video files
index of 30,000 bibliographic records
and 20,500 months of diary entries
and 63,000 letter entries
and 17,000 oral history entries

Hm. D’ya think there might be anything useful or worthwhile in there?

So I went poking through, looking at the names of collections. Maybe I’ll find some interesting stuff to look at and feature on this site. You know, a kind of regular feature or something.

And then I found this: Spanish Peaks Library District Oral History Interviews. Location: Walsenberg, Colorado. A Gold mine! No, the Spanish Peaks area is not a place where ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on in • Online Oral History CollectionsOral History ProjectsPersonal History
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Vloggercon session video on Oral History and Digital Storytelling is up

It’s viewable two ways: See it on the web, download the QuickTime file. Interested in other stuff from Vloggercon? Here is the video archive of all the sessions devoted to vlogging, or video blogging.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 10, 2006 in • AfterwardsGeneralPersonal History
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Sunday, June 11: Vloggercon in San Francisco: I talk Oral History

Vloggercon, Oral History, Digital Stories and Mother’s Day: I’ve been hard at work creating a digital story from an interview I conducted with my Mother on Mother’s Day. I’ll be showing it tomorrow (Sunday, June 11, 3:15 pm) at the Vloggercon panel on Digital Storytelling and Oral History.

Sessions are streamed live over the web (link to live streams here; my session takes place in the Valhalla room). The video will be available afterwards for viewing, too.

It took all week to create a 3-minute video. Lots of motion graphics; I took a motion graphics class a year ago; I got to put it all to use for this. It’s prolly a bit over-the-top as far as digital storytelling goes, and I’m very pleased with the result. (my boyfriend looked at it and said, “You may intimidate people with it; they’ll look at it and say, “I have to do all that?!” Good point. But I’ve done graphic design for decades…) Will prolly post it online and link to it one of these days once things get back ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 10, 2006 in • AfterwardsDo it: Learn HowPersonal History
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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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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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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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