Interviewing Family: Kim von Aspern-Parker of Le Maison Duchamps, Part 1

Kim von Aspern-Parker The first interview in this “Jamboree Genealogy Bloggers talk about Interviewing Family” series is with Kim von Aspern-Parker, who blogs at Le Maison Duchamp. I started by asking her to tell me of her experience interviewing family members. She began by describing her experience interviewing her dad.

This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and to remove, you know, a few, like, forms of spoken word that don’t, um, work as well as the written word. There are also places in the interviews where I withhold information at the request of the person interviewed.

Kim von Aspern-Parker: When I started interviewing my dad, I started asking him questions about his family, cause I was doing my genealogy. The first indication that I got from my dad that he was going to be a hard interview:

“What was your grandfather’s name?”

He says, “Mr. Gilchrist.”

“No, like first name, Dad.”


(Probably not.)

So, every time I interviewed my dad it was like ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 09, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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How does genealogical research differ from interviewing family?

Somewhat predictable VS Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) Back in June, at Jamboree in Burbank, I spoke to four people about their experience recording interviews with family members. Next week I will start publishing a series of posts where you get to hear (or, read) from them directly.

Jamboree, by the way, is the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree – the annual June conference in the greater Los Angeles area. It’s well-attended by genealogy bloggers.

The four people:

(Listed in the order I interviewed them)

But first, imagine the following scenario.

For a given type of document, there's a general procedure to follow in order to get your hands on the document. You decide to contact the government agency that can give you some vital records for Great Great Great Grandma, which are stored at the Grove County Records. You want her birth certificate and marriage certificate.

The usual procedure for that is to write a request for the information. Maybe they have a PDF form online that you can fill out and print. Or maybe you just write Great Great Great Grandma’s name and whatever other ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 04, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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National Jukebox at the Library of Congress

Photo: Library of Congress from the Making of slideshow The soundtrack of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation is now on the web in a large (and growing) collection called The National Jukebox, located at The first phase of the historic audio recordings range from turn of the 20th century to 1929, and range from music (Jazz, opera, vaudville, ) and spoken word of all kinds.

The collection was digitized from 78 rpm recordings of the Victor label of records. Sony owns the license to the collection, but made an arrangement with the Library of Congress for people to listen to them. (You can hear, you can share, you can make playlists, but you cannot download the music)

It’s the iTunes of Retro Music.

Crossword Puzzle Blues:  Duncan Sisters (1924)
Darn these words that crossword puzzle me
I’ll be basking [?] till they muzzle me
Some demented nut invented
this way to stay discontented.

(The Duncan Sisters also performed Um-um-da-da. Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site)


Back in the day between ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 12, 2011 in • AudioCool WebsiteHistoryMemorabiliaRestoration
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Two generations removed from an Eyewitness to Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln He said, “I asked her if she’d seen anybody famous, anything I might have read about.” It bought a startling response. “She told she’d seen Lincoln debating Douglas when she was a girl.” That memory came back to him from freshly-baked bread.

It all began at dinner last Monday. The three of us sat down. Before long, the waiter brought us bread. He took a slice, buttered it, took a bite, and chewed it. Then a story came out, about a woman whose house he went to when he was a boy—about, oh, eight years old or so. He liked to be there on the day she baked bread.

He is my boyfriend’s father, Doc M Sr. He was in town for a visit.

Mrs. Knees at oven, baking bread to be sold at farmers' market. Du Bois, near Penfield, Pennsylvania. Jack Delano, photographer. 1940. [LC-USF34- 041170-D]  United States Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) He was born in 1926, the year that Winnie The Pooh was published, and Henry Ford established the 40-hour work week. In the year he was born, Moussolini came into power, and Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne in Japan. World War 1, the war to end all wars, had been over a scant 8 years. ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 19, 2011 in • HistoryPersonal
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The Mushroom Cloud Photograph: Preview of Digital Audio Workshop for SOHA Conference

Rachel Fermi holds the snapshot of the first atomic bomb explosion.  Jack Aeby, photographer. Event date: July 16 1945, New Mexico. Family history meets History history: For the Digital Audio Workshop I’m teaching at the SOHA Conference, I will work from an interview with the granddaughter of the physicist who conducted the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Photographer Rachel Fermi talks about discovering a color snapshot of a mushroom cloud in a box of family photographs. That discovery led her to create (with co-author Esther Samra) a book-length photo essay of the Manhattan Project, called Picturing The Bomb.

Here’s a little foretaste of the audio we will work with at the workshop, which takes place in a week and a half in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

And yes, you can still register!!

Here are some photos from the interview (during the last days of 2010), and four short edited audio excerpts. 

Rachel Fermi holds a photograph of her grandfather, Enrico Fermi, and his brother, Giulio. Enrico's brother died in childhood, and Enrico dealt with his extreme grief by reading about physics. Foreground: photo of Enrico Fermi (right) and his brother Giulio in Rome, Italy. Background Rachel Fermi

In the FIRST AUDIO RECORDING [MP3, 1:07], Rachel describes the background—how she’s related to Enrico Fermi, and what she was told about him when she was young. (Although she was born in the United States, Rachel grew up in Cambridge, England.)

“I was told a little bit about my grandfather. I knew that he was a physicist, and I knew that he’d won a Nobel Prize. But as I was ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 21, 2011 in • HistoryPhotographs
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Oral History Conference comes to Little Tokyo, Los Angeles March 31-April 3

SOHA logo. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Southwest Oral History Association. The Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA) holds its annual conference in Southern California every other year. This year: Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Also this year: two days of hands-on computer lab workshops! I am on the conference committee, and have been working on preparation for this conference. And yes, I’m the computer lab coordinator. Plus, I’ll be teaching a workshop on digital audio Thursday, March 31. If you’re in Southern California, and want to know about how to conduct interviews, or learn other skills about capturing and preserving stories, this is your opportunity.

SOHA Work Ahead Each conference features a day of workshops, from an introduction to oral history to other topics. This year, there are seven (count them, seven!) workshops. Two different ways to approach project management, taking an oral history transcript to a theatrical performance, a session all about audio and recording. Those workshops all take place Friday, April 1. (No fooling!)

The two days of computer lab workshops: Digital Audio and Digital Video.

There’s a three-workshop lineup that’s especially good if you’re starting out and want to capture the stories of your community: Intro to Oral History and the two project management workshops.

Friday night is a reception and film ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 25, 2011 in • Do it: Learn HowOral Historians
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Shocking Truth about Thin-skinned CDs (or why you should never write on a CD with a Sharpie)

I’d heard the adage that the top surface of a CD or DVD is thinner and more fragile than the bottom surface, but until I went on a cleaning bender, I didn’t get it. I reallly didn’t get it. It’s true, it’s true– the top layer of CDs and DVDs are thin. Shockingly thin. Here is a photo gallery of the CD that taught me just how fragile a writeable CD is.

After the holidays, I went on a desk and home office cleaning frenzy. Under a pile of papers, I discovered a disk that failed when I’d burned it. (also known as a “coaster!”) 

“Oh bummer,” I said. “A Bad CD. What’s it doing here? I should toss it out.” Then I remembered that I’ve wanted to destroy a disk just to see how it was put together. “Allrightie, then! I’m going to break this lil’ puppy!” I began to bend the CD. I figured that it would soon snap, but it bent and kept bending. At the crease, I noticed that a ripple appeared. It looked like a buckle or oblong bubble in the rainbow foil.

Strange! What is that? I bent the CD some more, then dug at the bubbly area ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 22, 2011 in • AudioAudio: HardwareDigitalityLongevity
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Roundup of my posts regarding interviewing family (the “not at Rootstech because I’m sick” edition)

Not at rootstech. So I wrote you this post instead. I’m not at Rootstech because I’m sick (I was registered, tho). Dang. As tweets and posts emerge from it, I figured I’d do a roundup of my “how to interview family (how to + tech + tools)” posts from the last year that will interest people who are attending Rootstech. I’ve written quite a few posts about interviewing family, both procedural, and technical over the last year. Here’s a guide to them:

Interviewing family series

Interviewing Family Series from Genealogy Jamboree I wrote this series ahead of the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank, CA (where I spoke on interviewing family, and digital tools) It’s about different ways to come up with good questions to ask your family member when you sit down to interview him or her.

Three Weeks to Jamboree: Interviewing Family
Curiosity. Non-Judgement. The underlying attitude to everything.

Interviewing Family: Why not Why?
Why is asking “WHY?” not a good idea when interviewing family members?

Interviewing Family: What Should I Ask? Major Life Events
When you think about the major events in a person’s life, the questions start asking ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 11, 2011 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Oral History helps reveal how Connecticut town influenced young Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Getty Images. 1999-2011. Photo by Reg Lancaster / Express/ Getty Images Early life influences on Martin Luther King revealed through oral history and research in the town of Simsbury, Connecticut. What was already known: MLK spent part of his youth working in the tobacco fields in Connecticut to earn money for school. What was recently discovered: his leadership among his peers and the experience of equality shaped his life. High school students researched how their home town played a key role in shaping the life of this Atlanta teenager.

[Simsbury High School students John] Conard-Malley and [Nicole] Beyer led the research project, which included going through books and old articles, and gathering oral history from people like 105-year-old Bernice Martin who says King went to her church in Simsbury.

“He had a good voice,” Martin said. “He sang in the choir.”

They put their findings in a video. It tells the story of King’s two summers in Simsbury - at the age of 15 and again at 18 - when he lived here in the dorms provided by the tobacco company.

Simsbury, Connecticut: The location where Martin Luther King Jr. spent a couple of summers working in the tobacco fields. Today in Simsbury, the video was premiered for the town in its local commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Tying together news accounts from ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 17, 2011 in • Oral history in the news
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Your turn (Open thread): Did you interview anyone over the holidays?

Vintage microphone on a well-worn surface Did you interview anyone over the holidays? Who did you interview? What happened? How’d it go? What did you use to capture what the person said? (paper and pen? an audio recorder? a video recorder?)

Here’s an open thread for you: Tell your story about getting someone else to tell a story over the holidays.

I’ll start with an oh-so-brief recap:

There were three interview events between Thanksgiving and New Year’s:

Charlie McCarthy Doll

  1. Thanksgiving: I put one of the suggestions from this roundup to use: Helped my nieces think up questions to ask everyone. She wrote them on 3x5 cards, shuffled them, and then began asking questions. I had the recorder on and recording, and we all learned new things about each other. (more on that experience to come.)
  2. Last week: I attended a memorial service for a man who was a mentor to my mother, and a teacher to my brother and me. I recorded the audio of the service. At the reception, I set up a dual mic at a table where people could sit down and offer their ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 05, 2011 in • Interviewing
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My Christmas: A Shrine to Obsolete Technology

Sony Walkman Tape Player The centerpiece of my Christmas was inspired by a two-month old news story: Sony Walkman Cassette Player Dies In Japan, Lives On in U.S.

Launched in 1979, the 31-year-old portable media player will no longer be sold in Japan. (It will continue to be available in the U.S., but not indefinitely)

How did that news story turn into a work of art celebrating obsolete magnetic media technology?


I saw the story. “Hey, Doc M, Sony has stopped making the Walkman tape player.”

(No, I don’t call him Doc M; I call him by his real name. But Doc M is the ablogymous name I use for him when I write about him on the internets.)

Doc M: “I have a Walkman. I wanted to sell it on eBay, but it’s busted. So now it’s just a piece of junk. Typical.”

Susan: “Oooh. Can I see it? Can I photograph it?”

Doc M emerges from the other room with the player.

Susan: “When did you get this?”

Doc M: “I’m not sure exactly. It was top of the line in, like, the early 90s.”

We pause, looking at the black and silver case. It feels heavy and solid. Green surrounds the play button.

Susan: ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 03, 2011 in • AudioDigitalityObsolecence
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Interviewing while looking at photo albums (Part 2)

Great Aunt Doris, in her photo album (earliest pictures date from around 1915 or so) For Part 2 of this two-part series about interviewing using photo albums, I made you a movie!

Using the writerly maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” I show you what it’s like to view photos while listening to people talk about them. I’ve written the important lesson before – describe out loud what you see on the page – but it’s easier to watch and listen to see how important it is to put what you know into the recording. The movie features the glorious album of my Great Aunt Doris, the painter and horsewoman. (See Part 1)

I put this movie together from the audio recording of an interview I did with my mother a few years back. I just started up the audio and we looked through the album in two long sessions. Don’t worry, this movie is much shorter than the long afternoon we spent poring over its pages. You’ll join us as we look at one spread in the album and talk about the photos on its pages.

You get to step into the shoes of someone who comes along later—someone who wasn’t present at the interview—and try to make sense of the photos by looking at the photos.  It’s 4:46 minutes long.

[note: if you are reading this using a feed reader (Google Reader, Feed Demon, Bloglines, NewsGator, Net News ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 16, 2010 in • InterviewingPhotographs
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The Scrapbook Belonging to Great Aunt Doris

Great Aunt Doris stands atop her beloved horse, Pete. What an album, what a treasure. This is my Great Aunt Doris’ photo album/scrapbook. In honor of the 100th episode of the Carnival of Genealogy, I offer you an album that is nearly 100 years old. Doris attended the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston during the ’teens. There are photos from home in Montana, the Blackfoot Indian tribe, and photos from New York, where she lived with her sister and brother in law (my grandparents).

I pulled out this photo album again recently (it’s the topic of Intervewing with Photo Albums, part 2, and I’m using it to make a little movie for you). I got stalled on some of the movie making because, well, there’s so much interesting stuff in it. So much. It’s huge. I can’t share it all. (I haven’t even scanned the whole thing.) But I can give you a sample.

Doris moved from Billings, Montana, to Boston Massachusetts to attend the Fenway School of Illustration. The early pages of her album show her in school, with her friends from school.

Note: click any image to enlarge.

One of the first pages of Doris Fogler's album. FSI stands for Fenway School of Illustration, located in Boston. This album dates from the teens. 1915?

The FSI medallion in the image above was, I guess, the Fenway School logo. When my mother and I talked over these photos, Mama didn’t know what, exactly F.S.I. stood for. The Fenway School of Art? Something? What’s with the I? Thanks to a recent bout of searching on Google, I learned that Fenway School stands for Fenway School of Illustration.

Here's a spread of the artists and their models. Check out that model top center. That's Doris. In her full riding gear.

According to the Friends of Fenway Studio, the art school met in the Fenway Studio building.

...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 01, 2010 in • GenealogyMemorabiliaPersonalPhotographs
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Thanksgiving table talk and the National Day of Listening

Here’s a roundup of practical Thanksgiving Day advice for ways to collect family history around the Thanksgiving table. (Or before or after). I offer these in hopes that it adds some depth to your family holiday. These are blog posts and articles by others around the blogosphere.

Oh, and are you aware of a holiday tip that’s not mentioned here? Please let me know. I’m happy to make this collection grow to reflect the good advice and suggestions that are out there.

Paula’s Genealogical Eclectica has a list of good conversation-starter interview questions. [via Little Bytes of Life]

I wish I had asked my Grandma Gert what it was like to be 21 when women earned the right to vote in 1922. I would have had asked her mother, Nana, for details on growing up without a mother and why did they leave Canada.

A thanksgiving in 2004

Here are a few of her questions (geared toward the women elders in her family):

  • What was it like to make the decision to leave your home country and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 23, 2010 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Interviewing while looking at photo albums (Part 1)

Photo album cover and interior page (this happens to be my Dad's Mom's album - Grandma Kitchens, from her sojourns in the west before she met and settled down with my Grandpa) When you get together with family at Thanksgiving, will you spend all your time in the kitchen and dining table? Make some time to hear family stories. One basic way to capture stories is to look at photo albums and ask questions about the people and places, and the events depicted therein.

Photos are a great means of eliciting stories. Photos (and photo albums) also provide a fantastic start on a journey of collecting family history stories.

More than one older relative has replied to the request for an interview with something like—“What? you want to interview me? But my life’s been so normal. So unexciting. What would I possibly have to say?”

That same person who objects to an “Interview” (with a capital I) probably finds it perfectly reasonable to sit down and identify people in photographs. “Why of course I’ll tell you who these people you’ve never met are.” Easy-peasy. Slam-dunk.

Another page from the Grandma Kitchens photo album. Here she is, riding her beloved horse, Chief. Now you’re off and running. Then the person will start remembering, ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 19, 2010 in • InterviewingPhotographs
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