Saturday Evening Post: Interviewing Family During Holidays

Cover of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post Whee! I’m in America’s oldest magazine. The cover story of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post is about finding out more about your family’s history over holiday visits.

The five pages of the magazine covers ways to explore your family’s history, from asking questions of family members to genealogical research, in an article by Doug Donaldson, and one by Stephen C. George.

Plus there’s helpful advice. In a sidebar. I’m quoted there. About avoiding “Why?” when talking to family (more on Why Not Why here) and your seating arrangements when asking questions about pictures in photo albums. (More on that here and [new!] here.)

Cover story, first spread of the Saturday Evening Post's story Some fun stuff: Donaldson’s article and sidebar highlights family gatherings recorded using the built-in video camera on a laptop—that’s a new one on me! Among the experts interviewed is oral historian Stephen M. Sloan, a fellow member of the Oral History Association (too, I read his emails from time to time on the Oral History email list). Two fellow members of the Association of Personal Historians, Jennifer Sauers, and ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 17, 2010 in • Do it: YourselfOral history in the newsPersonal
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Unboxing My Zoom Handy H1 Portable Recorder

Unboxing the Zoom Handy H1 Portable Digital Recorder When my Zoom Handy H1 arrived, we took photos of the unboxing and first use. Now (finally – this unboxing took place before I left for the 10-10-10 family reunion), I’m annotating the process, so you get a sense of what the Zoom Handy H1 is like. I’m very excited about this recorder, because it meets the essential requirements – a digital recorder with built-in stereo microphones and removable memory that’s capable of recording audio CD (and broadcast)-quality uncompressed WAV files. All for $99!

So, here we go with the unboxing of the Zoom Handy H1…

The front and back of the product box. No shrink wrap, just a little plastic seal sticker on it.

The Zoom Handy H1's box, front and back

By the way, we ordered the Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder from Amazon and it arrived a day later—sent from a Los Angeles based Amazon Marketplace partner. Shockingly fast, especially for a popular item that’s been backordered. (Now, more are in stock. The affiliate link goes straight to

Aaaand, now that the box is open, the first glimpse of the goodies inside.

The Zoom Handy H1 Recorder comes out of the box

The Zoom Handy H1 comes with the essentials, so you’re not lacking for a memory card or battery, and you can get started right away.

The Zoom Handy H1 uses a single AA battery, which is supplied. It also uses a micro-SD card -- the same kind that's used in cel phones. Here is the Zoom Handy H1 portable ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 24, 2010 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States

Cover of PDF report: The State of Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age, by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress Catching up now that I’m back from a family reunion: The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. What is happening to our collection of sound recordings now that we’re turning the corner to digital formats? This August 2010 publication is published by the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress.

Background, as stated by Librarian of Congress: A collection of “disturbing anecdotal evidence” described the thread to sound recordings (dating back to the 19th century) came to the attention of Congress, which passed the The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-474). That law directed that the Librarian of Congress “...implement a comprehensive national sound recording preservation program…” and study the issues that need to be addressed in order to preserve our national heritage in sound recordings. This publication is part of the result.

Spools of blank CDs and DVDs, with envelopes and special marker pens (A photo taken while unpacking from the family reunion trip. Very on-topic for matters of Digital Preservation.)

From the abstract:

This is the first comprehensive, national-level study of the state of sound recording ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 14, 2010 in • DigitalityVideo
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Genealogy Gems Podcast meets Family Oral History (at Jamboree)

Here's a photo from last year - the 2009 Jamboree, geneabloggers dinner. I sat next to Lacey Cooke and Lisa Louise Cooke, and sometime during that evening, nabbed this foto.) I was interviewed for the Genealogy Gems podcast back in June, at the SCGS Jamboree in Burbank. Lisa Louise Cooke, podcast host and Chief Gemologist, released Episode #97, and it features our discussion. (Our interview happens about 24 minutes into the podcast.)

Thank you, Lisa, for interviewing me. Since Lisa and I spoke not long after I’d given two presentations (interviewing family/all about digital audio recording equipment), I happened to have all kinds of recording equipment with me, so I offered to also record the interview using my kit (scroll down for photo of my “recording studio in an Otter Box”—I also wrote a post to I describe how I bought it—it’s a few years old, and Things Have Changed Since Then.)

Oh, and also—click all photos to enlarge.

Show notes and Equipment Updates

Genealogy Gems booth at Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree in Burbank, CA  (foto is Lisa Louise Cooke's) Left: Lacey Cooke, Right: Lisa Louise Cooke When we recorded the interview (in early June), I recommended the Zoom Handy H2 (and compared it with the Marantz PMD620).

Since then, Zoom ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 06, 2010 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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Preparing Mama to be an Interviewer

Here's Mom, standing in front of an old California stagecoach stop not far from Temecula, California. (from a recent road trip) What happens the person who’s usually the interviewee borrows your fancy digital recorder and becomes the interviewer? What happens when your Mom goes across the country and will see someone you’ve been wanting to interview for, like forever? Do you say, Okay Mom, please ask these questions. Oh, and would you record it? How do you make using the recorder as simple as possible? Will it work out?

The other week, my Mom went from West Coast to East Coast to attend her 60th high school reunion. I loaned her my easiest-to-use recorder with some very basic instruction. And hoped for the best.

Mount Pleasant High School Postcard (sent 1950, the same year Mom graduated).

Background: The stories I want to hear

Main entrance to General Electric's largest plant and its general offices. My gradmother worked for the General Electric Company twice—in the 1920s before her children were born, and again from 1941 until she retired in 1966. The person I’ve wanted to interview—a woman whose initials are NF—was mentored by my grandmother.  They both worked in an industry where women professionals were A Rare Thing.

Here’s something else that’s important: Grandma lived on the other side of the country.

I am back east at Grandma and Grandpa's house. In the snow (wow!) It's 1963; I am 3 and a half years old. (Grandma died 4 years later) I only have a few memory snapshots of her, from a visit East when I was a pre-schooler, and from a visit Grandma took west when my younger brother was born (I was 5?).

Grandma died a few months ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 29, 2010 in • AudioAudio: HardwareHow-ToPersonal
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Katrina and The Flood, We Watched Everything Float Away

NEW ORLEANS (Aug. 29, 2005) - Flooded roadways can be seen as the Coast Guard conducts initial Hurricane Katrina damage assessment overflights here today.  U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi Podcast memories of Katrina and the flood, from Louisiana State University’s Oral History Program. This is the second in the Katrina retrospective, using oral histories.

The MP3 audio podcast (playable right in the browser window) contains numerous clips from interviewees.

It was through listening to this podcast that I learned of the Floodwall exhibit and oral history that I wrote about in the previous post.

NOAA photo of New Orleans. Taken September 11, 2005 (Stick through the first minute of audio of the recording—unfortunately, the first 50 seconds of the 27-minute recording is boomy with that icky metallic note of excessive audio compression. It seriously gets much, much better after that. I nearly clicked away a few seconds in, thinking the entire recording would be like the first part, but I was very glad I stuck out the first minute.)

Some highlights from the podcast, with recollections of Katrina:

How memories of Hurricane Betsy (1965) helped one person decide what, exactly, to ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 02, 2010 in • HistoryOral History Projects
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Katrina and The Flood, 5 years later: Floodwall

Floodwall exhibit detail at Louisiana State University, 2007. Image from the Flickr photostream. How can you possibly imagine the destruction of an entire city? How do you imagine an event so impossibly large? How do you get past “the mind boggles”? Floodwall is an art installation, a “Wailing Wall” with an oral history component. The brainchild of Jana Napoli of New Orleans, Floodwall is a way to wrap your mind around the destruction of New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina and the Flood.

NOAA Satellite Image of Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the United States Her art installation is a collection of household drawers, scrounged from the post-flood detritus from cleaned out houses. When Napoli returned back to New Orleans after the flood, she was stunned by the silence of the empty city. “I saw these emptied out drawers and thought, ‘Each one of these is a household.’ I began to collect them.” On the back of each drawer, she wrote the address where she picked it up. She couldn’t stop collecting them.

NOAA image of flooded New Orleans. Only rooftops are visible above the waterline.

Napoli: “The problem is, where do you save—the first 50 were easy; they went out in the garage—where do you save 700 dresser drawers while they dry out and fall apart?”

Drawers arranged to resemble tombstones, at the exhibit in New York City, January 2007. Image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, How can a person imagine the immensity of ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 31, 2010 in • HistoryOral History Projects
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Zoom’s latest recorder the Zoom H1 Handy costs $99; it’s now shipping!

Samson's Zoom H1 Handy digital audio recorderSamson said they were going to ship the Zoom Handy H1 July 30, but they’re shipping the product as of today. the Zoom H1 Handy is available at Amazon (affiliate link). Based on the product specs (I have not yet seen it), my answer to the question, “What recorder should I buy?” will change. I’ll be saying, Get the Zoom Handy H1, people. Why? CD-stereo quality (and higher) recorder, recording in WAV format, will be available for 99 bucks. And it has one-button recording. Sweet. Very, very sweet.

I got off the fone a little while ago with a spokesperson for Samson’s Zoom line of products, confirming very important items about this recorder. The news is good, people. True one touch recording (press the button and the recording begins). And a zippier start-up time to power the unit on.

Why is this good news? A little background…..

That was then, this is now

Last month, when people would ask me, “What recorder should I buy?” I’d tell them about the Samson Zoom H2 Handy—Samson’s previous lowest-cost portable digital audio recorder.

But I’d also tell them about two of the most significant downsides to the Zoom H2—it takes 30 seconds for the unit to power on, and it has ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 20, 2010 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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Greetings from Jamboree

I’m at the Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank. You can follow twitter chatter about the conference at the hashtag #scgs10. This also serves as a demonstration to Jennifer, with whom I am talking here in the lounge where the genealogy bloggers hang out… Jennifer is not a geneablogger; in fact she is unfamiliar with what this whole blogging thing is, exactly. So, when words don’t suffice (or they obfuscate), then a show and tell helps. I hope. Her friend Vikki is also watching; in fact, she’s offering better wording suggestions than I first came up with. So this paragraph is a group effort.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 11, 2010 in • GenealogyPersonal
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June 9 is International Archives Day

photos by Jim Kuhn/takomabibelot, CC some rights reserved. Detail of two sculptures at the National Archives, Washington DC. Celebrate the Archives in our midst. June 9, 1948 was the founding of the International Council of Archives. The anniversary is suitable for celebrating the founding of those institutions which keep and maintain the collective memory and documents of our society and culture.

Go visit some archives today! To whet your appetite, here are some archives and listings.

The National Archives has a resource center devoted to genealogists and family historians.

Oral History collections, as listed by In The First Person

White House Tapes.
Between 1940 and 1973, six American presidents from both political parties—FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon—secretly recorded on tape just under 5,000 hours of their meetings and telephone conversations. The Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program is a unique effort aimed at making these remarkable historical sources accessible.

Miller Center for Public Affairs: Search the Scripps Library Digital Archive ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 09, 2010 in • ArchivingLongevity
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It’s Deborah Tannen Day - or how family communication can go weird

Deborah Tannen, foto by Susanne van der Kleij. Why is this day Deborah Tannen day? According to Wikipedia, it’s her birthday. Which is the same as my birthday. Yippee! Tannen is the author of the books You Just Don’t Understand and Talking from 9 to 5 – about the style of discourse. It’s a discipline called socio-linguistics. Or, how language shapes interactions between people. In addition to talking about how language between the sexes is sometimes a cross-cultural communication, and about how the language of work affects who does what and who gets the credit, Tannen also talks of communication within families.

In her book, I Only Say This Because I Love You Talking to Your Parents, Partner, Sibs, and Kids When You’re All Adults, Tannen gets into the whys and wherefores of communication mixups and cross-signals within families. I’m so glad to have her input on this, because as one individual with one family, I feel very un-credible saying, “Wanna interview family? Do this. Worked for me!” Having her research on conversations within families is very helpful—it helps get me around some of the YMMV - your mileage may vary - circumstances.

Connection vs Control

In my Why not ask Why? post, I touched on her tension between connection and control—everyone wants to be connected, and everyone ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 07, 2010 in • Interviewing
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Why the Radio Silence? Conference What’s coming up? Conference!

question mark from dominoes by Michelle MeiklejohnWhere did she go? Why all the new posts, then silence? For the last three days I was at a conference devoted to the web software upon which this website is built. Learned many good things that will go into the next major revision for this site. It’s Thursday, but it feels like a Monday after a very long weekend. A verrrrrrrry long weekend.

Aaaaaand it’s only a week (+ a day) until the Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank.

My head will be down, completing my two presentations on Interviewing Family—Sunday Morning 8:30-9:30, and 10-11. Between now and then, I’ll be posting some items to the equipment guide section. Until then, check out all the recent goodies on Interviewing in the Interviewing category, or my From Recording to Audio Series (mostly about Audacity and iTunes). Yes, I know Number 4 of that series is not yet up. Seriously, this week and next I need a clone. Number 4 will be appearing in good time.

[Image: Michelle Meiklejohn]

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 03, 2010 in • Housekeeping
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Interviewing Family: What Should I Ask? Major Life Events

Interviewing Family Lifespan SurveyWhat questions should I ask? Here’s a strategy for coming up with questions based on what you know about the person. Create a rough structure of the person’s life. List what you know about the person. List what you know about the time period. Look at it and then let the questions suggest themselves.

The structure of your interviewee’s life

Symbolpeople stages of life

Image above comes with a hat-tip to my friend Symbolman, who’s animated some stories about life using Symbolpeople. check out Boy Meets Girl.)

The low-tech version uses a piece of paper. High tech version uses a spreadsheet that you can download. 

I’ll use my dad as an example. He’s no longer alive (which is one reason I’ll use some specifics from his life)

  1. Create a document with a few columns across the top: Calendar year, Age (how many years old), and then more columns to note life’s events. A column for where he lived, a column for school and work, a column for major life events, and a column for historical events going on at ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 27, 2010 in • Interviewing
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Digital Family History as understood by Digital Natives with 500 IRL Facebook friends

Maiden Aunt w iPod It’s not the same thing as what Ye Olde Maiden Aunt used to collect and curate. An intriguing article by fellow Association of Personal Historians member Jane Lehman-Shafron, she notes the current trends (look! TV shows! Newspaper articles!), but also points out how family history in digital form is being used by the next generation, the Digital Natives who grow up immersed in computing technology.

The form that family history is taking changes with the times. 

Today’s younger generations are more interested in family history than ever before. The whole country is. But they are demanding that those maiden aunts (and all the rest of us who fulfill the function of “family historian”) get with the times. They want their family history accessible and they want it compelling.

Speaking as the


single Aunt whose spent a lot of time in the technology industry—I’m even called AuntiAlias—it’s a computer graphic pun (know what anti-aliasing is?), I’m one of those Aunts who is pushing everyone forward in digital pursuits when it comes to family history.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2010 in • DigitalityGenealogyPersonal History
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Interviewing Family: Why not Why?

image What’s wrong with “Why?” In the previous post, I wrote about asking open-ended questions, that is, questions that would elicit a lengthy story or explanation. Something more than a yes or no answer. “Why?” is a question designed to get a lengthy reply. So why don’t I say to use “why?”

The answer is not “Because I said so.” But there’s something about that famous familial exchange (“Why?” “Because I said so!”) that gets at the heart of Why Not Why.

Remember the two parts of attitude I mentioned yesterday?

  1. Be Curious.
  2. Be Non-Judgmental.

Asking a question using the word “Why?” might sound judgemental.

Especially if you’re family.

When a family member asks another family member a question that begins with Why?, it might put the second person on the defensive in the same way as “Why didn’t you take out the trash?”

You want to elicit information and stories, not put the person on the spot.

(I’m indebted to Kim Leatherdale’s comments on the Lifetime Memories ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 24, 2010 in • GenealogyInterviewing
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