Sunday, June 29, 2008

July 4 - And The Guest Author Is . . .

The Arline Allen Kinsel Brown Collection

Denise Levenick
The Family Curator

Many of us find ourselves in the position of family curator. How each of us deals with that position is often the true story. This Friday, July 4th, Shades will publish an account of one family curator and the unique way she preserved her heritage while educating a new generation of historians.

Denise Levenick has a longtime interest in her family history. Stories of her maternal grandmother growing up in Colorado and Kansas nurtured that interest and a steamer trunk full of letters and photographs sparked her odyssey.

Somehow, I became the keeper of “other people’s stuff” (as my sister would say). I prefer “The Family Curator.” The papers, baby books, chipped china and amateur artwork usually come with a note like this one, “If anyone ever keeps any records for posterity I just bet it will be you. In fact, it could even be put on the computer.”

Denise, a native Californian, has worked as an editor and journalist since publishing a neighborhood newspaper in grade school and has taught both journalism and literature in Pasadena schools for 19 years.

In June, Denise completed her eleventh year at Mayfield Senior School, a Catholic all-girls high school in Pasadena, California, where she taught junior and senior honors courses in Women’s Literature and American Literature using new media in the classrooms with course web pages, blogs, podcasts, and slide shows.

I have pursued my grandmother’s life story both inside and outside the classroom since 1975 when I first wrote a college essay about my maternal grandmother, Arline Kinsel Brown. At that time, my aunt possessed an old steamer trunk filled with Arline’s papers. She rather reluctantly allowed me to borrow a few letters and photos for my paper, and when I read them I knew that Arline’s story was different from that of my friends’ grandmothers.

In the trunk were scores of letters, news clippings, not one but three marriage certificates, property deeds, rent receipts, family trees, letters, sepia studio portraits and more.

Denise began the task of transcribing the letters in the summer of 2007, as soon as school ended for the term, but by spring she had barely made a dent in the stack of correspondence. Her blog, The Family Curator, was started to keep a record of her progress.

When Denise described the project to her students, she found they were quite interested and enthusiastic. She felt this would be a wonderful opportunity for a creative final project focusing on primary sources and textual analysis. Over a period of about two weeks, students worked to transcribe nearly one hundred letters from the collection. They learned about archival procedures, deciphering archaic handwriting, and understanding colloquial expressions. They also practiced close reading and gave Denise many thoughtful ideas to pursue.

Join us July 4th, for Friday From The Collectors when Denise Levenick tells the story of this experience and shares her photographs with Shades.

Denise Levenick is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara in Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies, she has an M.A. from Claremont Graduate School in English with an emphasis in American Literature. Denise is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the National Council Teachers of English, the American Literature Association, and the Southern California Genealogical Society.


Friday, June 27, 2008

June 27 - Friday From The Collectors

Volunteer Genealogical Photography

Dear Ms. Genea-etiquette:

I recently made a request of a volunteer photographer to take a picture of my great-grandmother's grave (located in another state) for the memorial page I created of her on my favorite cemetery website. The photo was posted by the volunteer to the website, but unfortunately, it is somewhat blurry and off-center enough that part of the tombstone is cropped off. While I'm grateful for the efforts made by this volunteer, I am frustrated about the poor photo quality and I do not wish to display it on my memorial page. How do I sensitively suggest that this photograph is not adequate and I need something better? Is it rude of me to not simply accept the random act of kindness at face value?

Frustrated in Frisco


Gentle Researcher:

Ms. Genea-etiquette sympathizes with your plight, for she has had the misfortune of being the recipient of blurred, off-center, faded, under-sized, wrongly-formatted, and even incorrect photographs from volunteer photographers. One well-meaning picture-taker abrasively cleaned an ancestor's tombstone with metal gardening tools, which could be seen (along with clumps of weeds and clods of soil) in the periphery of the photograph! But take heart, dear reader--and all those who live far from their ancestral cemeteries--there are remedies for these delicate situations!

As always, it is best to avoid problems in the first place. Communication is the key to prevention of photo mishaps. Ms. Genea-etiquette has discovered through trial and error that it is best not to rely on the pre-made online request forms provided by many of the volunteer photo organizations because the volunteer may misunderstand or make assumptions about your request. Rather, specific instructions should be listed. These can be modified for your own personal requirements. Consider the following:

1. What, specifically, is your request? Do you want only the ancestor's tombstone photographed, or do you hope the volunteer will notice other family members buried nearby and photograph those graves, too? If it's an upright tombstone, do you need the back photographed? Do you need to know the lot, plot, or block number for your records?

2. Is there anything you do not want done? If the tombstone is covered with soil, grass, or is in some other way not very visible, do you wish the volunteer to take a photo as is, or to attempt to clear the face of it to obtain information from the inscription? If there are flowers on the grave, do you want them to appear in the photo?

3. If the volunteer does not state specifically that he or she is using a digital camera, you may wish to ask if the photo will be taken digitally or with film. Film, as you know, takes time to be developed, and with older cameras, there is no way to determine if the photograph will be clear and sharp until it is printed. The advantage of digital cameras is that they usually have a viewer so that the photographer can see at once whether or not the picture is acceptable.

4. Should you be making your request through Find A Grave's excellent photo volunteer service, be aware that after fulfilling the request, the volunteer will simply load up the photo to your ancestor's memorial page without checking with you first. This is not meant to be a thoughtless act. Find A Grave gives credit to each volunteer for the number of photographs they have claimed and fulfilled, and the only way to receive that credit is for the volunteer to submit the photo. Ms. Genea-etiquette has made a habit of gently requesting that any photographs taken of the ancestor's grave first be e-mailed to her for approval before being loaded to the memorial page.

All that said, occasionally a misunderstanding or mistake does occur. The appropriate thing to do, of course, is to notify the volunteer immediately . . . and kindly. After all, she or he has taken time out of a busy schedule, driven some distance from home using astronomically-priced fuel, and made an effort to bless and assist you in your research. Ask for the volunteer to correct the mistake, and then be patient. It may take a while to undo.

If this doesn't resolve the issue contact the administrator of the volunteer service for assistance, whether it is at Find A Grave, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, a USGenWeb county site, or some other organization. Remember that the world of genealogy has been built on the kindness and assistance of others, and it is only appropriate to proceed in like manner.

Use your experience to help you become a better volunteer and photographer yourself, even if you are an amateur and do not have professional equipment. Check to make sure the photographs you take are angled correctly; centered properly; have no distractions in the foreground, periphery or background; are sharp and clear; and are taken of the correct grave! Ms. Genea-etiquette has found Maureen Taylor's "Tips on Photographing Tombstones" to be especially helpful.

Ms. Genea-etiquette wishes Frustrated in Frisco all the best in her or his genealogical endeavors.

Note: Photographs for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the work of any particular volunteer.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Labeling and Labeling Systems

In wandering the web this week I stopped at one of my favorite spots, the Photo-Detective with Maureen Taylor at Family Tree Magazine. Maureen's most recent entry, Loopy Labels, made me smile. I'm sure we've all experienced a few Loopy Labels and Labeling Methods in our family photographs and our photograph collections. The photograph Maureen discusses will cause you to nod your head in recognition. Yes, we've all had them.

I have a photograph that is a similar situation; a photograph of the pages of the North Carolina House of Representatives, 1903. The photograph was not in good condition. There appeared to be a great deal of foxing on the entire surface, including the boys' faces. When I scanned it I found a problem similar to Maureen's post.

Pages of The House of Representatives
North Carolina - 1903

Key On Reverse
of photograph

The numbered key on the back of the photograph had left me scratching my head as to what it meant with regard to the image. As you can see, the labels themselves aren't loopy. They are very straight forward. So does loopy deal with the key indicators on the photograph itself? Ah, yes.

Key Numbers Placed
On Each Face

When I scanned the photograph the corresponding key number appeared on the forehead of each of the pages. Not foxing as originally thought. Loopy Labeling! Historically, I thank the person who provided the key. As someone who would like to display a copy of the photograph, I would have liked the key number placed somewhere other than smack dab in the middle of the sitters forehead.

Yes, with Adobe Photoshop and a lot of work you can achieve a near perfect image. That's today. Originally, that wouldn't have been possible. The owner of the photograph would have had a photograph with a number written in ink on the forehead of each person in the photograph. Not very attractive.

Pages With Restoration

While this was a very well intentioned attempt at labeling a photograph for posterity it could have used some thought, some planning.

The following is another example of a photograph that was labeled, but didn't work.

The Birthday Club
September 2, 1911

The Key

In this example a beautiful professionally designed key has been placed on the photograph. It lists the occasion (The Birthday Club), the date (September 2, 1911), the place (Lamoure, N.D.), compliments of (Chief John Freyberger), and the names of all the people in the photograph.

The problem with the key stems from the listing of the people in the photograph. We have no way of knowing what row is indicated, whether the listing moves left to right, or if it is nothing more than a list with no relationship to the photograph itself. The key would have been of benefit if it had used an identification similar to this: Back row L-R.

I spent a great deal of time working on the story of this photograph which was published as "Finding That Two Hundredth Edwardian Woman In A White Dress" on footnoteMaven. I tried to establish a pattern to the key to determine the proper identification of each person in the photograph. The result of my work is shown below.

In the method of identification I used, it is very easy to see who's who in the photograph on a key copy. So what lessons should we take from the mistakes of the past? Don't write directly on the photograph. Identify the date and the purpose of the taking of the photograph. Use a logical method of identification (Row - L-R). Maureen has identified many of them in her Loopy Labels post.

We have a real advantage today for identifying photographs for posterity. Many software programs have a tagging system for photographs. But tagging is a keyword or category label used for searching through our many photographs and isn't for identifying the position of people in a photograph. I wrote an article, Get Organized :: Store Information Directly In Your Photographs, for footnoteMaven. It explains the method used in Adobe Photoshop for storing information and for keyword searches for each photograph. But tagging has its limitations.

As tags do not identify the individuals by their position in a photograph, for group or multiple people photos, I go low tech. Let me show you. Below is a photograph of my husband and his sisters at his father's 90th birthday celebration.

Tags would identify each person by name in the photograph, but there are three women who would be identified. Which is which? I know who they are, my children know, but will my grandchildren and their children know which is which? If history has taught us anything, the answer is probably not. So tagging with names is not sufficient.

For my group photographs I create a key. I took the birthday photograph and made a copy. I reduced the size of the copy and identified each person (shown below). I used nothing more than the line and type tools in Photoshop (would work in any photo editing program). I added the event, the date, and the place.

I learned a long time ago that I could not continue to come up with a naming system for photographs that was relevant and that I could remember. I now number all my photographs sequentially based on their acquisition. Tags have been added to each original photograph for the purposes of keyword searches.

In the numbering system there are as few as two, or as many as three, photographs for each one taken or scanned. The number of the birthday photograph above is 000679A. The "A" means this is the front of the photograph. 000679B would be the reverse of the photograph if something had been written on the back (normally photographs that are scanned). 000679K is the key to the photograph shown above. I am betting there will always be a program that can display a TIFF or JPEG format photograph and my key is nothing more than another TIFF or JPEG photograph. Should we see the end of programs that can display these formats, my key can be printed and retained along with the original photograph, before the demise of such programs.

I also employ a similar system for photographic gifts. When I give a gift of a framed photograph I print information that is attached to the dust cover on the back of the frame. Below is the information I included with a gift of a framed photograph of my husband's grandmother for one of our children.

The picture of the little girl with her dolls is the photograph that has been framed. The information relates to the little girl. Trust me, this takes almost no time at all, and will be appreciated for generations to come.

So devise a key system for group photographs that works for you. Got a great idea for identifying group photographs? Tell us about it in the comments section of this article. I'm always looking!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Romance And Eyeglasses - Twice Told Tuesday

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

Recently I wrote an article commenting on how photographs of women wearing glasses were difficult to find. In researching the subject I have found that it was the attitude of society that accounted for few women showing up at the photographer's studio wearing their glasses. Woman were around for their beauty, nothing more, and glasses often interfered with the common definition of beauty. Young unmarried woman in particular were encouraged not to wear glasses. God forbid you could see who you were engaged to marry!

The following Twice Told Tuesday article, written by a woman, discusses the conventions of the time as they related to romance, glasses, and literature! Aren't we glad times have changed.

Anna Eichbert Lane
The Champagne Standard

It is curious to observe that even the greatest realists do not venture to bestow eyeglasses on their heroines. It is rather odd too, seeing how many charming women do in real life wear them, nor are they debarred by them from the most dramatic careers and the most poignant emotions. But while the modern novelist has bestowed eyeglasses on everybody else he has not yet had the hardihood to put them on the nose of his heroine. Why?

It is a problem which again shows the unquestionably undeserved and superior position of man, for a novelist does not hesitate to put him behind any kind of glasses, and leave him just as fascinating and dangerous as he was before. Eyeglasses are so much the common lot of humanity these degenerate days that babies are nearly born with them, to judge at least from the tender age of the bespectacled infants one sees trundled past in their perambulators.

And there is no doubt that the time will come, if the strain on the hearing increases from the diabolic noises in the streets, that the next generation’s hearing will be as much affected as our eyes are now. The result will be that all the world will be using ear-trumpets, and the novelist of the future, the accredited historian of manners, will be obliged, if he is at all accurate, to have his love-sick hero whisper his passion to the heroine through an ear-trumpet. However it is a comfort not to be obliged to solve the riddles of the future.

Still if it is inevitable that the future deaf hero will have to fall in love with a deaf heroine, why should not the present astigmatic hero in novels be permitted to fall in love with a beautiful creature in glasses? He certainly does it often enough in real life. Of course it would not do for a heroine to have a wooden leg, I grant, and yet I have met a hero with a wooden leg, and I am quite sure I know several who have lost an arm; why then should it be required of us poor women to be so perfect?

If a man can wear spectacles without forfeiting his position as a hero of romance, I demand the same right for a woman. Why, a man can even be bald and she will love him all the same! Now I ask would the hero love her under the same circumstances? There is no use arguing, for that very fact proves that there are laws for men and laws for women.

The truth is she will love him under every objectionable kind of circumstance, both in real life and in novels. Has not a thrilling romance of recent years produced a hero without legs, and made im all the more hideously captivating to the patron of the circulating library? Now what novel reader would, even under the auspices of so gifted a novelist, take any stock in a heroine similarly afflicted? Yes I fear, though it is neither here nor there, that men also have it their own way in literature.

To be sure there are instances of blind heroines inspiring a passion, and also, I believe, of lame heroines limping poetically through the pages of a novel, as well as burdened with other disabilities which apparently never take away from their charms; but I know of no heroine whom the novelist has endowed with a pince-nez.

Now why are glasses in literature so incompatible with romance in a woman while they never damage a man?

Why can a man look at the object of his passionate adoration through all the known varieties of glasses and yet not lose for an instant the breathless interest of the most gushing of novel readers? His eyeglasses may even grow dim with manly tears, and the lady readers’ own eyes will be blurred with sympathetic moisture. But let the heroine weep behind her glasses and the most inveterate devourer of novels will close the book in revolt. It is no use to describe how the heroine’s great brown eyes looked yearningly at the hero behind her glasses, nor how they swam in tears behind those same useful articles, the reader refuses to read, and even if the heroine is only nineteen and bewitchingly beautiful, she is at once divested of any romance.

What a mercy for the novelist in this age of perpetual repetition, of twice told tales, if he might give his heroine a new attribute! One feels sure that if eyeglasses and their variations were permitted they would produce quite a new kind of heroine, to the immense advantage and relief of literature. Of course the novelist has to keep up with the times; it is as imperative for him as for the fashion-books, for it is from him alone that future generations will learn how we lived, dresses and looked, and what were our favourite sufferings.

So the novelist cannot of course ignore what is so common as eyeglasses and he has in turn bestowed them on all his characters except his heroines. One can understand his hesitation when one tries oneself to put glasses on the noses of one’s own literary pets, and then realizes how they war with romance. Put a pair on the nose of the loveliest Rosalind who ever wandered through the enchanted forest of Arden, or let the most pathetic Ophelia look through them at Hamlet with grief-stricken eyes, and I am quite sure that even Shakespeare’s poetry would not survive the shock.

But if eyeglasses are tabooed by novelists, what shall we say of spectacles? What gallery would accept a Juliet with spectacles? For a woman in literature to wear spectacles is to put her out of the pale of romance at once. Even in real life spectacles are a problem, but to the heroine of a novel they are impossible. No novelist with any regard for his publisher or his sales would venture to give his heroine gold spectacles.

The only ones I remember as the property of a heroine of fiction belonged to the heroine when she repented, and they more than anything else proved the sincerity of her remorse, and these were the famous blue spectacles in “East Lynne” that worked such an amazing transformation upon that erring and repentant lady.

Yes, a heroine can be repentant behind spectacles, but I defy her to be alluring. I was struck by their sobering effect on studying the head of the Venus de Medici decorated with a pair in the window of an inspired optician. They so changed her expression that she might have successfully applied for a position in a board-school.

Perhaps the only thing in glasses on which a rash novelist might venture is the monocle. I have not yet met a feminine monocle in fiction, but we all know its entrancing effect when worn by a man. We even realize its power in real life. It gives a man a kind of moral support and even changes his character. I have seen meek and rather ordinary men stick in a monocle, and it at once gave them that fictitious fascination, that, so to speak, go-to-the-devil impudence which is so irresistible. It is the aid to sight essentially of the upper classes, or of the best imitation, and as such it naturally inspires the confidence of society.

Of course the feminine monocle is not adapted to all costumes, but there is about it a rakishness, a coquetry particularly suited to a riding-habit. The suggestion is quite at the ervice of any harassed novelist. It may be quite as much a help to sight as spectacles, but, O, the difference! A woman buries her youth behind spectacles, but she can coquette to the very end behind a monocle.

. . . The other day I called on the loveliest woman I know, and who has always seemed to me the picture of exquisite and immortal youth. She looked up from the corner of a couch sumptuous with brilliant cushions. She had been reading, and she laid aside her book and something else. I followed her hand and felt as guilty as if I had been caught eavesdropping. There lay a pair of gold spectacles and I saw a red line across the bridge of her lovely nose. Those wicked spectacles! How they took away the bloom of her youth. To me she will never seem young again only well-preserved alas!

How tragic to think that even beauty comes to spectacles at last! Now how different it is with men. If they do have to wear spectacles they do it boldly, and not on the sly, and yet they always find some one to love them, so the novelists prove, and they ought to know.

But a heroine with spectacles, that is a different thing. What novelist has the courage for such an innovation? Even realism, which we know usually stops at nothing, does draw the line there.

Now I do ask in all seriousness, are eyeglasses in fiction really so incompatible with romance?


An example of eyeglasses.
(Also referred to as pince-nez)

An example of spectacles.



Lane, Anna Eichbert. The Champagne Standard. New York: John Lane Company, 1905.


Child Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Card Mount). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Cabinet Card). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Woman Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (Cabinet Card). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Young Woman Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (Card Mount). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Man Wearing Eyeglasses. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Mature Woman Wearing Spectacles. Photograph (CDV). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.


Monday, June 23, 2008

June 27 - And The Guest Author Is . . .

Volunteer Genealogical Photography:
Tips and Techniques

Miriam Robbins Midkiff is a a volunteer with both Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) and Find A Grave. In the June 20, Friday From the Collectors, she will discuss the proper etiquette, tips and techniques of both those requesting and those fulfilling requests for photographs of tombstones, locations, or items. So if you've wondered how or where to start your request, or how to properly fulfill one, this will be the perfect article!

Miriam is one of the most recognized names and faces in the world of GeneaBloggers. She authors the two widely read blogs; AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors and AnceStories2: Stories of Me for My Descendants. Recently Miriam was featured in an online interview with Google Book Search about the use of Goggle Books in conjunction with family history research.

I spend the last Sunday of each month with Miriam and other GeneaBloggers at her Scanfest; where we scan and chat, similar to an old time Quilting Bee. This has become a staple of the GeneaBlogging community and fun to boot!

Miriam lectures and writes about genealogy from Spokane, Washington, as well as teaching both beginning and intermediate courses in Online Genealogy through the local community college district.

She is an active member of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. It was at one of the Society's events that I met Miriam and I can tell you, she is as dynamic in person as she is on the page/screen. And a genuinely lovely person.

So join Shades, June 27 when we will be treated to the benefit of Miriam's knowledge regarding Volunteer Genealogical Photography: Tips and Techniques.

See You Then!


Friday, June 20, 2008

June 20 - Friday From The Collectors



Family Oral History - Using Digital Tools

Think about a snapshot you took. Maybe it's someplace you visited. Maybe it's you in your house, or with you and your family, you and your friends (or both). Have you looked at it and the day comes back to you? You think, "Oh yeah, we had this wild, adventurous drive to reach that destination on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a spectacular view. The wind was blowing. And that person there-- what was his name? -- he'd say the most outlandish things. He said-- oh yes, now I remember! he teased me and whatever I said, he'd argue the opposite side. But he did it with a smile, and we all had a great time. We went to a little burger stand afterwards, and I remember spilling ketchup all over myself, and that teasing so-and-so did an about face and dove for a thousand napkins for me and mumbled, 'Sorry, sorry, my fault' -- and it wasn't his fault at all." That snapshot just transported you to another time, and prodded the inner movie camera in your mind to replay all the events of that time, complete with sensations (windy, and cold), feelings, and a recollection of who all was there.

Photographs help bring it all back. They are one of the closest things we have to the virtual reality holodeck. And yet there is something of that day that lives on. The light you saw that day made its way through the camera lens and exposed the film. (I'm obviously talking old-school film processes, here.)

Photo Albums and Oral History.

The photo collections that you have around -- or the photo albums that your relatives have -- are keys to transport people directly to times in their past. Together, you look through the albums while the other person -- your interviewee, or the storyteller -- tells you about what's in the pictures.

If you record the conversation you have while looking through the photo album together, the two of you are creating an oral history centered on the photo album. An oral history is the recording and preservation of spoken recollections about past events that someone participated in, or witnessed.

You can get the first person "I was there" story about the photographs. For even older photographs, where the interviewee wasn't there, but is old enough to recognize the people who were there, you can capture the knowledge of the person who can tell you who's who, and perhaps "where's where" in the photos, and whatever other stories about the people or places in the photographs.

What's cool about oral history and photo albums:

  • Photos jog the memory.

  • The photo is full of details that are clues to more questions. Look at the photo. The location. The clothes. The furniture or possessions. What is it? Is it significant? Ask about the things you see in the photos.

  • Photos live outside the interviewer's list of questions. Photos, on their own, can call forth memories that you as the interviewer don't know about.

  • You never know where a story may come from. My example doesn't necessarily have to do with photos, but it illustrates how stories come from everyday, overlooked objects.

    I've been hanging out at my parents' house a lot recently. One day before lunch or dinner, I was in the kitchen, using a cutting board. It's round with a handle, and casts a shadow identical to a small skillet. It has a little edge ornamentation. I've seen it around the house for, like, forever. While either chopping on it or washing it, my mother tells the story of the cutting board -- when her mother Forence went to Europe (and my mother didn't go-- as detailed in this movie), Mama brought back a cutting board for her daughter. She told the story of not going on that trip and what her mother brought back for her. Who knew that this everyday prosaic chopping board had a story of the relationship between my mother and her mother? I didn't. It just came up.

    The lesson to you is that the objects you see in the photos may also bring up stories. You don't know ahead of time which objects are story fodder and which ones aren't.

  • Photos show who was there. At basic bare bones, you want to know, Who is that in the picture, and how is that person related to you?

  • Photos are also a record of people that you don't recognize, but your storyteller does. In that case, the interviewee wasn't there, but knows who the people are, and maybe recognizes people and places that you don't know.

  • If your storyteller is telling you about people and places at a one step remove, the photos may act to launch recollections about the people in the pictures.

    "Oh, this is Great-Granddad."

    "Tell me about Great-Granddad-- did you hear stories about him?"

    "Well, Great-Granddad was a real raconteur, I tell you. My father and his brother and sister used to listen to his stories and songs when he came to live with the family."

The mechanics of discussing photos

(I won't get into equipment here. I do discuss equipment on my site. The largest repository is in the audio hardware category of my site)

Here are some things to look for when recording stories about photos.

One is a visual medium. The other is a recording -- aural and/or video, where the interviewee (or storyteller) describes recollections of past events.

What you're about to do is to create a new artifact, an audio recording, that's intimately tied to other artifacts--the photos. You need to stand in for future listeners who aren't there with you, and who aren't seeing what you're seeing in the moment -- from gestures of the speaker, to the pointed finger at the album saying "this photo." Provide some extra context.

First things first: Who, When, Where, and What

Start the recording by noting the date, the place, and the names of those who are having this conversation. If your recording takes place in more than one session, or is recorded on, say, more than one spool of tape or more than one digital file, begin with that Who When Where What at the beginning of each recording session.

Which photo? Identify the photo:

(Select photo for larger image)

"This photo" or "This page" doesn't provide enough information for later. But you can provide the context pretty easily. "Okay, we're looking at Aunt Doris' photo album. We're on an early spread with a bunch of art students, and there's writing that says, 'Fenway School Cultivated we -- ha ha, we're nuts' and in the center is a photo of Doris posing in her cowgirl outfit." Anyone looking at the album (or a scan of the album) can identify the page from that description.

Or, if the conversation is about someone in the photo, identify who and where in the photo the person is. Suppose your storyteller says, "That's Great Grandpa" while pointing to a person in a photo. Well, fine, now you know, but someone who has the photo album and the recording does not. Fill in the details: "We're looking at the lower left photo -- Every one's on the porch, and Great Grandpa is the 2nd person from the left." You've now filled in what the speaker means by "That" in "That's Great Grandpa"

You can also temporarily label the pages or the photos, using post-it notes with numbers or letters on them. Supposing you gave the photos post it notes where each page had a letter of the alphabet to it? "That's Great Grandpa" says the storyteller narrator. And you say, to clarify, "The lower left photo on page H-- He's the second from the left." Then you take a reference photo of the album with the post its in place so you know what you mean by the H page. If you go this route, you need to be brutally honest with yourself-- are you going to make your reference photos? yes? Cool. And good on you, you over-achiever! ;) If not, provide enough context for the page as it is. I go for the default position, because a few words in context is enough to provide adequate orientation.

More missing information You want to supply missing information. If your interviewee shows you how big something was "Oh, it was about this [gesture] big", supply the missing information for the future listener who can't see your narrator's gestures. The conversation becomes:

"Oh, it was about this [gesture] big"

"About a foot and a half long?"

"Yeah, foot-and-a-half, maybe two foot."

Be open to any stories, even if they're not related to the set of photos you're looking at.

Whether your storyteller is describing personal experiences or is identifying people and places in the photographs, be open to letting the conversation wander to the places your storyteller goes. I operate from the understanding that the photo is there to spark memories and elicit stories. If those stories "seem" unrelated to the photo, that's perfectly fine. You want to hear stories, right? Or at least, I do. (If you know you're listening to someone who habitually digresses in conversation, you may need to judiciously urge the person back to the topic once you find out that the current digression is not a story. YMMV)

Don't just look at the photos, or, Advanced Photo Album Oral History tricks.

If you spend all your time looking at the photos, you may miss something important-- the facial expressions and body language of the storyteller may tell you that there's more to a story than what is being said at the moment.

I didn't realize this point until I sat across the table from two people who were talking through a photo album. (I was the quiet observer with the recording equipment.) They sat side-by-side, both looking at the photos. Since I was facing them (and the photos were upside down), it was easier for me to see the storyteller. At one point, he shrugged. Significantly. I thought, "Oh, there's a story behind that expression." But the interviewer's eyes were on the photo, and he missed the opportunity to ask further, "Are you remembering something else?" or "What's behind that shrug?"

From time to time, take your eyes off the photos and look at the speaker. You may find a story in a grimace or a shrug or pursed lips or some other expression.

You may already be a winner! In fact, you are!

Now that I've piled you up with all manner of obligations and things to watch out for, I leave you with a light burden. You as interviewer are juggling several tasks simultaneously. As interviewer, you're operating the equipment, you're looking at the photos too, you're supplying background information to fill in for the eyes that cannot see what you see, and you're keeping an eye on the storyteller to see if there are additional cues for additional stories.

Please don't let these extra set of tips be so intimidating that they stop you from asking your relative to tell you about the photos in that album.

If you sit down to talk about the photos with someone who was there--or knows the people who were there-- you win!

If you record the conversation, you win! Extra.

If you're able to provide some extra context that helps for someone who will listen to the recording later, you win! Extra Plus.

If you're able to pick up on nonverbal cues in the expression of your storyteller, you win! Extra Plus. Double Plus Good.

Remember though, you already won when you sat down to have the conversation.

Article and Photographs

Copyright © Susan A. Kitchens


Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Still Think She's Dead - But . . .

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

Thursday, on Shades Of The Departed, will be dedicated to many things,
and nothing in particular.

Many Things Thursday

In the recent "I Think She's Dead" series of articles (listed below) I concluded that the photograph of the young woman discussed was indeed a postmortem photograph. A new clue has emerged that could change that conclusion.

The Western Photographic News of 1875 reported that a Danbury photographer had promised to revolutionize the photography business by the introduction of a gas that would render the sitter unconscious during the taking of the photograph. The Danbury photographer issued cards announcing “Photographs in all styles taken without pain.” The article does not say where Danbury is located, but there is a Danbury, Iowa. The photograph had been taken in Dubuque, Iowa.

So does our young woman look as if she may have been rendered unconscious by gas and is feeling no pain? Or perhaps the Danbury photographer had inhaled a bit too much gas himself. What do you think?


Note: No further evidence of the use of said gas has been discovered during my research. I find the idea of the use of gas to render the sitter unconscious, highly suspect. I have posed the question to several photographic archives to see if they have heard of this revolutionary idea. I will let you know what I know, when I know.

I have also received information from the Dubuque Library and Historical Society regarding direction for research on the photographer, photographic studio, and mortuary. I thank them very much, as I am sure the people of Iowa have far more important things to do and think about. As a woman familiar with the rivers of the Midwest, I send them my prayers.

The research continues, but I still think she's dead.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just Junk - And The Kindness Of Strangers

Blanche DuBois once said something about relying on "the kindness of strangers." In this Web Wandering Wednesday, so have I.

Someone else was doing the wandering and ran into a post I'd written where I talked about my collection of women wearing glasses and the book I'm writing (working title: My Blind Passion). That wanderer would be Sheri Bush of TwigTalk and Family Twigs.

Sheri sent me a wonderful email in which she wrote about a photograph that had been found by her brother in the attic of a house built around 1875. Her brother, who bought the house, was eventually going to throw all the stuff away.

Sheri rescued the photograph of a little girl wearing glasses from the trash and named her "Annie" as in Little Orphan Annie. She scanned everything worth while to put on GenWebs for Jackson Co. IN and looked for researchers on the forums/lists in the hope that the photos would be helpful to someone.

Sheri said:

This little girl is an unknown, and I have found that they seldom are ever named. I have a page of unknown family photos on my personal site. They have been up for a long time and still are unknowns.

. . . I remembered this girl because of her sweet face. She is yours! Now she will not disappear. Thank you for that. My brother will be happy too, as he thought she was "just junk."


This is Annie, a gift thanks to the kindness of a stranger who is now a friend. Sheri, I can't thank you enough!

Old photographs of women in glasses are difficult to find, but little girls wearing glasses are even more difficult. Annie is a treasure. I have only scanned her face for you, the whole photograph once researched will be a part of My Blind Passion. Annie, Sheri and I must have some surprises.

It's true, GeneaBloggers are the best. So when you're out wandering the web visit Sheri's blog and website. Take a look at the page of Mystery Photos and see if you recognize anyone. Pay it forward!


. Photograph (Inset). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some Considerations on the Subject of Profile Portraits - TTT

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

Some Considerations on the Subject of Profile Portraits
December 1, 1916

Profile portraits form the subject of a short article in "The Professional Photographer," from which we extract the following. The author observes, in commencing, that every sitter will not make a profile portrait. Very few have features so finely chiselled and so well proportioned that they will stand the test of being shown up in outline.

Carefully posed, profile portraits make charming pictures, but one must not forget that they lose their interest sooner than the poses which show the eyes and mouth.

There must be something especially attractive in the profile view. From an artistic standpoint it undoubtedly gives plenty of scope to the operator. Broader masses of light and shade can be secured than in the usual front view. There is more hair shown, and this forms a valuable shadow against which the half-tone of the face tells very effectively. Then, if a hat is worn, the broadside view of the brim gives a graceful sweeping line.

But the chief attraction of the profile lies in the fact that it awakens curiosity. When one looks at the profile of a beautiful woman, or of a man with a strong and interesting personality, one immediately wants to get a glimpse of the full face. A more satisfying view is wanted, and there is a feeling that half the beauty and half the character are concealed.

This is why the profile generally fails to satisfy as a likeness. It is more limited in expression than a full-face or three-quarter view. There is not much chance of revealing character by the expression of the eyes and mouth. Moreover, friends are apt to be more familiar with the features of a face as seen from the front than from the side.

When a sitter, whose face is not especially adapted for it, is really anxious to have a profile portrait, slight defects in the outline may be hidden by a little artful dodging in arranging the pose. For instance, a receding chin is no drawback if it is resting on the hand. Hair can be arranged to hide or subdue a receding forehead.

In all profile views the most important point is to see that the direction of the eyes is in keeping the pose of the head. The head may be titled, it may be perfectly straight, or it may be lowered. In any of these poses the eyes must look in the same direction as the face, otherwise some unusual or undesirable feeling will be expressed. This, of course, may be very useful when photographing actors and actresses as different characters, but it is quite unsuited to ordinary portraiture where natural likeness is aimed at.

Note: Photographs, from the private collection of the footnoteMaven, have been added to illustrate the article.


Unknown. “Some Considerations on the Subject of Profile Portraits.” The Amateur Photographer's Weekly, December 1, 1916, 155.


Unknown Young Woman. Photograph (Cabinet Card). Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.

Unknown Bearded Man. Photograph (Cabinet Card). 1884. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007.


Monday, June 16, 2008

June 20 - And The Guest Author Is . . .



Family Oral History - Using Digital Tools

They tell where you come from. They hold secrets to who you are. This applies to both a family oral history and our cherished family photographs. How do you use those family photographs to elicit the very best from the subject of your oral history!

The person to answer that question is Susan A. Kitchens of Family Oral History - Using Digital Tools. Susan got into recording family oral histories by talking to her grandfather when he was 99 years old. She interviewed and recorded her grandfather, made the recordings into Audio CDs, then had the CDs transcribed; all done in time to celebrate her Grandfather’s 100th birthday. A project to be truly proud of, Susan.

Susan didn't stop there, she read, she research, she attended lectures and workshops, and has become the "Go To" resource for all things related to Oral Histories. Last year Alex Kingsbury's article Making History, “From World War II soldiers to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, more people are sharing their own memories to bring the past back to life,” in US News mentioned Susan and her site. I got my copy and I hope to have Susan autograph it one day.

Susan describes herself as:

. . . a designer (print and web), writer and do-er of new media deeds. I’ve written how-to books for using graphic and multimedia software (I won a Computer Press Award for one of them, wOOt!). And I’m delving into the stories of some remarkable individuals who grew up at the beginning of the 20th century—I just so happen to be related to them.

Personally, the thing that draws me to Susan is her enthusiasm, love of life, love of history, and willingness to share what she has learned about Oral History with us all. Shades is very fortunate to have Susan discuss the importance of photographs to an oral history in Friday From The Collectors - June 20.

See you then!


Saturday, June 14, 2008

2nd Edition - Smile For The Camera

Welcome to the 2nd Edition of Smile For The Camera - A Carnival of Images. The topic for the 2nd Edition is:

We have a charming bouquet of belles and beaus to celebrate the 2nd Edition. There are some creative interpretations of the word prompt and some of the most interesting photographs I've seen. Put up your feet, grab something to drink, and enjoy the visual presentations - it's all about the photographs!


amyrebba presents My treasure posted at Untangled Family Roots. And it is a treasure, the only known photograph of her husbands' ancestor. A request sent Amy on a two year journey, a sad journey and a sad discovery. Thank you Amy for sharing this photograph!


Hold on to your hats, Jessica Oswalt shares her photo of A Bell and Beau Couple: My Great-Grandparents posted at Jessica's Genejournal. This is a beautiful photograph of her great-grandparents ca. 1910-1915. And Jessica says there is a beautiful love story to go with it and she just might tell that story someday. For the carnival, the photograph is the perfect beginning. Thanks Jessica!

Jasia creates the four phases of My Parents' Romance in pictures posted at Creative Gene. She wows us again with her digital scrapbooking abilities. If this doesn't get you digi-scrapping, nothing will. Thank you Jasia for more of your beautiful work - a visual masterpiece!


Ken Spangler shares a terrific photograph at Belles & Beaus - Smile For The Camera! posted at Beyond Fiction. It's Texas, 1960, with words by a new song writing duo, soon to become a sensation. Much like the couple in this photograph. But the story is just beginning - read on! Thanks Ken.


Randy Seaver shows us the best day of his life at Genea-Musings: The Best Day of My Life posted at Genea-Musings. She was "beautiful then . . . and after 37 years she is still beautiful." Wow - what a man and what a tribute! Join Randy for the best day of his life and I'm sure the best day of Linda's as well! Thanks Randy.


Jewelgirl takes the Spring Bride 1956 bauble from her jewelry box at I SMILE FOR THE CAMERA - 2ND EDITION posted on Searching For Family Branches. It was a different time; where women dressed for the occasion. And this was the perfect belle occasion. Thank you Jewelgirl everything sparkles!


Let me introduce you to the youngest contributor to Smile, Miss Jocelyn. MJ is a seventeen-year-old, home schooled student from Indiana. MJ experiments with her camera and Photoshop to present So Sweet & Simple posted at A Pondering Heart. Welcome MJ!


Denise Olson's creativity never ceases to amaze and inspire. She treats us to a beautiful photographic composition and story in Moultrie Creek > Lois and Dolph - A Love Story posted at Moultrie Creek. Denise writes, "We're going up to 'The Farm' this month to enjoy the mountain air and visit with some of our Georgia cousins. The local historical society has picked up the story and is following it with their newsletter." And if all that wasn't inspiration enough, visit her Celebration of a 100 Year-Old Love Story on Footnote. Thanks Denise.


The Little Rascals could take some lessons from Janice Brown. She shows us how she caught the acting bug at a very early age in Smile For The Camera: Belles And Beaus posted at Cow Hampshire. Shh! The curtains going up on another Cow Hampshire production. Take your seat and enjoy the show. Thanks Janice for the peek into your past!


Lidian, of The Virtual Dime Museum displays what she refers to as a "splendid" wedding photograph. There could be no better description. The clothing is to die for and that includes the dapper groom; the bouquet must have wiped out the local florist; and the bride is wearing my favorite fashion accessory. Visit The Virtual Dime Museum: A Belle and Beau In Kleindeutschland, New York City, it's fan-tastic! You've done it again, L.W.


Donna Pointkouski presents Belles & Beaus: Galecki Wedding - 1926, posted at What's Past is Prologue. This wedding party makes for a beautiful period photograph, but your eye is drawn to the "Maid of Honor" prominently featured in the center. The camera loved her! Donna, I think you should investigate the photographer. Thanks for the glimpse into another time.


Lisa presents 100 Years in America: 1913: Peter & Maria's wedding in America posted at 100 Years in America. This is a remarkable photograph filled with belles and beaus; from the flower girl and the ring bearer to the bride and groom. Lisa, I could look at this a dozen times and find something new with every look. Thank you for sharing your family treasure!


Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, says she loves these Carnival blog things and we love having her. Her submission, Wedding Belles For June, is from her extensive collection of wedding photographs from the 1860s to the mid-twentieth century. A treat for the eyes and an explanation of why it's her favorite, makes this a must see. Maureen hopes to someday write a book about this collection and you can be sure we'll buy it. Thanks Maureen.


Top this one! Terry Thornton has the most inventive interpretation of belles and beaus submitted to the carnival. I won't spoil the surprise, suffice it to say, Terry's wife Sweetie is very lucky. Visit Belles and Beaus: The Start of Something Great posted at Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi to find out why. Thanks Terry.


Becky Wiseman shares a trio of photographs of her grandparents at Belles and Beaus, Oh My! posted at kinexxions. These are little snippetts of life, happy and carefree. Becky wishes she'd had the photos to ask a few questions before her grandparents died. Don't we all. Thanks Becky for sharing the personal rather than the portrait side of their lives!


Break out the sunglasses! The smiles in this beautiful photograph are blinding. Terry Snyder shares a photograph of her parents; young, attractive, newly married, and obviously in love, in The Anniversary at Desktop Genealogists. A perfect belle and beau contribution. Thanks Terry!


Dava Silvia introduces us to paste-eaters anonymous. Now don't you just love the name of this blog? Dava tells a very interesting story while offering the most unique photographs to grace the carnival at My Illustrious Past. There couldn't be a more perfect belle and beau for the carnival. You have to see this one! Absolutely loved the photographs, Dava, thank you!


Chery Kinnick posts the Maynard News in Chippewa County, Minnesota, article of the Lutheran wedding of her Great Grandparents, followed by a lovely Golden Wedding tribute in A Golden Wedding for the Berges posted at Nordic Blue. Chery never disappoints - she includes a something new, something old photograph of love. And with twelve children you know there was a lot of love there! Thanks Chery, it was beautiful!


Elizabeth O'Neal presents Little Bytes of Life: Young Love, Old Love posted at Little Bytes of Life. Two wonderful photographs of a love that spanned the ages, hence the title. We should all be so lucky as to have loved so long. Elizabeth knows the secret - commitment! Thanks Elizabeth!


Tipper Pressley introduces us to June Is The Time For A Shivaree posted at Blind Pig & The Acorn. She explains Shivaree and adds a few Appalachian customs and sayings concerning weddings. Read the story to find out how the first photograph is tied to the last. Great photos, generous contribution Tipper! Thank you!


Stephen J. Danko shares Between the War and the Wedding posted at Steve's Genealogy Blog. If you joined the first carnival you will recognize the woman who looked adoringly at her baby - Steve. Now move back in time and you will find the other man in her life. What a handsome couple, what a great photograph! Thank you Steve!


Craig Manson introduces us to A St Louis Belle posted at GeneaBlogie. A beautifully etheral photograph of a young bride reminiscent of the princesses of the St. Louis Veiled Prophet Ball. Thanks for sharing something so special with us Craig!


Thomas MacEntee invites us to a A Small Town Wedding at Destination: Austin Family. He is very fortunate to have an entire album of a wedding so important to him. Featured in the album is one of my favorite bridal photographs, the reflection of the beautiful bride in a mirror. Join Thomas as he turns the pages of this album for us all to enjoy! Thanks Thomas.


And rounding out this 2nd Edition of the Carnival is my favorite belle and beau sneaking a cuddle in Two Heads Are Better Than One posted at footnoteMaven. As always, my ancestors are here to Smile For The Camera!

Thank You All!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this carnival and thank you for being so patient with the technical difficulties. Another success! It is evident from each and every article that a great deal of time, effort and love went into each. As Randy would say, please take a moment to stop and comment and show your appreciation!

Now The Call For Submissions!

Smile For The Camera ~ A Carnival of Images

The 3rd Edition of Smile For The Camera takes its word prompts from a celebration of home. Where is home and how do you celebrate? Choose a photograph of an ancestor, relative, yourself, or an orphan photograph that shows a celebration of home.

Is it a house, a town, a city, a country, the old country, a group of people, or just a state of mind. Here in America we celebrate our love of home with fireworks and Old Glory. How and what do you or did your ancestors celebrate? Show us!

Your submission may include as many or as few words as you feel are necessary to describe your treasured photograph. Those words may be in the form of an expressive comment, a quote, a journal entry, a poem (your own or a favorite), a scrapbook page, or a heartfelt article. The choice is yours!

Deadline for submission is midnight 10 July, 2008.


There are two options:

1. Send an email to the host, footnoteMaven. Include the title and permalink URL of the post you are submitting, and the name of your blog. Put 'Smile For The Camera' clearly in the title of your email!

2. Use the handy submission form provided by Blog Carnival, or select the Bumper Sticker in the upper right hand corner.

See you at the Carnival!