Tag Archives: Association-of-Personal-Historians

Dad – What question would you ask your great-grandfather?

20 Feb

My Dad shared, “I would ask Oren Stone why he started the Flint Woolen Mills and what brought him to Flint, Michigan?”

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

The following are answers I have recreated in the voice of Oren Stone (my great-great grandfather)…

“I was born in Sennett, in Cayuga County, New York in 1833. My father and his ancestors going back many generations had grown up in Massachusetts. New England was becoming crowded and many New Englanders moved either directly to Michigan or, like my family, to upstate New York and then on to Michigan. As a boy we lived near the Erie Canal.  It was easy for us to use the Erie Canal to move west to Oakland County Michigan when I was eleven years old, this was in 1844. As you may know, Michigan had just become a state in 1837.

“Later I moved around a bit, at about age 18 or so my parents helped me purchase a stock of goods and I set up a general store. I was also a local postmaster for a while. Eventually I settled in Flint in 1857 and set up a general store there. So that is how I got to Flint.

“Now about your other question about why I started the Flint Woolen Mill. Well, I was doing pretty well with my general store in Flint. Then the Civil War years created a strong demand of wool products. A lot of local farmers, including my uncle D. Hulbert Stone, started raising sheep, my uncle produced Merino wool. Well uncle Hulbert and other local farmers came to me and convinced me that they really needed a local woolen mill, since they were paying way to much to ship wool to the mills in New England.  So I found a few local partners and we started the Flint Woolen Mill in 1867.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“It started out as a small but very profitable business both for me and for our local farmers. In a few years I bought out my partners and became the sole proprietor. Later, I formed a life-long partnership with William Atwood.  We changed the name to Stone, Atwood & Company, but we were still known locally and later nationally as Flint Woolen Mills. We picked up and bought out other partners over time.

“The mill continued to grow and was known for quality wool products, cashmere, Neptunus, and suit making wool. I even added a specific Pantaloons wool product line.  Lots of local women worked in the mills and men worked as laborers.  We had a nationwide distribution system. For a while we experimented with trying a cotton mill, but that did not really work out.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“My son Dwight Stone, your grandfather, worked at Flint Mills for a while, but he seemed even more interested in our real estate and insurance business. So I am not sure whether the Flint Woolen Mills will stay in the family after I pass on.

“A couple of my other interests: I was active in a number of civic interests, it is important to give back to the community, and Flint has been good to our family. In 1888 I even served as the Mayor of Flint. I am very proud of restoring the Stone Opera House in Flint.  It has deservedly had a good reputation throughout Michigan.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“You may not know that I lost my first wife, your great-grandmother Susan C. Thompson. She died in 1870 when your grandfather Dwight was only 7. I remarried a wonderful woman Harriet Hayes Stewart. Her family members were very early settlers. Her parents arrived in Flint in 1833 and it is said that Harriet was one of the first white girls born in Flint.

“I hope this was helpful. Flint has been a great town for our family, I am proud to have played a key role in it development.


Author: Bruce SummersSummoose Tales, Personal Historian, also

Board Member, Regions and Chapters Chair, the Association of Personal Historians.

Additional Credits:

Annie Payne – my Association of Personal Historians colleague who inspired the question by her Blog on what she would ask her Great Grandfather.

Also:

Extract: From, Stone Flint Woolen Mills, Flint, MI (Stone, Atwood & Co.) https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15a590279d7d6e53?projector=1

As strange as the name sounds, “Stone Flint Woolen Mills”, the enterprise was started by a man named Oren Stone who was talked into creating a local woolen mill to help local sheep farmers sell their wool at profitable prices. Shipping the wool to the large mills on the east coast was not a simple matter in the late 1800’s which made it costly for the farmers. Stone opened the mill and before long, teamed up with William Atwood to rename the concern Stone, Atwood & Co. Stone’s products included blankets, flannel, a product they called “cassimeres” which might mean cashmere, mittens, hosiery and towards the end of the run of the operation a high-end “water-proof” fabric for ladies tailored suits named “Neptunus”.

And:

Extract: From Flint Woolen Mill Records https://www.umflint.edu/archives/flint-woolen-mills-records-0:

Sheep raising was one of the earliest agricultural specializations in Genesee County. Due to the heightened demand for wool during the Civil War, prices increased dramatically. Farmers in the county complained of the unfair prices they were receiving for the commodity and induced Oren Stone (born July 24, 1833 in Auburn, N. Y., died April 20, 1897 in Flint), owner of a general store, to establish a woolen mill. In 1867 he began the Flint Woolen Mills, with stock in the company being held by a number of owners. By 1870 he was sole owner.

In 1876, having survived the economic troubles of the period, Stone added William A. Atwood (born April 11, 1835 in Newfane, N. Y., died April 11, 1908 in Flint) and, at least by 1879, Charles H. Bowker as minority partners. The company then was known as Stone, Atwood, and Company, although the physical operation continued to be called the Flint Woolen Mills. Atwood’s share ranged from 1/4 in 1879 to 5/13 in 1896. Bowker left the company in 1882 or 1883; J. N. Blake joined as a minority partner in 1885 to 1890 and Edwin W. Atwood, William’s son, from 1895.

Atwood was part owner at least until 1901. By 1905 David D. Aitken and John E. Shortle had become owners. The Flint Woolen Mills folded between 1910 and 1913.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

This collection complements the larger Flint Woolen Mills collection at the Michigan Historical Collection at the Bentley Historical Library. It consists of records documenting the financial and manufacturing aspects of the firm’s history. There is little or no material reflecting the personal lives or interests of the mill’s owners.

 

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How did you celebrate Christmas?

23 Dec

This has been one of my favorite questions for the past 50 years. I was chatting with a colleague at a holiday party after work recently. She said, I remember Bruce what you shared about your work as a Personal Historian? Yes, I explained, we record people’s life stories and help them to preserve and shared them with loved ones.

She then asked, you were telling me about how I could capture stories from my aunt. What questions should I ask her and how should I record it? I shared, “Well, first ask her about her earliest memories. To record, you can use the voice recording app on your smart phone, or buy a digital voice recorder.  These cost about $90 or so. You can download and save the recordings on your computer. So, when your aunt calls, you can receive the call on your iPad and then start recording. I shared several other sample questions, and then I shared one of my favorites – How did you celebrate Christmas?

As I shared earlier, I have used this one many, many times with personal history clients and with family members, some now long gone. The holidays or Christmas are a great time to share and record family memories.

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As I look across my living room I see my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree decorated with perhaps 100 ornaments that we have collected. Most have a special story – the pink one from Bermuda, the trolley from San Francisco, the round ornament with the great image of a bird we bought with my father-in-law at that birders’ shop on Cape Cod.

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The Christmas season is a great time admire an ornament and ask, “Is there a story behind that ornament?” Perhaps it is old, a child’s photo from an early Christmas or an ornament that has been passed down through the family for two or three generations.

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Some of the ornaments were presents from a lifelong friend. “Tell me about your friend, where did you meet?”

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While you are visiting friends during the holidays you may be offered cookies or other treats. “This tastes great, what is this cookie called? Do you have any special memories of making cookies with your mom? What did you make? What did it smell like?”

For me, music has always been part of my life. This is especially true during the Advent Season. As a teenager, I would go caroling with a group from my church. We would walk around New Freedom and stop and carol at the homes of shut-ins, people who could not easily get out to church. It was often cold, but it was joyous. Sometimes we just sang, received thanks, smiles and then we moved on.  Quite often though, we were invited in for cookies or a cup of cider or hot chocolate. We visited and warmed up a bit but had to move on, we still had quite a few stops and more carols to sing. “Do you have any special traditions that you and your friends did every year? Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

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When I was growing up my grandmother lived nearby. My grandmother owned a farm going down the hill from her house. She lived in a regular house at the top of the hill, but there was a farm-house and a big barn down the farm lane. To the right of the barn, she, my dad and my uncles had planted a grove of pine trees to prevent a steep section of the hill from eroding.

One of my special memories was going down the hill with my dad and one or more of my brothers and picking out our Christmas tree from the pine grove. This was a big thrill.  My father still has the same saw, hanging in his shed, that we used to cut down those trees decades ago. I remember the fresh scent of the pine needles and the pine sap that would always get on our hands and our coats. We would help dad carry or drag the tree out of the wood to the car. We would also cut sprigs of pine boughs and holly that my mom would use to decorate our home. “How did you decorate your home for the holidays?”

We would go over to my grandmother’s house a week or two before Christmas and set up her Christmas tree, we got out her ornaments, the lights, perhaps some garlands and tinsel.

On Christmas Day, we would wake up early at our house. We would run down the stairs to get our stockings, they were hand-knitted by one of my aunts. We were allowed to open these early, before my parents were up and ready for breakfast. There always was a comic book or a classic comics book stuffed in the top of the stocking. Since I was one of four brothers, we would always read ours first and then trade them around.  This was a brilliant “delaying” tactic by my parents, to keep us quiet and engaged for a while so they could grab five more minutes of sleep, get a cup of coffee or tea, brush their teeth, and get a few special treats ready for Christmas breakfast. It also helped to distract us from those “other” presents piled around the tree. “What was it like when you woke up Christmas morning?”

We had a great time opening presents as a family, then later around eleven o’clock my parents would drop my three brothers and me off at my grandmother’s house. I suspect this was to allow mom time to prepare food for Christmas dinner and dad some time to clear away the debris from the unwrapping, hmmm… what did they do with those two hours while we were at grandmother’s? Perhaps this is a new question I need to ask my parents?

My grandmother would always have a few presents for us around her tree. Sometimes my aunt Mary would be up visiting with grandmother for the holidays, so she would be part of the celebrations. She liked to travel, so there might be a small gift, a toy from another country that we would enjoy throughout the day. After opening gifts, my grandmother served the best sandwiches, some type of tender melt-in-your-mouth beef on buttered bread with the crusts cut off.  I can still taste them. “Did you have other relatives and family living nearby? Did you celebrate together during the holidays?”

Later in day we would have a gathering of three families, our family, my dad’s brother’s family, my dad’s first cousin’s family and of course my grandmother and aunt Mary. We would rotate each year which family would host Christmas dinner. Each family would bring special dishes, the host family would provide turkey and dressing. The ten children would spend time together and the eight adults would gather, perhaps to share memories of Christmas’s past. This is when I wish I had my digital recorder back in the 1960s and 70s and perhaps a camera and a camcorder.

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The good news is that I have been actively recording the Christmas and holiday memories of my parents and my extended family in more recent years. Perhaps this season is a good time for you to ask your friends and loved ones, “How did you celebrate Christmas?”

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For us it is great to have our kids home from college and grad school. We did some shopping together, we saw a movie together, we catch up on each other’s news, retell stories from the past year, and chat about future plans – what’s next? My son played a few songs on the bassoon while I hummed a few Christmas carols. We will have a few upcoming holiday gatherings with friends and family… hmmm… I wonder when I need to put the ham in the oven tomorrow?
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I hope each of you similarly takes time to celebrate the holidays, to visit with friends and family, and to capture and share memories.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great new year.

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He is a board member and serves as the Regions and Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Why I go to the Association for Personal Historians (APH) Conference

29 Aug

I love my work as a Personal Historian.  Every Friday I drive out to Carl’s house.  We work all day on a current or emerging chapter of his autobiography.  I read through and organize his reference files of letters, trip reports, and work checklists.  We talk through the outline for the next section of the chapter, I record his thoughts and listen to related stories. We discuss and relive particular incidents and anecdotes.  We chat about minor characters and major characters in his life story.

For online chapters I add links to places he has lived, visited or trekked to.  We review photo slides that may be included to bring his personal history to life.  I work at home on scanning and archiving his materials so they can be referenced in the autobiography as threaded links, also so that his descendants can explore his rich trove of family history.

I go to the Annual Association for Personal Historians Conference as part of my ongoing professional development. This year’s conference will be held in Fort Worth, TX from Oct. 23-27, 2016, (Program Highlights). Members from around the globe attend each year, like me they come…

To Learn – There are amazing workshops, plenary sessions, and fascinating keynote speakers each year.

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To Ask Questions – Some of these are specific to my current personal history projects. Some are a follow-up to a workshop that I just attended. Some are spontaneous topics that emerge as we talk.  APH members are extremely generous with their time and with sharing their expertise.

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To Network – Sometimes over coffee or during a group meal with new friends.

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To Be Inspired – We often go on a tour of the city we are visiting. We also have an interesting Public Facing Event and several thought provoking keynote speakers.

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To Kibitz – I have met and had meaningful conversations with well over 200 of my peers.  Sometimes I meet them in the hall, or talk with them before or after a workshop. I had great conversations during bus tours and during morning runs or walks.  APH members are very collaborative. We love sharing and discussing what works, what doesn’t and helping each other problem solve. I like meeting new members and talking with experienced members.

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I am looking forward to this year annual conference. It is my best opportunity to learn a new target set of tips and tricks of the trade that I can incorporate into my personal history work with clients like Carl.  The early bird deadline for Conference Registration is August 31, 2016.

Related:

Skills to “Actively Listen” and Record Family Stories during the Holidays?

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Martin Luther King Jr. Photos and Volunteering

18 Jan

20131110_214517 MLK 4 Full length front

Martin Luther King Jr. died when I was 10 years old. Bobby Kennedy was also killed in 1968 and his brother John F. Kennedy in 1963. I tried to understand what was going on in our country.  Why did these three inspirational leaders have to die?

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As an adult I entered the United States Peace Corps, in part perhaps inspired to volunteer to give back to my fellow man by these three leaders. For many years I worked in and with nonprofits and churches often as an employee, but also often as a volunteer.

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As a nonprofit executive my focus shifted to empowering and engaging volunteers to building community, to strengthening connections, to improving collaboration. As a volunteer with the Association of Personal Historians, I continue to work to empower and engage volunteers to work through chapters and regions to help personal historians strengthen their skills to capture and share life stories, memories, experiences and lessons learned from one generation to succeeding generations.

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Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, he inspired thousands during his life time. He still inspires me and many millions more after his death. I hope he inspires you to give, to serve, and to volunteer.

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Integrated in this article are a few photos I took at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, I hope you have a chance to travel and visit these sites and that you are equally inspired by Dr. King and his legacy.

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales and serves on the Board of the Association of Personal Historians and as their volunteer director for Chapters & Regions, summersbw@gmail.com

Skills to “Actively Listen” and Record Family Stories during the Holidays?

5 Dec

I am currently reading and enjoying “Skills for Personal Historians 102 Savvy Ideas to Boost Your Expertise” by my all-time favorite, though now retired blogger Dan Curtis.

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Full disclosure, part of the reason I bought the book was to see how he referenced my story about “Joe and Helen“, page 186. I emailed this story to Dan in response to one of his blogs.

I have been browsing through the book, and yes there are “102 Savvy Ideas”. I recently re-read Dan’s first chapter on “Interviewing Basics”. Well, I am a pretty good interviewer.  I have been recording family stories, life stories, human interest, news stories, good practices and even lessons learned stories for over 30 years. But, Dan Curtis had a lot to share. Some of his savvy ideas I already knew.  Others, especially mistakes we learn along the way, brought out an inward smile… yep, been there, done that. Hopefully I have learned from these.  But, there were also some great new ideas that he had codified through experience and extensive study of his craft – both from interviewing and what I would term as “active listening”. These great new ideas, provoked reflection. In my mind’s eye, I kept visualizing on how I could better hone my craft.

The following are a few of Dan’s ideas from his book. These are followed by my reflections. For Dan’s specific content you should buy the book.

  1. The Secret to a Successful Life Story Interview
  2. Good Reasons to Ditch the Laptop and Handwritten Notes
  3. Are you Creating a Supportive Milieu for your Personal History Interviews?
  4. Action Steps to a Good Life Story Interview
  5. Have You Ever Found Yourself in This Embarrassing Situation?
  6. How to Get the Stories in a Life Story Interview
  7. Secrets to a Great Interview
  8. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills
  9. What I’ve Learned about Getting “Truthful” Interviews
  10. Do You Make these Interviewing Mistakes?

This chapter has a ton of great content for those of us who serve as Professional Personal Historians. I think it also has great value for friends and family members who hopefully will make and a resolution to actively listen and record loved one’s stories during the holidays.

A few thoughts…

  1. Find where the voice recording app is on your Smart Phone, remember that you usually have this in your pocket when you see a friend, or loved one.  Schedule an hour to – actively listen, to this friend or loved one. Think about 2 or 3 key questions or stories you always wanted to ask, or a great story you have heard but no-one has recorded it. If practical, you may want to invest in a digital voice recorder that you can carry in your pocket or your pocket-book.  Test the voice recorder or the voice recording app ahead of time so you know how it starts, pauses, stops, save, etc. Find a quiet, comfortable place, sit down, start chatting, and then gradually shift to some of the questions you really want to ask and turn on the recorder.

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2. The nicest thing about a voice recorder or app is that you can put all your focus on actively listening to the story, making eye contact, nodding quietly, and smiling.  My eyebrows go up and my eyes smile when I am hearing a personal story.  By actively listening, smiling, and nodding I get to hear fascinating stories from my clients, friend and family members. You can do this too.

3. I love Dan’s word – Milieu. Make your narrator comfortable, put them at ease. I often interview my parents after breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I bring some treat from the Swiss Bakery to others.  A personal historian colleague told me the story of how she unplugs the noisy refrigerator or freezer and then puts her car keys in the freezer before the interview. Ok, I bit, why? So that she will always remember to turn the fridge back on before she leaves.  She turned it off so it wouldn’t rattle or gurgle during the interview.  It is harder to drive away, and leave the fridge turned off, if your car keys are still in the freezer. The down side is your keys are really cold when you get ready to leave.

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4. Prepare ahead of time, perhaps chat about potential questions for mom, with dad or Uncle Julio ahead of time. Text your daughter or your siblings to ask them what stories they really want to have recorded. Send an email to Great Aunt Sue to gather a bit of insider research before your interview. I usually write out a few outline notes ahead of time. I take a quick glance at these before I go out the door.  I think about the stories, or the chapter that we will work on today as I drive over the river and through the woods to my mom’s house, to Joe’s condo. and especially during that long drive early in the morning out to that remote county where my client lives.

5. It is a good idea also to have a checklist of what equipment needs to be charged ahead of time and what you need to carry with you in the car. Yes, I have left the house without my voice recorder and once found that my voice recorder was full when I was ready to start recording.

6. This is a great section in Dan’s narrative… “Is the story intriguing? Am I drawn in? Am I delighted…? If the answer is no, then gently redirect the interview”. Everybody has stories to share, actively listening, with periodic nods and an occasional redirection can make it an even better story.

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7. Two lessons I have learned. If you are interviewing a couple, then chat with them for a while to determine whether you should interview them together or whether you should first interview them separately.  With my parents, it depends on the topic. Sometimes one will listen and nod while the other is talking, and then sometimes they can’t help themselves they have to jump in. This interrupts the flow of the story. I often find it helpful to interview one by themselves and then the other. However, if it is the right topic… “did he really propose?” Then it is  fascinating to hear and record each side of the story together.  I have also learned through doing family “Show and Tell” sessions that you can coordinate a great series of recorded interviews by designating one family member at a time to show a treasured object or photo while sharing their story with the group. These group sharing experiences can be powerful.

8. I love Dan’s examples here about staying on topic and not dwelling on trivial details. Encourage your narrator to build upon the flow of the story.  Sometimes surprisingly rich details will just flow out.  Also, you build up trust the more times you have interviewed someone.  You understand more of the context of the stories.  The narrator know you are eager to listen and to understand and out will come the story of an incident that they have not thought of for 70 years.

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9. Their story is their story. I have been pleasantly surprised when a fact I thought I knew to be true about one family member, actually belonged to a different family member’s story.  I remembered clearly that my grandmother told me about the lights dimming in the gym when she was playing basketball. This meant they were electrocuting a prisoner on death row at Sing Sing Prison.  My mom corrected me, no… no, that was me when I was in college near Sing Sing. Another time, my client was sure that it was Susie… who got last at the World’s Fair, but a group of three over her children shared, oh, no… it was…!

10. Have I made the interview mistakes that Dan references… yes, these really caused me to reflect.  At one time or another I have made each of these mistakes.  The good news is that we learn from these. The other good news is that we get better and better at interviewing over time.  We learn when to let the interview flow, how to use nonverbal queues to encourage the narrator to continue, and how to actively listen so the story-teller can see we are engaged. They can see that we really want to hear the whole story.  We learn how and when to gently nudge or steer the conversation into a slightly different direction.  They see we are fighting not to laugh out loud, and sometime we just have to laugh with them. Sometimes I just have to saw Wow!

So wish me luck as I prepare to actively listen through the holiday season. I hope each of you will take time to share and record stories with family and friends during the holidays and during many other days throughout the year.

I wish each of you very Happy holidays filled with fun, fellowship and lots of good stories.

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Bruce Summers is a  Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He also serves as a Board Member and as Director – Chapters and Regions for the Association of Personal Historians

Why did I become a Personal Historian?

7 Mar

 

By Bruce Summers, Summoose Tales

Everyone has a story. In my experience  people have many stories. Some they have shared with friends and families, while others lie dormant for twenty, fifty, and yes even ninety or more years. By nature I am curious, I am a perceiver, I want to hear these stories, I want to put them in familial or historical context and share them with others.

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Sometimes it is easy working with a personal history client. I have done my research and my homework and all I have to do is get them started. I ask the client or narrator the first question, I use actively listening, a bit of nodding, a quiet smile, and the stories start pouring out.

After a while I add a timely framing question for context, tell me more… tell me why… what did the kitchen smell like… what were you doing when… was she on your father’s side or your mother’s side… what was the barn used for…?

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Sometimes we start down a new and unknown path that has not been explored… “he threw a penny out of the train window with a note wrapped around on his way to Europe during World War I…”;  “your Mom was the baton twirler,” to which each of her nine children respond… ‘No way!!!’)…”; (what does no one know) “I won the beauty pageant…”; or “I haven’t thought about that for years…”.

Sometimes there are surprises in the basement filing cabinets and boxes… a letter… “Lewis went up and helped him get the farm…” (no one know where the money for the farm came from).

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I often feel compelled to start mapping out the client’s family in Family Tree Maker… (you had four generations on your mother’s side that lived in Tennessee before they moved here)… “oh that’s why I kept getting invited to those family reunions in Tennessee…” or (your grandmother definitely came from… Ireland)… “we always heard she did, thank you…”.

I do digital voice recordings for most of my clients. Sometimes this is the most important product they want, especially after their parent or loved one passes away. I have over 100 hours of tape from interviews with my parents.  I may not write all of those stories now, but I have them for the future, for my brothers and our children.20141003_143141 Tom and Jane Summers on front walk - New Freedom

The following is a link to a great video provided by an Association for Personal Historians colleague Loretta Heindrichs. The video was produced by another colleague David Marshall.

I love the opening clip… if Abraham Lincoln had lived eight years more we could have heard a recording of his voice…

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I am doing a series of personal history interviews of early members and founders of my church as we start to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the church. The voice recordings are palpable today, but they will be invaluable 15 or 40 years from now as we celebrate the 75th and the 100th Anniversary.

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Some clients also want a transcription so they have a written record of the stories. They can use these to write their own family stories in the future. We will use these transcripts to write a version of our church story during its 60th year.

Some clients want a book. I admit to seriously enjoying looking through all those old photos and albums with my clients or their parents or grandparents. I think it is truly a gift to combine the photos with original context and with the stories that make them come alive.

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Sometimes there are just two or three people alive who know where a picture was from, what was going on at the time, why was it important, and who were these people… the client/narrator and the personal historian, until they are shared with friends and family. This is one of the powerful motivators for personal historians… helping individuals and their families capture, share, and preserve their life stories, their photos, and their memories.

I am still learning every day, from personal historian colleagues, from clients and their loved ones, from research related to the milestones in their lives… what was it like to plow 300 acres with a team of horses… to milk 12 cows every morning and every night by hand… to work with German prisoner’s of war during World War II… to create a new church during times when segregationists were powerful opponents.

Each story is fresh, each story is interesting, each narrator has a unique context to share. Not everyone will write and record their own stories. It is a privilege to facilitate capturing and sharing life stories.

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Please let me know if you have stories that need to be captured and shared. If I cannot help you, perhaps I can refer you one of my Association of Personal Historian colleagues. I also post blogs about my experiences and share family stories. I hope these are helpful examples. Everyone can record a family story, but sometimes it helps to have a personal historian to make sure you “get around to it.”

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian for Summoose Tales. He is a board member of the Association of Personal Historians (APH) and serves as APH Regions and Chapter Director. Contact: Summersbw@gmail.com

Save Your Photos Day – September 27, 2014

12 Sep

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales

I recently learned about Save Your Photos Day – This concept resonated with me. Please share this link with friend, families, and colleagues.

As a Personal Historian I interview clients and help them write and share their personal histories and life stories. I often find/discover photos in drawers, in boxes, perhaps on a wall, in a trunk, in an album, maybe on a CD, or a computer file (with no back-up).

They are often singular records of a moment in time. As families grow and succeeding generations disperse these photos are often at risk.

  • They may be lost in transition, during a rushed move, a down-sizing, or during a disaster such as a flood or a house fire.
  • Will the photo and its context be lost after the client dies. Will it become just a great photo with no story, no history, and no memories connected?

Case 1: Two of my early personal history clients had a combined total of almost 200 years of memories when they died. The good news, I had already interviewed them. I had audio tapes and hundreds of pages of transcripts with their memories and stories. The even better news was that I had re-shot or scanned, edited and digitized over 300 of their photos. The words, from the audio tapes, provided personal and historical context to the photos. The photos animated my clients’ stories and reflections. The photos made my clients’ personal history and memories come alive.

  IMG_3146 Snow in July 2013-07-14 19.50.32 Dinner Bell - Ships Bell - from Mostom house, Jim has it now 7.14.13 IMG_1120 Lloyd as Viking Toddler

I converted these photos into a PowerPoint presentation for use at the couple’s memorial service after they both died last fall. Their daughter used some of the pictures for a photo display at the service. The others were featured as looped slide show next to the display.

As the family personal historian I stood and watched the photos cycle through. A grandson in his 20s watched and asked questions.  His uncle commented, “I have never seen a lot of these”. I could provide context from my interviews and from captions I included in the manuscript of the couple’s personal history.

A few lessons learned:

  • Before the couple died, while they were living in a senior community in nursing care, their family needed to quickly clear out one floor of their home so it could be rented to a friend. Framed photos came down, drawers were emptied, boxes and albums were removed from locations were they had resided for 30 to 50 years. Challenges: the photos could have been lost in transition and in context. The good news: I had already preserved many of them digitally, with their original context and stories.
  • The family had several albums with a year by year history in photos from their father’s 100th birthday celebration. Challenges: there is only one copy and the family is disbursed across the United States and in Australia. The good news: we have over 300 photos that have been digitized and can be shared in context with the extended family.

Case 2: Another client made over 300 quilts after she retired from teaching. Her stories and memories of quilt making came alive as we looked through her album of intricately designed and beautifully crafted quilts. Most of these have been given away to family and friends or donated for good causes. We also recorded her memories of travel and vacations with her now deceased husband. Again the photos animated the stories making these memories come alive.

IMG_4227 Quilt Example IMG_4241 Quilted Sunflowers IMG_4222 Quilt example

A few lessons:

  •  Artists should take photos of their portfolio, organize them, store and share them. Challenge: my client only owns a handful of the quilts she spent thousands of hours crafting, she had a portfolio of pictures but had not shared the stories and details about their creation. The good news: during my interview we digitized and reviewed her portfolio of pictures of many of these quilts. The interview transcripts combined with the pictures provided tremendous insights into this client’s passion and artistic gifts. Looking at the pictures, she was able to recall and share rich details about why and how she created a unique design tailored for each quilt recipient.

Case 3: Making your own personal history come alive. I have recorded over a hundred hours of personal history digital audio tape with my parents, and more recently as part of a Family Reunion Show and Tell. As I start to share these personal history stories I feel compelled to include photos. The good news is that I have started taking more photos when I am in my home town, while I walk around my parent’s home, and as I explore photos and relics in my parents’ basement. The bad news is that most of my parent’s photos are not digitized, many of the older family photo albums have not always been put into context. This photographs are at risk of becoming lost memories and forgotten stories. More good news though my cousins, aunts and uncles brought photo albums to the family reunion including albums collected by their parents, we heard dozens of new stories, collectively we could identify “lost relatives”.  We now know who great-great-uncle William was, the one who died during aunt Margaret’s childhood visit to her grandmother’s house 80 years ago. We also know the same aunt Margaret stole my aunt Joan’s boyfriend. This was all revealed as part of the Family Reunion Show and Tell sessions that I facilitated.

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1929

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

 

A few lessons:

  •  Take lots of digital photos of friends, family, of trips, the seasons of the year, of sunrises, and sunsets, and of important objects that you or loved ones have collected. Re-shoot or scan, edit and file older family photos, connect them with context, stories and memories. Challenges: create a master list of photos that you want to preserve, or that illustrate and provide context or captions to personal history and life stories that you have recorded. Taking the time to do this is often a challenge. Digital photos are easy to take, one trip may yield 200 or more digital pictures and we often forget to go through them and organize or curate the ones we want to preserve and share. The good news is that professional photo organizers and personal historians can help.
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