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Archive for the ‘Legacy’ Category

Images from a Baby Book, 1956

Not too long ago, I took possession of my immediate family’s collection of old baby books.  The idea was that I’ll get everything from the baby books scanned and saved, before returning them to my siblings.  That was a number of months ago and I still haven’t taken the time to digitize the books and archive the images.

I did spend a little time recently, however, just paging through my oldest brother’s baby book and absorbing all of the wonderful information that it contained.  My brother Mike was born in 1956 and Mom diligently recorded many details about Mike’s birth and first few months.  It was fascinating to see the variety of information recorded and to realize what a treasure trove these books are for family historians.

You can certainly still buy baby books today–sporting titles like “Baby’s First Year”, etc.  But I get the sense that the heyday of detailed baby books was back in the 1940s and 1950s, with new Moms buying super detailed books and diligently filling in every page.  When women started entering the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s, spending lots of time on baby books probably became much less common.  It was probably only in the 1990s, with the renewed interest in scrapbooking, that creating a detailed account of your child’s first years probably started becoming common again.

I thought I would share some of the great images and content from my brother’s baby book.  Click on any of the smaller images below to see the corresponding full-sized image.

Let’s start with the title page of the baby book:

Title Page

Title Page

I love the subtitle, which hints that this isn’t some artsy scrapbook, but a true scientific endeavor:

A baby record book including scientific charts which will prove of practical service to the mother and growing child.

Scientific charts??  Also notice mention of the “Chicago Lying-in Hospital”.

Next we have the “endorsements” page.

Endorsements

Endorsements

Some of what’s written here is also amazing.  It seems like we weren’t allowed to keep scrapbooks as sentimental creations back in the 1950s, but somehow had to justify books like this as truly useful scientific records, to be used by attending physicians.  Mothers would be gathering and keeping this information “for their own use in checking up on their methods and results”.  Also note the goal, to keep “a simple, adequate, unsentimental record of the baby’s development”.

Unsentimental?  Clearly, this is not your daughter’s lovely artistic scrapbook of the 1990s.

The next two images show the table of contents, which gives us an idea of the layout of the book.

Table of Contents, part 1

Table of Contents, part 1

Table of Contents, Part 2

Table of Contents, Part 2

Notice the detailed structure–so different from today’s idea of scrapbooking, which emphasizes open-ended creativity and originality.

Here’s one of the pages for recording some of the baby’s early behavior.

Baby's First Ten Days

Baby's First Ten Days

Of course some of this is sort of entertaining (e.g. Mike being labeled a “stinker” because he cried when he wanted to be held).  But it also gives some real insight into the habits and culture surrounding a newborn in 1956.  Going far beyond just a photo from the first days, we get a real sense of what life was like for mother and baby.

Here’s a footprint/handprint page.

Identification Marks

Identification Marks

It’s nice to have the little card listing details from the birth, in case this information isn’t recorded anywhere else.

Here’s a chart showing weight and height, up through Mike’s 6th year.

Record of Growth

Record of Growth

Wow–how many parents these days take the time to record height/weight data every month?

Here’s a page that had a few congratulatory cards pasted into it.

Notes and Letters of Congratulations

Notes and Letters of Congratulations

Next we have a page listing gifts received.

Gifts

Gifts

I find this pretty interesting.  You get a sense of the relatives and friends who were part of my Mom’s social circle at the time.  I’m especially intrigued by the appearance on this list of someone named “Fraulein Frickke”.  Clearly, I need to ask my Mom about this person.

Then we have the following page, with photos of the homes where Mike lived for the first few years of his life.

Homes

Homes

This sort of information is a real gold mine for the family historian.  It’s evidence that you can use in reconstructing information about where the family lived at a particular point in time.  The polaroids automatically labeled with the date are especially helpful.

Here is Mike’s “physical and mental development”.

Physical and Mental Development

Physical and Mental Development

Again, this stuff is priceless.  You really get a mental image of the person as a baby that goes far beyond a simple list of dates and places.

Here’s the “Talking” page.

Talking

Talking

And here is a summary of Mike’s 1st birthday celebration.

One Year Old

One Year Old

Again, this is great to use as a secondary source in your research, giving you some evidence about people who were associated with the family at this particular time.  Note the comment about Daddy having to go to a ball game..

Here’s is the “Trips” page.

Trips

Trips

You can possibly use information like this to figure out the date/place of family photos that you might have in your collection.  The page gives us some real specific data about some family trips.

Finally, here’s a “family album” page, with pictures of my Mom and her first husband.

Family Album

Family Album

Many of these baby books have plenty of space for photos.  In the case of my brother, there weren’t that many photos in the book.  But these two photos are ones that I don’t think I’ve found elsewhere in the family collection of photos.

Research Tool and Family Treasure

A well-stocked baby book is not only a family treasure, giving us glimpses into the early life of one of our relatives/ancestors.  But clearly it can also prove to be a valuable research tool, providing additional data that we don’t find elsewhere.

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I wrote in an earlier post about publishing an audio podcast with my daughter Lucy.  A couple of people have asked me for the details of how to create and publish an audio podcast, so I thought it worth compiling a step-by-step guide to creating an audio podcast.

What is a Podcast?

Before going through the individual steps, let’s just review what it is that we’re creating.

A podcast is an audio or video recording that you subscribe to and that you receive, automatically downloaded to your PC, whenever the publisher of the podcast publishes new episodes.

If you have an MP3 player, you can also set it up so that podcasts are automatically transferred to your MP3 player when you connect it to your PC.

To subscribe to a podcast, you need some software running on your PC or Mac that can automatically discover and download podcasts–known as “podcatcher” software.  The most well-known example is iTunes, from Apple.

The most common scenario for enjoying podcasts looks something like this:

  • Download and install iTunes
  • Use iTunes to discover podcasts that you might be interested in
  • Subscribe to those podcasts
  • Get new episodes copied to your iPod whenever you plug it into your PC

So our ultimate goal is to publish an audio podcast that people can subscribe to and then listen to on their MP3 player.

Context

This post talks about how to create an audio podcast using Windows-based tools (i.e. on a PC).  But the concepts are all pretty similar for Mac users.  If you are a Mac user, you may want to go read this article.  I’m also installing and testing everything on Windows Vista, but things will be very similar on Windows XP.

Step 1 – Buy a Microphone

To create an audio podcast, you really need very little in the way of hardware.  Professional podcasters have more expensive equipment.  But to start out, you can get by with a fairly low-end microphone.

I recommend going with a combination headphones/microphone headset, because this will ensure that the microphone stays close to your mouth while speaking.

00a-headset

One example:  Cyber Acoustics AC851B USB Circumaural Stereo Headset & Boom Mic, available from newegg.com for $29.99.

Step 2 – Download & Install Audio Editing Software

Next, we need to get some software that will allow us to edit our audio recording.  This isn’t strictly necessary.  You could probably record your podcast in one sitting and then publish the resulting file.  But you’ll likely want to do at least a little bit of editing, to make sure that your podcast sounds good, or to cut out unwanted segments.

I recommend a program called Audacity, which you can download for free.  Audacity is a simply phenomenal software package and you just can’t beat free.

Use the link above to download Audacity, save the file (audacity-win-1.2.6.exe) to a directory of your choice, and then go run audacity-win-1.2.6.exe to start the installation.  Follow all the the instructions to install Audacity.

After you install Audacity, you’ll need to install the “LAME MP3 encoder”.  This is an additional piece of software that is required for saving your recording as MP3 files.  Detailed instructions on downloading and installing the LAME MP3 encoder can be found on Wikipedia.

Step 3 – Hook Up Your Microphone

Next you’ll want to make a simple test recording–to ensure that your microphone is working properly and that you understand how to use Audacity.

First of all, plug in your microphone/headset.  If you went with the one that I recommended above, you just need to find an open USB port.  If you have a microphone that has a standard 3.5mm audio plug, you’ll need to find the microphone input plug on your PC or sound card.  If you don’t have a mic input, don’t panic.  You can just get a microphone USB adapter like this one, plug your microphone into the adapter and the adapter into your USB port.

Under Windows XP or Vista, your microphone should be fully functional after just plugging it in.  But if you’re not able to get it working, after following the steps below, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer or check their web page.

Now that the microphone is plugged in, let’s make sure that it can hear us.  The next step depends on whether you’re running Windows XP or Windows Vista.

Windows Vista

Bring up the Sound applet–from the Start Menu, open the Control Panel and then find Sound.  Click on the Recording tab.  You should now see your microphone device listed, looking something like this:

0011

Make sure that the microphone device that you want to use has a green checkmark next to it.  If it does not, right-click the desired device and select Set as Default Device.  Left-click to select your microphone and then speak naturally into the microphone.  You should see the green bars on the right side of the window move up and down as you speak (the louder you speak, the more bars you’ll see).

Once things are working properly, press the OK button to close the Sound window.

Windows XP

Under Windows XP, just proceed to the next step and test your microphone from within Audacity.

Step 4 – Make a Test Recording

Now start up Audacity so that you can make a test recording.  At the top of the window, you’ll see some “buttons” for controlling your audio recording.  Press the red button to start recording and start speaking naturally.

002-audacity

As you speak into the microphone, you’ll see a visual indication of your recording–the waveform for your voice.  (When you’re done recording, just click the yellow (square) button to stop the recording.

003-recording

If you speak at a natural volume, you’ll see something like the picture above.  If you are speaking too quietly, or the microphone “gain” is set too low, you’ll see something like this:

004-tooquiet

If you are speaking too loudly, or the microphone “gain” is set too high, you’ll see something like this:

005-tooloud

In either case–signal too low or signal too high, you’ll want to either speak at a different volume, or change the properties of the microphone to change the default volume.  In Windows Vista, you can change the microphone level by going back to the Sound applet that we opened earlier.  On the Recording tab, left-click to select your microphone and then click the Properties button.  On the Properties dialog, click the Levels tab.  You’ll see something like the following:

006-levels

You can move the slider (the little blue knob) to the right (increase level) if your signal was too quiet/small.  Or move it to the left if the signal was too loud/large.

Finally, going back to Audacity, you can play back the recording that you just made by pressing the green arrow button to play it back.  You should hear yourself talking and see a little arrow moving through the signal, as it plays back.  You’ll also green bars lighting up (labeled “L” and “R”) to show you the speaker levels during playback:

007-playback

Step 5 – Save Your Test Recording

Next, we’ll want to save this test recording as an .mp3 file.  Under the File menu, select Export as MP3.  If you can’t select this item, or get an error, you likely need to install the LAME MP3 Encoder, as described in Step 2.

In the Save MP3 File As dialog, locate a directory where you want to save your recordings/podcasts, give it a name (e.g. HelloWorld) and click Save.  Next you’ll see a dialog labeled “Edit the ID3 tags for the MP3 file”.  For now just click OK.

Exit Audacity.

Using Windows Explorer, locate the file that you just saved and double-click it.  It should start playing, most likely in Windows Media Player, and you should hear what you just recorded.

Step 6 – Decide on Your Podcast Content and Length

This seems obvious, but it’s worth saying.  Before you actually start recording, you should decide what you’re going to say.  You probably don’t need to create a detailed script, but it may be helpful to jot down a short outline that lists the main topics that you want to speak about.

It’s also a good idea to decide on a target length for your podcast.  This really depends on your goals and on who your listeners will be.  But for starters, 10-15 mins is a nice goal for a first podcast.  You’ll also probably want to pick a target length and stick to it, from episode to episode.  If and when you have regular listeners, it will be a little irritating if the length of the podcasts changes from episode to episode.

You should also think about the purpose of your podcast.  Is your intent to:

  • Record information about your family for posterity?
  • Tell a story?
  • Educate people?
  • Start a discussion?

If you know what your real purpose is for the podcast, you can then imagine who your audience is and what specific message you want to deliver to them.  This will help keep your podcast focused.

Step 7 – One or Two Speakers?

You also need to decide if you will be alone on your podcast, speaking by yourself, or if you will have a guest or co-host.  If you do have a second speaker, you’ll need to consider:

  • The physical setup (e.g. two microphones)
  • Agreeing ahead of time on the content and duration
  • Agreeing ahead of time on the dynamics–who drives the conversation, who keeps you on track, etc.

Having two speakers means a bit more work in setting up your recording environment.  You have several options here:

  1. Two machines, two microphones, synchronize later
  2. One microphone, one handheld recorder, synchronize later
  3. Two machines, two microphones, use Skype to connect
  4. Use external analog mixer, which microphones connect to

Most of the approaches are fairly straightforward, but beyond the scope of this post.  The first two options are probably the easiest.  You simply record each person on their own machine (or handheld recorder).  Then, you export one of the recordings into .mp3 format and then import it into the other Audacity session.  The only trick remaining is to line the two tracks up, so they are synchronized in time.  One handy trick to help in doing this is to clap your hands or make a similar sharp sound at the start of your recording.  The hand clap will show up clearly on both recordings and you can then easily line them up.

Step 8 – Record Your Podcast

It’s finally time to record your podcast.  Press the big red button in Audacity and start talking.  Speak clearly, continue talking, and don’t worry too much about mistakes.  The easiest method is to record the show in its entirety, so that you do not need to do any “post production” editing later.  But if you make mistakes, don’t worry–just take a brief pause and then try again–you can chop out your mistake in Audacity later.

When you are finished recording, press the stop button in Audacity.  Then go to the File menu and select Save Project As.  Save your project in the directory of your choice.  What you are saving here is not the final audio output, but and Audacity project (.aup file).

Don’t forget to record an “outro” at the end of the recording.  This is the point where you say things like: thanks for listening, see you next time, and list any relevant contact information.

Step 9 – Intro Music

If you like, now is the time to select some intro music for your podcast.  Many podcasts start each episode with the same theme music.  This intro typically last just 10 secs or so and fades out as the show starts.

The hardest part will be finding and selecting your intro music.  You need to make sure to either get the express permission of the artist, or use music that is in the public domain, or covered under some open license like “creative commons”.  If you want a good site to start with, take a look at ccmixter.

Once you select and download your theme music, just drag it into your Audacity project.  Since this is the first track that will play when the podcasts starts, you may want it to appear at the top of the screen in Audacity.  This isn’t required–it just makes it easier to make sense of the various tracks if the earliest appear at the top.

To move a track up, click on the phrase “Audio Track”, by the down arrow, and select “Move Track Up”.

movetrackup

The next step is to cause your intro track to fade out to silence over time.  You do this in Audacity using the Envelope tool.  Click the envelope icon that appears in the upper left of the screen.

envelopetool

Using the envelope tool is a little tricky at first.  The basic idea is that you want to mark a series of points along the timeline, and the desired volume at each point.  At the end of the track, you’ll use the mouse to select a zero-volume and then slide the mouse to the right to create a slow fadeout to that point.  The end result should look something like this:

fadeout

Step 10 – Position/Edit Your Content

Now it’s time to edit the actual content of your podcast.  If you were lucky enough to just record everything in one sitting, you just need to position the main audio track to start at the correct time.  If not, you’ll have to do some deeper editing.

Your Audacity session should still have your main recorded content.  You’ll want to slide it to the right so that it starts just as the intro music fades out.  To start with, select the Time Shift Tool:

timeshifttool

Now you just need to grab your main audio track and slide it to the right.  It will look something like this after you slide it (note that the dark grey no longer starts at the left edge of the screen).

shifting

You’ll also want to chop out, or silence, any junk at the start of your recording–i.e. anything that you don’t want to be part of the final recording.  To do this, first select the Selection Tool:

selectiontool

Next, select the stuff you want to zero out, by clicking and dragging the mouse:

zeroingout

Notice that what I selected is now a darker grey.  After you selected the region that you want to make silent (delete), find the Silence Selection button on the toolbar:

silenceselection

Click on this button–and the sound data that you selected in the step above will be silenced, showing as a flat line:

silence

More detailed editing is left as an exercise to the reader.  One handy thing that you’ll want to learn is that to delete a chunk of of the recording, you first select it and then select Delete from the Edit menu.

Step 11 – Outro Music

No podcast is complete without “outro” music.  Very often, this is a reprise of the original intro theme music.  Or better yet, a variation on it that wraps up in a nice clean finish.  As with the intro music, short is good–try to aim for 15-20 seconds at most.

With the outro music, you’ll want to “fade in” the music, bringing the volume up as the actual speaking part of the podcast ends.  Once you do that, you can then slide the outro music around until the part the gets louder starts playing just after the last voice part ends.  Here’s a visual example of doing this at the end of a podcast:

outromusic

The lower track is the music and the upper track is the voice part.  Notice that the volume of the music gradually ramps up and then gets considerably louder just after the voice track ends.

Step 12- Export to MP3

Finally, you’ll want to export the entire contents of your Audacity project to a single MP3 file.  This is the most common file format for publishing audio podcasts, so the obvious choice.

From the File menu, choose Export as MP3.  You’ll see a dialog asking you for basic information about the track–artist name, album name and track name.  Typically, you’ll want the album name to be the name of the podcast, the track name to be the name of the episode and the track number to be the episode number.

Step 13 – Publish Your MP3 File on the Web Somewhere

The next requirement is that you publish your audio file somewhere on the web where you can point to it with a URL.  (E.g. http://www.seans.com/Podcasts/Lucyshow1/LucyShow-011-090405.mp3 ).  Note that this is different from deciding where you’ll host the blog that you’ll need to publish the podcast.  You need to host your actual .mp3 audio file somewhere.  This means that you’ll typically have to sign up for a web hosting account somewhere.

One good option is a company like DreamHost, who provides unlimited storage for $5.95/mo.  But if you just search google for “web hosting”, you’ll see plenty of options.

Note: you do not necessarily need to get your own domain name to host somewhere.  Some hosting companies will provide a domain name at no extra charge (seans.com in the example above).  But going without a domain name is fine, too.  If you choose the latter, you still end up with a URL that points to your .mp3 file, but it might looking something like: http://www.hostingcompany.com/yourname/episode1.mp3

Once you arrange web hosting, you’ll need to upload your .mp3 file and jot down the full URL path to the file.  If you’ve done things correctly, you should be able to enter that URL in your browser directly and the file will just start playing.

Step 14 – Create a Blog

Audio podcasts are made possible through the use something called RSS (Real Simple Syndication).  The idea is that you publish “posts” and users automatically see your new updates, without having to go directly to your site.  In the case of a regular blog, people make use of an “RSS Reader”, subscribe to your blog, and then receive new posts whenever you publish them.

Audio podcasts make use of blogs as follows.  You create a regular blog, just as if you were going to publish written posts.  Then you post a link to your .mp3 file, using the URL that we mentioned above.  But instead of reading your post using an RSS Reader, people subscribe to your podcast using something like iTunes.  Then whenever you publish a  linke to a new episode (recording), they are automatically informed of the new audio file.  And in the case of MP3 players like an iPod, the audio file is automatically downloaded to their player when they connect to their PC/Mac.

This will become more clear as we work through the steps.  Let’s start by creating a new blog.  There are several places to get a free blog, like WordPress and Blogger.

Let’s say that you want to create a blog with Blogger.  Go to the Blogger site and follow the instructions for logging in and creating a new blog.  (You’ll need your Google login information).  Let’s say that you create something called mycoolpodcast.blogger.com

Step 15 – Create a New Blog Post

Now it’s time to create a new post that points to your podcast episode.  Click on the “New Post” button.  Give the post a title.  Then enter a short description in the main text area.  After the description, enter the title of your episode.  At this point, you’ll have something that looks like this:

newpost

Next, we’re going to select that second line and turn it into a hyperlink, pointing to the URL of your actual .mp3 file.  Start by selecting the text with the mouse.

selectedtext

Now click on the button that looks like a chain link on a globe.

linkbutton

And then enter the full URL to where you published your .mp3 file (based on where your web hosting service is located).  Here’s one example:

url

Finally, save your blog post.  You’ve just created an audio podcast.  To test it, enter the name of your blog in your browser, e.g. http://mycoolpodcast.blogger.com .  You’ll see the text that you entered as a description and a highlighted link to the episode.  If you click on the link, your episode should start playing.

Step 16 – Subscribe To Your Podcast

Finally, let’s look at how to subscribe to your new audio podcast.  I’ll use iTunes as an example.  This step will demonstrate the step that anyone can take to subscribe to your podcast.

For starters, you need to be aware of what’s called your “feed”.  A feed is just a representation of your blog in a format that podcatcher software (like iTunes) wants to see.  The URL for your feed is based on the name of your blog at blogger.com.  E.g. If your blog is http://mycoolpodcast.blogger.com , your feed URL will be:  http://mycoolpodcast.blogger.com/rss.xml

Now we need to enter this URL into your podcatcher software to subscribe to the podcast.  In iTunes, we do this by first left-clicking to select podcasts:

podcasts

Now select “Subscribe to Podcast” under the Advanced menu:

subscribe

Now enter the URL to your feed in the window that comes up:

subscribe-2

Click on OK and iTunes will add your podcast to the list of podcasts that it subscribes to.

Note that sometimes it can take a few minutes for a new blog post to show up in your feed–so don’t panic if iTunes can’t find the episode right away.

That’s all there is to it!  You’ve just created an audio podcast, created your first episode, and shown how you can subscribe to it.

Postscript – Episode #2

So what do you need to do for the next episode?  Clearly you don’t need to do all of the steps listed above.  Here’s exactly what you do:

  • Step 4 – Make a test recording
    • It’s a good idea to do this before each episode, to make sure that your microphone is still set up properly
  • Step 8 – Record your podcast
  • Step 9 – Intro music
    • You can open your old Audacity project and a new project side by side and copy/paste the intro music track from your first episode
  • Step 10 – Position/edit your content
  • Step 11 – Outro music
    • Copy this from the earlier episode, as well
  • Step 12 – Export to MP3
  • Step 13 – Publish MP3 file on the web
  • Step 15 – Create a new blog post

That sounds like a lot, but it’s really quite easy.

So there you have it.  Once you go through the steps a couple times, you’ll see that creating your own audio podcast is really quite easy.  Enjoy!

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Out of all of my family history artifacts, the few audio recordings that I have are among my most cherished.  My paternal grandfather had an early tape recorder that he carted around to family events in the 1960s.  He’d pull out the microphone and create a little variety show, asking various family members to “come up” and say a few words–or even sing a song.  So our family now has these wonderful recordings featuring various family members, long gone, singing old Irish ballads.  In the world of genealogy and family history, this is pure gold.

Because of how precious these audio memories are to me, I think a lot about how important it is to capture and preserve snippets of audio from my own time and place.  It may seem like nothing special right now, to record a conversation with a family member, but I’m convinced that even the most mundane things that we capture will be treasured by our children and their descendants.

I had a great-aunt who died this past Fall, the last surviving sibling from my grandpa’s family of twelve kids.  I was lucky enough to have been able to visit her back in 2007.  She lived in California and I’m living in Minnesota, but I took a special trip to just go out and visit with her.  And because I’d traveled so far, I made sure to spend a number of days with her.

The best part about visiting Aunt Alice was that I didn’t go empty-handed.  I brought all of my family notes and was ready with a number of questions that I wanted to ask her.  But the best thing that I brought with me was a little digital recorder.  (Something like this).  This little device was incredible.  I left it turned on for the entire 4 days that I spent with Alice and I collected many, many hours of wonderful stories.  The best part is that everything was recorded digitally–so all of the content is already transfered to my PC and (of course) automatically being backed up.  I can go back through the audio content and pull out interesting bits of family history data at my leisure.  The important thing is that I spoke with Alice before she was gone and, even more precious, I captured many hours of her talking about her life.

We should all make an effort to do this with older relatives.  We know that we need to start with the oldest generation first, when looking for information about the family.  So we go out and interview them to check our facts, or glean new information.  But we should also be recording all of these conversations, just to capture these relatives’ stories in their own voices.

Stories are powerful.  But they are so much more powerful when recorded as audio.  If you haven’t already heard of them, take a look at StoryCorps.  They are a non-profit who has been traveling around, letting people tell their personal stories in their own words, recording everything and then preserving it at the Library of Congress.  The stories are wonderful: moving, heart-warming, sad, tragic and exuberant.  Basically a reflection of life itself.

Capturing someone’s voice in an audio format is also very different from capturing video.  It’s much more than just some subset of a video recording, but something much richer.  When recording audio, people tend to sit closer to the microphone and just talk–so they aren’t moving around or doing something else and you get their full attention.  Listening to an audio recording is different, too.  Somehow, when there’s nothing to look at and you just listen to the person’s voice, their stories and history enter your psyche and affect you in a way that video never does.

The Lucy Show

After hearing about the StoryCorps and after collecting such wonderful stories from my Aunt Alice, I’m more motivated than ever to really make an effort to capture stories from other family members.  I do intend to do this.  It just takes a little bit of time and energy.

But I have a slight more immediate goal.  I very much want to preserve my kids’ voices.  My daughter is 4 years old and the most loquacious member of the family by far.  My son is only 13 months old, so for the moment he’s limited to saying “uh-oh” after he throws his bottle on the floor.

I really treasure the conversations that I have with my daughter Lucy.  We have an incredibly long commute and we spend much of it just talking about everything under the sun.  It’s absolutely a no-brainer for me to try to capture some of this in an audio format.  I know that whatever I record and preserve today will one day be a real treasure to her and to her kids.

In the past, I’ve recorded Lucy once in a while, when it occurred to me.  I used the same little digital voice recorder that I bought for my trip to California, and just had a little conversation with Lucy.  But I always seem to forget about it.  Somehow, reaching for the voice recorder isn’t as obvious as reaching for the digital camera or the camcorder.

So I decided about a year ago to do something different to capture Lucy in an audio format.  Instead of just recording her, I decided to create an audio podcast that featured some of our conversations.  I’m an iPod addict and a huge fan of podcasts, so it seemed an obvious choice.

Capturing audio as a podcast has a couple of benefits.  For starters, we’d actually have an audience.  If we recorded a regular chat and then published our recording as a podcast, family members could just subscribe to that podcast using a “podcatcher” like iTunes.  As soon as I published a new “episode”, they would just get it the next time that they synched their iPod.  Also, because most people listen to podcasts on portable devices like iPods, they could bring our audio chats with them wherever they went, as opposed to having to go to a web site to find the recordings.

The other benefit of having an audience is that there’s a tiny bit more pressure to keep up the habit of recording Lucy regularly.  Once grandma has gotten a couple podcasts automatically transfered to her iPod, she’ll be bugging me for the next one.  And being gently bugged is a good thing, because it will just remind me how important these recordings are.

Finally, you can think of podcasts as a way of ensuring that your recordings won’t get lost.  To publish the podcast, you’ll end up uploading the recording to a server somewhere.  We do this so that people can then download the podcast using a tool like iTunes.  But it has the happy side benefit of forcing you to have a copy stored somewhere other than just on your PC.  Secondly, because other people will be downloading your recording, they all have their own copies.  One of the best ways to ensure that your family information is preserved is to disseminate it as broadly as possible.

The Lucy Show

So this past weekend, I finally got around to publishing the first two episodes of The Lucy Show.  If you go to this web site, you can listen to the two episodes right in your web browser.  But if you know just a little bit about iTunes, you can also click on the Subscribe link and paste the resulting “feed” into iTunes, becoming a regular subscriber of “The Lucy Show”.

I’m very happy about what we put together.  I was also very surprised at how easy this was.  I spent just a little time finding some “theme music” and learning how to do a little bit of editing to create the podcast.  But this was all easy enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who is thinking about a unique way to preserve recordings of their family members.  Most of all, I’m excited to make this a regular habit so that these recordings just become something that Lucy has when she’s older.

I’ll share more details, in a future post, of how I actually created and published these podcasts.  Maybe once you see how easy it is, you’ll be inspired to create your own podcasts and capture a little bit of family history.

P.S.  Let me know what you think of the theme music that opens and closes The Lucy Show.  It’s Lucy’s favorite part.

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Those of us who are passionate about family history spend a lot of our time looking backwards.  Our entire focus is on learning about our family’s history, seeing how far back we can go and how many details we can uncover.

But how often do we reverse this, and look forward instead?  When was the last time that you stopped to think about your descendants?  I’m not talking about your kids or even your grandchildren.  I’m thinking instead about the descendants that we’ll never meet, like great-grandchildren and their kids.

What would these descendants want to know about you?  What aspects of your daily life, which you might find tedious, might they find fascinating?  What significant pieces of your life are simply not captured by your “document trail”–the birth certificates, marriage records, etc. that will define you 100 years from now?

It’s much more fun to look back than to look forward.  I love staring into the eyes of ancestors in an old photo and wondering what their lives were like.  And the life of a lumberjack in Minnesota in 1894 is infinitely more interesting to me than the details of a typical white collar person’s life in 2008.

But it’s a mistake to only look backwards.  For starters, our lives are a lot more interesting than we think.  We’re so busy just living from day to day that we forget that our lives really are adventures.  That epic backpacking trip through Europe, or the story of how we quit our day job to start a new business—those are wonderful stories that need to be told!

Our lives are also filled with minutiae that our descendants will likely find fascinating.  As common and straightforward as our lives seem today, future generations will be very curious to learn about how we lived our lives—because their lives are likely to be so different.

Just imagine what you’d give for the chance to ask a dozen questions of one of your ancestors.  The simplest questions would yield great insights and bring these ancestors to life.  Questions like: Why did you marry your spouse?  What are you most proud of?  Who were your heroes?

The answer to any one of these questions would be something that we’d likely treasure, and it would bring an ancestor to life in a way that no census page ever will.

Our own answers to these questions would be no less a treasure for future generations.  Every little detail about our lives that we can leave a record of, and every artifact that we manage to preserve and pass down, will likely be equally treasured by some future family historian as they look back through time and try to make sense of our life.

So here’s a little laundry list of some of the things that you might think about leaving behind for future generations:

  • Answers to simple questions like:  What do you believe in?  What are you passionate about?
  • Diary/journal entries
  • A list of all the places that you’ve lived, with dates
  • A list of the cars that you’ve owned/driven
  • A list of all the people that have made an impact on your life    -
  • A short summary of your best friends
  • A list of all the jobs that you’ve ever held
  • A description of how you spend your leisure time
  • A list of some of your favorite things/places/people
  • A list of your biggest pet peeves
  • Personal letters
  • Birthday and holiday cards
  • Funeral and wedding programs
  • Ticket stubs
  • A treasured book
  • A favorite tool
  • Photos—lots of photos
  • Home videos
  • A recording of your voice
  • A complete list of all the traveling that you’ve done
  • A description of a typical day at your job
  • A dozen secrets that you wouldn’t share with any living relatives
  • Your biggest disappointment or heartbreak
  • Your greatest regret
  • A list of the five most significant events in your life
  • A list of your greatest talents
  • A description of your most embarassing moment
  • A description of some piece of technology and how you use it in your life
  • A description of your morning ritual(s)
  • A description of your evening ritual(s)

I could go on all day.  And likely you could, too.  The point is that there are many things that you could so easily leave behind for your descendants.  It takes such little effort to create just a few of these artifacts, and they would likely become great treasures to some future family historian.  So what are you waiting for?

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