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Here are two photos from my Grandpa’s collection.  Since Grandpa’s photos are almost always of family members, it’s rare to find one with people that I can’t identify.  But these two photos are a complete mystery to me.

The photos show a bunch of young people, some of them in baseball uniforms, and one of the photos is labeled “after the game”.  So clearly it’s a group of young friends gathering after a baseball game, or maybe celebrating a victory.

Here’s the first photo.  (Click on the photo to see a larger version).

sextonscan-375-800

And here’s the second photo, showing some of the same people, but with labels that look like surnames.  (Again, click on photo for a larger version).

sextonscan-374-800

I really love these photos, and maybe more because they are such a mystery to me.  As usual with these older photos, I love just staring into the faces of the people in the photo and imagining what it would be like to have been there on that day, talking to everybody, getting to know them.

What’s great is that this isn’t your standard old photo, with everybody in the photo stiffly posed and unsmiling.  The young people in the photo look happy, almost flushed with the excitement of the day.  Every face tells a different story: pride, determination, “coolness”, or just plain happiness.

I especially like the couple who appear in the center of the first photo:

sextonscan-375-crop1

These two have wonderful faces.  We’re looking back in time 80 years or more, but with the energy and excitement in the couple’s faces, we can easily imagine them as young friends of ours.

I also like the doubly-stacked, jauntily tilted straw hats.  The silliness hints at the sort of day that everyone was having–just being crazy, goofing around, having fun.

There are other faces that are equally fascinating, like the guy and two girls in the front row:

sextonscan-375-crop2

(I’m half convinced that the girl on the left is my grandmother, but I’ve asked other family members to confirm this).

24 Mar 2009: An Uncle confirmed that this is not my Grandmother–so the mystery continues.

There is something in the faces of these three that also tells a story.  We might imagine the young man as romantically interested in the girl at the left, or the girl on the right as also a close friend of both of them.  The body language might be telling us a lot.  The man has his hand lazily draped over the girl’s shoulder, drawing close to her.  The girl on the right, in turn, drapes her arm around the man’s shoulder and holds his elbow with her other hand.  The image makes me really curious to know who these three were and to understand their connection with each other.

Here’s another face from the past that I love–wearing what looks like catcher’s gear:

sextonscan-375-crop5

What a great face!  The boy appears younger than the other players and clearly seems proud to be a part of the team.

A quick google search turns up a web page depicting what looks like exactly the catcher’s outfit that the boy is wearing:

vintage-baseball-chest-protector-dm

The second photo also has some wonderful faces to stare into.  Note the two girls in the center of the photo, one of them wearing the catcher’s mitt:

sextonscan-374-crop1

If you look at the large version of the photo, you can also make out “Same gang” written on the face of the photo.

I did a little searching on the name “C. W. Fenners”, but didn’t turn anything up.  My guess is that this is some local business that sponsored the team.  The next step might be to go browse through the St. Paul, MN city directories from the mid-1920s and see if I can’t find a business with that name.  The other avenue to pursue might be to do some searching on the listed surnames to see if I could verify whether all of these people lived in a particular part of town.

In the end, maybe these sorts of photos are the most interesting–the ones that tell us a story, but which contain stories that elude us.

Searching for your ancestors in online records has become the rage in the genealogical world over the past couple of years.  And of all of the data that you can search, census records must be by far the most common place to find information on your ancestors.

It’s not all that tough to find your ancestors in the census records, by doing a quick search at ancestry.com or familysearch.org.  And it’s quite a thrill to find the entire family of one of your ancestors, with each member of the family listed, along with their age at the time the census was taken.

What gets interesting is when you try to use census records to provide a bit more information on the birth date of one of your ancestors.  If you already know the birth dates for family members that you are finding, the age information in the census record can just help ensure that you’re looking at the right person.  But if you don’t yet have a birth date, or have conflicting information, it’s possible to use the person’s age at census time as just another piece of evidence to help you arrive at the correct birth date.

Be Careful!

Be careful here.  Birth date information deduced by looking at the age at time of census is not a primary source.  In fact, it’s probably one of the least reliable pieces of evidence for the purpose of calculating a birth date.  Think about the circumstances and the setting at the time the information is gathered.  A census taker goes from house to house, asking people verbally to tell them who lives at that house and how old each resident is (among other things).  The validity of the answers, especially when it comes to age, depends on so many things—how carefully the census taker records what he/she hears, whether the resident actually knows the age of the person in question, and whether they take the time to remember the age of each person in the house.  It’s also probably pretty common for people to have lied about their age.

The quality of the data was also likely dependent on who answered the door.  If Grandpa answered and he was eager to get rid of the census taker, he may have rattled off a bunch of names and ages quickly, without worrying whether or not he got them right.  On the other hand, if the mother of a family answered the door, odds are pretty good that she’d correctly remember the ages of her kids.

Calculating a “Birth Date Range”

It’s still useful to look at census data and to use it to calculate a range of possible birth dates, based on the ages of the people listed.

So how do we calculate a range of possible birth dates, based on what we find in the census record?  It’s as simple as subtracting the listed age from the date on which the census was taken.  The date that you get becomes the “latest birth”, or the most recent possible date of birth, given that age.

For example, let’s say that my grandpa was listed as being 18 yrs old in the 1920 census, and the census sheet in question lists the census date as being Jun 1, 1920.  In other words, on Jun 1, 1920, the census taker stopped at the house and was told that Ted Sexton was 18 yrs old.  This means that the latest that Ted can have been born was Jun 1, 1902.  This would be Ted’s birth date if he had just turned 18 on the day that the census taker stopped by.  The other way to look at it is that this is the youngest that Ted could be, if the stated age was correct.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ted’s earliest possible birth date is Jun 1, 1901—one year earlier than the latest date mentioned above.  If Ted was born late in the day on Jun 1, 1901 and the census taker visited early on Jun 1, 1920, Ted would still be 18 years old—turning 19 later that day.  So this is the earliest possible birth date for Ted and the oldest that he could be, if the stated age was correct.

So we end up with the following possible range of birth dates for Ted:

Census Date:  6/1/1920
Stated Age:  18
Birth Date Range:  Between 6/1/1901 and 6/1/1902

So Ted was born sometime between 6/1/1901 and 6/1/1902—but only if he was truly 18 years old on 6/1/1920.  Remember—although we end up with a precise range of dates, our original census data should still be considered fairly unreliable.  So this date range should just be treated as evidence—nothing more.

Factoring In a Second Census Record

Now that we have one possible range of birth dates for Ted, we can go find another census record and factor in the information that we find there.  Let’s say that we now move to the 1930 census and we find the following information:

Census Date:  10/15/1930
Stated Age: 28
Birth Date Range: Between 10/15/1901 and 10/15/1902

We use the same method as before to calculate a possible range of birth dates, given the stated age.

But now we can take this one step further.  If both ages were stated correctly (and that still might be a big “if”), we’ve further reduced the possible range of dates for Ted’s birth.  Here’s how it works:

Range #1:  Betw 6/1/1901 and 6/1/1902
Range #2:  Betw 10/15/1901 and 10/15/1902
Calculated Range:  Betw 10/15/1901 and 6/1/1902

We’ve gone from a 12-month range to an 8-month range, narrowing in on Ted’s actual birth date.  Note that all we did here was to look at where the two ranges overlapped and calculate the final range as that overlap, or the intersection of the ranges.  For example, range #2 said that Ted could not have been born before 10/15/1901.  This means that part of range #1 has just been ruled out—he could not have been born between 6/1/1901 and 10/14/1901.  In a similar way, the end of range #2 is also chopped off.  In the end, dates between 10/15/1901 and 6/1/1902 are the only dates that fall within both stated ranges.

A Tool to Help You Do These Calculations

I’ve put together a simple web-based tool to help you do birth date calculations like the ones that we just ran through.

You can find the tool by clicking on the link below (or entering it into your browser):

The Census Birth Date Calculator – www.famthings.com/census/default.aspx

Getting Started

Once you go to this site, you may see a little icon indicating that you need to first install Microsoft Silverlight:

installsilverlight

If you see this logo, go ahead and click on it to install Silverlight, which is a browser plugin that is required in order to run the Census Birth Date Calculator.  The install should go quickly.  When it completes, just refresh the web page and you should see the calculator.

The Census Birth Date Calculator

Here’s what the main body of the calculator looks like when you start:

calcemptyThis is pretty self explanatory.  To use the calculator, just enter each of your census data records, one at a time, and click the “Add to List” button.  Enter the date on which the census was taken in the “Census Date” field and enter the reported age of the person in question in the “Age at Census” field.

If we use the calculator to enter the census data for my grandpa, from above, we see the following after entering the first date:

calc2Notice that the calculator spits out the Earliest/Latest birth range for this piece of census data: 6/1/1901 to 6/1/1902.  It also shows a “calculated birth range” below the table that is the same range (for now).

Now let’s add our second piece of census data for Ted.  Here’s what we end up with, after adding the new information to the list:

calc3Notice that the calculator now lists out all three ranges of interest—the individual range for each of the two census records, and then the calculated (combined) range.  As we showed earlier, the calculated range represents the overlap of the other two ranges.  Based on the data that we started with, this is our current best guess as to Ted’s birth date.

When Things Go Wrong

As we said, ages reported as part of census data are notoriously unreliable.  Sooner or later, we’re going to end up with a collection of dates that lead to inconsistent results.  In other words—they can’t possibly all be true, because there is no single birth date that would fit into each of the birth ranges.

Here’s an example.  Suppose we find one more piece of census data for Ted.  This time, we find him in the 1905 Minnesota state census.  The date of the census is 6/12/1905 and Ted’s stated age is 4.

Now we’ve run into problems.  Here is what the calculator tells us:

calc41Notice that the Calculated Birth Range at the bottom of the list now tells us that it’s not possible to calculate a range from these three census samples.  They cannot all be true at the same time.  Notice that the conflict arises between the age-28 and the age-4 entries.  They have ranges which don’t overlap, which means—they can’t both be true.

At this point, the calculator provides a little help for you.  If you like, you can play around with the data by including/excluding one or more of the pieces of data and seeing how that affects the calculated range.  For example, if we had reason to believe that the age-28 entry was incorrect, we could uncheck the Include column for that entry and we’d get:

calc5We have a valid range once again, which just means that the age-18 and age-4 entries do not conflict.

What Does It All Mean?

In the end, this calculator isn’t likely to give you a final answer as to the birth date of an ancestor.  It might help you narrow down the range of possible birth dates, but only if you believe in the validity of all of the census data that you find.

The other use for the birth date calculator is that it can help you zero in on which census records are suspicious, i.e. possibly inaccurate.  If you have five records that are all consistent, and then a sixth that would generate a range of dates that don’t overlap at all, then that sixth date is probably suspect.

So feel free to use this calculator to help you calculate some possible birth date ranges, based on census data.  Let me know how it works for you and if you have any suggestions for how I might improve upon it.

Ok, this post isn’t technically related to family history.  But this is something that’s driven me nuts for years—trying to remember the difference between metaphors, similes and analogies.  I end up referring to something as a metaphor when it’s probably an analogy, or use a simile and call it an analogy.  Maybe if I write down the definitions, I’ll be a bit more likely to remember which is which.

Here are the definitions.

metaphora figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance

similea figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared

analogya similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based

Ok, that’s a start, but these definitions don’t really help me much.  They all sound like pretty much the same thing.

Let’s take another stab at defining each of these, and provide an example of each.

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which you say that one thing is another.  By treating two seemingly different things as identical, you illustrate the similarities that we may have not noticed were there.  Here are some examples:

  • Life is a journey
  • I am a rock
  • My wife is a pain in the neck

Notice that I’m not saying “life is a journey because X, Y and Z”.  We just equate the two, which is the power of metaphor—the similarities are inferred.

Simile

A simile is a type of metaphor where we use the word like or the word as.  It’s more explicit than a metaphor, and less poetic.  It tells us that two things are similar, rather than inferring that they are, by equating them.  Here are some examples:

  • Free as the wind
  • Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall
  • Her feet are as big as battleships

Analogy

An analogy is more complex and intricate than either a metaphor or a simile.  It’s a way of comparing two different things by showing a number of ways in which they are similar.  We also logically infer that if the two things are similar in some things, they are similar in others.  Here are some examples:

  • A URL on the web is analogous to a file name on your PC
  • The fight for gay rights is the civil rights movement of the 21st century
  • With that last statement, I am the Jerry Springer of the blogging world

The point here is that we’re not pointing out just one characteristic that is similar between the two things mentioned, but drawing a parallel.  In the case of the URL and the file name, you can think of a number of ways in which the URL is like a file name, e.g. it uniquely identifies what you’re looking for, tells you where to find something, it’s what you feed into a tool to view the item, etc.

The other type of analogy that you will run across is the kind found on many IQ or college prep tests, of the form “A is to B as C is to ?”.  Here are a few examples:

  • Medicine is to Illness as Law is to Anarchy
  • Keyboard is to Blogger as Guitar is to Rock Star
  • Finger is to Eye as Knee is to Crotch

(Hey, I didn’t say that they were going to be good analogies).

So Now You Know

There you have it.  A quick overview of metaphors, similes and analogies.  You no longer have an excuse to forget which is which.  Your mind is full—like a pot of pasta.

Here’s another photo from our family collection that I like.  It’s labeled “Pa – George – Jim – Aug, 1940″ and shows my great-grandfather mowing his lawn in Bemidji, MN in 1940.  He’s standing next to my grandfather’s brother George, and George’s son Jim.

Mowing the lawn - August, 1940

(Click to see a larger version, not cropped).

There’s nothing dramatic about the photo, but it tells a little story.  Clearly, “Pa” (my great-grandpa) had been out mowing the lawn and George and Jim walked out to pose for a photo with him.  Pa looks hot, tired and perhaps just wants to finish up the mowing.  His grandson Jimmy just looks tickled to be posing with Dad and Grandpa.

I’m also intrigued by the way that everyone is dressed.  Despite being outside on a hot August day in Minnesota, everyone is wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Pa’s shirt is buttoned all the way up, but he’s at least unbuttoned his cuffs.  George is wearing a tie and even Jim appears to be wearing some sort of warmer outer shirt.

It’s certainly possible that it was a cooler day in August, although our average high for August in Minnesota is 80 degrees F and the average high in September is 71 degrees.

My great-grandpa was 70 years old in this photo, but clearly still mowing his own lawn.  The kids had all moved away, but he and my great-grandma still lived in the family home in Bemidji, MN.  I wondered at first why he’d be wearing his hat while out mowing the lawn.  Was it just his style, to always be this formal?  And then I realized that it was probably just to keep the sun off of his head.  At 70, his hair was probably already a bit thin on top and so the top of his head would be the first thing to burn in the summer sun.

Here’s a closeup of the trio:

Mowing the Lawn, closeup

(You can also click to see an even larger version of the closeup).

In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the tramp”.  (Feel free to use a more offensive word in the place of “tramp”).  This is the girl that everyone knows is a complete tramp—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the tramp” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the tramp, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the tramp”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the tramp, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Tramp

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the tramp.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school tramp, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the tramp, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?

No.

At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school tramp, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7″.

Here’s a wonderful photo of my grandfather that really lends itself to studying it, and thinking about the time and place that it was taken.  It’s a photo that was in my grandfather’s collection.

My grandfather was Ted (Edward Thomas) Sexton (1902-1980).  Ted grew up in Bemidji, MN, one of twelve siblings.  As a young man, he moved “down” to St. Paul to get a job as a printer.  It was in St. Paul that he met my grandmother, Marie Wolters, whose family had a farm in West St. Paul.

Here’s the photo.  Click on the photo to see a larger version.

Ted Sexton on road rally, 1920s

I love studying this photo.  There are so many things to notice, which can help tell the story of when and where it was taken.  I also look forward to taking more time and learning even more.

To my knowledge, my grandfather never mentioned anything about this particular event.  So all I have to go on is the photo itself.  Ted is the boy on the far left, in the dark shirt.  I don’t know anything about the other boys in the photo.

Clearly this was some sort of road rally that the boys went on, driving from St. Paul to Canada.  One of the boys is clearly wearing a University of Minnesota sweater.  (My grandfather did not attend the university).

I haven’t yet identified the type of car, but it seems likely to be a Model “T”, given the time period.  If you look closely, you can see the number “23” on the license plate, under the letter “B”.  You’ll see “MINN” down the right side of the plate, so this is clearly a car that was registered in Minnesota.  And the date on the plate puts the picture at 1923, or at least within a year or two.  If it was 1923, Grandpa would have been 21, which seems about right.  You can also see a plate below the main one which reads “Bemidji”, where Ted was from.  So perhaps these are friends of Ted’s from “back home” in Bemidji.

I’ve also thought a bit about when this photo may have been taken.  If the boys participated in a road rally, we’d assume that they’d have their picture taken either at the start or at the end of the rally.  It’s hard to say which one of these two this photo would have been, but I’d lean towards saying it was taken at the end.  The boys and the car are located on some sort of wooden plank bridge over what looks to be a small stream.  Given the rustic nature of the bridge (note the hewn log handrails), it seems more likely that it’s up North near the Canadian border, rather than down in St. Paul.  Had the boys taken a picture at the start of the rally, they’d likely be in the city and we’d probably see other drivers and cars.

It’s hard to say much about the time of day.  The shadow of the car appears to be directly under the car, so the photo appears to have been taken near midday.  We can also think a little bit about how long the drive must have taken.  The Model “T” had a top speed of about 45 mph, and the distance between St. Paul and the Canadian border is something like 300 miles.  If they drove straight through, at 40 mph, it would have taken them 7.5 hrs.  But given the state of the roads in the 1920s, they wouldn’t likely be near top speed much of the way.  So it seems like it would have required more than a single day for the trip.  If the trip started in the morning in St. Paul, it may well be that they completed the rally around midday on the next day.  But it’s hard to say.

That’s a good start at thinking about the photo.  I’d be eager to get more information and thoughts from other people.  Some of the next things to look at are:

  • Talk to older relative to see if Ted ever mentioned this trip
  • Try to determine the exact make and model of the car
  • Find out if vehicle registration records for MN are kept anywhere
  • Look at newspapers of the time to see if they mention a road rally
  • Try to date the photo by getting more info on the University of MN letter sweater shown in the photo
  • Look through other photos of Ted’s to see if I can identify his friends
  • Take a look at maps of that time, to guess at possible routes/distances

The Power of Words

Words are powerful.  A well chosen word can serve to make an entire line of reasoning clear to someone that you’re communicating with.  They can also be incredibly evocative.  A single word can connect the listener with long forgotten memories or tap into deep emotions.

As I listened to Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, I found myself really focusing on the individual words, more than the actual message.  This was no ordinary everyday speech, but an inaugural address—the vehicle that a new president uses to project his most central beliefs and values.  So the speech was filled with very powerful words like:  Nation.  People.  Generation.  Work.  Hope.

It occurred to me that maybe I’d be hearing the same words, even had the other candidate won.  The message may well be quite different, but I started thinking that I’d hear many of the same powerful words being used.

I decided to do a little experiment and actually analyze which words President Obama was using in his speech.  There are web pages out there that could do this for me, not only making a list of which words were present in the speech, but keeping track of which words appeared most frequently.

What I created for the speech is known as a “tag cloud”.  You often see them along the side of a blog, depicting the most common topics that the author has blogged about.  The distinctive thing about tag clouds is that the size of the words in the “cloud” is proportional to how many posts are about that topic.  Below is an example—a fragment of the tag cloud from my blog post.

Tag Cloud

You can do a similar sort of thing with any arbitrary chunk of text.  Run it through a piece of software that analyzes the individual words and then generates a tag cloud, with the words used most often showing up the largest.

I couldn’t wait to try this on Obama’s speech.  I quickly found the TagCrowd web site, which lets you input any arbitrary text and generates a tag cloud for you.  Here’s a fragment of the cloud that I got for Obama’s inaugural speech:

Obama's Inaugural

This was incredibly cool.  You can see that the tag cloud is way of depicting the speech visually, with the most used words the most noticeable, because of their size.  This illustrates the particular power of these words in a very compelling way.

I immediately started wondering what some of the other inaugural addresses would look like, when depicted this way.  So I plugged in President Bush’s 2nd inaugural address, from Jan, 2005.  Here’s a chunk of that tag cloud:

Bush Cloud

This was also sort of amazing.  Some of the same words showed up again—common themes between both men.  But there are also some big differences, based on which words are central to the message being delivered.  Somehow, it seemed like just looking at the tag cloud was imparting a true sense of each man and the message being delivered.

I can never really do things in half measures, so I decided to put together a web page that included tag clouds for every single inaugural address—from Washington to Obama.  I also included links back to the full text of each inaugural address.

You can see the end result at: http://www.seans.com/tags

You’ll see that I also added one more very interesting piece of information.  On the main page, where I list each president and their inaugural address(es), I also list the three most common words from that particular address.

This makes for some very interesting reading, just reading the list of presidents, without going to the tag clouds.  Somehow, even with just three words, you can get a sense of the man and the times during which he was speaking.

Here are a few examples:

  • Thomas Jefferson:  government, fellow-citizens, man
  • Abraham Lincoln:  constitution, states, people
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt:  national, people, helped
  • John F. Kennedy:  sides, world, pledge

In the end, this was a fascinating exercise.  It really highlights the raw power of the words being used in these speeches.  Even when we break the speech up into words, the individual words still have great power, as the core concepts and beliefs jump out at us.

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