Category Archives: Digital Storytelling

Updated: Capture Your World in Your Journal

When I hear someone rant about how email is destroying the personal letter or the disappearance of cursive handwriting in the digital age, I just smile. Thanks to technology – and particularly the app phone with its still/video camera – we’ll leave behind a rich view of our world and our place in it. I love playing with my camera along with an outrageous number of apps for editing and manipulating the photos I take. And, because I no longer have to buy film or pay to develop my photos, there’s no need to wait for the “perfect” shot to take a picture. The same is true for video.

sample journal entry

The specials board at our favorite diner.

I don’t know how many times I’ve wished I had a photo of the soda fountain at McCartney’s Drug Store or the lobby of the Matanzas Theatre during a Saturday afternoon matinee. These and many other places that were part of our day-to-day lives are no longer there, but because they weren’t “special” we never took photographs of them. Today, thanks to my iPhone’s camera and the Day One journal app [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99], I’m not only capturing photos of our favorite places, the camera and Day One automatically add details like date, location and weather for me. No, I’m not going to tap out a description during dinner. That can wait until I’m back home and have time to add details.

So now I have some delightful views of my world captured in my journal thanks to my phone’s camera and Day One. They include a number of not-so-momentous occasions like dinner on the deck at Aunt Kate’s or the dogs at the front window supervising road work along our street. I’d like to think future generations will enjoy this look at our world, but even if they don’t, I will.

Note to Android users . . . check out the Day Journal app [Android – free]. It’s got many of the same features as Day One.

Scrivener Classes

Gwen Hernandez is a romance novelist. She is also a Scrivener expert and the author of Scrivener for Dummies. She just announced some upcoming online classes:

  • Scrivener I: The Basics and Beyond (Mac & Windows), September 8-24
  • Scrivener II: Intermediate and Advanced Concepts (Mac & Windows), October 14-30
  • Scrivener Master Course: Compile (Mac & Windows), December 8-17

The first two classes will cost $25 each with the compile class costing $20. Registration is open now for the first two courses. You’ll find details at Gwen’s Scrivener Training page.

Build a virtual family history center

My Moultrie Creek blog is my scrapbook of family and local history. Here’s where I post interesting photos, stories, multimedia presentations and other bits and pieces about my family and this wonderful place we call home – which just happens to be our nation’s oldest city*.

Mission video at Moultrie Creek

Mission video at Moultrie Creek blog

Because it’s a blog I can pull in all kinds of content in all sorts of formats. It doesn’t matter what kind of digital storytelling project I create, they can all be showcased here. Often a post is nothing more than a photo with a caption. Others are embedded content like the Mission tour shown in this example. I save my photo documentaries as movies which can be embedded from my Vimeo account. PDF documents can be saved on Scribd and also embedded on the blog site. It’s an eclectic mix and that suits me just fine. Add a couple of categories and tags for each post and WordPress carries most of the organizational load for me.

Why embed much of the content? Two reasons. First, these movies, photographs and slideshows are not taking up space on the blog site (especially important if you’re using a hosted blog with limited free space allowance). Second, these media platforms also serve as off-site archives/backup for my personal archive and the projects I create with them. I have content spread out across photo-sharing, video-sharing, slide-sharing and document-sharing platforms, but the blog is the one central spot where it all comes together.

There’s loads of content from other sites too. I have no problem including photos from the Florida Memory archives – with proper credit and links of course. Should I discover a cousin who’s blogging, I’d be delighted to include posts that point to her stories. One very nice benefit of this idea is that the more you link to other sites (and, hopefully, they link to you) the more attention you all get from the search engines. That could lead to finding and connecting with even more cousins.

Chances are good your family history center will look and act nothing like mine. That’s as it should be. Fortunately, blogs are flexible enough to suit just about any style so we can each create our family’s story in our own way. Ain’t technology great?

*The politically correct description is “oldest continuously-occupied European settlement in the contiguous 48 states”.

Day One As Art Journal?


I have been having a lot of fun playing with the growing number of photo-manipulation apps available on the iPad and was looking for an easy way to keep track of the apps and settings that were used to create this effect or that look. Day One is a great solution. Using the iOS app I can quickly pull in a finished image from the Photo Library and add notes describing the steps and apps used to create it.

By adding tags to the entry, I can use them later to quickly find specific images. And, those tags are also useful should I ever want to export/print a portfolio.

Photo art isn’t the only kind of art I can capture in my Day One journal. I have several drawing and painting apps on my iPad and the images created using them can also be added too.

But that’s not all! Now that Day One’s publishing feature will also publish the entry to Tumblr, I can post selected pieces to my Tumblr blog. See for yourself.


On the spot blogging

As family historians, it’s our job to insure that our current history is captured for future generations as well as protecting and preserving the history of earlier generations. In today’s fast-paced world, that can be a challenge. Fortunately there are a number of easy-to-use and reasonably-priced tools that can help. The first is a camera phone – preferably a smart phone that supports apps, but even a basic camera phone with the ability to email photos will work. Next is a platform to send those photos to so they can be preserved and shared with others.

Most blog platforms support mobile blogging in one form or another. While it is possible to post to WordPress and Blogger from a mobile device, it isn’t always a simple process. However, there are two platforms – Posthaven and Tumblr – that can make mobile blogging so easy that even the most technically-challenged member of the family can do it. You may be asking why you should use one of these platforms to share news and photos instead of Facebook? The answer is privacy and control. You have more control over your content on a blog platform than you do on Facebook. You also have more privacy with a blog than on a social network. You wouldn’t want to post vacation pictures on Facebook because you’re announcing to the world that your home is empty and just waiting to be robbed. With a blog, you can restrict access with a password. And, if you should decide to move your collected archive to another platform sometime in the future, it will be much easier to move blog content than Facebook updates. So, let’s take a look at these mobile-friendly blogs . . .

Sample Tumblr

Sample Tumblr

Tumblr fits somewhere between Twitter and a full-blown blog platform. You could think of it as Twitter without the 140 character restriction. Your updates can be text, photos, music, links, videos and even recorded voice messages. You can post updates by email, telephone (voice messages) or using the Tumblr app [Android & iOS – free]. The app not only helps you post, it is also serves as a reader to follow other Tumblrs.

Tumblr is free to use and has a huge collection of themes – both free and premium – giving you plenty of opportunities to find the perfect one for your purpose. And, you can make a Tumblr blog private by adding a password. In addition to using the apps to keep up with Tumblr blogs, public Tumblr blogs also have RSS feeds for content distribution.

Tumblr was recently purchased by Yahoo and is well-maintained. Yahoo has added some new features – like the ability to “dress up” your blog’s mobile feed. If you reach a point where you want to move your Tumblr content to WordPress, you can perform an import directly from WordPress’s Tools > Import page.

Sample Posthaven blog

Sample Posthaven blog

Although Tumblr gets more attention, I think Posthaven may be the better choice for most family sites. There are two reasons for this. First, Posthaven uses email as their default distribution system. In my family, eyes start glazing over when you talk about news readers and RSS feeds. Most will tell me they are “way to busy” to be bothered checking a web site on a regular basis, yet every one of them is delighted to find a new photo or story show up in their inbox. Second, Posthaven offers both a password system and a membership system for managing private sites.  Since remembering a password is also an impossible task for many of my relations, it’s much easier for me to use the membership system – listing each authorized person by their email address. It also authorizes them to post content to the site – by email. Surprisingly, most of them have been able to master the task of using their mobile phone to take a photo and email it to someone so they have been quite good at posting pictures.

Posthaven is still a work in progress. It is fully functional as a blog site, but does not yet have much in the way of design. Members can choose to receive distributed content by email or RSS feed. Like Tumblr, Posthaven supports text, photos, videos and even documents in your email submission. It will embed the media in the resulting post and forward it on to all the email subscribers in your member list. In addition, you can set your Posthaven blog to autopost submitted content to a number of social networking services. So, one email can send a photo or video to the family’s Posthaven blog AND to Facebook AND to Twitter AND to every individual subscriber. It doesn’t get much better than this. Posthaven will cost you $5.00 a month, but that includes up to 10 blogs per account. Each blog can have a different set of contributors and subscribers.

By taking advantage of these lightweight blog platforms, you can share your family stories with them and encourage them to share their photos, videos and news. In the process, you all are building a family news service which can also provide future generations with a look into daily life as well as special moments of our current generations. Don’t just stop with photos and videos either. Encourage members of the group to share their favorite recipes, pass on book recommendations and other “everyday” things. All the group members will enjoy these tidbits and you will be building a very rich history of today’s family in the process.

If you’d like to learn more about Posthaven, download a copy of my Posthaven Primer. It’s free!

Thoughts on Developing a Publishing Platform

Although it will always be a work in progress, this Barkers of Kincaid Mountain project does have a plan. It’s part of a publishing platform that has evolved over the years. First I was blogging individual stories – something I continue to do. Then, as the number of stories grew, I began pulling them together as published projects – some print, but most of them digital. During that same period, I’ve moved from Windows to Mac computers and jumped on the iPad bandwagon. I’ve found some amazing applications that have made writing, digitizing, photo-editing and design more fun than effort. Fortunately, most of my family have also gone mobile and all have easy access to some kind of tablet. Which is perfect now that I’ve discovered the joys of digital storytelling and publishing.

Over time I have created a publishing platform that supports my working style. It supports my publishing goals and fits nicely into the way I work. It took time to master some of the software and there are always new apps to check out, but I’m quite comfortable with it and enjoy the progress I’m seeing with my projects.

I’m using Scrivener to manage the writing effort and the Keynote presentation app for layout. I have my Scrivener projects set up by family group and each project serves as both a writing platform and story archive for that group. The collected stories in a Scrivener family project have the potential to be used in a number of different publishing projects. Keynote provides a broad range of layout capabilities and offers a lot of flexibility. I have the option to give each page its own unique look or use a template that will keep the style consistent throughout the publication. Using Keynote, I can create a book, photo album, multimedia scrapbook or even a video documentary. The one other tool I need is a photo editor. I use Pixelmator.

My favorite format is a story collection – a sort of story scrapbook. These story collections are built one story at a time as my research and writing effort allows. Because each story is laid out as one or more slides in Keynote, it’s easy to position new stories at the appropriate point within the collection’s timeline when they are ready. The result is a scrapbook where text and photos getting the design priority. Although I do include design elements in my layout, they aren’t the centerpiece of the design. My style is more minimalistic than most scrapbook layouts.

Whille I do use some purchased graphic elements in my layouts, many designers’ terms of use seriously limit the types of projects I can create. I’ve found several designers – like Catherine Haugland at Eclectic Anthology –  with liberal terms and I now limit my purchases to them. I’m also finding that it isn’t that difficult to turn my personal archives into one-of-a-kind digital ephemera which add even more value to the stories I’m creating.

Most of my publishing platforms are digital but I don’t rule out a print project. Digital offers many benefits like color at no extra charge, functional hyperlinks and the ability to update and redistribute a project at any time. Since family history is a never-ending story, there will be many updates.

Have you considered a publishing platform for your family history? If so, I’d love to hear what works for you.

Introducing Storytelling Studio

Storytelling Studio

I’m working on a new series of Moultrie Creek Guides. This one is Storytelling Studio and is focused on creative ways to present your family history. It will cover a broad range of topics from writing tips, design ideas and resources to step-by-step instructions on how to make it happen.

My first project is called Found Ephemera which looks at ways to use items in your personal archive as design elements to bring your family stories to life. Right now, it’s still a work in progress. Stay tuned for updates!