Here’s a situation where I had no supporting images for the story. So, I used a current photo of a shrimp boat coming through the bridge. I then used an app [SketchMee for Mac - $7.99] to convert the photo to a monochrome (sepia) sketch. I did this for two reasons. First, the story is set back in the 1950s so the sepia image gives it a bit of a vintage feel, and second, using a monochrome color scheme reduced the contrast between the sky and the clouds – making it easier for the text to stand out. The font used in this example is Jayne Print.
As Denise Levenick has so beautifully illustrated in her book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, a good part of our family “stuff” is an historical record of our lives and those of our ancestors. Those of us who have taken on the challenge of preserving our family archives have worked hard to protect our treasures and to digitize them so they can be shared with others. Add to that the research, blog posts and family stories we have generated and our archives have even more value.
Thanks to our efforts, there is now a significant amount of personal historical artifacts in digital formats. Yes, there are a number of platforms that would like to “help” us organize and present this content in a manner that will also help them generate some revenue, but I’m surprised that universities and other archives have shown little interest. While local historical and genealogical societies would seem to be the logical starting point for building collections of personal archives, many have little knowledge or experience in the digital world and may not even be aware of the potential value their members’ collections offer. Even if they don’t have the expertise or budget to create and maintain a digital archive, they could negotiate a joint effort with a nearby university that could provide benefits to everyone.
I think it’s time to start lobbying our societies and local educational institutions to support our efforts to preserve our personal archives. Not only would it give family history more exposure but it could also become a real solution to what happens to our family archives after we are gone.
Susan Branch is one of my favorite artists and her books are always a delight. She has combined her artistic and writing skills into a delicious combination of stories, photos, quotations, artistic embellishments and recipes. While enjoying her travels across England and discussions about people, places and things that make up her world, I’m also marveling at the legacy she will leave behind with all these charming multimedia stories that are the contents of her blog.
Speaking of charms, one of my favorite posts is about her charm bracelet. Like most charm bracelets, each charm has a history which she shares with her readers. The photographs are gorgeous, but the watercolor sketches are as much a treasure as the bracelet itself.
Few of us have the artistic skills of Susan Branch, but that doesn’t mean we can’t blog about our own personal and family treasures in creative ways. And, at some point those blog articles could be collected and arranged into a treasure book for your family’s enjoyment – both now and in the future.
I’m looking at my charm bracelet in a whole new light. I already see several good stories just waiting to be written. What stories do your charms hold?
Scrivener [Mac - $45.00 & Win - $40.00] is a great app for any family history writing project. With Scrivener, you have everything you need – from research to writing tools – all organized in one place. This article looks at some options for setting up a family history writing project.
What you see here is the basic Scrivener workspace you’ll see when you create a new project. The only thing I’ve done so far is set up the Binder (the stuff you see in the left sidebar) with the basic items I’ll need in this project. This particular project was set up for my Barker family. I know I have material for two books on this family, but hope to do two more at some point. Since much of the research and resources I’ve collected will be needed for each book, it only makes sense to put each of these books into one project.
Let’s take a close look at the Binder. This is where you organize all the different components of your project. There are two basic kinds of items used within the Binder – folders and files – but as you’re about to see they can serve many purposes. Scrivener offers a number of icons to help you see at a glance how each item fits into the project. This project was created using the generic Novel template. Once I’ve set up this project to suit my workflow, I’ll save it as a custom template so the next family writing project will be even easier to set up.
At the top of the Binder is the Manuscript item. This is a folder that contains the content of my writing project. Other templates may call it “Draft” instead of “Manuscript” and I can call it “Fred” if that’s what suits me, but this is the area where the content of my book will reside. In this example, I have several folders inside the Manuscript folder. I can set up folders for each chapter or section within my book or I can do like I have done here and create folders for each book I expect to write for my Barker family.
Notice the difference in icons between each of these folders. Each of my planned books has a book icon while the newest folder displays the generic folder icon. Scrivener has all kinds of icons to make it easy to see the purpose of any element in my project. The Citations, Notes and Style Guide each use a different colored notebook icon while the Research folder has an open book icon. Right now everything you see in the Binder is a folder – except the Word List item under the Style Guide folder. That is a text file. At this point in my set up, it’s the only text file in the project.
While the Manuscript folder – and the book folders inside it – will be the content of the books I plan to write, the items below are for things that will support my writing efforts across all the books in this project.
- In the Citations folder, I’ll list the citations I use in this project – appropriately formatted so I can easily copy them into the manuscript when I need them.
- I’ve reached the stage where I have to jot down notes before I forget them so I have a folder where I can do just that.
- At the very least my Style Guide will have a list of words properly spelled and formatted (Is it January 3, 1920, 3 January 1920, 3 Jan 1920 or 1/3/1920?) to insure consistency in my writing.
- The Cover Graphics folder will hold the images I plan to use as the cover for each book.
- In the Research folder I’ll dump all the notes, original documents, links to web sites and other genealogical information needed to write these stories.
- The Template Sheets folder was included in the Novel template and holds templates for building character and location sketches. These are used by novelists to define a character (or location) and then as reference to insure consistency throughout the manuscript. I see potential usefulness, but haven’t decided how I’ll use them yet. For now it stays in.
- Trash is self-explanatory.
Since the research, notes and even some of the content included in this project will be used in each book, it makes sense to keep it all in one project. When you get to the compilation phase of your project – the step that converts your manuscript into a finished book or ebook – you’ll decide just what content is included in the compilation. More on that in future articles.
First, a look at the terminology surrounding the Binder. First there’s the item. It’s a generic term for any file or folder included in the Binder regardless of its use. Next is the document. Officially, it’s any item containing text, but documents can also be empty – temporarily or as a place holder. Documents can also be word-processing or rich text files imported into the project. A folder contains documents and even other folders. A folder can also contain text such as a chapter title. Documents can be nested together as a stack or file group.
You can easily add folders and documents to the Binder by right-clicking in the Binder area and choosing the Add option. You’ve seen how you can nest folders within folders, but you can also nest documents as stacks. One of the very nice things about Scrivener is its ability to reorganize content items quickly and easily. All you do is drag the documents and/or folders from one location to another within the binder.
In the popup menu shown here, you’ll also notice you can duplicate and move items. Mostly this is used to reorganize the flow of a manuscript, but it could also be used to copy an excerpt from one of the book projects to become a preview teaser at the end of another book.
Once your book is finished, don’t delete the Scrivener project. As we all know, there will always be new research and new things to add to your family history. By keeping the project, all you’ll have to do is update it with the new information and recompile it.
Coming up next . . . Organizing Your Book
Yesterday the folks at Ancestry.com retweeted an interesting article that asked was scrapbooking dead. The article included a video that at first would make you think so . . . until it got to the part discussing the amazing alternative – photo books.
I don’t think scrapbooking is dead, but I do see it as one component in the broader category of digital storytelling. I love a beautifully embellished page, but I’m more interested in how it can support the story than in having the design be the story. Technology has given us so may different ways to present our family stories – current families as well as past ones – that there’s something for everyone at just about any skill level or any budget.
I love to use digital scrapbook elements in my family history projects. They add atmosphere to the project, help direct the reader’s eye to the areas I want them to see and spotlight specific photos. I would love to do more, but unfortunately there are two major issues in my way.
One other area where designers could better support digital storytellers is with more size flexibility. Digital storytellers are creating books, ebooks, multimedia presentations and movies. Our proportions are rectangular, not square. You design beautiful templates and backgrounds, but we often can’t use them. We’re displaying our work on computers and tablets and digital frames and even television screens and would love to fill up those screens with photos and text.
Square just is to . . . square.
One last thought that may help push you towards including us in your marketing efforts. Family historians are fixated on acknowledging their sources. You can be sure we’ll give you the credit you deserve.
This is homecoming weekend for my high school. I didn’t make it to last night’s game (we won!) but I did pull out my yearbooks and spent some time looking back and remembering the people, places and events that were such a big part of my life years ago. It dawned on me that a yearbook would be a great way to document our current family history. From newlyweds and new babies to golden anniversaries and even memorials for those who have passed on, a yearbook could easily become a family tradition that builds a history for future generations. The more I think about it, the more I like this idea. Bear with me . . . I’m thinking “out loud” here.
It’s been a pretty active year in my family, so this would be a good year to kick one off. The first one will be the toughest because I’ll have to do most of it myself. If the “premier” edition is a big enough hit, it should make it easier to get family members to pass on news and pictures to be included in the next one. Even with help, a yearbook will require a lot of time and energy to create.
I’m looking at some kind of photo book format – preferably one like Blurb or Lulu with an available storefront. Although I may give away some finished books – especially the first year – I want to make it easy for others to get a copy and, hopefully, build an archive so previous issues will be available to extended family or new members. I’ve made some progress getting family members to use Flickr for photo storage and sharing, and both these platforms support pulling photos from Flickr. That could make it easier to get others to share photos for future yearbooks.
So, what do I want to put into my yearbook? Here’s some of my initial thoughts. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d be delighted to see them.
- One of my first thoughts was that the “centerfold” should be a photographic family tree. The focus would be on living family members – so everyone could see how they fit into our “blended” families of today. It sounds like a good idea, but the actual construction could be quite a challenge. And, we’d have to go back a generation or two to make many of the cousin connections. Will all this fit onto one two-page spread?
- Instead of the classes in my high school annual, I’m considering a section of family groups. Ideally, each group would include an annual group photo along with plenty of snapshots from vacations, Little League and soccer teams, new homes and any other things that family considers interesting.
- A spotlight section gives focus to special accomplishments like awards, honors and other recognition. Our family is blessed with some amazing talent so there’s always a blue ribbon from a county fair or art show to acknowledge.
- Of course there’s always those special family events – weddings, new babies, graduations and anniversaries – to celebrate.
- And, there will be memorials to those who passed away during the year.
- Our family’s full of great cooks so we could include a recipe or two each year. The question is . . . should this be part of the family sections or a section of its own?
- What about a legacy section to bring in some earlier family history with each yearbook? I could recruit members to submit articles on a family history topic of their choice. From documenting the origin of a family heirloom to a biographical sketch of an ancestor to photos from some family event, these articles could not only expose family members to their history, but also inspire the authors to get involved in a little family research.
Scrivener [Mac -$45 & Windows - $40] is an incredible writing tool. It is not a word processing application although it does support writing, editing and formatting a document. It’s purpose is to provide writing support (planning, organizing, keeping your research and notes handy and managing the entire writing project). You can keep all of these things right in your Scrivener project file for easy reference at any point. Once you’ve completed writing your manuscript, Scrivener will compile it into any number of formats but you may then need to use an appropriate layout application to make those words, tables, graphs and images look great too. Yes, a family history project can be a massive effort, but Scrivener does a tremendous job of keeping everything organized and on track.
As you can imagine, with all these capabilities, you aren’t going to become a Scrivener expert in a weekend. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert before you start using it. One of the toughest parts of a writing project is getting started. I’m going to look at Scrivener’s organizational tools and how to use them to plan and organize a writing project.
Here you see the Scrivener workspace showing the Corkboard. The left column is called the Binder and it has three sections: Draft, Research and Notes. My manuscript is built in the Draft section. The Research and Notes sections are where I stash the information I’ll be referencing during my writing. More on that in upcoming articles. The column on the right is the Information pane and shows details about the item selected in the Binder – in this case The Toolbox item. Front and center is the Corkboard displaying the digital equivalent of a note card. In this example I’ve created a folder called The Toolbox and populated it with a dozen topics. Right now those topics just have titles, but each could have additional notes describing what I plan to do with it.
These “note cards” may become chapters, sections or sub-sections within the manuscript but right now they are just topics I want to include in my manuscript as part of The Toolbox. They are in no particular order and I don’t yet have any plans on how I will tackle them. As I flesh out this section, I can start by adding notes to each card listing the things I want to discuss. I can also drag the cards around to re-order how they will appear in the manuscript. I can add new topics and delete unnecessary ones at any time.
When cards are rearranged on the Corkboard, the related topics are also rearranged in the Binder to the left.
While the Corkboard is quite nice, not everyone works well with that format. No problem! Scrivener also offers an Outline view to those who find it more useful. Here’s the same folder – The Toolbox – as it appears in the Outliner view. The Binder’s still there as is the Information panel. It’s just the center area that has changed.
In this view, I’ve added some notes to a couple of the topic items and they appear just under the topic’s title. The same would be true in the Corkboard view. The Outline view also includes a couple other bits of information – the Label and Status fields from the Information pane. The Label field has two default options: Concept and Chapter, but I can add my own labels if I wish. The Status field makes it easy to track which topics need work and which are ready to go.
Like the Corkboard, I can drag topics around, add and remove them. And, when I do, the topics in the Binder panel also adjust.
There’s a third view – the document view – where I see the content of the selected topic. Switching between these views is easy. Just click on the appropriate view button in the Scrivener toolbar. I can quickly bounce between views whenever I want.
As you can see Scrivener offers some easy to use tools for organizing a writing project. It’s really quite easy to get started with Scrivener and learn as you go. In the next article, I’ll dig into the Binder and show what an amazing feature it can be.
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 – Posterous 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 control. You have more control over your content on a blog platform than you do on Facebook. And, if you should decide to move your collected archive to another platform sometime in the future, it will be much easier to move the blog content than Facebook. So, let’s take a look at these mobile-friendly blogs . . .
Tumblr fits somewhere between Twitter and a full-blown blog platform. It is designed as a place to post updates. These 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 used to follow other Tumblrs.
Tumblr 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 developers are working on a backup option for their blogs, but there’s no information on when it will be available. 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.
Although Tumblr gets more attention, I think Posterous may be the better choice for most family sites. There are two reasons for this. First, Posterous 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, Posterous 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.
Posterous also has an app [Android & iOS - free] which facilitates both posting your content and following others. Members can choose to receive distributed content by email or RSS feed. Like Tumblr, Posterous 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 Posterous 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 Posterous blog AND to Facebook AND to Twitter AND to WordPress AND to Blogger. It doesn’t get much better than this.
There is no backup/export feature available for Posterous either, but there is a Posterous Importer plugin for self-hosted WordPress and an Import option in WordPress.com’s Tools page.
By taking advantage of these lightweight blog platforms, you can enlist willing family members to share their photos, videos and news as 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.
As I look around my office I see dozens of family treasures ranging from portraits and other artwork to souvenirs of our travels to pieces of furniture. Every one of these pieces has an associated story. I know the stories to many – but not all – of these treasures because either I was there when one was acquired or someone else passed the story along with the piece.
And, just because they are in my possession doesn’t mean I’m the only person interested in them. I have siblings, cousins and friends who also have connections to many of these treasures. How can we all share these items – and the collected knowledge associated with them? By taking advantage of some very simple digital tools and a family-friendly blog platform, we can build a digital family treasure chest and post scanned or photographed copies of these treasured items in a controlled environment that’s only accessible to family and selected friends.
Since privacy and simplicity are the two primary requirements for any private family site, I’ve chosen Posterous Spaces as the platform for my treasure chest. Most of my family aren’t about to visit a family site on a regular basis and the concept of posting content to a web site is like expecting them to become proficient in Latin. Ain’t . . . gonna . . . happen. Most site members will receive site updates via email and can reply with their comments or send a fresh email message which Posterous Spaces will treat as a new “post”. The collective conversation is maintained online in the family’s Posterous space.
Posterous Spaces simplifies access management too. Only the site manager needs to have a password. Others are welcome to set up their profiles – and include passwords for access to the site itself. Everything else is managed by email address. Posts are only delivered to the addresses identified as members. The site manager adds members by entering their email address and defining whether they are members (can only view content) or contributors (can view, comment and submit).
To post content, contributors just send an email message to the site’s email address. The subject line of the message becomes the title and the content of the message is the body of the post. In the example above, the two photos were attached to the email message and Posterous automatically set up a gallery to display them. Video attachments will be embedded in the post and even document attachments are included as embedded Scribd documents.
Email recipients who wish to comment on a message/post can do that by hitting reply to the original email message. All members will receive a copy of the reply and it will be attached as a comment to the original post online.
There are several ways you can backup your site for archival purposes. The easiest is to create an email account for that purpose and include it in the site’s mailing list. Mac users can take advantage of the Posterous Backup Tool [Mac - $3.99].
Any blog platform can work as a home for your family’s digital treasure chest, but Posterous is so easy and flexible that it can generate comments from family members who wouldn’t think of commenting on “normal” blog sites. Take a look at Posterous and see if it has a place in your digital storytelling plan.