NEW RESOURCES Now available: Civil War diaries and letters from Mississippi State University. “Mississippi State University Libraries has made available in its digital collections the Civil War era, first-hand accounts of the Orville Babcock Diaries and Letters of Pvt. Arthur McKinstry.” A new Web site highlights archaeological finds in coastal Alaska. “In 2013, construction workers […]
Like many of us, I’ve often found the Ancestry.com hints pointing to other family trees more irritating than informative. It’s not unusual to find the exact same content duplicated from one tree to another. Fortunately, the occasional tidbit of information makes wading through these trees worth the effort. Over Easter weekend, one of those tidbits turned into quite a whopper! Following a hint to another Barrett family tree brought me face to face with a portrait of my second great-grandmother, Frances Georgina Scott.
It didn’t stop there. I used Ancestry’s messaging service to connect to the cousin who created this tree and posted the portrait. She responded quite quickly with another precious gift – the diary Frances’s daughter, Georgiana, kept. My cousin had transcribed Georgiana’s diary, adding footnotes using her research to further describe certain entries. She used Amazon to publish it as The Diary of a Southern Lady. I bought the Kindle edition for $4.99 and it is worth every penny. When reading on the Kindle, footnotes aren’t small print at the bottom of a page. Instead, the reader taps the footnote’s reference number and the text of the footnote appears in a popup window. Read it, then tap the screen and you are right back where you left off. Wow!
Instead of documenting sources, Kay used the footnote feature to present her research notes describing more detail about the person, place or event mentioned in the diary. I am barely into it and already it has answered a number of questions about this family. Finishing the book and updating my research notes will keep me busy for quite some time!
Kay’s effort is also an inspiration. We all have treasures like this tucked away in our archives. Yes, they can often be posted in online trees – each of the major genealogy archives would like nothing better. However, when scanned, transcribed and annotated into a book, they can become a true family treasure. My grandfather’s letters could become even more interesting when given more context regarding place and time. Sounds like just the project for me!
The Diary of a Southern Lady was originally published at Moultrie Creek Gazette and reprinted here with permission.
A while back there was an interesting discussion in the Technology for Genealogy group on Facebook about handling letters – scanning, transcribing and displaying them. It’s a great discussion and full of useful suggestions. Since I’m also working on a collection of letters, it’s been very helpful.
My project is a collection of letters my grandfather sent my grandmother before they got married. She came to the tiny Holland, Georgia, community to teach school in 1908. There, she met my grandfather. She was only there for one year before moving on to teach at other rural schools around Georgia. For the next five years, they corresponded – and met occasionally – until he finally convinced her to marry him in 1913. He died in 1921 so these letters and a few photos are our only connection to him.
I’m slowly scanning and transcribing the letters using Keynote, Apple’s presentation graphics app, as my publishing tool. As you can see here, each page of the letter gets its own slide with both the page’s image and its transcription. I chose Keynote because it is a very flexible platform. Each slide can be treated as a separate entity to be quickly reordered or even pulled out of one presentation file and inserted into another. Slides can be duplicated for use in other projects. I can quickly export a presentation as a PDF document, an HTML slideshow or a video. I even have the ability to export each slide as an individual image file.
Currently I’m building each letter as a separate presentation file, but as this archive grows, so do my options for creating things from them. For example, I can pull out an individual slide as a graphic image to include it as a figure in another document. I can combine several letter files – like those he sent discussing a trip to Lookout Mountain – with new and old photos to build a slideshow documentary. Add some narration and that slideshow can become a video documentary.
Keynote is my presentation app of choice, but PowerPoint, Presentations (from the WordPerfect suite) and Impress (from OpenOffice) all have much the same capabilities and would all work well for this type of project. And, if you’re looking for an online archive platform for these project files, Scribd will store and display them quite nicely. You won’t get the multimedia capabilities of the online slide-sharing platforms, but your transcriptions will be searchable.
Take another look at your presentation software. You may find it has many uses for presenting your family’s history.
My Grandfather Barker’s letters are very special treasures and like any good family historian, I’ve been digitizing them so they can be shared. In my Barker family history project, I will use some of the images but mostly as design elements. Transcribed snippets of their contents will be included in the narrative when they add to the story.
While I won’t be including the letter archive in the actual family history, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to share them. I am currently experimenting with different ideas for “publishing” the collection so others can enjoy them too. It is turning into more of a challenge than I initially expected.
Rather than just upload the individual images to a photo-sharing site like Flickr, I want to present the letters as a publication – actually as a series of publications – with a bit of narrative to provide context and connect each separate edition to the complete series. I’ll be taking the lessons learned from Miss Kate’s Autograph Book but scaling it up quite a bit.
The first challenge is size. Digital Archive 101 teaches us to scan at high resolutions and save the file using a quality file format (TIFF). This means each page of each letter is a hefty size. Now, if I just dump a bunch of huge files into a single document, what will I have? King Kong would be a child’s toy compared to this beast. Fortunately Apple’s iWork apps include a command to reduce the image size once you place it into your project. This saves me the effort of having to edit and resize each image then save it as a new file before I place it in my project.
I have chosen to use the presentation graphics app, Keynote, to present the letters. Unlike word processors’ automatic pagination trying to place my images for me, Keynote lets me place and resize my images to fit the slide without all that scrolling back an forth. [Much less aggravating.] After finding a simple theme that complements the color of the letters, I was on my way.
Dolph’s handwriting and most of the scanned pages are quite legible so I’m not planning to include transcriptions. I will include an introduction slide on each edition that provides a brief bio, the history behind these letters and which edition it is within the series. Each edition will be posted on Scribd where it can be read and/or downloaded. Of course I’ll include contact information and links to my family collection at Scribd in each edition.
Once the first edition is complete, it will become the template for all the later editions. It will also give me an idea of how many letters I can include in each. Yes, there are still many letters yet to be scanned, so this will be another of my “Living” projects – only with new editions with new content rather than revisions to an existing publication.
This article was originally published July 24, 2010.