Category Archives: Musings

Decisions, Decisions

Posted in 52 Ancestors Challenge, Musings on by .
I need to decide which way to go with this...

I need to decide which way to go with this…

I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to write this post. I was hoping that I was imagining things, but I know that I’m not.

You might have noticed two things here on No Story Too Small. First, I haven’t been posting anything except the weekly 52 Ancestors recap. (And in the last several weeks that I was posting something other than the recap, the only topic was my ancestor for that week.) Second, I’ve been routinely “late” with posting that recap. My self-imposed goal of posting it on Wednesday morning slipped into Wednesday evening and then Thursday…  Well, here it is Thursday night and, to be honest, I haven’t even started the recap.

I hate the idea of not doing the weekly recap. A lot of you have told me that you look forward to it every week and that you enjoy reading all of the stories that people post. I do, too! Several of you have even made connections with cousins you didn’t know you had before. (Me, too!)

But I also know that the recap takes several hours each week. I have a full-time job and several volunteer projects that I have obligations to. I have enjoyed putting together the first 26 recaps (well, 24 if you don’t count the two weeks I was on vacation and had people leave links in the comments). But as much as I’ve enjoyed it, it has absolutely consumed my available blogging time.

I hate the decision that I think I’m going to have to make.

I’m posting this not to elicit sympathy, but to be honest with all of you — my readers and the contributors to the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge — and to let you know that there may not be any more weekly recaps as they have been.

Is It Time To Drop Your Society?

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On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

On 24 May 2014, the Ohio Historical Society will be renamed Ohio History Connection.

The Ohio Historical Society has announced that as of 24 May 2014, it will change its name to “Ohio History Connection.” Why? According to Executive Director Burt Logan, “There’s a disconnect between the quality of services we’re providing and the image, hinging on the name.” (Columbus Dispatch, 21 April 2014.) The name “Ohio Historical Society” is seen by the public as stodgy and antiquated.

I am a long-time member of and researcher at the Ohio Historical Society. I cut my research teeth at OHS. I researched a huge chunk of my senior thesis there. I did an internship there when I was an undergrad. It is a facility that is near and dear to my heart. So it took me awhile to muse about this name change. After mulling it over, I have to say that I agree with their decision.

What’s In a Name?

If you’re trying to reach a younger crowd and tap into new audiences (those who don’t self-identify as “historians” or “history buffs”), you’re not going to get very far if you first have to overcome the hurdle of a stodgy name. Though it is cliché, you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s hard to have the opportunity to show someone — let alone convince them — that you’re relevant to their interests if they can’t get past your name.

There’s another problem with having a name that’s off-putting. People don’t want to be associated with a group whose name they have issues with. I’ve experienced this myself. I love science and there’s a page on Facebook that shares awesome photos and fun science facts. But I’m not going to “like” the page because of its name: “I F***ing Love Science.” (Yes, replace the asterisks with the appropriate letters and you have the name of the page.) I can’t see myself sharing their photos and have it say, “Amy shared I F***ing Love Science’s photo.”

Though it isn’t as extreme, it isn’t hard to imagine people who would say, “Historical society? I don’t want to be a part of an old fogies’ group like that.”

hurdlesA Hurdle to Clear

Let’s think of this in terms of genealogy. I remember a few years ago talking to someone about attending the Ohio Genealogical Society’s annual conference. I was going on and on about some of the speakers I was looking forward to hearing and some of the vendors I wanted to buy from. She said, “Oh, that sounds great! Too bad I can’t go since I’m not a member.” I had to explain to her that the conference was open to anyone who paid the registration fee.

She saw “society” and thought “members-only.” The name “Ohio Genealogical Society” was a hurdle she had to clear in order to even consider trying to access it.

How many people see the word “society” in the name of your favorite genealogy organization and think that it’s stodgy or that there’s nothing for them since they aren’t a member?

Walk the Walk

Dropping the word “society” from your name isn’t going to automatically bring in tons of new, young members. It isn’t going to bring in groups that don’t instantly identify with genealogy. Having an accessible name is just part of talking the talk. You also have to walk the walk.

Maybe the group really is stodgy. Maybe it really doesn’t offer anything to non-members. Maybe it hasn’t embraced technology and how it can further the group’s mission. If so, no name change is going to overcome that.

You can take an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group and wrap it in a new name — but you’ll still have an old, tired, broken-down, stuffy group. Conversely, you can have a group that is doing amazing things, but with the wrong name, it could be creating unnecessary hurdles for people to get to know them.

I know that genealogy societies can be awesome, and you (hopefully) know that genealogy societies can be awesome. But does the person who isn’t completely obsessed with family history know that? Could the name itself be part of the problem for reaching new people and new audiences?

I don’t think a name change alone will cure all of the ills facing so many of our societies today. But I do think that it warrants taking a look at. How about you? What’s your experience?

Of Genealogy and UFOs. (It’s Not What You Think)

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Harold Henderson has me thinking again. If you’re not familiar with Harold and his blog “Midwestern Microhistory,” I highly suggest you add it to your “must read” list. He is always digging up neat resources and giving his views on a variety of genealogy and history-related topics.

His post “Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000” got me thinking about a couple of things. First, there was the reminder that I really do need to do something with the piles and files that have overtaken my office. I like his 10-minutes-at-a-time approach, though it is going to take me lots of “10 minutes” to make meaningful progress. But it’s his last sentence that really got me thinking:

“If it’s not worth writing up, it’s not worth researching in the first place.”

I wanted to agree. It seems like such a good rallying cry, especially to someone like me who encourages others to write down their stories and their research. But after mulling it over, grabbing another cup of coffee, and mulling it over some more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t agree.


A current UFO.

Part of my beading tray with a current UFO.

In the craft world, a UFO is an UnFinished Object. (Believe me, it’s a concept I’m well acquainted with!) It’s that scarf that you never finished knitting or the bracelet you never finished beading. It’s the necklace that you still need to put the clasp on.

UFOs are annoying. They take up space. They taunt us with their unfinished-ness.

And I don’t regret any of mine.

This little bit of beading shown in the picture is one of my current UFOs. (Yes, I have more than one. I told you it’s a concept I’m well-acquainted with!) Honestly, it’s probably going to stay a UFO. I’m not happy with the tension I used, nor am I particularly pleased with how the brown and gold beads look together.

Genealogical UFOs and Their Value

Research that you haven’t written is a genealogical UFO. You’ve done a lot of work with that research, but you haven’t completed the final step: writing it down.

Even though I’m not going to complete that brown and gold bracelet, I learned a lot while working on it. I learned that I need to keep my tension a bit tighter while doing that particular stitch. I learned that I don’t like those two beads together. I learned that if I do this again, I need a way to attach a clasp that isn’t going to be all lopsided. I also relaxed while I was working on it, which was probably good for my health.

It’s the same with the research that I’ve done but haven’t written. I learned a lot while doing it. I learned about different records and resources and how they fit together. I learned how to read documents and what certain words and phrases meant. And I relaxed while I was working on it, which was also probably good for my health :)

Some of my genealogical UFOs also led to other research. Some of that, I have written about. (One even turned into my senior honors thesis in college.)

Let’s Be Clear

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t write about our research. I think everyone should! Write about it how ever you want to — an article, a blog, a book, a series of photos on Flickr or Instagram, a PowerPoint, an iMovie. (You get the idea.) I firmly and passionately believe that turning your research into something more than your notes is the best way to preserve it for future generations.

I’m just not willing to say that research that you don’t write isn’t worth starting. There’s too much to be gained by those genealogical UFOs.

Why Don’t I Do This More Often?

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A few weeks ago, I mused about recording family stories and how we need to just do it. Thegenealogygirl took the message to heart and flew to Spokane, Washington just to interview her grandma and other family members. In her “Trip Report in Brief,” she poses the question, “Why don’t I do this more often?”

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958

Mom at the Mackinaw Bridge, 1958. We’ve been going to that area for vacation for years.

Indeed, why don’t any of us do it more often?

Sometimes a blogger participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks will ask me if it’s ok to skip a week or they will apologize for a post being “so short.” (I’ve been guilty of that one!) My response is always the same: Write what you can. Anything you write is more than what you had before.

It’s the same with our stories. Any story you capture — however you capture it — is more than what you had before.

Just Go Do It. Now.

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RootsTech 2014 focused heavily on story. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, told us in her keynote that oral history can be lost in just three generations, if not passed down in a deliberate way.

Three generations.

The name of this blog is “No Story Too Small.” I firmly believe that no story is too small to be recorded and to be cherished. I wish I knew the answers to Judy’s questions. I wish I knew if my great-grandfather could swim or what my great-grandmother’s favorite toy was.

You might be like me and keep saying, “Yeah, I really need to <x>.” Interview parents and other relatives. Label the photographs. Write down some stories.

We know we should. We know we need to. Yet, we don’t.

We allow ourselves to fall into the trap of telling ourselves that we’re too busy. We allow ourselves to think that the task is too big. We allow ourselves to think that we don’t know how or that we don’t know where to start.

We allow ourselves to be complacent.

We have to stop that. Now.

Grandma Johnson was the keeper of the stories in our family.

Grandma Johnson was the keeper of the stories in our family. She was also a good cook.

We’ve all seen the sad reminders of how short life truly is. I lost a cousin last fall; he had been ill for years, but his death was actually sudden and unexpected. Todd Hansen of BYUtv’s “Story Trek” told about a man he interviewed and got his life story; the man died the next day. A good friend of mine lost his father earlier this week.

Those losses seem to happen to someone else. Until they happen to us. And they will happen to us.

The task of recording your family’s stories may seem monumental. The key is to start. That’s all. Just start. But you have to do it, and you have to do it now.

So stop reading this post and go do something about it right now. Go call a relative and ask what was their favorite birthday present ever. Pick up a photograph and label it. Write down how you learned how to drive. It doesn’t matter what you do or what format it takes — just go do it. (As soon as I publish this, I’m going to email this photo to my sisters to see if they remember what the occasion was that they were cooking with Grandma.)

Seriously. I mean it. Stop reading this and go do something about your family’s stories. Right now.

What the Little Drummer Boy Can Teach Us About Genealogy

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“The Little Drummer Boy” seems to be one of those songs that you either love or hate. (I’ll be up front with you — it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Except the Pentatonix version. That one… not so much.) No matter how you feel about the song, I think there is an important genealogical lesson we can take away from it: Don’t read into a record things that aren’t there.

Some of the arguments that I’ve heard against “The Little Drummer Boy” revolve around the song’s setting. Mary and baby Jesus were still in the stable and the little drummer boy plays his drum as a gift for the baby. If we read the song’s lyrics, we can get a better understanding of what was going on. Here are some common arguments and what the lyrics have to say:

What mother wants to listen to drumming right after giving birth?
Where does it say she had just given birth? Yes, she’s still in the stable (as evidenced by “the ox and lamb kept time”), but it could have been several hours or even the next day. (Plus, I’m guessing that Mary had more patience than most mothers, but I’ll stick to what’s in the lyrics.)

Why would a shepherd boy have a drum?
The song doesn’t say or even infer that he’s a shepherd. He’s identified only as “a poor boy.” (People arguing this point might be confusing the song lyrics with the story told in the Rankin/Bass tv special, where the Little Drummer Boy has a lamb. However, even in the tv show, he wasn’t a shepherd.)

Snare drum. Photo by Stephan Czuratis (Jazz-face). Used under Creative Commons license.

Snare drum. Photo by Stephan Czuratis (Jazz-face). Used under Creative Commons license.

Seriously, I can’t get past this whole thing of drumming for a baby.
This is probably the most common argument. When we think of drumming, we tend to think of snare drums (like the one shown at right). They are usually played with drumsticks and tend to be rather loud.

But what do we know about the drummer boy? He’s poor. His drum is most likely a piece of hide stretched over a bowl or a short section of a hollow tree limb. The drummer boy is also little; chances are, his drum isn’t very big, either. In other words, this isn’t a drum that going to make him sound like Neil Peart. (If you’re not familiar with Neil Peart of Rush, or even if you are, watch this video beginning at the  3:15 mark.)

As for its appropriateness, Mary knew what she was getting into with this gift. (“Shall I play for you on my drum…  Mary nodded… “) And think about that for a moment. The drummer boy knew this was a gift that might not be well-received. He played his best. This doesn’t necessarily mean loud. (Ask a musician — playing softly is often much harder.) It obviously went well. (“Then He smiled at me…  me and my drum… “)

Honestly, having someone play a drum wasn’t on my top-10 list of things to receive when I had a newborn. But if we read the lyrics, we can get a better picture of the setting in which the Little Drummer Boy played for Mary and baby Jesus.

Which brings me back to genealogy. It’s easy to read something into a record something that isn’t there. Perhaps we are coloring it with our modern sensibilities. Perhaps we are jumping to conclusions that aren’t fully founded. Reading the record without reading too much into it will help your research.

You still might not like “The Little Drummer Boy,” but you can still apply the lesson of carefully reading a record and not reading things into it.

I Have No Memories of JFK, and Why That Matters

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President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

All this week, people have been asking the question “Where were you when you heard Kennedy was killed?” Mom was at home. Dad had the later shift at his service station and was getting ready for work. The milkman (yes, the milkman) had just stopped at the house, making his delivery, when the news broke on TV. Mom and Dad invited the milkman in to watch the news with them. Mom remembers Walter Cronkite breaking down when he announced that the President was dead..

As for me, I have no memories of it. Not because I was too young to remember. I wasn’t born yet.

I’m used to being the youngest in the crowd. I’m the youngest in my family. I’m the youngest of my grandparents’ grandchildren. I was among the youngest in my high school graduating class. Until a few years ago, I was always the youngest in a gathering of genealogists. I’m used to the discussions that revolve around events that I missed. (“Remember that time we <blank>? Oh, that’s right. You weren’t born yet.” Sometimes, I think my sisters enjoy those conversations a little bit too much 😉 )

People have expressed almost sadness that I missed this key event in the nation’s history. On the one hand, it would be interesting to be able to carry on a conversation comparing notes of “where were you.” But on the other hand, there are lots of key events that I — and a lot of my friends — have missed. Pearl Harbor. The 1929 Stock Market Crash. Lincoln’s Assassination. Fort Sumter. The Treaty of Ghent. Washington’s first inauguration. Lexington and Concord.

I look at my great-niece and great-nephews and realize that events that I do remember vividly — things like the space shuttle Challenger and 9/11 — are things they they will only hear about from others. They have no memory of them.

So why does it matter that I have no memory of JFK? Because others do, and they need to record those memories for those of use who don’t. And for others like me who don’t have those memories, we need to record our “where I was” stories for the key events in our lives, so that the youngsters of today — and those yet to be born — will know.