My Family History

Surrounded by piles of photos, prints and digital, and indebted with family facts and stories, I struggle to shape it into a sensible narrative.

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Curating the family history is a challenging exercise and yet I am enthusiastic to weave it together for prosperity and for anyone who might someday wonder.

This is something that has interested me for many years and I have been on some previous fact finding missions that revealed things we didn’t know. I love to find out about our origins and the lives of our ancestors. I can name three ships that brought different branches of the family to Australia: The Hampshire, The Shand, and The Niagara. I love to see the photos of ancestors to spot the family resemblances that crop up unexpectedly.

Not a ‘scrap-booker’ by nature I think that ultimately a hand crafted personal creative book would be a beautiful result. In the meantime I have begun to do a simple storyboard using PowerPoint to set out my narrative. There are obvious important gaps that need to be filled somehow.

So I think about others in the family who have compiled remarkable genealogies that are relevant and interesting to my story. One of my father’s cousins has passed away now and I wonder where that wealth of knowledge is now. Another cousin of my husbands father must be very old now if not also passed away – where is her lovely story and impressive pedigree charts now? Another – my cousin is contactable, but that branch of the family story is well documented already, so not as pressing.

Some of the old photos are gorgeous but without captions the identities are a mystery. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ but also presents many questions; such a who, where, when, why.

This historic photo for example is of the family of Smiths who lived in Portland Victoria Australia. One of the boys is my paternal grandfather.

Smith_family_in_Portland_1920

Family members who knew them previously identified the others in the photo. A scribble on the back of a print states that this photo was taken in 1920 in Portland, just prior to the family being ‘separated’. The father and mother of this family are not in the photograph because they had both passed away. I know the story and it is a tragic tale that I will include in my personal family history when the time comes.

Meanwhile my investigations continue and I try to wrangle this precious pile of pictures into something interesting and useful.

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Happy snaps

I have just studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content through Charles Sturt University for the successful completion of the Master of Information Studies. And it has got me thinking….

All of those family photos held in a variety of forms in a variety of containers need some sorting. There are old printed photographs in photo albums and in boxes. There are digital photographs that reside in cameras, phones, devices, SD cards, CD’s, and computers. There are digital copies of photos sitting in random digital file folders on computers. And we keep producing more each day adding to the digital heap.

So now I know how to go about organising all of this stuff, I need the time to actually sit down and apply myself to the mammoth task of sorting it out.

Once I comprehend the enormity of the task I begin to ask myself – why? For what purpose? Who cares? How many photographs of wind-swept beach scenes are too many?

Then there is the question of the integrity of the captured image: if a filter is applied to an image from a Smartphone app then this should be noted in the metadata or description. But that adds another level of tedium to the task, and yet if it is not done then what does that say about the authenticity of the resulting image. Is it then art or photography? Or both?

The notion of transience emerges too when considering the purpose of such an exercise. With ease and speed of connected social media channels through smart devices, a photo shared across networks among friends and family is enjoyed for the moment, in the context of that moment, and then swept into the ever-moving stream of data creation. Sure it is still ‘there’ somewhere in the digital ether, waiting to be retrieved for future embarrassment; like a baby photo shown by smirking parents at their child’s 21st birthday party. Other than for nostalgic amusement, is there value in spending so much time and effort in sorting out the family photos for ‘the future’?

I can hear the archivists and historians stirring on their leather chairs, leaning forward, fingers cracking, ready to post a heart-felt reply. I welcome it because I need a good reason to justify this effort.

The term ‘digital dark age’ was used in Creating and Preserving Digital Content to illustrate a possible scenario where data is lost through poor preservation techniques. I get it. I wrote an essay about it, elaborately describing the scenes from the original movie version of The Time Machine, where the vacuous stares of the future Eloi people are the result of lost knowledge from crumbling pages in books left to decay.

I appreciate the words of former Prime Minister Harold Holt at the Stone Ceremony March in 1966:

We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.

danielle_susan_margaret_alice_1984And yet significant family portraits containing four females spanning four generations might be worthy of preservation for sharing amongst immediate and future family members, but how many “selfie’s” must we have to delete before we gain a representative portrait of one individual.

My thoughts are a jumble between process, content, and value. The process is complex and needs to be worked out to establish some kind of system that works and fulfills preservation standards. The content contains so many variables and raises questions about authenticity. The value is difficult to judge because it is not easy to project into the minds of some future person and decide if this image is worth the effort of the time invested in preserving it.

This article about one family’s preservation project describes some of these issues with a heart-warming narrative and a positive outcome, but concluding that it is “never done.”

My aim is to begin. I have the relevant information about how to approach the task. I have a large external hard-drive. I will gather the photos in all forms. I will start sorting, naming, describing, storing, backing-up, and hopefully one day in the future I will have some kind of result that’s purpose will be apparent.

In the words of Francis Kilvert, as quoted from this article: Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist by Richard Cox:

Why do I keep this voluminous journal? I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some record such as this.

Cox, R. J. (2009). Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist. Digital Curation: Practice, Promises & Prospects. pp. 102-109. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/2692/

The Christmas spirit

I walked through the front door and was stopped in my tracks with the silent realisation “Oh My Gosh, it’s Christmas!  I first noticed on a sideboard in the entry a knitted nativity scene. It was so cute and made by the sister of the lady who lived there. I could not imagine ever spending the time to knit little individual sheep. This house, where our Book Club was meeting for the Christmas session, met all of the criteria of a warm, cosy, festive atmosphere. There were Christmas decorations everywhere; tastefully placed. A huge artificial Christmas tree filled a corner of a warm sitting area defined by wood paneled walls, antique sideboards, comfy leather lounge chairs and a fireplace adorned with conifer sprigs.

 

Christmas in the Australian summertime is usually a stifling occasion, but on this December evening it was raining, cool and misty, transporting us to a European Christmas. We shared a buffet dinner arranged on the dining table in the best Christmas crockery. We ate, drank sparkling wine, chatted, and then settled to discuss the book: Amy Witting’s “A change in the lighting. The discussion was brief and not as in-depth as the previous discussions of other books.

 

dsc010351The next day I decided to think about my own plans for Christmas. I put up our little artificial tree, made Christmas cards and sent them, planned the meal for our family get-together, and went and bought a cute little nativity scene. It is not knitted but cute nonetheless.

 

Our shared meal will be a typical Aussie Christmas lunch with various cold meats, salads, pavlova with raspberries, plum pudding, fruit punch, lollies, beer, and wine. No doubt it will be a hot day and I will set up tables on our back verandah.

Staying connected

While on holiday touring Europe I tried to stay connected to my family via email. I found that the variables with internet facilities were as ubiquitous as the variables in bathroom plumbing. Everywhere presented different systems that needed re-negotiation.

 

Not all hotels offer a PC with internet connection. Some are free to hotel guests while others require payment, either by coin in a slot, or credit card logon. And the fees vary.

Internet shops can be found here and there, but not everywhere. Again fees vary considerably.

 

Browsers and keyboards differ from what we are used to. Software systems are usually in the language of the country and sometimes there is no address box for typing in URL’s. MS Windows is worldwide so it is easy to recognise familiar icons. A lady in Italy asked me to help her with her PC because she assumed I could understand Italian from my apparent familiarity with the Italian browser. Keyboard arrangements differ too according to the language of the country, so familiar typing habits can hinder the speed of writing an email and inevitably cost you more money. Imagine “q” for “a” and “y” for “z” and the “m” moved entirely. Finding the “@” key can prove to be a challenge every time.

 

Deqr familz,

It is Summer in Europe so the weqther is hot qnd sunnz. We hqve seen the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chqpel, the stqtue of Dqvid qnd the Monq Lisq.

Be home soon.

Xxx

 

 

 

 

 

I managed to send and receive emails in Engelberg, Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris and London. Accessing Facebook was not always possible, but I updated when I could. Hearing news from Australia on TV or in the newspapers is almost non-existent. We Australians do not rate in the world’s thinking. Even world weather reports ignore us altogether. I think this is a good thing though and hope it remains that way. “Where the bloody hell are you?” spoken by a young Aussie lady in a television commercial for tourism, wondering where all the tourists are, could be more accurately expressed by most residents of the Northern Hemisphere when asked about Australia.