Stories in Sepia

‘History’ at High School bored me. Learning about old kings on the other side of the world felt so removed from my young life that I quickly grew to loathe history classes. The teacher did not help to bring life or relevance to the content….yawn!

But as an adult my interest in history has developed from reading books like: Into the blue: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before by Tony Horwitz (also known as Blue Latitudes); Beethoven’s hair; an extraordinary historical odyssey and a scientific mystery solved by Russell Martin; and other books where historical stories and facts are given further relevance and detail through a contemporary lens.

Delving into my own family history over many years has drawn me in and I am now intrigued by the many lives that were lived before – people who are now dead and buried. A grim description; but yesterday I discovered a podcast titled Dead and Buried that “showcases underground history and true crime from the streets of Melbourne.” It is part of the Melbourne Ear Buds Network.

“Dead & Buried is a podcast about Melbourne history for people who don’t yet realise they like Melbourne history.”

This podcast series is well presented and edited by Lee Hooper, Phoebe Wilkens, Carly Godden, and Robin Waters. The additional comments by others provide credibility, depth and interest to the stories. I am really enjoying listening to these vignettes of days gone by and hope they release series two soon.

My own family history has grown in recent months with the help of the My Heritage software and the Ancestry Library Edition database. The My Heritage app is easy to use and free to a point. Putting in your own family tree is very easy and then ‘matches’ are found to link with others who have provided research in linking trees. Some of this requires payment, but the wealth of information that can be seen is amazing and has enriched my own research and legacy scrapbook.

Photos in particular can be seen and while it is important to make sure the photo is correctly assigned to the right person, these images are real treasure. Unfortunately I did find two photos of my paternal grandparents incorrectly assigned to others in the previous generation who happened to have the same first names. I tried to contact the person who placed the images into Ancestry but it went to a broken link. Most probably the person does not use the account anymore. It is a shame to see this kind of error published as fact, especially when I know it is incorrect. Once checked and validated though these sepia images are gorgeous and give beautiful illustration to my family history.

Smith_wedding_corrected

From left: Standing; Euphemia, Margaret, Alexander, Jeanie, Helen, Catherine. Seated; Lily, Jeanie (Granny), Daisy (possibly taken at Penshurst Victoria)

Some years ago I had been shown an enlarged photo of a family wedding in Penshurst Victoria. It is a beautiful scene, with the stern matriarch sitting centre surrounded by family, with the women wearing gorgeous ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ style dresses. I had always wanted a copy of this image but it eluded me, until recently. I found a labelled version amongst some old files of my parents. So I had it all this time without realising. The stern matriarch Jeanie Fleming Smith sitting in the centre is my great great grandmother if my family research is correct. Jeanie is my great grandmother I believe. I will need to refer back to my tree to confirm the details and find a date.

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Beyond the story

Janelle McCulloch wrote the book, Beyond the rock: the life of Joan Lindsay and the mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock. While it is a biography about the life of Joan Lindsay, it is also an inquiry into the writing of Joan’s mysterious novel Picnic at hanging rock.

Beyond_the_Rock

 

I invited Janelle to be a guest speaker at our library and she gave an energetic and riveting talk about this topic to an audience of spellbound people. From the moment she entered the room, Janelle was talking, and she didn’t pause for an hour and probably could have continued. People were slow to leave, wanting more.

As a perennial mystery embedded in Australian culture, the mystery behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, tantalizes us with the need to be solved. In Joan’s original unpublished forward to the novel:

            “…the story is entirely true.”

Janelle teased us who were in the room with the possibility of another book that does indeed reveal the truth. Her journalistic nose having uncovered parts of the story that, according to people who lived and live around Hanging Rock, “everyone knew”. We all responded with enthusiastic urging that she must indeed write it. How often does that happen to authors who are not J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or George R. R. Martin?

The process of journalistic research is of great interest to me, as I love doing that myself. I know the addiction of a good detective hunt. Genealogists know this well. Janelle prompted us to get to work as:

            “Everyone has a story that needs to be told.

So feeling enthused and having procrastinated long enough about getting my own family story curated, I started. I had already created a storyboard of sorts using PowerPoint. So I purchased a large sketchbook and a scrapbooking kit. I set up a space where I have all the photos nearby in boxes and photo albums and on file.

It is apparent from the moment I begin where the gaps are, so many photos missing. Do they even exist? Does someone have the ones I need? I phoned my husbands aunt not remembering how old she must be. We had a nice conversation and she agreed to look to see what she had. Yesterday I received an envelope with some gorgeous old photos of my mother-in-law and her sister, and their mother, and my husband’s parents. And there was an image of my husband’s late eldest brother as a 3 year old. His family didn’t have photos of themselves or their children; unlike my own father who was a bit of a photography geek.

Isabel_and_Val

As thrilled, as I am to receive these photos, there are still gaps. I have not found a photo of my husband’s maternal grandfather – Arthur William Duncalfe. Using the library member’s subscription to Ancestry, I have found the certificates online that give the details of his birth and death, but no photos. I have even located a passport photo of his father Arthur Gregory Duncalfe as he emigrated from the USA to Australia.

So as I restock the glue sticks and refill the printer ink, the hunt continues.

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.

Instagram Magic

A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Who said that I wonder? A quick and dirty Google search tells me that it is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard who published a piece in 1921, commending the effectiveness of graphics in advertising. Imagine what he would have to say in this connected multimedia world.

This is a picture of me and a friend at the age of about three.

Carlina and Susan 1963

Carlina and Susan 1963

I am the one crying. The other cherub is clearly enjoying the moment. I remember this incident and why I was crying. I didn’t want my photo taken. I didn’t know what having my “photo taken” meant. I didn’t like being forced to have this done. The photographer was the father of the happy girl, our neighbour, a school principal, and a huge bear of a man, of whom I was frightened. So it was a traumatic experience for me as a small child and I remember it well.

I have never liked having my photo taken since. I am not photogenic, nor fit the popular notion of what is attractive. So I don’t take many #selfies. And I don’t often post them to social media. I prefer to be at the other end of the camera lens.

On Instagram I am @queuingforbliss. This nom de plume originated in my pursuit to find beauty in my life. This began with a blog I created titled French Accent where I was trying to define what that pursuit for beauty really meant for me. It led to a trip to Europe in 2008 with my husband. We would queue gladly and expectantly to see master works of art and architecture: Michelangelo’s Statue of David in Florence Italy; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at Le Louvre in Paris; the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome; Le Tour Eiffel; and much much more. And I remember sitting in the town square in Beaune France cocooned in a cloud of bliss, feeling like I was in love, realising I had indeed found my bliss. Back in Australia the challenge for me has always been to find that je ne sais quoi here at home. My quest is a daily one that persists. Instagram helps.

I love Instagram. I love the immediacy of being able to see moments around our world as they happen and through the eyes of others. I appreciate the transient nature of this experience. There is no need to archive. I love that it represents a snapshot of our world moment by moment and we get to share that with everyone. I don’t see the point of locking down this social media tool as a private domain. The joy is in the shared experience.

I have always responded well to visual stimulation. Like many people I love colour and beauty. I love this Earth. I love detail, patterns, texture, art, landscapes, still-life images, shapes, and design. I don’t mind if the image has been enhanced with filters or other software applications. The detail is in the eye of the creator of the image, and if it is an image that stimulates further artistic creativity, then that is a perfectly reasonable aspect of this creative stimulation that Instagram inspires.

Some people have a natural eye for detail and capture excellent snapshots. Others have a gift for photography and some earn a living as photographers and it is good to see those on Instagram too. And while I enjoy following National Geographic @natgeo@nasa and other organisations, it is the everyperson daily snaps that seem to carry the most interest for me. I don’t like sales on Instagram or personal promotion, and if it is a key component of the content then I will unfollow that person.

Instagram offers food for the soul.

Some of the Instagrammers I love to follow (in no particular order) are:

Using SlideShare

I have been using SlideShare for many years now as it is a perfect tool for presentations, showing people how to do things, and explaining concepts – on the run. Of course this list is not a complete list of my presentations to date, as I have presented others for a purpose, but not for public access.

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Each presentation here served a specific purpose and was created at a particular moment in time. So you might notice that some of the online tools explained no longer exist or have developed into a slightly different version.

Here is a list of my presentations in order of date creation:

  1. How to create a wiki (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide to show school teachers how to create an online platform for collaborative class assignment work. To date: 112757 views; 928 downloads; 5 comments; and 34 likes.
  2. How to create a wiki using PBWiki2 (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide when changes were made by the PBWiki team. To date: 3337 views; 38 downloads.
  3. Blogs and RSS in 2009 (2009). Subscribing to RSS feeds is a perfect tool to assist people to refine their information needs from the Internet. It can be a little technical to describe and set up. I gave a talk on this topic back in 2005 to a group of librarians but the tool being used then was Bloglines. In 2009 it amazed me how few people still knew how to use this technique, so I created this presentation to explain why you would want to do it, and how to set it up. Unfortunately Google Reader ceased to exist in 2013, so other RSS readers are required. I now use Feedly and sync this with my mobile phone. To date: 978 views; 4 downloads.
  4. Photos by Susan Bentley (2009). I love taking photos and wanted to collate and share a few of my best shots. To date: 2255 views; 61 downloads.
  5. Social media considerations for local government (2013).  I was part of a team considering and creating a social media policy and procedure for the local government organisation where I was employed. This presentation I created to help explain the situation to other employees. To date: 442 views.
  6. Presentations in Second Life (2013). In 2013 as part of my Masters studies I studied the subject Social Media for Information Professionals. Part of this work requirement was that we visited the Charles Sturt University campus of Jokaydia in Second Life to meet others and watch some presentations of work by students from another subject. To date: 184 views.
  7. Social media for our organisation (2013). Again as part of the training roll-out of online social media use for the organisation where I worked, this presentation offered more information on the topic. To date: 139 views.
  8. Personal digitisation plan (2013). I studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content for my Masters studies, and needed to formulate my own plan of attack for my own collection of photos. To date: 177 views.
  9. Daring greatly (2013). I enjoyed watching the inspirational talks by Brené Brown on TED, and used the words from her manifesto to inspire the team I led at Glenelg Libraries. I matched these words with some photos I had taken of the local area, then edited using Instagram. To date: 226 views; 2 downloads.
  10. Library Trek (2013). I was invited to give a talk about contemporary public libraries to the Red Cross Conference held in Casterton and these are the slides from that talk. I was well aware that the audience mainly consisted of elderly women who have very little experience or knowledge with technology, and yet I wanted to try to give them an idea about the possibilities for them in the online world – and how their local library could help them. Feedback from some of the people there said that it was the least boring talk of the day. Obviously without the speech notes these slides don’t tell you much. To date: 82 views.

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/

Foto Viva

A picture tells a thousand words.” But these days with easy photo editing software freely available to all novice photographers, how authentic is that image?

Nevertheless I relate more to images than text. I love to create images and have been taking photos for many years as an infrequent hobby. You can see some of my best unedited photos here.

My beloved multi-functioning iPod allows me to take photos then with a smorgasbord of free apps I can edit to my heart’s content creating my own little works of art.

Wind Farm

 

   
   
   Lion of Lucerne
 Le Pont d'Avignogne  
   
 Swiss morning  

What fun! Now I would tell you which application I used to  create each image, if I could remember, but I got so carried away with using  the tools that I lost track. I can tell you what photo editing applications I  have on my iPod though and they are these:

I tend to use the Free versions of these apps but if you  want to delve further into the detail there are more features available in the fuller  versions available for purchase. A great resource that covers these and others  with amazing examples and instructions is iPhone Obsessed : Photo Editing Experiments with Apps by DanMarcolina. Thanks Dan.