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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Tech Tuesday: Back to School and Time for Roll Call

    The day after Labor Day is traditionally the first day of school in many parts of the country, but as a former high school teacher, the only homework for The Family Curator today is to welcome readers and take attendance!

    In recent months, I’ve noticed a marked decrease in comment interaction throughout the genealogy blogging community. Is it that posts are less stimulating? Did the blog feed get lost in updates and moves? Or has Twitter replaced the old comment box as the preferred way to respond?

    Several bloggers have noted the decrease in comments in proportion to the increase in Twitter activity. And as much as I enjoy the immediate action of Twitter conversations, I miss the longevity of a blog comment. Sometimes I learn as much from comments as I do from articles.

    Today’s Homework

    What do you think? Do you Tweet? Has Twitter impacted your commenting activity? We are taking Roll Call at The Family Curator and asking for your input – are you out there Reader? Please, leave a comment and let’s tally the results.


    Penny Dreadful Writes Again at Shades of the Departed, “Returning to the School of Life”

    Prompted to pull out her typewriter once again by a curious photograph from footnoteMaven’s archive at Shades of the Departed, Miss Penelope Dreadful has brought forward yet another tale of tragic drama, hope, and redemption.

    The story of young college student, Gareth Scriven, struggling to overcome his grief after the untimely death of his beloved older brother will bring tears to your eyes and a sob to your breast. Yet, ever mindful that the human condition will seek solace at last, Miss Dreadful finds hope for Gareth in the correspondence of a very young teacher in a western town.

    Visit Shades of the Departed today to read the Gareth’s thrilling story in “Returning Back to the School of Life.”


    Tech Tuesday: Why Every Family Needs a Blog

    People say California doesn’t have seasons; but natives know that isn’t true. Like every other region, we too have four seasons – Fire, Flood, Drought, and Earthquake. And once again, it’s Fire Season in Southern California. Right now, the San Gabriel foothills are burning and flames are visible from the long view up my street. Smoke hangs heavy in the air, made worse by our famous L.A. Basin inversion layer, and over 6,000 homes have now been evacuated.

    My home is probably out of the danger zone for this fire, but only two years ago my sister and her family spent two weeks out of their home in Silverado Canyon when another blaze forced the evacuation of hundreds in their little community.

    silverado-livesYou may not live under the threat of California wildfires, but you probably have other potential natural disasters hovering nearby. Maybe you live in tornado or hurricane country, maybe your region is frequently flooded, or maybe you just like to be Boy Scout Prepared for any contingency.

    Using a family blog to stay in touch during an emergency is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to communicate. When the fire started in my sister’s neighborhood, she quickly found that she didn’t have time to deal with scores of phone calls from worried friends. In a very short time, however, I was able to set up a family blog at Blogger where we could both post updates about the situation as a communication center for people who wanted to send her family their good wishes.

    What makes a family blog different from a genealogy blog, or another type of blog or website? It all depends on your purpose. I won’t go into the specifics of how to set up a blog here; Geneabloggers has done an excellent job in their Blog Primer, and Blogger makes it easy, easy for first-timers. Instead, here are some things to think about when starting a family blog --

    Purpose – Do you need a short-term blog intended as a News Center for a specific event, disaster, or crisis? This could be anything from a family reunion, to a natural disaster, to a serious illness. Or are you setting up a permanent family blog which will be available in the event of an emergency? Perhaps you already have a family blog, but you are thinking about how you might handle an event where special communication was needed. Consider a link from your permanent family blog to another special blog. Do think about your purpose, and plan accordingly.

    Access – Who do you want to read your blog? If you need to communicate with close friends and family about a seriously ill family member or even a new baby, you may want to restrict access with a password. If you want to act as a News Center for any and everyone you may want to leave all access public.

    Expertise – What’s your Geek-Ability? If you already have a special-interest blog and are comfortable in writing and posting, you will be able to put together a special-needs blog quickly and confidently. On the other hand, if you are completely new to the blogosphere, you may want to go slowly at first by using Blogger or another full-feature platform. Whatever you do, make it easy on yourself. This isn’t the time to challenge your tech skills. It’s all about the information.

    Privacy – Along with access, privacy is paramount. If the public has access to what you write and you may be evacuated from your home, maintain some level of privacy. Do not post your street address; avoid using full names; be wary of announcing when and where you will be. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Your friends know who you are, and first names or nicknames let them know what is going on.

    Name – Choose a blog name that is easy to remember, to spell, and to communicate. Spread the word. Every comment from a friend is one less phone call to handle. Mostly, folks want to say “We care,” blog comments are a great forum for this.

    Description – Include a short profile description that identifies the purpose for the blog.

    Blog Authors – If possible, ask someone to be your co-author. Many days my sis was exhausted and too emotional to describe her current situation. Later, the blog served as a place for her to share her thoughts and then to thank friends for their prayers and good wishes.

    Post Frequently – Especially if the purpose of your blog is for communication, make it your goal to keep it updated frequently. Friends and family will turn to the blog if they know they can find current information. During the Silverado fires, I found local sites that provided fire maps, evacuation orders, and press releases. By extracting information pertinent to my sister’s neighborhood, I was able to keep the blog updated with the fire status.

    Remote Posting and Social Networking – Veteran bloggers know that there’s more than one way to post a blog article or photo. By setting up a blog before you really really need it, you will give yourself the time to learn how to send posts from your cell phone, and how to incorporate social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook updates with your family blog.

    KISS – Keep It Sweet and Simple. Remember the Purpose and try not to get sidetracked with fancy widgets or images. Focus on information first.

    Most importantly, don’t wait for disaster to set up a Family Blog. Get one going now and use it for holiday greetings or family gatherings; Be Prepared.

    More on Family Blogs:


    New Member for Midge’s Couch Potato Club

    It’s Fire Season in Southern California – scorching hot, smoky, and sooty – which means instead of enjoying the famous California sunshine, we are trying to stay cool and calm indoors. Last week Midge Frazel posted Couch Potato Family History at Granite in My Blood, her latest find in the genealogy mystery genre, The Blood Detective The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell. She even posted images of her Twitter conversation with the author. Quite impressive.

    Okay, Midge, I’ll see you one and raise you two (volumes) – have you discovered one of my very favorite genealogy mysteries, Bloodline (Natasha Blake, Ancestor Detective, Book 2) by Fiona Mountain? Natasha Blake is a professional genealogist in England who finds out "research is murder." I don't think it's available for the Kindle, alas. For instant gratification via wireless download I also like Mansions of the Dead (Sweeney St. George Mystery)  by Sarah Stewart Taylor. Her protagonist is an art history professor who specializes in mourning jewelry and spends a lot of time in cemeteries. Sound familiar! Maybe you can add to the list!


    Preserving a Harvest of Cookbooks

    Today I have spent some time “putting up” my cookbook collection. Somehow, my lonely little shelf of bridal books has grown to fill more than twenty linear feet of bookshelves (yep, I just measured). That’s a lot of recipes!

    bjsSHOP I never thought much about this “collection” until last spring when I wandered into Bonnie Slotnik Cookbooks in Greenwich Village, New York City. I stepped into her cozy little shop filled to the brim with cookbooks and retro decorative cooking gear, and I felt like I had come home. Bonnie was scrunched into her corner desk chatting with a friend who had stopped by and they both stopped to welcome me.

    I was speechless as I looked around, but her response to my first question really made me stop and think.

    “I have a problem,” I confessed. “I have too many cookbooks.”

    The women looked at each other, then at me, “Why is that a problem?”

    And here I had been feeling pressured to down-size and whittle down my books. What freedom! It was the “Ah-ha” moment when the world shifts. Suddenly, I went from being the Owner of Too Many Cookbooks to rebirth as a Cookbook Collector. It was fabulous.

    Shifting gears to my new identify wasn’t hard at all. Bonnie queried me as to my interests – preserving, community cookbooks, Jello recipes, holidays – and helped me find a few new volumes to add to my Collection. As I browsed her shelves admiring the books and whimsical 60’s timers and gadgets, she told me that the set designers had come to her for props for the new film Julie and Julia. She was excited that she was able to purchase many of the set props when the filming was complete, hence the generous selection and great window display.

    I also noticed that her books were all carefully protected by clear book jackets, and made a note to put that task on my To Do List. When I came home, I ordered a package of assorted sized book jackets from Brodart Archival Supplies. The clear covers are easy to put on the books and provide support as well as protection for the paper dust jacket.

    My plans don’t include covering every book in my collection, but I am trying to preserve copies that are sentimental favorites or that have increased in value. No, I don’t have Julia Child’s first edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I do have my mother-in-law’s gift to me at my bridal shower, Woman’s Glory, The Kitchen. If that’s not a keeper, I don’t know what is.


    Great California Garage Sale This Weekend, August 28-29

    Do you love a tag sale? Step on the brakes for an auction? Mark your calendar for August 28-29 when the State of California holds The Great California Garage Sale in Sacramento. Of course, California is automobile country, so it is only fitting that this sale to “benefit” the State is named a “garage” sale rather than the East Coast “tag sale.”

    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared war on state government waste, and announced today that several surplus items, including some personally signed by the Governator, will be offered for sale on eBay and Craigslist as a pre-sale to the Saturday and Sunday Garage Sale. Even more items, from vehicles to video cameras, from ballpoint pens to bookends, will be for sale at the actual garage sale in Sacramento.

    Now, if only this sale could retire some of the California deficit so we could cash our tax refund vouchers!


    Tech Tuesday: Get a Grip on Email

    Amy Coffin at We Tree has decided Time Management: Too Much of a Good Thing after a ProGen assignment in analyzing personal productivity showed her that she was almost too good at getting things done, to the point of never allowing herself a break. This morning, when I opened my email program and found 1965 messages in my Inbox I felt myself wishing I had just a bit of more of her discipline.

    Today is the day I get a grip on my email. In typical researcher-style, I Google “email” which leads me to Merlin Mann at 43 Folders and his forthcoming book Inbox Zero. As a superhero of tech time management, Merlin fights Inbox glut with a simple, straightforward system aimed at keeping your Inbox absolutely empty.

    You can watch his presentation on a Google video, or read posts in the Inbox Zero series at his project website. The idea is to “process” email, rather than to “check” email, and to take action so that it doesn’t accumulate. I’ve used my Inbox as a filing cabinet for so long that the notion of seeing it empty and forlorn is a bit scary, but I think I might be able to get used to the idea that I was “in charge” of the box instead of the other way around.

    In fact as much as I like his idea of using five key actions to handle email, even better I like the notion of extending the idea to cutting down the tall stack of papers on my desk. It’s just “advanced common sense” as he says, but it is a system I can use.

    So, how to get a grip on 1965 messages; I’m going to follow Merlin’s advice and move every last message into the Email DMZ. I’ll work forward with new messages and spend some time each day weeding out the old ones until I can reach Inbox Zero status. I might even start on the stack of papers on my desk.


    How Did They Survive the Dog Days of August? Remembering Summer on the Farm with No Computer, No Internet, No WiFi – A Tech Tuesday Post

    No new gadget reviews or tech tips this week, folks. Instead, a reflection on surviving the Dog Days of August without computer, cell phone, or internet; and a memory of a few days spent on a cotton farm.

    I’ve been reviewing old posts with an eye for topics I missed and would still like to feature, and the title of one article jumped out at me today, Sometimes Low-Tech Is Just Fine. Low-tech life. . . no tv, no computer, no air conditioning! It’s hot and dry in Southern California, school hasn’t started yet, traffic is lighter as Angelenos cram in a few more weeks of vacation in other places. . . it’s the Dog Days.

    What a funny name. When I was younger, I thought the term referred to the heat – canine panting and drooling. Then, I went back to school for a graduate degree and heard that it has something to do with the zodiac. I took out my magnifying glass and my compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (must be 2-point type) to read:

    1. The days about the times of heliacal rising of the Dog-star; noted from ancient times as the hottest and most unwholesome time of the year [followed by a very scientific discussion of exactly when the dog-days occurs, beginning anywhere from July 3 to Aug 15, depending on latitude and legend, and lasting from 30 to 54 days]
    2. An evil time in which malignant influences prevail

    The way I figure, on my calendar the Dog Days occur in mid-to-late August when it’s either hot and dry, or hot and sticky; everyone is waiting expectantly for fall to begin and the long days of summer to end. Sitting in my air-conditioned house with an internet connection to amuse and occupy my time, I wonder a bit how my ancestors filled those same Dog Days.

    They probably made the best of them, like my farming aunts and uncles in Bakersfield, California. I remember visiting my grandmother’s sister in the farmlands north of Los Angeles. Aunt Rose and Uncle Ray owned a large farm and lived in a green clapboard house off a dusty road near Punkin Center. It was probably “Pumpkin,” but no one called it that. Their two sons lived in houses on either side of their old farmhouse, Uncle Hale on one side and Uncle Lowell on the other. One of them, I can’t remember which one, had a swimming pool; that was the only luxury on those farm “vacations.”

    costerisan_1964001Rose and Ray Costerisan On Farm July 1964. 
    (Privately held by Denise Levenick, Pasadena, California. 2008.)

    I stayed in the old farmhouse with Rose and Ray. By the time I woke up and came into the kitchen in the morning, the house was already hot and sticky and the kitchen full of the smell of ripe, ripe cantaloupe. The linoleum was old and clean, but so hot that my feet seemed to stick to the floor as I walked across the room. There was no air-conditioning, of course, so I felt hot and damp most of the time. In fact, my memory of times on the farm are mostly of cantaloupe and stickiness.

    For entertainment, I“helped” pick cotton. Walking along the row of cultivated bushes, Uncle Ray showed me how to grab the fluffy white flower of the cotton blossom and pull it free. The seeds were tight little burrs that would be removed by a machine, but I picked them out by hand for my own little basket of soft cotton batting.

    When that grew boring, I wandered around the yard  admiring the chickens and peafowl and collecting the iridescent feathers. The birds were either skittish or mean as heck; you had to be on your guard against an attack.

    In the late afternoon I would join my cousins for a swim before dinner. I can’t remember what we ate. Probably cantaloupe! Then after the dishes were cleared Uncle Ray brought out the spoons and started playing. He held them between his fingers and flicked them rhythmically over his thigh, making a tune grow out of the clacking metal. Sometimes, he altered the sound by substituting “bones” for the spoons. Now, I’m not sure just what those bones were made of. . . farm animal ivory? At the time, they seemed quite scary.

    But nothing was as scary as Uncle Ray’s velvet case of teeth. Amused by seven-year-old toothless grin, Uncle Ray went into the house and came out with a small case. Flipping open the latch, he lifted the lid to reveal a velvet-lined case full of ivory teeth. I remember taking one look and running away, even as he howled in delight over my refusal to accept a new tooth.

    Do you think that’s what our ancestors did in the Dog Days of August? Worked? Ate cantaloupe? Played a little music? Told stories and jokes? I bet that’s exactly what they did!


    The Family Curator is Moving


    Bulldozer and work crew moving a house; from a c. 1920 original photograph. Unknown location within the United States. [Wikipedia: Image in the Public Domain in the United States]


    The Family Curator is moving to a new home and getting a fresh coat of paint. Thank you for your patience while we unpack!


    2 Good Reasons to Use a Genealogy Blogging Prompt, and 3 Tips for a Top-Notch Post

    No matter how long you’ve been blogging, sooner or later you may find yourself staring at an empty page with nothing new to say. It happens to everyone. If you are just getting started in the world of family history and genealogy blogging, you may find that you have the opposite problem, so many ideas that you don’t quite know where to begin.

    Blog Carnivals, Daily Themes, and Memes are all other names for old-fashioned writing prompts, and they can help get your fingers flying over the keyboard once again.

    A Writing Prompt by Any Other Name is still a Writing Prompt

    A basic writing prompt is a simple instruction about a specific topic, designed to help the writer focus on the subject at hand.

    • The prompt can be as straightforward as proposing a theme
      • Write about one day you spent as a 13-year-old
    • or it may encourage the writer to try a new approach
      • Recall the worst day of your teenage years, and write about it from your mother’s or father’s point of view

    Where To Find ‘em

    Look for writing prompts, memes, and carnivals at

    3 Things to Think About Before You Write

    After selecting a prompt, carnival, or theme, take a few minutes to think about what you will write. Ask yourself, How can I make this interesting and well-crafted?

    1. Use a hook to pull a reader into your story. Open your article with the most interesting thing of all.
    2. Stick with the topic. Focus, focus, focus. Try to address the prompt in 300 words or less; hard to do, but it will help you be clear and concise.
    3. Write the headline AFTER you’ve written the article. Make it even more interesting than the opening hook. If you’re clever, use a joke, a pun, a song or movie reference.

    Using genealogy and family history writing prompts can help you enjoy writing blog articles instead of dreading deadlines.


    Ride 'em Cowgirls, Remembering the Traveling Photographer

    In the days when California suburbs welcomed the Helms' Bread truck and the Ice Cream van cruising the neighborhood to the tune of their company jingle, it was not uncommon to see a pony being led along the streets by an traveling photographer similarily looking for a little business from the housebound housewives.

    My mother and aunt remember the photographer and his pony who had a regular route through their Anaheim neighborhood. For a small fee, he would hoist excited children to the back of his patient pony and snap their photograph. Mothers could order prints to be delivered at a later time, and no doubt many were tempted to buy the deluxe versions hand-colored and enlarged in the photographer's studio.

    Frances and Susie Brown, Anaheim, about 1938.


    Tech Tuesday – Taken by a Tech Surprise

    No such thing as a ho-hum day in the blogosphere.

    The Family Curator woke with a start and the realization, "Hooray, it's my birthday!" quickly followed by the horrid thought, "will anyone remember???"

    Junior, the cat, looked up from his nest in the covers and blinked in reply, "We’ll see."

    Although the sky was just beginning to show the first signs of dawn, the Curator sprang from bed to retrieve a cup of morning brew from the kitchen. In a few minutes, she was back in bed with cat and coffee, cruising the internet for the day's news. FREE for three days! at GeneaMusings

    Blog Type Spotlight – Crafts and Charts Blogs at GeneaBloggers

    Twice Told Tuesday - A Birthday Story at Shades of the Departed

    That sounds interesting, the Curator thought. It’s my birthday too, I’d like to read a little birthday story.

    . . . Please continue reading this article under the Comments to today's post at Shades of the Departed, Twice Told Tuesday - A Birthday Story



    Tech Tuesday: RVers Stay Connected with Satellite Internet

    Last week Mom forwarded an email from a member of her local genealogical association which was interesting itself, but I was really taken with the tagline from the sender:
    Home is where I hang my @
    To see exactly where that is today, view the map at:
    [I deleted her user number, here]
    The link took me to a map showing internet satellite dishes registered to different owners. How cool is that?

    Now, this could be a little creepy from a security/Big Brother-point of view, but it is very "geek-cool" from the idea of staying in touch. I followed along to the main website of and found that the site provides location mapping for users of the Motosat Datastorm, particularly targeting RV users.

    Just think, internet connections and tracking virtually anywhere. It is like a giant GPS/satellite address book. What would our ancestors have thought of this? No more lost wagon trains.


    Footnote Gets Bigger and Better Every Day

    Footnote just keeps getting BIGGER and BETTER first appeared on my monitor just about the time I was gearing up for my classroom project Reading Women's Lives. It looked like a site with lots of potential, but I was a little wary of posting Arline's personal correspondence online for all to read.

    Fast-forward two and a half years and over 58 MILLION original historic documents -- the growth and impact of Footnote is monumental. As a former English teacher, I am especially excited about Footnote's potential for classroom interaction. I saw my last-semester Seniors come to life when they read and transcribed my grandmother's original correspondence. In deciphering the archaic handwriting and colloquialisms, the students became more aware of early twentieth century culture. One question led to ten more, their personal response with the original documents drove the lessons each day.

    Of course, any scholar or lover of history can interact with the documents as well; we can all be students again, excited by the discovery of learning. I am delighted to see Footnote's partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration and can only imagine the future archive content, but it is exciting to think that my contributions of obituaries clipped from 100 years ago from Midwest newspapers can be used by other Footnote readers to help answer their family history questions. That's truly collaborative learning.

    Access to the 1930 US Census is available free of charge at throughout the month of August; and Footnote has also extended the special membership subscription rate of $59.95 until August 10. Go to for more details.


    Still Talking About the Jamboree

    The Southern California Genealogical Society has just posted the latest edition of News & Notes which features more comments and acknowledgements from the very successful Jamboree, and news about upcoming events.

    The participation and efforts of Geneablogger Thomas MacEntee and the blogging community were noted on page 11:

    Thanks, too, to the terrific group of genealogy bloggers who traveled from points around the US and met at Jamboree. They helped keep everyone informed about Jamboree and kept everyone excited and interested. “Mr. Geneablogger,” Thomas MacEntee, helped set up the Twitter wall display, performed the technical magic behind the Virtual Surname Wall. Thanks to all.
    Mark your calendars now – Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, June 11-13, 2010, again at the Marriott in Burbank . See you there!