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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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    Talking Turkey

    I've never met a turkey I didn't like. Even dried up old curmudgeonous fowl can be artfully disguised in a lovely soft roll slathered with gravy or cranberry sauce. But, turkey and all the trimmings are not "our" holiday, so we often find ourselves aproned and whisk at the ready in someone else's kitchen.


    I now travel like Strega Nona with an apron and my favorite whisk. Please don't think you are imposing if you ask me to make the gravy. I was taught by the masters (or mistresses) and make darn good gravy. The secret, said one grandmother, is to keep it HOT. The secret, said another, is to brown the flour. I do both. And when it's hot and bubbling, the quart or two or three stays piping hot in a slow cooker or large thermos jug. 

    I also bring my own basic ingredient -- raspberry jello (hard to find in London). What's Thanksgiving turkey without Auntie's Cranberry Jello Salad? It's just another dinner. Don't like jello? Don't worry. The traditional American cranberry has enough pectin to congeal in any mold! Cook with sugar and orange peel until thickened and place in a stoneware mold to chill.

    FransCranberryJello |

    The best part about Thanksgiving dinner, I think, is that everyone in our family expects a traditional meal -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, pumpkin pie. One pie per kid.

    My earliest memory of Thanksgiving is a confusion of people and tables and chairs all set up in my grandparent's front room. I don't remember anything about the meal except I didn't want to eat it. My wise grandmother Arline disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the can of Reddi Whip. Dessert hadn't been served, but she simply filled my plate with whipped cream and sat down at her own place. Now that was a meal to remember.

    Pumpkin Pie


    Spotlight on the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society "Homeless" No More

    Sahyun Library |

    A REAL Card Catalog available for those so inclined! At the Sahyun Library

    This past weekend I had the pleasure of presenting Caring for Keepsakes: Top 10 Family Heirlooms to over 200 members of the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society, and receiving a personal tour of their fabulous new genealogy library.

    Sahyun Library |

    Entrance Patio to the Sahyun Library with new addition to the left.

    With over 600 members, the SBCGS is a busy and society, and it's obvious they know how to get things done! When I arrived the meeting was already in full swing with six or more tables hosting focus group sessions. This was followed by a lively and informative general meeting featuring the recent Picnic in the Cemetery and enjoy slides of the living history reenactments performed by society members.

    The meeting showcased new books available in their bookstore and a Half and Half program that helps double the library's  buying power -- new books are featured in photos and a short description and members can help "buy" the book for the library by contributing half of the book's cost. Great idea! These books are temporarily shelved in a "New Books" section of the library so donors can easily find them, before being moved to their permanent location on the shelves.

    Following the meeting and my presentation, I enjoyed lunch with several members and a tour of the new Sahyun library. "Homeless" no more, the SBCGS has put down roots at the historic Sahyun property near downtown Santa Barbara and expanded the existing buildings to accommodate a library, meeting rooms, and computer lab.

    Sahyun Library |

    Sahyun Library and Computer Lab

    Dr. Melville Sahyun was a Santa Barbara medical pioneer noted for many patents and prescriptions, including Visine. Mrs. Sahyun was a local historian with an interest in early California history, and in 1998 the Sayhun family donated the one and a half acre property to the SBCGS to be used as a family history research library. The property includes the Sahyun's 1880's Victorian home, and several bungalow-type buildings that formerly housed Dr. Sahyun's offices and laboratories.

    Dr. Melville Sahyun Office |

     Former office of Dr. Melville Sahyun; Photo of Dr. and Mrs. Sahyun

    SBCGS volunteers spent hours renovating the property to accommodate their fast-growing book collection, now numbering over 25,000 items. The new computer lab boasts PC and Mac computer stations and a digital copy stand for member's use. I also saw the new digital microfilm reader/scanner that will be used by members in a flagship scanning project to digitize Santa Barbara County vital records and other local documents.

    Sahyun Library |

    My tour guide Louise at the copy stand.

    Sahyun Library |

    I'm jealous of this machine!

    Read more about the Library and visit the SBCGS website. The Sahyun Library is open four days a week; the card catalog is available 24/7 for online searches. My tour guide, Louise, noted that the library has especially strong collections of New England, Pennsylvania, and Southern U.S. Collections, as well as a relatively large selection of New Zealand and Australian books, thanks to the travels of a society member. 


    Digitize Your Genealogy Workshop Begins Soon

    Digitize Your Genealogy

    Are you ready to start turning your family history papers into digital files, but don't quite know how to get started? Join the one-week Digitize Your Genealogy Workshop at Family Tree University for simple steps to help you go from paper to pixels.

    I've expanded the digitizing sections from my book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, to a workshop program that includes

    • on-demand videos
    • hour-long webinar
    • written lessons 
    • book excerpts
    • message board

    I will also be answering questions on the message board and sharing ideas to help you move past any digitizing hurdles.

    Register Now, and Save 20% Off Entire Purchase at Family Tree University. Use coupon code FTUCOURSE during checkout. Expires 12/31/2013.



    Join Me in Santa Barbara - Caring for Keepsakes

    SBCGS Sayhun Library

    Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society Sayhun Library

    Learn how to preserve family photos, artifacts, and heirlooms this Saturday, November 16, 2013 at the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society where I will present Caring for Keepsakes, The Top 10 Family Treasures.

    Inheriting family keepsakes can be a burden and a blessing. Sometimes it's hard to know what to save, what to toss, and what to do with what's left. On Saturday I'll be sharing preservation tips for some of the most popular family keepsakes, with ideas for setting up a home archive to protect items while keeping them available for research and sharing.

    It's always a treat to visit beautiful Santa Barbara, and I'm looking forward to this weekend when I'll return to my college town (UCSB is a few miles up the coast) for a day of genealogy with the SBCGS. The Society also operates the Sahyun Library on Castillo Street in Santa Barbara, and hosts the  "Found Treasures" project highlighted on their website.

    The SBCGS meets at the First Presbyterian Church, 21 E. Constance at State in Santa Barbara. Meeting begins at 9:30 am; program at 10:30 am. More information may be found here. Hope to see you there!


    Saluting Our Veterans, With Gratitude for Their Service

    Liberty Trucks of the 314th Supply Train May 1917 at Camp Funston

    WWI Liberty Trucks 1917 | www.thefamilycurator.comMy grandfather, Walter George May was a young Army soldier stationed at Camp Funston near Manhattan, Kansas in the spring of 1917.


    The Practical Archivist and 3 Secrets You Need To Know

    Sally Jacobs, a professional archivist by day and practical archivist sharing her wisdom by night, hosted a great online chat yesterday that is now available in archived edition. Sally shares 3 Secrets Every Accidental Archivist Needs to Know and answers questions about rescuing photos, scrapbooks and other family treasures.

    I'm a long-time fan of Sally's blog, The Practical Archivist, and her down-to-earth approach to preserving all the stuff we inherit from our ancestors. In fact, Sally was the driving force behind my photo tutorial on How to Relax and Rehumidify Old Rolled Photographs.

    She understands that we can't save everything and offers very practical suggestions to help choose what to save and what to let go -- Tip: most people want photos of their ancestors, not so much photos of places they visited. Sally even gives a short list of the kinds of photos to keep (hint: remember the dog!).

    If you missed Sally's chat yesterday, be sure to bookmark the site and spend some time reviewing her comments and the Q&A at the end.


    Resurrect and Preserve Heirloom Halloween Costumes for the Next Generation


    The Halloween costumes in our family have always been the product of "loving hands at home." Guided by whim, mischief or childhood obsession, we managed to transform our little angels into circus performers, soldiers, and skeletons. Some of the results are embarrassing to look at in photos; I can only imagine the terror of wearing that get-up.

    Our sons were part of a mob of six male cousins who lived within spitting distance of each other. Their Catholic grade school held a Harvest Festival each year where the children paraded around the field in their  costumes. We never won any prizes, but we never failed to amaze the crowd.


    With six boys each one to two years apart, Halloween was a "one-up-you" affair. When the oldest boy hit fifth grade and discovered American history, the outfits began a decline into battlefield gore.

    Two of the boys favored military figures -- we had George Washington, an anonymous Union soldier, a frontier cavalryman, and a Vietnam recruit. They each had a turn as a pirate (I sewed two purple striped costumes long before Johnny Depp), and we cheered The Lone Ranger, the Karate Kid, Sherlock Holmes, and assorted sports figures.

    My favorite was the Barbasol Man, a feat of Halloween engineering created by my mother-in-law, an expert seamstress. A whilte pillowcase became a tunic sporting red barber-shop stripes; but it just didn't have the desired impact until she added clear vinyl pockets and one can of Barbasol shaving cream in each pocket. 

    Our son arrived at the school festival and quietly armed his costume. The crowd of children parted like the proverbial Red Sea and the teachers descended upon him like a swarm of locusts. He was disarmed before he could deliver a squirt. But Barbasol Man remains a Halloween Heirloom.


    Resurrecting Keepsake Halloween Costumes

    Our costumes were well-used by the family and any friends who needed a quick "get-up" and were never really stored until the outfit was completely outgrown. Eventually they ended up in an old Army footlocker; and that's where I found them last summer.

    Get Rid of Mothball Smell

    Someone helpfully scattered mothballs inside the trunk. No bugs or holes, just mothball stink. The first task was to air out the clothes. I spread out the clothes over bushes in the yard and left them for several days (it was summer). This wouldn't be a good idea with delicate or fragile cloth, but most of these clothes were made of pretty stout stuff.

    Next, I washed the items in cold water on gentle cycle in my washing machine, and put them on hangars to dry. Our grandson thought the colonial G.W. vest was a wonderful pirate's vest.

    Eliminate Old Stains

    I set aside the clown suit last summer for some extra attention when I had more time.

    Last week I took off the pom-pons and tackled the stains around the neck. Evidently the last toddler to wear it really enjoyed his Halloween candy. 

    Most advice for working with vintage textiles caution against harsh detergents; I just wanted to get out the stains. Internet forums suggested several options for working with old baby stains.

    First, I tried a soaking the suit in a mixture of 1/2 cup powdered dishwasher detergent (like Cascade or Electrosol) and 1 gallon of warm water. I left the suit in the solution for about 30 minutes. The stain was definitely better, but not entirely gone, and the suit still smelled musty.

    Next, I tried a fresh soak in Twenty Mule Team Borax, purported to be an old-fashioned laundry solution. Unfortunately, the powdered granules didn't completely dissolve and couldn't rinse them all out of the suit. Even dry, the suit feels gritty.

    Finally, I just washed the suit in my front-loading washer using the Hand Wash setting and a very small amount of liquid detergent.



    How to Preserve Keepsake Halloween Costumes

    When I store the costumes again, I am going to do things differently, and follow a few guidelines learned in my research for How to Archive Family Keepsakes .

    1. Clean clothes before storing. No matter how clean you think children's clothes may be, over time any stains, odors, or dust will become ingrained in the fiber of the cloth. Clean the item appropriately before storing.

    2. Avoid mothballs. Check the storage area for pests and air out the closet or container if needed.

    3. Gently roll or fold the item using acid-free tissue or an old sheet to cushion layers, and place inside a clean cotton pillowcase.

    4. Store the costumes in "archival" containers. Depending on how much you value the costume, there are several options: museum quality archival boxes, plastic storage boxes, a bureau drawer. Avoid placing the clothes in direct contact with wood or cardboard. I will probably put them back inside the old metal army trunk that is now well-aired and no longer holds the odor of mothballs.

    Of course, this is just what worked for me with my 25-year old handmade costumes. You might want to be more cautious with vintage textiles or anything that includes other materials like beading, leather, or metal. Always consider the various ingredients of an item and handle accordingly. You can find more resources for preserving textiles and other keepsakes in my book How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

    How to Archive Family Keepsakes: paperback, ebook, and Kindle

    Available from:



    Social History for Genealogists: Last Days for Early-Bird Rates at Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy

    Ring in 2014 with a full-week of outstanding genealogy education. Places are still open in a few courses at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) but they won't last long. And if you register before the owl hoots at midnight October 31, 2013, you can' get in on the Early-Bird Registration price. 

    W5534 FromTheFamilyKitchen

    For the first time, Social Historian Gena Philibert-Ortega will coordinate a course at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) that brings together the many facets of using social history for family history. The class instructors bring their own special expertise to the program with sessions on folk music (Jean Wilcox Hibbens), library archives (Luana Darby), female ancestors (Beverly Rice) and Library of Congress, DC research (Pamela Boyer Sayre).

    Gena specializes is using ephemera, community cookbooks, diaries, journals, and other personal artifacts to tell the story of our ancestor's lives. More than names, dates, and places, social history helps researchers enrich their family history with details of everyday life. With the added bonus of the Family History Library, attendees are sure to come away with new ideas and stories for their own family history projects.


    SLIG January 13-17

    The 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy will offer courses in topics from American Research to Social History taught by some of the best genealogical instructors in the nation.

    The week-long program offers a chance for in-depth study and extra hours of evening lectures and research at the Family History Library. Classes are held at the Salt Lake City Radisson Hotel, convenient to the FHL.

    Classes with space available include :

    American Research and Records: Focus on Families
    Coordinator: Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FUGA, FMGS

    Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?
    Coordinators: Apryl Cox, AG and Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

    Researching in Eastern Europe
    Instructor: Kory Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA

    Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum
    Instructors:Angela McGhie and Kimberly Powel

    Problem Solving
    Coordinator: Judith Hansen, AG

    Utilizing Social History
    Coordinator: Gena Philibert-Ortega, MA, MAR

    More information about SLIG 2014 is available here. Register soon for the Early-Bird savings.


    Amanuensis Monday | Martin Winsor Arrives Too Late, Finds His Mother Buried; Grasshoppers Jumping in January


    My imagination was stirred by the journalist who penned this poignant notice in the Muscotah (Kansas) Record, 26 January 1887:

    Martin Winsor, a former resident of this city but now of New Mexico, arrived here last Tuesday. He came to be with his mother in her last illness, but on his arrival found her buried. Mr. Winsor says the weather was warm and the grasshoppers were jumping around lively when he left home.

    Winsor martin visits muscotah 1887

    Source: “Martin Winsor,” notice, Muscotah Record, Vol 3, No 17, Jan 26, 1887, pg. 3, col. 3.

    Martin Winsor, eldest son of Fanny and Henry M. Winsor, was a widower ranching in the Pecos Mountains of New Mexico. This newspaper clipping gives several valuable clues, but it's what isn't stated that's so curious. 

    We learn:

    1. As of 26 Jan 1887 Martin Winsor is a resident of New Mexico.
    2. Martin's mother, [Fanny Winsor,] was buried on or before 18 January 1887. [This date is calculated as "last Tuesday" from the newspaper publication on Wednesday, 26 Jan]
    3. Fanny had been ill and there was time to send for son Martin to come home.
    4. In New Mexico, the weather is warm and the grasshoppers are lively. 

    It's Door #4 that is curious to me. Is the weather typically so warm in New Mexico that grasshoppers will be jumping in January? Or, actually, what kind of weather makes grasshoppers jump? Inquiring minds want to know. 

    Yes, there is such a thing as  "Grasshopper Weather," and if you remember the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you may recall a long summer On the Banks of Plum Creek. Grasshoppers don't thrive in cool, wet weather, but a warm winter can initiate an early hatch. By the 1930's, grasshoppers were a major problem to New Mexico farmers, and state funds were designated for grasshopper control.

    Was the weather unusually warm in 1887?

    A brief Google search turns up several interesting weather-related articles, in particular a Wikipedia comment that

    The 1887 Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, tying with the 1995, 2010, 2011, and the 2012 seasons for third most number of storms.

    The 1887 Atlantic Hurricane Season Map illustrates the extreme weather beginning May 15 and running through December 7, 1887. From Martin's Civil War pension file, I learned that Martin lived in Glorieta, New Mexico (red X on the map below), near enough to feel some reaction to at least of few of the 19 hurricanes that lashed the Atlantic seaboard that year.

    1887 Atlantic hurricane season map

    It gets more interesting. . . On 3 May 1887, Southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico were hit by a 7.2 to 7.5 earthquake that was felt from Phoenix, Arizona to Mexico City.

    Looking back at New Mexico, according to historical weather data (first available 1939), the average January temperatures in Glorieta seems to run from 23 to 38 degrees F, with 0 to 1.5 inches of rain, and 0 to 27 inches of snow. January is the coldest month.

    Do you wonder? Was the weather in New Mexico unusually warm that winter of 1887? Were there any other odd weather events in addition to the extreme hurricane season and the Arizona earthquake? Was Martin at all affected by those events? Were the grasshoppers really were jumping in January?

    or was the news editor was just trying to write clever copy?


    Grasshopper Photo: Giant grasshopper hoax postcard created by Frank Conard, Garden City, Kansas. Rubin, C.E. & Williams, M. (1990). Larger Than Life: The American Tall-Tale Postcard, 1905-1915. Abbeville Press.



    Will You be NaNoWrMo-ing Next Month?

    Crest bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

    I sort of feel like I joined NaNoWriMo in spirit when I wrote How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Under deadline, I wrote 45,000 words from Sept 15 to Jan 15 with two New England trips, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a fractured elbow. Ouch! I loved every minute.

    Something happens when I get totally, completely immersed in a project. It's a Zen sort of experience. The clock stops ticking and I forget everything outside the space where I am working. I've felt the same thing working on a big, complicated quilting project or in turning the heel of a sock [knit jargon for "knitting a sock heel" which can be tricky but is always very cool].

    NaNoWriMo is for writers what fair isle socks on #2 needles for the entire family are for knitters -- a chance to push yourself toward a big goal in a limited amount of time. During the month of November, writers commit to drafting a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The "rules" stipulate that you can't include anything written before November 1, and the product must be a work of fiction. In 2012, over 340,000 writers participated.

    The Rebellion

    Every Crusade must have it's Rebels. The NaNoWriMo Creed is strict -- 50,000 word count valid Nov 1-30, 11:59pm, any language, fiction novel. 

    Writers who want to bend the rules to write nonfiction, scripts, academics, or just do their own thing yet still participate in the official NaNoWriMo project, are known as NaNo Rebels. If Clue Wagon Kerry Scott or We Tree Amy Coffin ever join NaNoWriMo, I bet they will be leading the Rebel Pack.

    Unlike most official programs, NaNoWriMo makes room for Rebels by giving a space on the official website forum and access to other Rebels. Wikiwrimo notes:

    "You're writing a memoir, a script, a nonfiction book about turtles or something else that's not a novel. You're a NaNoRebel, baby! Converse with your fellow outlaws here."

    Writing is a lonely life, and the NaNoWriMo forums are undoubtedly one of the strongest and most valuable reasons to participate in the project. When stuck for words, nothing is better than a whack on the side of the head by a fellow-writer. 

    A lot of people argue that NaNoWriMo doesn't really help produce novels, it just gives writers a push to write a 50,000 words. And, that's true. What comes out of intense writing sessions is a draft, not a finished polished product. But, a draft is a beginning. 


    Genealogists and family history writers are fortunate. We can join NaNoWriMo in November and craft an historical novel or mostly-fiction memoir, or we could be a Rebel and work toward that 50,000 word goal in another form of writing.


     we can start planning our family history writing project now and join The Armchair Genealogist's Family History Writing Challenge in February 2014.


    Writer Lynn Palermo organized the first Challenge three years ago to encourage family historians in writing their own family history during the month of February. The project has grown every year, and like NaNoWriMo, Lynn offers a forum where participants can share their ideas and reach out for support. Over 800 family history writers joined the Challenge in 2013. The Challenge helps family history writers commit to their own project, whatever it might be, and their own word count goal.

    Just think, if you started planning now for The Armchair Genealogist's Family History Writing Challenge, by researching, outlining, and organizing what you want to write, by February you might be ready to compile a pretty good first draft of the family history project you've always wanted to write.

    Think About It

    I came across this chart the other day and it made me think about getting into Zen writing again.


    The numbers on the left are words per day. Some days I barely made 500 words, but when I was in a crunch I managed to write over 3,500 a day. You can see that I didn't write every single day from December 12 to January 8; more like 14 days out of 28. I took time off for Christmas. My total word count for the 14 days was 24,465; draft writing, to be sure, but you have to start somewhere. And I had that deadline hanging over my head. Looking back at those statistics makes me realize that IF I could write almost 25,000 words in 14 days, the notion of 50,000 words in 30 days is ALMOST concievable. But, that's if I don't break any bones.

    I'm thinking about it.


    M-Disc the 1,000 Year Archival Solution - Tech Tuesday Review

    Right now, I have a stack of cassette tapes on my desk that need to be digitized and archived. I want those files readable in 25, 30, 50, or 100 years, and I don't want to have to worry about migrating from CD to CD or from one cloud service to another. I'm pretty excited about the M-Disc from Millenniata -- a new kind of archival disc that promises Write Once, Read Forever


    Until recently, family historians had to rely on multiple copies and regular updating to insure the good health and accessibility of digital files. The M-Disc (Millennial Disc) is a game-changer that brings long-term media storage to the home computer user in the popular DVD and Blu-ray format. The National Archives notes a 2 to 5 year life expectancy for CD/DVD media; M-Disc is rated to last at least 1,000 years and survived rigorous testing by the U.S. Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Weapon's Division at China Lake, California

    The M-Disc records by engraving data on a single rock-hard layer, unlike conventional discs that record using organic dyes susceptible to fading and decay. If you've ever tried to read the files on a CD or DVD left on a car dashboard or forgotten on top of a CD player, you know that heat, humidity, and light can quickly destroy digital storage media. In contrast, the M-Disc is designed for longevity with materials resistant to oxidation and decay.

    The M-Disc looks different than a regular DVD -- it's transparent. Hold it up to the light and you can see through the disc. 

    M disc transparent

    This special disc technology requires an M-Disc compatible writer that can etch the rock-like layer of the M-Disc. I didn't have any difficulty using the LG Blu-ray BP40NS20 M-Disc-Ready burner sent to me by Millenniata with a pack of sample discs. The plug-and-play disc writer worked on both my iMac and Dell Windows 8 laptop; the included software is Windows only, but the writer was able to burn the M-Disc using my standard computer DVD software.

    I tested the M-Disc by burning the same set of files to an M-Disc using the PC and then the iMac. After successfully burning the discs, I was able to read both discs in either computer. 

    I also tried to burn the M-Disc using the regular iMac and Dell DVD burners and found that the disc was not recognized. You really do need an M-Disc Ready DVD writer to create the M-Disc, but the disc can be read by any computer CD/DVD reader. The M-Disc is designed for archiving files and does not allow erasing files.

    M-Disc Ready Drives are available in internal and externl models, and some PC computers are already offering the drives as a standard feature. Check the full list of compatible drives here.

    The M-Disc is available with 4.7GB capacity. If you have only JPEG image files, you will be able to archive thousands of images. According to Milleniata, on average, one disc can store

    • 8,000 photos [JPEG],
    • 240 minutes of video, or
    • over 100,000 documents
    My digital image files are mostly archival TIFF format, and very large files. On average a 600 dpi color scan might be 20 to 30 MB, many times the files are considerably larger. For instance, each scanned page of a 7 x 10-inch photo album is about 70 MB. One 4.7 DVD will hold about 60 of these extra-large TIFF images, or all of my digitized cassette tapes.
    Large file size translates into more discs or hard drives. Economical, efficient storage is important to me. I would much prefer to archive once to a disc, instead of regularly migrating files to new fresh DVDs. With one copy of my files online, one copy on an external hard drive, and one copy recorded to the archival M-Disc, I will have less work maintaining my digital archive.
    M-Disc longevity is appealing to anyone interested in long-term archival solutions. It's always a good idea to keep multiple copies of digital files, but any media that prolongs the life of the initial file makes preservation easier to manage over time. 

    Read more about M-Disc technology and Department of Defense testing at the M-Disc website








    Is It Worth the Trouble to Clean Dirty Old Negatives?


    Old film can get pretty grubby. At the least, loose negatives are often dusty and smudged. Inquiring minds wanted to know if do-it-yourself film cleaners made a difference, and how well they worked with dirty old negatives. So, The Family Curator burned up $20 so you don't have to. 

    First, I talked with photographers about cleaning old negatives. Their reply was something like, "Why bother? Fix it in Photoshop." 

    Next, I went to a pro camera store and talked with the developing tech. She recommended a product called, appropriately enough, Delta Film Cleaner, and PEC Pads, lint-free cleaning cloths. Another product, PEC-12, was deemed too caustic for amateurs to use (hmmm). I was instructed to lightly spray the cleaner on the cloth and wipe gently across the surface of the film. Sounds simple enough.

    At home, I pulled out an assortment of dirty, crinkled, stained, torn, cut, and otherwise messed up black and white negatives and selected a few with typical damage: water stains, ink, and splotches of "crud."

    I thought the lumpy gunk was just, well, gunk, but the photo tech had warned me that "stuff" on the surface of the film was probably fungus growing into the emulsion and it would not come off the negative. The cleaner would only help with dirt, dust, and spots.

    My negatives had it all -- water stains, ink, gunk, dust, and general grime.

    Test 1 -- Using Film Cleaner to Clean Old Negatives

    Damage: This negative showed bits of gunk (they appear as white dots in the image below), general grime, and scratches.

    Process: I spread out a few sheets of clean paper on my kitchen counter and sprayed the Film Cleaner on the lint-free cloth. Then, I gently wiped once across both front and back of the film. You can see the results here. 

    Clean streaking

    Uncleaned negative (left) vs. cleaned negative (right)

    Results: The little spots over the doorway are gunk, that won't come off. The film is marred with scratches obvious in the upper left corner of the doorway; the cleaner doesn't help that. It's hard to see on this image, but the cleaned negative (right) yielded a digital image with a bit of more grey tint. The image does seem a bit brighter. I did not use any adjustments on the scan.

    Comments: This image adjustment is easy with photo editing software. No major improvement in overall quality.

    BOTTOM LINE: Not worth the trouble. 

    Test 2 -- Using Water to Clean Old Negatives

    Damage: This negative showed a big blotch, possibly a water stain, in the upper right hand corner of sky. There were also bits of gunk in the tree area, and general dirt and grime on the entire image 

    Process: I held the negative under warm running water using my fingers like a squeegee to move the water and saturate the film. I then used the lint-free cloths to wipe off excess water and placed the negative on top of a cloth for a few minutes. Next, I sprayed the Film Cleaner on a cloth and gently wiped the surface of the film to remove any water spots. 


    Neg washed full

    Original dirty negative (left) and negative washed with warm water and Film Cleaner (right).

    Neg washed ex

    Close up of "gunk" in sky. Washed film is better, but remains stained.

    Results: The cloth showed dirt blotches and the film felt clean, not dusty and dirty. Most of the stain in the trees diminished. The entire image is brighter.

    Comments: I could touch up the sky with software, but now the film is "nice and clean." It might not look this good when enlarged, however.

    BOTTOM LINE: Probably not worth the trouble and expense.


    My main interest in old film is to salvage the family history information it may hold. For that purpose, scanned copies of the negative meets my needs. I don't throw away the original negative, but I also don't feel compelled to return the film to pristine condition before storing in archival sleeves.

    Admittedly, my experiment in film cleaning was not conducted under scientific conditions. My kitchen is pretty clean, but it's not completely dust-proof. If a house has static electricity from dry air or wind, exposed negatives probably attract everything floating around the room and cleaning might be even more difficult.

    I think a better, easier solution for working with dirty old film might be to use a soft brush made for dusting film and save the Film Cleaner for cleaning negatives that you want specifically want to preserve in analog (film) format. Clean film has to have a longer lifespan than dirty old pictures.

    The products I used for this test included:

    Film Cleaner




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    My Grandma Was a Fashion Maverick -- Ancestral Fashion Review from Betty Shubert, Author of Out of Style for Treasure Chest Thursday


    How much do you know about your grandmother's fashion sense? 

    Hollywood costume designer Betty Kreisel Shubert, author of Out of Style, knows more than most about vintage fashion. I sent Betty three unidentified photos and she selected this portrait to study, not knowing the young woman was my grandmother, Arline Allen Kinsel.

    After enjoying Betty's delightful "reading" of Arline's outfit, and then "The Rest of the Story," I hope you agree that Betty is a family history fortune-teller when it comes to reading vintage styles.

    The Bolero Dress and the Double-Butterfly Hat

    At first glance, the overly decorated dress with fancy bolero and fanciful hat trimmed with two, too-tall butterflies, seemed an aberration of popular fashion. . . probably designed by a home dressmaker. (Although the unique hat shows expert millinery construction). [Photo #1, above].

    But surprisingly, research showed a dress with identical style lines in a 1915 Sears catalog! The only difference was in Sears' use of embroidery trim versus eyelet trim in our sample photograph.

    Arline kinsel style 2

    As seen in Sears Catalog 1915-1916. Sketch by Betty Kreisel Shubert

    Sears fashions were selected for, and sold to, average America women, but were about two years behind high-fashion magazines. Therefore, we can assume that the dress shown n the 1915 catalog could have been worn between 1913 to 1916.

    A key style clue in dating vintage dresses in is their ever-changing skirt lengths. Since this is not a full length picture it is helpful that the Sears 1915 dress is shown full length, ending at the ankle and revealing spool heel pumps. This was slightly longer than women were wearing their skirts at this time, but this was obviously a dressy summertime outfit and perhaps the lower skirt could could be left off to adapt to different skirt lengths.

    A chart illustrating "The Bottom Line About Hemlines and The March to Modernity" covering the years 1900 to 2000, appears on pages 216-217 in Betty's book, Out of Style.

    Counter to popular fashion in those years, the whimsical hat that dominates the picture is worn tilted UP. . . like a picture hat, instead of FLAT, like a platter hat. The only similar hat I found in the Sears catalog shows a sailor-like, platter hat. Although it was usually worn flat, it could have also been tilted up by a fashion maverick. . . like our lady.

    Her hair, shown peeking under the shirred, wired brim is bobbed in the Castle Bob style as worn by popular fashion icon, Irene Castle, of the famous dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. ("Bobby pins" were invented to contain this hairstyle).

    Sears even devoted an entire page to show belts four to six inches wide, emphasizing the mid-to-low waist, as in our sample picture.

    From all these style clues, we can conclude that the woman in the picture was a self-confident individualist with a sense of humor who dared flaunt fashion rules. . . so, she flipped her hat UP and added a double butterfly, when the average woman would have only dared to wear ONE!

    © 2013, Betty Kreisel Shubert

    The "Rest of the Story" 

    I didn't know much more about this photograph than Betty when I sent it to her. I knew it was a photograph of my grandmother Arline Kinsel as a young woman. I guessed that it might have been an engagement or wedding photo taken about the time of Arline's marriage to John LeRoy Paulen 1908. I knew from her correspondence that she owned a sewing machine and that she loved being "in-style," but I had no idea she might have made something as elaborate as this outfit. 

    Betty's careful analysis prompted me to go back to Arline's photo album and look more carefully at her clothing. I spotted two more photos showing her wearing the dress. And, I discovered something interesting about the photograph my aunt displayed next to the custom-dressed doll in her curio cabinet -- it was a different pose than the photo I found in my mother's estate. Three photos appear to have been taken on the same occasion, but a fourth photo shows Arline in a different pose.

    Arline kinsel style 4

    Photo #2 Arline wearing the Bolero Dress and Double Butterfly Hat.
    Could this photo have been taken inside a church?

    It appears that Arline wore the Bolero Dress and Double Butterfly Hat for her wedding -- but it not her first! On the inside cover of her album, Arline clearly identifies Mr. and Mrs. Edwards 3rd, Helper Mt. Although the photos are undated, a marriage certificate notes that Albert Edwards and Miss Arline Paulen were married 11 August 1917 in Evanston, Wyoming. 

    Edwards 1

    Photo #3 Mr. and Mrs Edwards 3rd, Helper Mt.

    In this photo, Arline is wearing the Bolero Dress sans butterfly hat. What happened to it? Her hair is flying up in the air, and her hand poised jauntily at her waist. There are other differences from the formal portrait too -- different bodice, no flowers at the waist, and pearls instead of a medallion on a chain at her throat. I wonder if these are two entirely different occasions.

    Arline Kinsel and friend

    Photo #4, Arline and Friend. Arline wears the Bolero Jacket and Double-Butterfly Hat

    The other album photo shows Arline posing with a friend outside a stone building that looks like a church. Although the flowers at her waist are huge in this photo, it looks like the same dress and hat as photos #1 and #2. I don't recognize the other young woman in the photo and didn't find her in the album, but she may turn up in time. 

    The time frame for these photos appears to be about 1917, the year of Arline's marriage to Edwards. To confuse things, consider that by August 1917 Arline had already been married and divorced twice -- to the same man. Edwards was her third marriage and second husband.

    Given that Arline lived in the Western States of Utah and Colorado, it seems likely that fashion would lag behind big-city style. It's also possible that Arline wore the dress for two special occasions -- an earlier event where she was formally and informally photographed (Photos 1, 2, and 4), and a later event in 1917 as Mrs. Edwards 3rd wearing the skirt and eyelet jacket with a different blouse and jewelry and without the hat. 

    Which leads me to wonder, could Arline have worn the original dress and butterfly hat at her second wedding -- the remarriage to Paulen???

    P.S. -- What do you think about Betty's assessment of Arllne as a "self-confident individualist with a sense of humor who dared flaunt fashion rules"?

    Analyze your grandmother's fashion sense with Betty Shubert's new book, Out-of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved

    Available in hardback and softcover

    Read my Book Review of Out of Style
         Great Grandmothers are Always in Style




    Travel Tuesday at the Clark County Genealogical Society and Library


    Clark County Genealogical Society

    Are you researching family history in Vancouver, Washington and Pacific Northwest? If so, you may want to investigate the many resources offered through the Clark County Genealogical Society and Library located minutes from historic Vancouver, Washington overlooking the Columbia River.

    I didn't expect to find a genealogy library staffed by friendly and helpful volunteers on a recent visit to Vancouver, but I discovered a hidden gem under the large signs on the strip-mall business front. Volunteer William "Bill" Whalley gave me a quick tour and highlights of the CCGS activities and programs. Founded in 1972, the Society runs a busy schedule and offers publications and research services.

    CCGS interior

    Volunteer Bill Whalley greeted me at the Library and gave me a quick tour.

    The CCGS Library includes over 8000 items with an emphasis on Washington and Oregon materials. My tour also showed resources from all states and a good-size microfilm collection. In addition, wireless internet and subscription database services are available for users. 

    The annual CCGS Fall Seminar -- Westward Migration -- will be held Saturday, 23 November at the Library, and will include sessions on Colonial Migration, Creating a Migration Map, and Finding Your Overland Trail Ancestor in Oregon and Washington Repositories.

    You can find more information about the Clark County Genealogical Society and Library at their website, The Library is located at 717 Grand Blvd, Vancouver, WA. See the website for hours and phone numbers.




    Great Grandmothers Are ALWAYS In Style: Book Review of Betty Kreisel Shubert's New Book

    If you owned this photograph, wouldn't you want to know more about the young woman wearing the outrageous butterfly hat? I have looked at this image for years, but all I knew was that the photographer had captured my grandmother Arline Allen Kinsel in a very flattering window-seat pose. Arline's white muslin dress and huge hat hinted at a special occasion, but what could it have been?

    My aunt may have known more about the photo, but she never shared that with me. She was more excited about the porcelain doll she found and had painted and dressed to resemble Arline of the photo. Dolly Arline was displayed in a glass front curio cabinet for decades, seated on a glass shelf beside the original photograph. 

    By the time my aunt passed away, the doll had been sitting in that cabinet for at least thirty years. Her once-white muslin dress was brown and crisp and the exposed porcelain was dingy yellow. Ultraviolet light ambient light,, uncirculated air, and the wooden back and sides of the cabinet had created an "acid-chamber" where the doll slowly deteriorated.

    Nothing is forever, but the doll would certainly be in better condition if she had been stored in a dark closet, wrapped in a cotton pillowcase, and brought out for occasional display. It's a tough call, because the doll was designed to be displayed and enjoyed. And, everyone who visited my aunt, remarked on the beautiful young woman pictured in the photograph and mimicked by the doll's dress.


    So, I've wondered about the dress and hat. I knew my grandmother sewed -- her letters refer to shipping her sewing machine when she moved, and fabric and trim she bought for a handmade  "waist." I also knew that she loved stylish clothes and didn't have much money, good motivation for a fashion-forward young woman who could work a needle.

    What I needed was a kind of 20th century fashion maven who could look at the doll and the photo and offer more details about Arline. And, SCGS Jamboree proved to be the place to meet Betty Kreisel Shubert, former costume designer and fashion writer, and author of the new guide Out-Of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved.

    It's a bit misleading to label Betty's 350-page book a simple "guidebook," because it's that and so much more. Betty's fashion career began when she sold her first dress design at age 13, in 1938. Since that time, she's gone on to design clothes and costumes for stage, screen, television, ready-to-wear, Las Vegas musicals, and Disneyland, as well as uniforms for major cruise lines, hotels, restaurants, and casinos. Out-of-Style is a lively, personal memoir and reference book. It's clear that when Betty writes about "The Twenty-Five-Year-Old Dress, When do 'Old' Clothes Become 'Vintage' Clothes?" and shares a story about her own classic gown, she knows what she's talking about.

    Betty was tapped to share her fashion wisdom with friends exploring their family history who were having trouble dating old photographs: "I can help that," Betty offered. "I can tell you the date from the clothes." And, a new career working with genealogists was born. Betty shared her knowledge in Ancestry Magazine, and has now assembled a comprehensive reference guide to 19th and 20th century styles in her book Out-of-Style.

    I especially like the artist sketches that bring together on one page the changing styles; this makes it easy to compare what you may have in a photo across several years or decades. For example, comparing Arline's hat to this page of compiled hat styles, helps identify the Arline's hat as a "Platter Hat."


    Ladies' Hat Styles 1900-1914, Copyright Betty Kreisel Shubert, used with permission

    After talking with Betty, I asked her if she would "read" Arline's photo and share her thoughts on the dress and extravagant Butterfly Hat. I hoped for a few notes, but Betty sent so much more -- a handwritten historic evaluation of the clothing and an astute analysis of the kind of woman who might wear such an outfit. Without any extra information from me, Betty picked up Arline's personality and even anticipated her social life. Be sure to check back for Part 2 of this article for Betty's "reading" of Arline's portrait.

    You can read more from Betty Shubert at Goodreads, or listen to her talk about Hollywood, vintage fashion and her book with Nick Digilio, Radio 720 WGN The Voice of Chicago

    Find Out-Of-Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved by Betty Kreisel Shubert at


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