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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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    The Family Curator's Guide to Holiday Re-Gifting

    Cased Photographs

    How to Re-Gift a Future Family Keepsake

    If you're thinking about passing on a family heirloom this holiday season, take time to make your something so special that the recipient will be delighted you stayed out of the Mall and went shopping in your family archive.

    My late mother-in-law was the Queen of ReGifting. No last-year's fad gifts for this lady; her double-duty gifts were typically last-generation. She loved to shop at local charity  thrift shops, estate sales, junk sales, department store sales. . . you get the picture.

    One year, all the men in the family received multiple pairs of swimming trunks -- for Christmas. They were on sale. No kidding. Even California has seasons. The women received estate jewelry -- one sister-in-law opened a beautiful gold and jet brooch; another received a matching bracelet; my package held the earrings to complete the set.  We took turns trying on the complete ensemble and drew straws to see who would take it home.

    First Rule of Re-Gifting

    Do NOT break up an heirloom set of anything.

    My husband and brother-in-law celebrated birthdays a few days apart, so their mother often gave them similar gifts -- shirts and pajamas were popular until she found a new thrift store specializing in estate silver, or sorta-silver. One year they each received lovely silver covered vegetable dishes, engraved with someone else's initials. Sorry, but there is no way that the letter "S" looks like "L."

    Second Rule of Re-Gifting

    Think twice about giving gifts with Superman's monogram. 

    I enjoy displaying our son's little silver baby cups, dents and all, on a table in the dining room. My mother-in-law kindly gave brought over my husband's silver cups to add to the collection, but she didn't stop there. Soon, I had brightly polished baby cups belonging to Edith, Millie, and Baby Susie -- and we don't even have daughters! 

    Third Rule of Re-Gifting

    Consider carefully before changing a collection into clutter.

    My mother-in-law was generous to a fault, but every so often she scored big in my book.

    Breaking the Rules

    In the days when she was still cruising the streets of Pasadena in her '87 Olds, Mary trawled a regular route of second-hand stores in the greater Los Angeles basin. Noticing my interest in family history, she picked up several cased photographs on one excursion and  gave them to me "because you like these pictures."

    My mother-in-law appreciated beautiful handwork, and often gave me hand stitched table linens or embroidered hand towels. She recognized memories held by family keepsakes and wasn't put off by personalization. In fact, I think she knew that often the most interesting pieces are personalized. And, what's wrong with that? As long as there's room to add a new initial or name, a keepsake can keep adding more history.

    As the lucky beneficiaries of many re-gifts, it's sometimes hard to remember what keepsakes started out "in the family" and what started out in another home. In some cases, many years have passed since these treasures moved into our house, and I can't remember much at all about them. All of which makes me very appreciative of the few items that still hold their stories, whether it's a handwritten note tucked inside a coffee pot or a little piece of paper in a candy dish. 

    Vintage Candy Dish

    One of my favorite keepsakes. No strings attached with this candy dish. The note reads: "Nothing special about this but it is nice -- for candy, olives, pickles, etc."

    A Family Keepsake Needs More than a Tiny Gift Tag

    Before presenting your gift on Christmas morning, take time to write a short note to go along with the item. You don't need to have perfect penmanship; you're handwritten note is a memento all by itself. Use a dark ink pen or pencil on the best quality paper you have available -- old-fashioned rag paper stationery or a piece of "resume" paper will last the longest. Avoid newsprint or recycled paper.

    Write a conversational letter to the recipient, or just  short history with bullet points, whatever style suits you best. Be sure to include --

    • the date and occasion for the gift
    • your name
    • the recipient's name
    • where you are each living
    • how you came to own or purchase the item
    • where and when it was made, if known
    • why it is significant to you or your family
    • why you are giving it to this person
    • a description that includes size, color, shape, etc. (If the item itself is lost or becomes separated from your note, someone will know what to look for.)

    You might consider attaching the note to the item in some way (on the back of a painting or piece of furniture), or adding an Heirloom Registry identification plaque with online registration of the keepsake's history. You could also photograph the item and place a copy of the photo and your note in your genealogy or estate papers so other family members will know what happened to this family heirloom.

    Family Heirlooms can be a wonderful legacy, but without the story, it's just stuff.



    Land Records Here We Come! Digging for Ancestors with Michelle Roos Goodrum


    I am so excited about Michelle Roos Goodrum's new book Digging for Ancestors: An In-Depth Guide to Land Records, not just because I know it will be well-written and researched, but because I NEED THIS BOOK.

    I've been working with land records more and more and I've looked for a guide that would explain unfamiliar terms, give tips for transcribing and extracting information, and direct my research time for effective results. I can't wait to "dig into" Michelle's new book; from the topic list in the Table of Contents, it promises to answer a lot of questions:

    Table of Contents


    Quick Start: Top Ten Tips
    Getting Started with Land Records Research
    Using Deed Indexes and Deeds
    Transcribing Documents: Quick Answers to Why and How
    Understanding Extracts and Abstracts
    What are Dower and Dowry?
    Using the BLM in Your Research
    Baffled by Legal Property Descriptions?
    Let's Talk: State Land States
    A Look at Cash Entry Files
    Examining a Homestead File
    Using Land Records to Solve Genealogical Problems
    Cemetery Deeds: They're Land Records, Too
    Three Reasons to Visit the Old Family Home
    Google Earth: See the Past in the Present
    Fun with Land and Property Records
    Appendix A: Resources for Land Records Research
    Appendix B: Township Grid

    As Michelle notes, the contents includes material from her "Timeless Territories" column published at The In-Depth Genealogist, from her blog Turning of Generations, along with new material and resources.

    I have come to know Michelle from our shared interest in caring for family treasures; we both inherited a legacy of family photos, documents, and artifacts and have been working on digitizing and organizing the collections. Congratulations, Michelle, on your latest accomplishment. 

    Digging for Ancestors is available now as a PDF download from the In-Depth Genealogist and for Kindle, Nook, and in Paperback.


    Note: I was provided with a review copy from the publisher. I am an Amazon Affiliate.


    RootsTech 2014: Coming to a City Near YOU!

    Not content to merely "talk tech," RootsTech 2014, hosted by FamilySearch, is harnessing technology to make the February national family history conference available worldwide. This week I attended an online meeting for speakers whose sessions will be recorded and streamed, and learned that over 450 sites will be accessing RootsTech for their own family history fairs.

    The Roots Tech Team announced worldwide participation by LDS Family History Centers and local genealogy societies:


    Twelve sessions will be streamed live and made available to visitors of the RootsTech website. Over forty presentations will be offered to organizers of off-site family history fairs, including my Friday presentation: How to Scan an Elephant: Digitize Your Family History from Artifact to Zombie. I'm excited to be part of this innovative program and be in Salt Lake City for the fourth RootsTech conference.

    Hats off to the organizers of this colossal endeavor. Each recorded session will be translated into ten international languages to make the content more accessible to viewers. I've been scrambling to submit my materials for the pre-conference work needed to translate and publicize the session choices available for the off-site family history fairs.

    RootsTech 2013 counted over 6,700 registered attendees and nearly 14,000 viewings of live-streamed sessions. By adding the international family history events, RootsTech 2014 must be nearly the largest family history conference worldwide.

    RootsTech 2014 will take place in the East Wing of the Salt Palace Convention Center offering bigger classrooms and a larger exhibit hall. Local conference hotels are offering special conference rates with extended days (helpful for a little research the Family History Library).

    Registration is now open, but special events are filling quickly. Register now for this great genealogy event! 


    Holiday Gift Guide: Geeky Gadgets for the Genealogist on Your List


    The teenagers and grands on your holiday shopping list might not think of themselves as family historians, but consider this: 

    Every instagram photo, every snap of that baby's smile is a future family keepsake!

    Lately I've been working on new articles and presentations featuring digitizing your family history, and I've come across several fun and useful new gadgets that have made their way into my gear bag. Of course, a few of these are still on my holiday wish list, but I couldn't resist sharing my favorite geeky finds that will make great holiday gifts for the genealogist, or shutterbug, on your gift list.

    Faves Under $15

    My Personal Favorite #1 Geeky Gadget: The Joby GripTight Smartphone Mount

    It might not look like much, but the Joby GripTight Mount is my choice for Number 1 Geeky Gadget of the year. This really, really small expandable grip fits iPhones and most smartphones and turns your camera phone into a digitizing powerhouse. Screw the Joby GripTight Mount to any tripod with a universal mount or add a GorillaPod Tripod to make a DIY tripod with a chair or fence rail. When you're finished, detach the phone and collapse the mount to stow it in your pocket or clip to a keychain. Also available as a kit including mount and tripod Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand.

    #2 Favorite: Remote Shutter Release

    Anyone who spends time digitizing family keepsakes with a smartphone or digital camera knows that sometimes shutter jitter can create fuzzy shots. A remote shutter release, either wired or wireless, lets you step away from the camera to operate the shutter and achieve crisp, clear images. Unfortunately, most compact digital cameras don't include a port for a shutter remote, but it's worth checking to see if the genealogist on your gift list could use a remote.

    The $6.99 Satechi Remote Shutter works great with my Canon Powershot G11/12 series and is compatible with several other Canon cameral. 

    Genealogists' Gravestone Gadget

    Move the light where you need it most to photograph fading tombstone inscriptions using the NEEWER 32-Inch Collapsible Light Reflector. This portable reflector won't be as crisp and bright as a real mirror, but it's quite a bit less fragile.

    The kit comes with five different reflectors (translucent, silver, gold, white, and black) but the white and metallic will be most helpful directing light on tombstone carving. A handy pouch holds the reflectors between cemetery outings.



    Smartphone Camera Macro Lens

    If you use your smartphone to snap close-up photos the Easy-Macro Cell Phone Lens Band is an easy way to add optical zoom to most any smartphone. The lens is attached to a flexible band that snaps over the phone, with or without case, giving instant access to the macro lens without sticky adhesive or wobbly clips.

    I'm always on a quest for new camera filters and lenses, especially something that fits over a case. For this price the quality doesn't compare to a real camera lens, but it adds a bit of fun to the camera gear kit.

    Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner Sketch Kit

    Does your favorite genealogist already own a Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner? The Flip-Pal Sketch Kit accessory adds note-taking ability with a transparent write-on/wiipe-off film that lets you identify photos and make citation notes that will appear with the scanned image.

    Kit comes with three erasable markers and clear acrylic sketch sheet. 


    Great Gadgets Under $100

    Eye Fi SD Card

    These little memory cards speed up digitizing by automagically transferring your snapshots or scans directly to your computer, smartphone or tablet device. The Eye-Fi Mobi Wireless Memory Card, transfers image files to your mobile device, while the Eye-Fi Pro X2  model handles camera RAW files and transfers to MAC or PC computer.

    Olloclip iPhone Lenses

    Don't you sometimes wish you could get a really good close-up photo, or maybe a wide-angle shot with your iPhone camera? The Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens for iPhone 4 & iPhone 4S  is winning awards for  its high quality optical lenses designed to bring iPhonography to a new level. Choose from the 3-in-one Lens that delivers wide-angle, macro, and fish-eye capability, or the Olloclip Telephoto Lens + Circular Polarizer for iPhone 4/4S  that brings telephone and polarizer lens to the iPhone. Models for both iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 are available; unfortunately, Android smartphones are not included. The high-quality glass optics in Olloclip lenses have earned high praise in MacWorld and Wired. 

    I've been frustrated when trying to photograph framed documents and photos under glass one time too many, and am looking forward to putting the Olloclip Polarizing Lens to the test soon. Combined with the telephone, the CPL (Circular Polarizing Lens) will also cut through smog, haze, and fog making those grey winter skies less daunting.

    Big Ticket Gadgets

    Of course, you might also be looking for a Great Big Geeky Gadget for your favorite genealogist. Something like a new tablet or eReader.

    You'll have lots of choices in the world of mobile tablet devices, from Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy 7-inch Tab 3

    to the Apple iPad Mini

    and the Kindle Fire HD  and new HDX. 

    When comparing models, check compatibility with the available eBook platforms for access to a growing library of genealogy reference books and family histories. Titles available in the Amazon Kindle Store can be read on all kinds of tablets, not only the Kindle ebook readers. You will need the Kindle App, for iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad or for Windows Android.

    Amazon Prime members have the added benefit of borrowing books, including many genealogy titles, from the Kindle library to read for free with the Kindle App or on a Kindle device. 

    Talking About eBooks

    Save on shipping and wrapping by sending your favorite genealogist an eBook download via Family Tree Books, iTunes or the Amazon Kindle Store. Search Genealogy or Family History for a growing selection of titles, or lend a helping hand to the keeper of the stuff in your family by giving a copy of my book How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

    Happy Holidays!

    Note: Affiliate links help support The Family Curator website and blog. Thanks!


    Tutorial: Using Photoshop Elements Photomerge to Stitch Scanned Images

    California Southland Magazine July 1925

    On a recent research trip I found a large early California magazine I wanted to duplicate for further study. I could have photographed the page, but I also wanted to try out a new-to-me portable scanner, the Canon CanoScan LiDE210 Scanner.

    These little scanners have been around for awhile, and have become popular for onsite research because they deliver the quality of a flat-bed scanner and are powered by a single USB cable to a laptop. The low profile and 8 1/2 x 12 scanning surface make it a good choice for scanning oversize documents in fewer images. 

    The scanner hardware is easy to use, but the software is clumsy and overly-complicated. I had trouble trying to figure out how to set file formats and file-saving locations, and finally just used the AutoScan setting hoping I could get the images I need. It took me a while to realize that it comes with two completely different scanning options 

    -- one operated through the Canon Solution Menu and another through the ScanGear Driver. The scans are accessed through the MP Navigator EX, where you can rotate, adjust, and edit the images.

    When I looked at the digital images later, I realized that some of the oversized pages were digitized in mixed file formats, some PDF and others as JPG images, and the JPG cover images were made in different directions, one horizontal and one vertical. 

    PhotoMerge mag

    Fortunately, Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 can easily reassemble scanned images, as well as regular digital photos. I use the Photomerge feature for all kinds of projects, and think it's one of PS Elements best tools.

    Photomerge is accessed through the main File Menu, and offers more than simple stitching for oversize images. The feature can actually perform several different tricks; most are designed for digital photographs, but will work well on scanned images too.

    Photomerge Group Shot can be used to create a group photo with the "best of" from several different images. So, if someone's eyes are closed in one photo and a different person is yawning in another picture, the two photos can be combined to have one good group shot. Think of the possibilities! No more rabbit ears!

    Photomerge Faces does something similar with to combine portraits and make one great image. The idea is that you can select what features you like in each portrait -- hair, eyes, mouth, etc. -- and combine them into one "better" portrait.

    Photomerge Scene Cleaner removes people or things from your photo by replacing the annoying tourist with scenery from a similar image.

    The mode I use most often is the Photomerge Panorama. Photoshop Elements offers several different styles of panorama, but I've had good results relying on the Automatic method. Access the Photomerge feature through the File Menu: 

    File > New > Photomerge Panorama

    PhotoshopElements Photomerge

    I selected Auto and browsed for the files I wanted to stitch together. After selecting the files, I clicked OK and Elements stitched everything together as I watched the software open the files and reassemble the multiple images to the full-page magazine cover like Magic!


    Amazon Affiliate Links to products personally purchased and used by me! Elements 12 is the latest version; I used Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 for this project.

    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.

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