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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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    Friday
    Nov212014

    Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Best-Selling Author of the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series


    There's nothing quite like a good book to fill the hours of a long holiday weekend. Make that a good genealogy mystery, and it's even better. Join me for a chat with Amazon author Steve Robinson talking about The Lost Empresshis newest addition to the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series .

    If you've never read about Robinson's family history sleuth, get ready to meet a quirky and interesting character who might remind you of a few genealogists you know. Tayte is a friendly, accomplished, professional American genealogist with a yearning to discover his own past. Blocked by brick walls to his own family history, J.T. unravels the secrets of other people's family stories instead. In The Lost Empress, J.T. returns to England looking for clues to to a survivor from The Empress of Ireland's tragic sinking in 1914. He finds espionage, twisted tales, and family secrets -- all the ingredients for a good book on a long winter evening.

    The Lost Empress cover

    Denise: The Lost Empress includes so much historical detail that it's obvious you spent a good deal of time researching the ship and the aftermath of her tragic sinking. How long did the actual research require to make you feel grounded in the story? And was Alice modeled after any actual passenger?

    Steve: I do spend a lot of time on research. It’s actually a big part of what I love about my writing. I find the historical research particularly fascinating and The Lost Empress was no exception. As I read about the tragic loss of the Empress of Ireland I honestly couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of the ship before – and yet the loss of life is comparable to the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania that same decade. Perhaps it’s for that reason that I felt particularly drawn to my research into the ship and the passengers aboard that fateful journey. I would strongly encourage everyone to find out more about the Empress of Ireland, and to share her story with others so that she might better be remembered.

    I also had to learn about life in post Edwardian times, of course, and I’ve tried to convey a sense of the time as much through the subtle nuances of the language as well as the everyday objects that help to describe the time. I love the idea of a penny lick – eating ice cream from a glass dish. Yum! As my lead character from the past, Alice Stilwell, was an admiral’s daughter, a great deal of naval research was also required, particularly concerning Chatham’s former royal dockyard and the naval warships of the time, which I found fascinating.

    On the whole I’d say that my research takes about a quarter, or perhaps even a third, of the time that it takes me to write a book. Alice is entirely fictional, although some of the incidents and actions aboard the ship in her last moments are drawn from real events and characters.

    About Alice...

    Denise:  The story is set at the eve of the Great War, when women's roles were still mostly defined by the men in their lives -- fathers, brothers, husbands. Alice Stillwell is aptly drawn, but was it difficult to put yourself into a mindset so different from 21st century sensibilities? Her character is very different from the strong female roles in your previous books.

    Steve:  Male dominance in Britain was very much on my mind when I imagined the life of Alice Stilwell. Women had no right to vote back then of course, and their place was seen as strictly in the home. It’s hard to imagine nowadays that this was only a hundred years ago. Equipped with that mindset, I wouldn’t say it was too difficult to portray Alice as a typical, if somewhat privileged, woman of her time.  I felt that her strength should come from within, rather than being overt, so I’ve not drawn her as such a strong character on the outside, perhaps. But what she goes through demands great strength of character nonetheless and it is through her resolve to protect the people closest to her that drives her on to the story’s conclusion.

    Denise: Alice was well balanced by the other female lead, JT's new British genealogy lady friend.  And I loved the genealogical clues you put right out there in front of our nose! Do you think you are becoming more of a genealogist as you work in this genre with JT?

    Steve: I hope so, and I do believe that I am. I put as much research into the genealogical aspect of my stories as I do for the historical sections. Essentially I have to set JT brick wall after brick wall, and then I have to help him to break them down, even though I rarely know the solution when that wall goes up. Working through the genealogy myself, and making sure it all stacks up, can take a lot of time and I learn a great deal each and every time I tackle something new. I really love old newspapers, which can help as much with my historical research as they can for the genealogy. Bringing crime fiction to genealogy means that my genealogical research isn’t always so much about family relationships either, but the family members lives, and very often the crimes they are either perpetrating, or are otherwise caught up in. The thing that strikes me most about genealogy is that it’s so diverse. All past documents are records or clues to our ancestors lives. It’s no wonder that the puzzle is often so difficult to piece together.

    Is DNA in J.T.'s Future?

    Denise: Your website mentions the next mystery in the series. Can you say what form of genealogical research might be involved? Will JT be working with DNA next?

    Steve: I’m sure DNA will feature in the series at some point, and there might well be a place for it in book 5. JT’s next mystery will largely focus on finding someone in a foreign land. That’s very cryptic, I know, but I find it difficult to talk about a new book without giving things away, and I do like to keep things close to my chest, at least until the first draft is written. I will say that I’m having quite a time translating records written in languages foreign to my own at the moment, which is an a entirely new challenge for me. Perhaps you could ask me again closer to the release date and I’ll tell you how I got on.

    The Lost Empress back

    In the Blood, Steve's first book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series earned widespread praise as an author-published title, and was selected by Amazon UK as one of the 'Best Books of 2011.' From Kindle editions, each book has gone on to be published in paperback and audio editions. The Lost Empress was released last month in all formats.
     
    Steve's been known to drop by The Family Curator, so feel free to leave any questions or comments for him here, or visit his website Steve Robinson.
    If you like to read series books in order (like I do), here's the chronology of mystery series:
     

             

     
     
     
    Friday
    Nov142014

    How to Host a Turkey Shoot (Camera Required)

     

    Our family has never been big on after-turkey day flag flag football. Instead, we've been known to drag out a jigsaw puzzle, mix up a spirited holiday eggnog, or round up a posse for the sorta-annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot. No firearms required. All you need is your smartphone, your car keys and a few willing turkeys. . . ummm relatives.

    Turkey Shoot Rules & Regulations

    Rule #1: Each team shall consist of a minimum of 3 turkeys (contestants), one automobile, and one Polaroid camera.

    The first time we tried this was 1998 when my sister and family lived in Silverado Canyon, an isolated canyon in the Orange County hills of Southern California. As I remember, the crowd that year included kids of all ages, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, and bewildered guests. My sister worked out the "Destinations" using local landmarks and the teams were pretty evenly filled with at least one "local" in each group.

    Smartphone cameras would work as a good substitute for the Polaroids, or you could use the fun new Instax Instant Film  cameras. Everyone likes to see their picture actually printed, so it might be worth borrowing a few instant-print cameras if possible.

    Rule #2: The objective of the competition is to navigate your team between suggested destinations and return with photographic proof of your adventures.

    This Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot is a riff on an old fashioned scavenger hunt.  The Regulation Handbook needs to list the Rules (VERY important to family harmony) and destinations with points.

    Rule #3: Depending upon the degree of difficulty, each potential destination has been awarded a point value.

    More points awarded for a photo of a live turkey than a pogo of a bale of hay.

    Rule #4: Teams which demonstrate ingenuity by devising a means to have a stranger operate their camera, (so that all team members appear in the photo) will be awarded 10 bonus points per destination.

    And, THIS, is where family harmony can begin to break down. The rules state that "a stranger" must operate the camera -- because Polaroid camera's didn't work with a remote shutter release, duh -- but what if you "know" the "stranger." Does the team still earn the points? 

    Rule #5: No team is allowed to leave the canyon.

    It's a good idea to establish geographic boundaries or you may lose your contestants.

    Rule #6: Desitnations may be visited in any sequence.

    Another good rule that helps to spread out the teams in your area. Watch out for neighbors who may help or hinder teams that follow the first one. Folks seem to get into the spirit of the event. It might be good to heat up more cider for the after-party.

    Rule #7: Return to the host's home at the designated time.

    Our teams dragged home in a most untimely fashion. Penalize tardiness with a point loss to get the turkeys home before dark.

    Rule #8: The team with the highest total point score will be honored at the Gala Awards Ceremoney and be exempt from dishwashing duties.

    Prizes are always welcome! Recycle old trophies, or make your own with chocolate turkeys!

    Turkey Shoot Destinations

    (Customize for your neighborhood. Don't make 'em too easy.)

    Turkey Class - 35 points each

    With a live turkey

    With something that embodies the spirit of Thanksiving

    In front of a "Kids at Play" sign

    In front of an Eiffel tower (!)

    Sitting on a hammock

    Stuffing Class - 30 points each

    On top of a castle

    In front of a roaring fire

    In front of a "Road Ends" sign

    With two dogs owned by a stranger

    On a boat

    Cranberry Class - 25 points each

    With a horse

    Standing next to a fire truck

    On a walking bridge

    In front of a "Happy Thanksgiving" sign

    Sitting on a bale of hay

    You won't want to miss a photo of all the teams, maybe holding up their winning photos.

    Turkey Shoot Handbook

    Turkey Shoot Variations 

    City Version

    My sister reminded me that the original version of this game included city destinations such as: Have your photo taken with a Starbucks Barista (you could add a Pumpkin Latte!). 

    Newspaper Edition

    The Newspaper in Education website includes a Thanksgiving Newspaper Scavenger Hunt that's a good option if the weather isn't cooperating with an outdoor driving shoot.

    Monday
    Nov102014

    Armistice Day Parade 1921 in Lincoln, Nebraska

    My grandparents, Edna and Walter May, were great amateur photographers and filled several black paper photo albums with snapshots, all duly captioned and dated (thank you, Gma!). This photo was taken on Wednesday, November 11, 1921 in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. My grandfather Walter G. served in the Army 314th Supply Train during World War I.

    May 1922 photo album064

    In Washington, D.C., Armistice Day was marked by the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the body of an American soldier fallen on the battlefield in France was buried in Arlington Cemetery. This was also the first year that November 11 was commemorated as a legal Federal holiday throughout the United States of America.

    Tuesday
    Nov042014

    Photo Hightlights from NARA in New York City

     from my Scrapbook. . .

    A few weeks ago I met up with Allison Dolan and Diane Haddad from Family Tree Magazine at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City for The Genealogy Event, a three-day genealogy and DNA conference. It was a great chance to meet other genealogists and tour the historic Custom House building located at Battery Park. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from the weekend -- 

    Oct travel 23

    Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green, built in 1906-07
    near the site of the original Fort Amsterdam settlement. Now home of 
    The National Archives of New York City and the National Museum of the
    American Indian. 

    Oct travel 22

    Family Tree Magazine Editor Diane Haddad and Publisher Allison Dolan
    at the Custom House. Sculpture by Daniel Chester French
    representing the four continents of international commerce.

    Oct travel 25

    Oct travel 26

    The Rotunda features a series of murals by Reginald Marsh depicting the shipping
    activities he observed on New York's shores.
    The panels are colorful and full of life. 

    Oct travel 27

    One of my favorite panels. I love Lady Liberty viewing the City and harbor.

    Oct travel 28

    View from the second floor (location of the NARA research rooms)
    of the colorful ceiling and beautiful lighting below. 

    Oct travel 29

    NARA exhibit of the early log book showing the first custom payments 
    made at the building.

    Oct travel 30

    This map is made up of tiny thumbnail images of documents and photos held at
    National Archives repositories throughout the nation. Very cool!

    Oct travel 21

    My walk through Battery Park included a view of the Statue of Liberty and
    the tourist boat waiting to depart. 

    Tuesday
    Oct142014

    Family Archivist Survival Kit Available for a Limited Time

    Sally Jacobs Madison Magazine

    Looking for archival boxes? Through the month of October Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, is offering the Family Archivist Survival Kit to help family historians safely store photos, documents, and other family treasures. This is a once-a-year special package Sally created to help people get their "stuff" out of shoeboxes and into proper archival storage.

    "Like a Time Machine. . . without digging & burying"

    Sally is one of those generous genealogist who loves to talk about her favorite topic -- archiving -- and my go-to archivist when I need a consultation over a sticky preservation question. Her website is full of helpful tips and free advice, and the Family Archivist Survival Kit lives up to it's name with storage boxes, supplies, and a CD with 10 hours of recorded instruction from Sally.

    Read all about the Kit at The Practical Archivist and get your order placed before October 31, 2014. Kits ship in November and won't be available again until next Fall.

    Paper or Plastic?

    I get a lot of questions here at The Family Curator and when I present lectures about the pros and cons of using big plastic tubs for archival storage. People really really seem to want to use them. They're relatively inexpensive. They're easy to find (hello, Target!). And they are waterproof. But it's not a good idea. Ask Sally:

    Much of preservation (and all of archival work, really) comes down to compromise and balance. Archivist like to joke that our motto is “it depends” because we work with variations that don’t allow simple universal rules. Plastic is a perfect example. Americans have always placed a great faith in the protectiveness of plastic, but it’s not always the best choice for long term storage. All together now: “It depends.”

    The first rule is that any plastic you choose has to be neutral — it can’t be off-gassing anything that will affect what you place inside them. Vinyl is a big no-no. My favorite rule of thumb is that if it smells like a shower curtain, don’t put your photographs anywhere near it. Polypropylene is a popular plastic that is neutral, but your best bet is to find a product that has passed the Photographic Activity Test. The PAT is an accelerated aging test that tells the consumer it will not affect your photographs during storage.

    The waterproof question is a bit tougher. Obviously, it’s a good idea to keep water away from paper, photographic prints, and film. But a cheap plastic tub is going to off-gass and add volatile chemicals to your storage environment…which will interact with your photographs in ways we can’t predict. Ideally, you want to store your family treasures in an archival paper box. The qualities of paper and the way it changes over time *can* be predicted. Paper also allows air to circulate and prevents items from “stewing in their own juices” as my preservation teacher would always say. Of course, a cardboard box is not waterproof, but in a scenario where there is risk of water, Archival Best Practice is to store your collection somewhere else.

    But what about photos and documents?

    Ask yourself: Do I really need to put this in plastic? If you’ve scanned your photos and share them digitally, I don’t think it’s necessary to store the original prints in an album or clear sleeves. They can go into archival paper envelopes and then into archival boxes. Clear plastic is the best choice for photos that you plan to pass around to many hands, since the oils and salts on fingers will transfer to the prints. A small historical society that serves up local history photographs to the public is a good example of this kind of heavy use.

    Wouldn't silica gel packets help if moisture gets inside a plastic tub?

    Yes, but ideally you would store your treasures in something that wouldn’t collect moisture that way. I’ve been researching fireproof safes lately, and one of their main drawbacks is that the insulation needed to protect the contents from extreme heat will also create condensation inside the safe. How’s that for a trade off? (ugh) You can purchase metal canisters of desiccants that can be “recharged” by baking in an oven. Some even have a color indicator so you know when it’s time. I’m all for improving the bad storage areas you’re stuck with, but as always the best scenario is to keep your treasures somewhere where there isn’t a risk of water damage from either above or below.

    Happily, the metal edge archival boxes in The Practical Archivist's kits are strong, durable and provide excellent archival protection. Sally only sells the Family Archivist Survival Kit during the month of October, but she plans to offer a smaller De-Clutter Kit in Spring 2015. If you order one of her kits and need more supplies, she won't leave you stranded and will help you reorder what you need.

    I have to admit I'm a bit jealous of Sally's profession. She gets to hang out in libraries and archives and work with all kinds of interesting material. I asked her how she became an Archivist (instead of an astronaut or iron chef) and I wish I had an illustration to go with her reply:

    Ohmigosh, I love the idea of a wee little Sally J. drawing pictures of herself re-housing vintage photographs into archival folders…but that’s not how it happened. My “plan” was to become a photographer for Rolling Stone when I grew up. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that this plan was a complete failure.

    After I graduated college with a BA in History and Anthropology, all I knew was that I didn’t want to be a high school social studies teacher or a college professor*, so grad school in History was out. Instead, I got a great job working at a Half Price Books where I could figure out what the heck I was going to do when I grew up. One day, my coworker Allison announced she was going to library school. I had no idea there was such a thing! When I took a look at the catalog, I learned that they offered a specialization in “Archives Management” and those courses were taught by archivists working at the Wisconsin Historical Society. As soon as I read that, it all clicked.

    Isn't' that the way it works? She didn't want to be a teacher, but here she is teaching us all about archives! Thanks, Sally!

    Feel free to leave Sally your archival questions here in the Comments, or drop her a note at The Practical Archivist and learn more about the Family Archivist Survival Kit.

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