Preserving Stories on 1000memories

In the past couple of years, there has been an shifting emphasis in genealogy/family history. Momentum has been building around capturing not only the names, dates, and places — the cold, hard facts — about our ancestors, but also capturing their story. As Lisa Alzo put it in her presentation on writing your family history at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, “You may have a family tree as long as this hall, but what do you know about any of those ancestors?” Curt Witcher talked about the importance of story in his keynote at RootsTech 2011. It’s the story that engages people.

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, and texting, it’s easier than ever before to share our stories. But how do we preserve them?

That’s where a new website called 1000memories comes in.

At 1000memories, the emphasis in on sharing and preserving stories of ourselves and our ancestors. It’s a place “to remember everyone,” as co-founder Jonathan Good describes it. It’s free to register and free to use. If you can type, you can post photos, stories, documents, sound clips, movies — anything that will tell a bit about who that person was.

You might be thinking, “Hey, I can do that on my blog or on Facebook. Why do I need 1000memories?” Unlike your blog or Facebook, 1000memories is working to preserve the material forever. (And as Prince sang, that’s a mighty long time.) They’re serious about this. 1000memories takes extraordinary measures to keep these materials safe. (One thing that isn’t mentioned on that page is their partnership with Internet Archives, the group that gives us the awesome Wayback Machine among all sort of other preserved digital material. I told you — these folks are serious!)

So how easy is it to share photos and stories? At the FGS conference, I stopped by the booth for a brief demo. I had not tried to post anything prior to talking with Michael Katchen, so I was starting from square one. Michael showed me how to login via Facebook, which took all of about 10 seconds. I could see all of my Facebook albums. All I had to do was choose which album and then click the photos I wanted to import into 1000memories. I chose this photo of my grandparents:

Grandma and Grandpa Johnson, Easter 1965

Within a couple minutes, I had imported that photo, created a page for Grandma, a page for Grandpa, and started the frame of a family tree. It really is that easy. I was hooked. That afternoon, I skipped sessions at the conference, and went back to my room so I could upload more photos from my laptop. I added more photos, and typed up a quick story about my great-uncle Harold.

Since then, I’ve gone back through some older family photos that had just vague identifications on them. “Great-Grandma Young and her children.” Considering that she had 10 children, I needed some help on the specifics. I emailed the photo to my Dad and he identified everyone. I cannot wait to get more photos and more stories uploaded.

The top part of the page I created for my grandma.

Pages can have different privacy levels. For example, you can make pages for deceased family members open to everyone (only registered users can add to or edit the page) , but set pages for living people so that only invited people can share content or even set it so only invited people can view the page.

1000memories makes it so easy. All of my cousins can go on any of the pages I’ve created and add their own photos and stories. I’m the youngest of the grandchildren, and I know that my stories of Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the same as those of my older cousins. Now we have a way for all of our stories to be shared and preserved.

I plan on writing more about 1000memories in the near future. But the site is so easy to use, you really don’t need a lot of tutorials to get started!

Learn more:
Michael Katchen of 1000memories will be a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio this evening at 10:00 Eastern.

You can also watch co-founder Jonathan Good’s presentation at the 2011 TEDxSF.


Disclaimer: I attended the “Engaging Your Family in Genealogy” breakfast panel at the FGS conference. However, I can honestly say that the free (small) glass of orange juice and the rather dry cheese danish did not influence this review. 

Where I Was: The Space Shuttle Challenger

“Hey, did you hear the space shuttle blew up?”

It sounded like the first line of a very bad joke. But as we found out later, it was all too real.

I was standing in line buying typing paper (yes, typing paper) at the Columbus Technical Institute bookstore. A guy came in and asked the girl in front of me if she’d heard the shuttle blew up. She and I both dismissed him, but he said he’d heard it on the radio. We told him he must have heard it wrong; it couldn’t possibly have blown up. There must have been a small fire and the reporter made it sound worse than it was.

I bought my paper and went to class. As soon as I walked in, I knew something was wrong. The instructor — who was the definition of professionalism and punctuality — wasn’t in the room. She was always in the room. I took my seat and waited…  and waited… and waited…  Finally, about 5 minutes after class was supposed to start, she came in the room with tears streaming down her face. Being the professional that she was, she apologized for being late. That’s when she broke the news:

“The space shuttle exploded and everyone was killed. I’ve been watching the news coverage.”

The typewriters that had been clicking away were suddenly silent. No one knew what to say or what to do. All we could do was look at each other in disbelief.

My instructor, ever the professional, went to her desk and pulled out the exercises for that day. Yes, she went on with class. I don’t remember any of it.

Typing was my last class that day. I drove home, listening to news on the radio, trying to comprehend what had happened. It wasn’t until I got home that I first saw those awful images. Even then, it didn’t make sense. In some ways, it still doesn’t.

Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo taken by Amy Crow, 2009.

Waxing Nostalgic and a Seriously Cool Bag

What do we think about the past? That might seem like an odd question for genealogists, but I think it is one worth exploring.

Slane & Johnson Texaco -- "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star."

Slane & Johnson Texaco -- "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star."

Recently, I’ve become rather fascinated with old signs. Whether neon, electric, or vacu-formed, they seem in stark contrast to today’s polished, glossy, designed-by-the-marketing-department signs. Some sign aficionados say that the old signs herald back to a simpler, more innocent time. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but I do think it is a time we tend to gloss over.

“The past,” for many of us, is something before 1900. Yes, we’ve interviewed our living ancestors and we’ve driven past the house where Mom or Dad grew up — but there is so much more. What about the grocery stores, hardware stores, and service stations where they went about their daily business? What about the movie theaters, restaurants, and bowling alleys where they spent some leisure time? So much of what they and we grew up with is disappearing. Think about your own hometown and how many landmarks of your youth are now the site of a Walgreens.

I suppose it is a relative thing, but I feel a bit sad that our children often don’t have the unique places that we had. There was only one Rubino’s Pizza and it was “ours,” including the too-tall counter and the pinball machine in the back. Somehow, meeting the gang at Starbucks loses something. Yes, they hopefully will still make great memories there, but there won’t be that “special-ness” about the place. Walk into one Starbucks and you’ve pretty much walked into them all.

"A Granville Tradition" (and was a good place to eat!)

Evergreen Restaurant: "A Granville Tradition" (and was a good place to eat!)

(I’m kicking myself for not having a picture of the Kahiki, a Polynesian-style restaurant on the east side of Columbus, complete with tiki torches, palm trees, and flaming statues that flanked the front door. It was torn down a few years ago for a Kroger store. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”)

Some of my relatives have asked “Why would you want to hear about that” when I’ve asked them about their youth. They can’t imagine that something so common-place, so ordinary to them would be of interest to anyone else. I fear the same thing is happening with the commonplace, ordinary things of our own more recent past.

So how does the seriously cool bag fit in? I recently purchased a new bag with Route 66 icons on it — the Route 66 sign, classic cars, vintage hotel signs, and roadside attractions. While standing in line at the post office this week, I was tapped on the shoulder by a kind-looking woman, easily in her 80s. “Oh, honey, I love your bag! Is it new?” I told her it was, that I had purchased it just the weekend before. With a gleam in her eye, she said, “Oh how that brings back some memories.”

I doubt she would have said that if I had a Starbucks bag.

Ancestors I’d like to have dinner with

The 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy poses an interesting question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

My first one would be my Grandma Johnson, because I miss her and would love to share a meal, some smiles, and some conversation.

The second would be my maternal grandmother. She died when my mom was only 8. I would love to meet her. I have one picture of her and she looks so loving.

Third would be my ever-elusive 3rd-great-grandmother Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillen. I’ve managed to account for the demise of only one of her husbands (William Skinner); I don’t know what happened to the other three. Were there more? And what happened to her after she married J.W. McFillen?! She married him in Williams County, Ohio in 1886; after that, she falls off the face of the earth. I’d love to have her tell me about her life, her marriages, the different places she lived, and why in the world she keeps hiding from me!

The fourth one is tough. Do I go with one of my Civil War-era ancestors? Do I go with another elusive ancestor? As tempting as each of those choices is, I’m torn between my 4th-great-grandmother Elizabeth Peden Ramsey and my 5th-great-grandfather John McClelland, who was killed in 1782 in Col. Crawford’s ill-fated campaign in present-day northwest Ohio.

I think I’d go with Elizabeth. For some reason, she strikes me as a very strong woman. She is one of the few women recorded as having purchased land from the federal government in present-day Perry County, Ohio. Why did she, her husband John and son James move from Adams County, Pennsylvania to Perry County, Ohio? What did she think about moving? How did she make ends meet after John died?

So there are the four ancestors I’d like to have dinner with — two from the 20th century, one from the 19th century and one from the late 18th century. I think that would make for a very interesting girls’ night out.

Christmas Memories

The Internet is a wonderful thing. I subscribe to Google Alerts for several things, including genealogy. One of the posts listed today was George Morgan’s comment on Steve’s Genealogy Blog about “Visiting Mom’s Grave.” Steve’s original post was in response to Destination: Austin Family blog post: “Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.” I marvel at how one thing leads to another on the Internet, though it does make me wonder about developing an attention disorder.

The various posts got me thinking about Christmas memories and what a poor job of recording them I have done. Like many genealogists, I sometimes feel like I know my long-deceased ancestors better than some of my living relatives. Further, too many of us aren’t doing enough to record our own lives so that our descendants can know more about us than just our names.

Like George and Steve, I also lost a loved one at Christmas. My Grandma Johnson died December 22, 1979 — 28 years ago today. She was the only grandma I had, and I loved her dearly. A week before she died, I was supposed to go to her house to spend the night, but I woke up that morning with a fever and had to stay home. Later that afternoon, she had a heart attack. (I sometimes wonder what I would have done as a 13-year-old if I had been there when that happened.) She was rushed to the hospital and never returned to her home.

Christmas was the one time a year when my family would get together with my aunts and uncles and cousins. My grandparents had 14 grandchildren — I was the youngest. All of us would pack into Grandma’s tiny house. To this day, I don’t know how we all fit!

Oh the memories of those Christmases. I remember the thermostat was directly across from the back door. Every time someone came in, a blast of cold air would hit it and the furnace would kick on. To keep from roasting, my Dad would set the thermostat for about 40 degrees :-) It’s funny what you remember.

Grandma loved to decorate. One time she brought out some Christmas candles only to find they had warped in storage. Not a problem. She put them on a cookie sheet and placed them in a low oven — get them soft, and then you can straighten them out. It works like a charm… provided you remember to take them out of the oven before they completely melt. :-)

Every year, Grandma would make all of us something. My two favorite things were a beanbag frog with button eyes and, the year before she died, a long rolled pillow with tassels on the ends. I still have both.

The year she died, things seemed very empty. Christmas afternoon came and none of us knew what to do; we had always gone to her house.

Christmas was Grandma’s favorite time of year. Maybe that’s one reason why I sometimes get a little teary listening to some Christmas songs. After 28 years, I still miss her.