Archive for September, 2009

“Are You Related to Barack Obama?”

by Sherry Stocking Kline
Written for the Wichita Eagle’s Active Life Magazine – February 2009

Want Your Family Tree Researched?  Get Famous!

Probably no one knows better by now than Barack Obama and his family that if you want to have your family tree researched for you, just become famous and run for office.

There is a fascination with knowing more about famous people, especially our presidents, and even those who didn’t vote for Obama want to know more about him and his family.

There are websites, blogs, and numerous articles devoted to discovering, talking about and arguing about Obama’s family history, even going so far as trying to determine what ethnic percentage he has of Caucasian, African, and Arab in his ancestry.

Marsha Stenholm, retired genealogy librarian at the Wichita, Kansas Public Library, said there is a great deal of interest in Obama’s Kansas roots from journalists, television anchors, and individuals.

Are You Related to Barack Obama?

Are you related to Obama?  You may be.

Obama’s family has ties to several cities and counties in Kansas, including Wichita in Sedgwick County, Argonia in Sumner County, El Dorado and Augusta in Butler County, as well as Chautauqua, Howard, Labette, and Johnson Counties.

“Obama has ties to El Dorado and Wichita,” Stenholm said, “and if you go back another generation, his great-grandparents and great-great grandparents have ties to Wichita and Argonia in Sumner County as well.”

According to Stenholm, Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, (who was named for her father), was born in Wichita, possibly in St. Francis Hospital, in 1942. Her father, Stanley Armour Dunham, was born in Kansas in 1918 to Ralph Dunham and Ruth Lucille Armour. Her mother, Madelyn Lee Payne, was born in Wichita in 1922 to parent’s Rolla Charles Payne, who was born in Olathe, Kansas and Leona McCurry, born circa 1897 in Kansas. According to Federal Census resources, Stanley Armour Dunham worked in the furniture business.

Obama’s Great-Grandfather Born in Argonia, Kansas

“Obama’s great-grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham was born in Argonia, Kansas,” Stenholm said, to parents’ Jacob William and Mary Ann (Kearney) Dunham, and are on the 1900 Federal Census in Dixon Township Stenholm said the census records are available online at www.ancestry.com or at the Wichita Public Library.

By 1909, Stenholm said that Wichita City Directories indicate the family was living in Wichita. They also showed up in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal census, where Jacob was listed in 1910 as a manufacturer of drugs in a drug store, in 1920 he was listed as a pharmacist in a drug store, and in 1930, he was listed as a physician in a medical business.

In 1915, Ralph married Ruth Lucille Armour, whose parents were Harry Ellington Armour and Gabriella Clark, who appeared in the 1910 and 1920 Federal Census of Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, and in the 1930 Federal Census are listed as living in El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas.

Obama’s Grandma Toot born in Kansas…

Two different sources have Madelyn Lee Payne, Obama’s grandmother “Toot” born either in 1922 in Wichita, Kansas, or in Peru, in Chautauqua County, Kansas, to father Rolla Charles Payne, who was born in Johnson County, Kansas and Leona McCurry Payne, born circa 1897 in Kansas. The 1930 Federal Census lists seven-year-old Madelyn living with her parents in Augusta, and her father’s occupation is listed as a bookkeeper for an oil company.

Are you related to Obama?  Whether you are or not, you may find researching Obama’s family ties at http://genealogy.about.com/od/aframertrees/p/barack_obama.htm fascinating. And if your name is Dunham, Payne, Armour, Stroup, Kearney, Holloway, Clark, Overall, McCurry, Wright, Black, Wolfley, Abbott, Creekmore, Wright, or Allred, you might just want to take a quick look into your family history and see if you, too, have ancestral ties to our new President.

Sidebar
Wichita Public Library
223 S. Main
Wichita, KS 67202
(316) 261-8500

“Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy” by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls

“Unpuzzling Your Past: The Best Selling Basic Guide to Genealogy” by Croom

“Tracking Your African-American Family History” – David T. Thackery

Tombstone Tuesday – Elizabeth Laird Crabb

Elizabeth Laird Crabb - Buried at Milan, Ryan Township, Sumner Co., Kansas

Elizabeth Laird Crabb - Buried at Milan, Ryan Township, Sumner Co., Kansas

The Tombstone Reads:

Crabb

Elizabeth

Wife of J.R.U. Crabb

March 11, 1831
July 30, 1912

Aged 81 yrs
4 mos. 19 DS

Obituary:
Death of Mrs. J. R. U. Crabb    August 1, 1912 – Milan News

Miss Elizabeth Laird was born in Hart County, Kentucky, March 11, 1831, and died at her home near Milan, Kansas, July 30, 1912, aged 81 years, 4 months and 19 days.

Early in life Mrs. Crabb dedicated her life to God through faith in Jesus Christ and united with the United Baptist church in Barren County, Kentucky.  She has been since that time a constant and faithful member of the church.

She was united in marriage to Mr. J. R. U. Crabb, July 11, 1857.  To this union six children were born, of which two died in infancy, one boy at the age of thirteen and one daughter after she was grown.  Two daughters still remain, one is married and lives in Kentucky and the other is still at home.

Mrs. Crabb has been ill for a number of years and everything that cheerful hands, loving hearts and the best of medical skill was done, but all in vain.  A good woman has gone to her reward leaving behind a sorrowing husband, two daughters and a host of friends.

Funerals services were conducted in the Baptist church, Wednesday afternoon at two o’ clock, by the pastor, F. G. Wilkerson.  Interment was made in the Milan cemetery.

The entire community extends sincere sympathy to the bereaved husband and relatives.

And here is part of my mystery, and my brick wall.

Elizabeth was my great-great grandmother. Or was she?

Her death certificate states that she was born in Hart County, Kentucky, and her parents are Hezakiah and Patsy Carter Lard/Laird.

Her obituary mentions the children “born to this union” and does not mention any other children.

The Mother in the census here was given the last name Crabb by the census taker, but note that her name was Patsy C., leading me to wonder if Patsy was actually Elizabeth’s mother, rather than J.R.U.’s.

For a time, even though my mother called her grandmother and we placed flowers on her grave, I could not verify her link to my family, as her son, my great-grandfather, had the last name of Jones.

My great-grandfather, Willis Washington Jones was born in 1853, and by 1860, he is shown here on the census with Elizabeth Lard Crabb and her husband, J.R.U. Crabb.  My mother was always told that Elizabeth was her grandmother, but as Elizabeth died the same year my mother was born, she does not remember her. Her older siblings did remember her, however, and she was always called grandmother by them and by my mother’s mother.

It appears, and records seem to verify, that Willis was her son, either by a previous marriage, or that Willis was illegitimate. (I have Willis’ death certificate, but not here where I am today. I believe that it lists Elizabeth as his mother.)  By the time Willis died, however, he was re-married to a much younger woman, and had begun a second family.

I’d like to be able to solve this puzzle someday, and in writing this, found one clue that I had previously over-looked. Amazing how a fresh look will open up another possible avenue of research!

Brick Wall Suggestions Most Welcome!!

Happy Tombstone Tuesday!

1860 Census
Page #87
Metcalfe County, KY
East Fork Post Office
Entry # 586  586

J. R. U. Crabb,  22,  M, Farmer, `1000 Real Estate Value, 1500 Personal Property Value,
Elizabeth , 28, F
Daniel U,  2, M
Patsy S, 1/12 yrs olf, F
Patsy C. Crabb, 60, F
Willis Lard, 25, M
Catherine Piper, 17, F
Amanda Gooden, 12, F,
Willis Jones, 7, M

1870 Census
Saunders Precinct
Barren Co, KY
20 Aug 1870
Temple Hill Post Office

Crabb, Joseph R. U. 32, M, W. Farmer,  blank, 1200 personal property, born KY
, Elizabeth   36, F, W  housekeeping
, Daniel W.  12, M, W
, Martha S    10, F, W
Sallie A.      8, F, W
Bettie          4, F, W,
Patcy (?) C  70, F, W,  housekeeping

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – My Favorite Song(s)

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Your All-time Favorite Song

(I borrowed this first part from Randy Seaver’s blog at http://www.geneamusings.com/

It’s Saturday Night – time for some Genealogy, and Family History, Fun!

Here is your assignment for the evening – if you wish to participate in the Fun (cue the Mission Impossible music):

1. What is your all-time favorite song? Yep, number 1. It’s hard to choose sometimes. If you made your favorite all-time Top 40 music selections, what would be #1?

2. Tell us about it. Why is it a favorite? Do you have special memories attached to this song?

3. Write your own blog post about it, or make a comment on this post or on the Facebook entry.

Here’s my Favorite Songs – For Tonight Anyhow!
by Sherry Stocking Kline

This is much harder than last week’s blog where all I had to do was try to figure out how to make Family Tree Maker spit out an Ahnentafel report and then figure out which one was “the one” to write about. (by the way, I flunked that test, but did write about an interesting ancestor! Check that out here)

Well, I’m going to ‘flunk’ this week, too, because I can’t just write about one!

I was in high school in the 60′s, and grade school in the 50′s, so there’s a lot of great songs to choose from, and it seems like all have memories attached.

This isn’t my Number One song, but it is one with some great memories attached.

It’s “Li’l Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and if I’ve done it right, you can listen to a short clip by clicking on the title. (Well, I wasn’t able to pull that off..)

“Li’l Red Riding Hood” was one of those fun-to-sing-along-with songs, so picture if you can, me and three high-school girl partners in crime, some of us with our boyfriends (this was before seat belt law, and before all cars even had seat belts!) all crammed into a small, white, 63′ Ford Fairlane 500, dragging main street with the windows down singing this song and howling at all the appropriate times, and at some of our good friends in passing cars.

(This was back when you could drag main all night after a football game or movie for just $1, and you could stop at Dick’s Drive-In for 15 cent French Fries)

And no, no alcohol was involved or being consumed!  Just a lot of fun between friends who are still friends today.

The boyfriend with me became my husband, and that song was one we laughingly sang on road trips when our kids were little bitty, and they sing to their children today!  Memories don’t get any better than that.

My favorite number one song?  Toss-up between Ben E. King’s  “Stand By Me” in the 50′s and John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” in the late 60′s.

Raised on a wheat and dairy farm with a 160 acres of land to roam over, and lots of animal pets, I’m a country girl at heart, and whenever I hear “Take Me Home Country Roads” it takes me back home in memory. And whenever I hear “Stand By Me” I think of grade school, high school, sock hops and good friends.

Thanks for another SNGF of fun!

Roderick and Frances “Fanny” Stocking’s Tombstone

Roderick & Frances Stocking's Tombstone

Roderick & Frances Stocking's Tombstone

By Sherry Stocking Kline
September 22, 2009

My great-grandparents, Roderick Remine and Frances “Fanny” Hitchcock Stocking are buried here, in the Osborne Township Cemetery near Mayfield, Sumner County, Kansas. This cemetery lies on the Chisholm Cattle Drive Trail.

Roderick and Frances came to Kansas from Michigan in the 1870′s, homesteaded just north and west of this cemetery, in a one-room house so small they had to put the table out of the house at night to put down their beds.

Their first child, my grandfather, Elmer Stocking, was born in that tiny house! Fortunately, they built a bigger house before they had three more sons, Ralph Hurlburt, Roderick Porter, and John Lester.

My great-grandmother passed away from cancer in 1920, but my great-grandfather Roderick lived to be nearly 98 years old, passing away in 1951. I remember him as being tall and distinguished looking.

My mother, his granddaughter-in-law, says he was a “fine, gentle, man” and she always thinks of him when she thinks of this verse, “Prayer was his key for the morning and his lock for the night”.

Roderick Stocking with his great-grandsons Harold "Fred" and Gary Stocking, and their dog, Snazzy

Roderick Stocking with his great-grandsons, my brothers, Harold "Fred" and Gary Stocking, and their dog, Snazzy

My First Saturday Night Genealogy Fun!

By Sherry Stocking Kline
written for FamilyTreeWriter.com on September 19, 2009

Hello all!  This is my first foray into Saturday night genealogy fun, (see Randy Seaver’s website at http://www.geneamusings.com/) and I will most ashamedly admit that although I’ve done genealogy for 20 years and written about it for 10, I’ve not taken the time to understand the ahnentafel numbers.

Mea culpa. What is it Johnny Carson used to say “so many lashes with a wet noodle?”  Anyhow, I’m not sure, well, actually, I’m pretty darn sure I played the game wrong, but I tried.

Like R. J. Seaver, my father was born in 1911, but he would have been 98, almost 99 by now. So I began with me, and went back almost to 19 back from me. Got to George before 19.  If someone can explain to me how to do an ahnentafel in Family Tree Maker 16, and have it tell me what numbers are what, I’ll re-do my entry here.

My Ancestor is George Stocking

Anyhow, My ancestor is George Stocking, who emigrated to America in 1633. The following is the info from my Stocking Ancestry Book, compiled by Hobart Stocking by research and previous books!

George Stocking, born about 1582, Suffolk, England, married Anna ?

He emigrated to America on the ship Griffith, and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and built a house there in 1635 at the corner of the present Holyoke and Winthrop Streets.

George joined the Thomas Hooker Party

On May 6, 1635, he was made a freeman. (I don’t know what he was indentured as) He joined the company of the Reverend Thomas Hooker (one hundred in number according to family history) and traveled on foot through the wilderness to the Connecticut River in 1636.

Helped Found Hartford, Connecticut

He was one of the original founders of the city of Hartford, CT, and you can see his name on the stone of founders in the city there, as well as find his tombstone in the cemetery.

George was a prominent proprietor there, and “in the general distribution of land, he received twenty acres, “on the south side of the road from Geoge Steel’s, to the south meadow,” other grants being made later on.

On the death of Anna, whom he had married in England, he is understood to have m. 2d. Agnes (Shotwell) Webster, widow of John Webster, governor of the colony.  The Stocking Ancestry Book states  “It does not seem probable:  Agnes is not mentioned in the 1683 court distribution of George’s property.)”

He took from the first an actiave part in local affairs; was selectman in 1647; surveyor of highways in 1654, and ’62; chimney viewer in 1659, and was excused from military duty in 1660, owing to “great age.”

George became a freeman, October 4, 1669.  (again?? I wonder what this means?)

Living to 101 is Pretty Good for those Times!

He died May 25, 1683, aged 101 years, and his name is inscribed on a large monument erected to the memory of Hooker’s party, and which now stands in the old Center Church burying-ground in Hartford.

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF GEORGY STOCKING:

“15 July, 1673.
“George Stocking of Hartford upon the River of Connecticut planter dos in this my last Will and Testament Give unto Anne my Wife all my housing barn orchards homelott upland and meadow & swamp land cattles and all other estate for her to use during the time of her life, and after her decease to be disposed of as follows.  I doe give to my daughter Lidia Richards the wife of John Richards The sum of (pounts) 14.  and do also give to my dau Sarah Olcott the wife of Samuel Olcott the sum of pounds 10.  I doe also give unto the six children of Andrew Benton, that is to Andrew Benton, Jr., John Benton, Samuel Enton, Joseph Benton, Mary Benton, and Dorothy Benton, the sum of (pounds) 12.  to be divided among them I doe hereby give unto Hannah Camp one Mare.  My will is that these legacies be discharged within one year next after my wifes decease.  My will also is that my wife shall keep the housing and barn in repair unless something more than ordinary befall any of them.  The remainder of my estate to my son Samuel Stocking and make him my executor.  The land to pay its due proportion to the Ministry of the New Meeting house.  I desire Gregory Wollerton and St. Bull to be oversers.
“George Stocking (seal)

“Witness
“Gregory Wollerton
“George Grave,Sen.”

“December 1683.  This Court (at Hartford, CT.) haveing viewed that presented as the last Will & Testament of George Stocking in the circumstance of it, together with what George Stocking (#1) hath declared to George Stocking (a granson, #11) & Captain Allyn & his declaration of his will in part controdicting, doe Judge that the Will presented is of no value, & therefore the Court distribute the Estate as followeth: to Samuel Stocking (Pounds) 100; to Hannah Benton’s children (Pounds) 41; to the wife of John Richards (Pounds) 41; to the wife of Samuel Olcott (Pounds) 41; to John Stocking who had lived with George Stocking, his frandfather, for some years, the remainder of the Estate, being (Pounds) 34, we distributed to John Stocking; and desire & appoint Marshall George Grave and Thomas Bunce to make this distribution.”

It’s Definitely A Small World

One interesting aside note, or interesting to me, anyhow. When six of us gathered here in Sumner County, Kansas some 300 years later to form the Sumner County Genealogical Society, FOUR of us could trace our history back to Hartford, CT founding fathers, and one of us descended from the man Hartford was named for.

Small world indeed, and when we did closer research, a librarian friend and I discovered that our ancestors had witnessed each other’s wills back and forth.

Journal Your Summer Photos Now!

by Sherry Stocking Kline
first published in Wichita Eagle’s Active Life Magazine – September 2000

Now that summer’s over, and you’ve got a shoebox full of vacation, grandchildren, wedding, and graduation photographs, it’s time for you to preserve those memories between the pages of a book, like a pressed flower, to be enjoyed again and again.

So where do you start first?

“Get some history attached to those photos,” said Bob McCreary, “that’s the first and probably the most important step.”

McCreary and his wife Kathy co-own Scrapbook Garden, Wichita, Kansas. McCreary said that Kathy carries photographs with her in her purse and whenever she has a few minutes while watching television, waiting for the doctor, or waiting to get a driver’s license she sorts photos and makes quick notes on the back with a photo safe pencil.

Once you have them sorted, McCreary said it’s really a quick step after that to put the photos in an acid-free, lignin-free photo album, and then “journal” or tell about the photos.

Each year, Gerry Reimer does a summer vacation album, and adds more pages to her all-Christmas album.

Journals Don’t Have to Be Elaborate…

Reimer said not to let your friends’ elaborate journals scare you off. “Streamline,” Reimer said, “get the photos on the page, and get the people identified.”

“First of all,” Reimer said, “Tell yourself it’s o.k. not to use all the photos you have.” Reimer said to choose pictures that tell who you are and where you were at that time, and be sure and include names and dates in your albums.

“I don’t keep a travel diary,” Reimer said, but Reimer said she jots down a few notes, picks up ticket stubs, colored brochures, saves travel itineraries and whatever else they might want to use in their vacation albums.

Reimer said you’ll know what you want to do, and what you don’t, after you finish your first book. Reimer’s first photo album was her wedding album.

“We’d been married 49 years,” Reimer said, and I didn’t like our wedding photos, so I had a wonderful time cropping off what I didn’t like and journaling about the pictures.” Reimer said she does “bullet journaling”, or writes short statements under most photos, saving long stories for special photographs or events.

Start With Recent Photo’s…

Bonnie Loewen, Creative Memories consultant, said the easiest way to get started is with your last roll of film while your memory of the event is fresh, and work your way backwards.

Tell A Story…

Loewen said to tell a story with words as well as with pictures. How were you feeling? What was going on in the family, and the world? Loewen said even the current price of bread and gasoline will be interesting to future generations.

Loewen said to write as you would talk, don’t worry about punctuation, and write a sloppy first draft. You can re-write it later, Loewen said.

Answer the Five W’s – Engage the Five Senses…

Think about the five senses and the five W’s, advised both McCreary and Loewen, adding that it will make ideas for captioning your photos come easier. Just remember to answer the questions who, what, when, where, and why questions, and engage the emotions by writing about how something looked, sounded, tasted, felt, and smelled.

Preserve Your Handwriting, too…

McCreary said and its faster to use a computer to journal, but it’s not as personal, so he said not to be afraid to write in pencil and go over it later with a permanent marker, or even cover up mistakes with cardstock.

“Some people don’t like their handwriting,” McCreary said, “but people years from now will cherish seeing the handwriting of the person who made the journal.”

Scrapbooks can help bridge the generation gap, so along with vacation, wedding and family photos, include stories and pictures of military service and other events to help future generations understand the times you lived through, and what makes your family special.

Ordinary Days are Important…

Loewen said it’s also good to make pages of what an ordinary day was like in your family, too, not just the special events. “And make a signature page,” Loewen said, with your name, date, who the album is for, and why you did it, “it’s kind of like signing a quilt.”

If you have a lifetime of photographs ask for help from your family. Reimer said that kids and grandchildren are great to help photo captions.

McCreary agreed, “it’s good to get family members involved.”

“Make it a fun activity,” McCreary said, “have everyone sit down and talk about the photos, and try to communicate some of the emotion.” You get different perspectives of an event by talking to different people.

“It’s really exciting that people are making a legacy and trying to pass on their roots and their values,” Loewen said, “values can be lost in one generation if they are not preserved.”

“People will forget you in one generation if you don’t tell your story,” Loewen said, “you can make such a difference in people’s lives with a scrapbook.”

“In a sense,” Reimer said, “your whole book is the story of your family.”

Can You Salvage Damaged Photographs?

By Sherry Stocking Kline
published in the Wichita Eagle’s “Active Life” magazine in November 2005

If disaster strikes, whether it’s Hurricane Katrina, your water heater sprung a leak, or your photographs have water and smoke-damage from a fire, don’t make the trash your first destination of choice for the remains.

Sometimes, even wet, stuck together photographs can be salvaged, but you have to act fast.

“A lot depends on the circumstances,” said Darrell Garwood, preservation officer, library archives division, Kansas State Historical Society, “There is a lot of dirt and contaminants in flood water,” Garwood said, “If they have been in water, especially dirty water longer than 48 hours they may not be able to be re-claimed.”

A lot also depends on what type of photographs are damaged. Are they fairly modern? Are they old? One-of-a-kind? Hand-tinted? What kind of paper are they on?

Before you do anything, you need to know what kind of photographs you are dealing with, and it may be necessary to consult a professional for help. To help you determine what kind of photographs you can safely repair yourself, or if you have no choice but to attempt the repair yourself, there are books, such as “How to Save Your Stuff From a Disaster” by Scott Haskins, and websites such as Northeast Document Conservation Center, www.nedcc.org, and the Kansas State Historical Society’s website at www.kshs.org, (click on preserve) can help you determine what kind of photographs you have, and how best to preserve them.

According to Gary Albright, senior paper/photograph conservator, Northeast Document Conservation Center, there are a number of different photographic processes, and while some photographs can be immersed for a day or more and still be restored, others will be completely ruined by a just a few minutes of water exposure.

“Time is of the essence: the longer the period of time between the emergency and salvage, the greater the amount of permanent damage that will occur,” Albright said.

Haskins stated that it’s best to consult a professional who can deal with the photographs without adding to the damage, especially if you have old or vintage photographs.

Wet photographs should always be a priority. Albright said that wet photographs should be air dried or frozen as quickly as possible to prevent mold damage.  (Yes, he really did say frozen.)

If the photographs are still wet, it’s best to put them in clean, cool water, distilled water. Change the water often to make sure the water stays clean. Do not use bleach, detergent, fungicide or disinfectants. Do not touch, rub, scrub, or try to force stuck-together photographs apart. Handle them by the edge only, preferably with a blunt, clean pair of tweezers.

Drain excess water off the photographs, and lay them out flat, and separated, on clean, lint-free material to dry. Do not use newspapers. Negatives should be hung up by the edges to dry vertically. Circulate the air the help speed up the drying process and to prevent mold. Do not use a heater.

Can’t deal with them right away? Freeze any photographs that cannot be cleaned and dried within 72 hours.

If they are already wet, rinse off any dirt, mud, etc., separate photos or groups of stuck together photographs with wax paper, put them into zip lock freezer bags and put them in the freezer. Do NOT stack anything on top of them.

If your photos are damaged, you still may be able to scan them at 300dpi or better, and use image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel’s Paint Shop Pro to repair copies of your damaged photographs. You can use that new, digital copy to make new photographs.

Garwood stated that prevention is the most important thing, and Garwood agreed.

“Address prevention first,” Garwood said, “store them properly and avoid basement storage because basements are always the first thing to flood in a house.”

After prevention, Garwood suggested that you spend a little time in disaster preparedness. Know where your photographs, family letters, video tapes, DVD’s, and important papers are, so you can go right to them for a speedy recovery should it become necessary.

If possible, Garwood said, have back-ups and replacements.

“Make this part of your emergency preparedness plan, and remember that your papers and photos are not as important as yourself,” Garwood said, “People should always come first in a disaster.”

2009 Author’s Suggestion:  Before freezing or beginning any restoration attempts, consult with professionals if at all possible.

This article idea came to mind following Hurricane Katrina, and the tornado that struck the Haysville, Kansas area. We drove through the tornado devastation where houses were turned into matchsticks, and papers and pictures were blowing in the wind.   I realized that after life and limb were safe, it was the thought of losing my photographs  that bothered me most if we were to be struck by a tornado.

Photographing Your Family History

by Sherry Stocking Kline
Wichita Eagle’s June 2001 “Active Life”

When Tammy Pontious’s great-grandchildren look at her family history scrapbook many years from now, Pontious doesn’t want them to see stiff, posed photos of people in their Sunday best clothes. She wants them to be able to see what they were like when they were working and playing.

“The key is to carry your camera with you,” said Pontious, who keeps her camera handy and often carries it along when she drives her daily school-bus route. “You’ll have missed opportunities if you don’t.”

Bob McCreary, who co-owns Scrapbook Garden, www.scrapbookgarden.com, with his wife Kathy, agreed. Many people keep one of the “point-and-shoot” or disposable cameras that take remarkably good photographs handy, said McCreary, adding that for a clearer photo with a point and shoot camera, you must aim the focal point of the camera at someone in the group and not at the background.

Because photographing people in front of a simple background is often better, Pontious looks at the background before snapping and decides if it will help tell the story or just clutter up the photograph, though with today’s digital software, it’s fairly simple to crop out, blur, or even replace an unwanted background.

Close-up’s are great for people photos and eliminating distracting backgrounds, but check your camera’s manual before taking one, advises Kodak.com, as some cameras cannot focus closer than four feet from the subject.  When using a flash, you need to check your flashes’ useful range as well. For many cameras, anything past 10 to 12 feet is a dark blur, as any concert goer can attest to after snapping photo after photo only to get home with photos of a shiny bald head about eight feet in front of them.

Pontious, who calls herself “a picture fanatic,” said you need to take lots of photographs.

“You just can’t be stingy with the film,” Pontious said, “for $8.00, you’ll probably come up with two or three photos that you’re in love with.”

For sharp, clear photographs, hold the camera steady, and try Pontious’ technique of visualizing the photo before gently pressing the shutter button. Pontious said she also tries a variety of different and unique angles, works to capture candid facial expressions, and likes to catch her family’s silhouettes in profile shots.

Pontious also ‘stalks’ the wildlife on their river farm, catches her dogs in silly poses, snaps her mom relaxing on the porch swing, and her husband and son while they work, hunt, and fish.

“That’s our lives,” Pontious said. Our descendants may say, “look what great-grandpa did back in those days.”

“You know the old saying about 1000 words? There is a lot of information that finds its way into a photo almost by accident, and sometimes it becomes significant to us later.” McCreary said.

“It’s candid shots of people doing things that tell the story of our lives,” McCreary said, “if Uncle Ralph was a farmer – take a photo of him on his combine. If someone hunts or fishes a lot get a photo of the big catch.”

To avoid that squinty-eyed look outdoors, photograph people on overcast days or in the shade using fill-in flash to highlight faces and chase away the shadows. Pontious said her favorite time of the day to take outdoor photographs is in the early morning or late afternoon, and said that she also likes to photograph subjects using the warm, natural lighting near a window.

“I just don’t like what I end up with at high noon,” Pontious said, “the photos all end up looking washed out.”

Pontious said that she looks for little situations and happenings, but she also works to create photographic events.

How does she do that? She sets up fun events for people to enjoy. One event that yielded some favorite photographs was a tea party she held for several laughing and giggling young cousins while she sat the corner of the porch “click, click, clicking away.”

McCreary said that while you are capturing your family in photographs, don’t forget to photograph your home(s), inside and out, and your yard, farm, barns, and outbuildings that are a part of your life today, and may be only a memory someday.

Pontious treasures the family resemblances she sees in the photographs of grandparents that died before she was born. She said that many of their photographs have been passed down from one person to another, from one generation to another, from trunks to attics, and came on covered wagons from there to here. She feels she is handing down a family history treasure to her son Dallas.

“A photo can tell you everything in the world,” Pontious said, “emotions, social status, whether they were rich or poor, lifestyle, facial features, looks and personality. What I would hope,” Pontious said, “is that it will tell them my values, hopes, dreams and what I accomplished.”

Someday she hopes that her descendants will look at her family history book and read the anecdotes, stories, and poems that are woven throughout, and will choose to preserve it, and hand it down again.

“Who knows where they’ll go in my son’s journey,” Pontious said.

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