Saturday, January 6, 2018


Based on the theory and practical applications of Dr. James Birren's Guided Autobiography, I recently completed leading and facilitating my first Life Story Writing class in the Community Education program at the College of San Mateo. And what a joyful experience it was - a great beginning to what I hope will be a regular class offering of mine. 

Who says the fun of Show and Tell is limited to primary school children? In one of our classes, each student from the class brought in a special object that was in someway related to their life story. Can you tell what the object is in the picture to the left? (answer at the end of this post)

The Show and Tell activity was just one of the many exercises done in class to help students jog their memories of meaningful experiences that could become writing topics for their life stories. Each week, a different theme is presented and students are given sensitizing questions as writing prompts, if needed, to get them going. With the theme of Career and Work, one of the sensitizing questions is: what events or persons influenced your path?

Other life artifacts shared in class.

There is real time value for individuals to write their life stories. On day one, students were asked what motivation they had to take the class.  Mike said that he wanted to write about his life and in the process reveal some underlying themes of meaning. Meaning is really a key point about autobiography writing and the end result provides benefits not only for the family one leaves behind but also for the writer himself or herself in the present day. Julie Beck, a writer for The Atlantic refers to the value of life story writing in this way: “A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.” 

The basic components of James Birren's format are the creation of stories using themes and sensitizing questions, and sharing those stories each week in a friendly, supportive, social small group setting. As the weeks go on, there is a definite bonding experience that occurs as the writers get to know one another more and more on a personal level. In the closing comments from the class evaluations, almost every student made a comment about the importance of the sharing. One student said that the folks in the class became like an extended family.

A culminated experience on the last day of the class was a shared potluck. Good food and great people~! Lastly, the object shown above is a toaster brought into class by Steve. He offers this description: I lived in a Ranger residence without electricity or telephone for 13 years, and my nearest year-round neighbor was 6.5 miles away. The bread was heated on top of a propane burner or on top of a wood cook stove.

There is no better time than now to start writing your life story! 
Soon, I will be offering this class to an online audience. Please contact me at the email provided below for details.

Note: Anita Reyes, a colleague and friend of the late Dr. James Birren, was very supportive to me in getting my first class up and running.

1. More information on Dr. James Birren and GAB:
2. Source of Julie Beck's quote:
3. Anita Reye's website for teaching GAB instructors:
4. Craig's contact email:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Branching from Researching to Teaching

Since 2008, I have been on a stimulating journey to immerse myself in the ways of genealogy.  My genealogy education has included taking a series of beginner and intermediate classes through the Oakland Family History Center and the California Genealogical Society and Library.  As a member of CGS, I also attended countless presentations and workshops, and volunteered in the areas of desk duty, technology maintenance and teaching the beginner’s class on Saturday mornings.  All of these experiences provided far more than knowledge; they provided opportunities for learning genealogy both inside and outside the classroom through networking, sharing and giving back.  After gaining so much knowledge from several years of genealogy self-education and from befriending myself into an extremely supportive researcher community, I felt confident and prepared to submit a proposal to Berkeley Adult Education in 2012 to teach a nine week genealogy class.  My proposal was accepted but I did not end up teaching the class because I moved shortly thereafter to Massachusetts for a new job.  

After adjusting to my new job and community, I pulled the proposal off the shelf and prepared a one-hour genealogy talk to be delivered as a special presentation at the local senior center.  My interest was to tap the community’s interest in genealogy.  Several months earlier, I had started volunteering as the leader of the weekly iPad Club so my reputation to engage with seniors had already been established at the center.  The talk was well-received.  It was also recorded live by the local cable television network which gave more exposure to the idea of a genealogy class.  When I was packing up my materials, I was pleased to see that ten folks has signed an interest form for enrolling in a future genealogy class.

Budding Genealogists in Auburn, MA
Now, I knew there were enough people who were passionate and curious about genealogy to populate a weekly class at the center.  A few months later, the class started meeting on Wednesday evenings. I offered foundation-laying genealogy lectures with homework assignments which propelled the new students into searching for home sources and starting online research.  Each week, the level of enthusiasm seemed to go higher and higher particularly when individuals shared feedback from their initial research and from interviews with their family members.  The class culminated with trips to the local library in which I was able to assist the budding genealogists in real time with researching on

Friday, March 22, 2013

Recent New Memberships: An historical society, a genealogy society and an historic library

After a long interlude, I am glad to be back adding content to the blog.  Completing graduate school, taking on a new job and relocating across the country have been both exciting and bewildering! 

The Maine Historical Society is located in Portland, Maine.  Members have access to a number of resources including the Brown Library housing over 100,000 printed books and manuscripts.  The MHS provides tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Garden. There is also an onsite museum with a current exhibit on how electricity came to Maine.  An incredible resource to researchers/genealogists for family and general history of Maine is the affiliation that the MHS has with the Maine Memory Network, a digital database of thousands of historical items. The engraving above shows the grounds and buildings of a women's seminary school in 1870 which then existed in Westbrook.

The American-French Genealogical Society is less than an hours drive from my current residence in Massachusetts.  Devoted to people of French-Canadian ancestry, the society houses a research library and publishes a semi-annual journal.  On my first research visit to the library, I found a book on the Alberts which listed the marriages of some very distant ancestors in my line, i.e., Gabriel and Pierre Albert.

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA is a research library housing “the largest and most accessible collection of printed materials from first contact through 1876 in what is now the United States, the West Indies and parts of Canada”.  After viewing the informational video about the library, I was compelled to take advantage of this incredible resource for researchers.  Famous people like author and historian, David McCullough, have researched in this library. Using the online catalog before I arrived, I identified three books which I requested to be pulled from the shelves (only resident librarians can access the stacks).  One of the books is called Washington Heights Manhattan - Its Eventful Past by Reginald Bolton.  In this book was a whole chapter on the Dykemans, one of my paternal lines, who lived in Manhattan during the Dutch years. The picture displayed was taken during my visit in February. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Report from the Field

My first experience into the world of Family History Expos was Friday, July 6, 2012 by way of my first experience using Amtrak in California. Instead of driving, I decided to try the comfort of the train.  Amtrak offers an under-2 hour, relatively inexpensive pathway from Emeryville to downtown Sacramento.  Being chosen as one of the FH Expo's "Bloggers of Honor", I wanted to attend some workshops at the event, but also to network and advocate for genealogy blogging on a mingling basis.  A couple of things that I liked about the Expo's organization is a late start to the workshops, which allowed me to travel from afar, and the shortened time allotted for each presentation (50 minutes).  Most genealogy presentations I have attended in the past were well over an hour.  As a mostly inactive listener, I find that absorbing genealogy topics has a useful life to last no longer than an hour, similar to my attention span for attending a museum expedition.  The shorter presentation time of the workshops at the Expo also allowed twenty minute breaks to visit the nearby exhibitors. The only negative to the whole day had to be my outside journey into the summer heat of Sacramento to find a coffee.

Two of the workshops I attended were on the subject of family history books.  My interest in these presentations is keen, as I want to get a jump-start on returning to my family history projects having recently finished a two-year commitment to earn an advanced academic degree.  Biff and Nancy Barnes presented Fascinating Family History Books and How to Plan and Organize a Family History Book.  Biff and Nancy present their material in tag team style; taking turns discussing each slide.  What I was most impressed by was their manner of showing examples.  Rather than talk or read the selections they chose to highlight, they played audio pieces from selecting original recordings, and from snippets from famous authors.   In one example, the audio piece from an unedited story was supplemented by showing the edited work on screen.  As an experienced teacher, I realize the importance of presenting material in multiple ways, i.e. using multiple senses, to address the different learning styles of students.  I was particularly impressed by the ideas and material covered in the first session: Fascinating Family History Books.  I have attended countless workshops on family history writing.  If this were the first workshop I ever attended, I would be energized and prepared with key ideas about moving forward!   What I am taking with me is how much ease the process of transcription to editing can have, and to what extent the author can safely edit the words of the speaker and retain the meaning they are conveying.

Another workshop I attended was British Aisles Migration Patterns to America.  Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D., a migrations expert, was also a "Bloggers of Honor" at the Expo. Her blog covers the topic of genealogy evidence.  Her presentation was less a lecture and more a bibliography on key publications and resources on migration projects that may not be known to genealogists.  One work she cited as extremely important and well written on British migrations is Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer.  A work of particular interest to my own research on the Dutch in New York is The People of Colonial Albany: A Community History Project by Stefan Bielinski.  One project related to children, Child Apprentices in America, documents the names of children associated with the guilds in Britain who came to America via Christ's Hospital in London from the years between 1617 and 1778. The baptismal records of these children, as well the marriage records of their parents, are on microfilm in Salt Lake City. 

Fellow bloggers attending and presenting at the Expo included Nancy Loe, MA, MLS and James L. Tanner.  Other vendors exhibiting were RootsMagic offering free webinars, and Bay Area family historians Frankel and Fisch.
Clipart source:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Importance of Ancestral Origins in Genealogy Research

Source of Image
     In June 2011, I did not return to the Genealogy Jamboree in Los Angeles, but I did get to attend a few webinars in the comfort of my home thanks to the Southern California Genealogy Society.  Curt B. Witcher led a presentation called Fingerprinting Our Families - Using Ancestral Origins as a Genealogical Research Key.  Topics covered in the lecture included:   how to build a historical context for one's ancestor, studying population clusters, paying attention to patterns of all sorts (naming, migration, settlement, etc.), understanding the "push and pull" of migration (i.e. the reasons behind families or individuals migrating), and locating repositories for various ethnic groups.  Curt offered some good ethnic and immigration resources among them:  The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, and The Shaping of America: Continental America (Vol 2), covering the period from 1800-1867.  In my own genealogy blog posts, I like to include many references to historical context to support my family information.

Image source
One of the main points of this presentation is to identify and look specifically for one's ethnic origin by geographical area as opposed to strictly by surname. One way to start this process is to create a pool of factors that led your ethnic group to go to a new land including tramatic events, i.e. the Irish Potato Famine. There are two contexts to go by in searching for ancestral origins: geographic and ethnic. Curt says more leads are found from the ethnic context.

Other points from the talk that I picked up on:
  • Search church records in the areas where the ancestors settled.
  • Many city directories have ethnic sections usually located in the rear of the book.
  • Review county and town histories that give detailed descriptions of ethnic groups.
  • Consider searching for ethnic newspapers in the areas you are researching.
  • Develop a hypothesis and then gather evidence to support it or refute it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Creating a New File and Folder Structure

Source: openclipart
My 2012 New Year's genealogy resolution is to better organize my family history files. Having learned about numerous organizational systems over many workshops from the past five years, it is time to choose one I think will work best for me, and use it consistently.

Currently I am using three different computers for my research. I originally bought an ASUS Netbook for dedicated family history work, but my eyes got tired of the small screen so I upgraded to a larger laptop. For my graduate work, I purchased a Mac Book Pro but decided to use it for my family history writing as well. What spurred my interest to organize is the silliness of using the desktop to store all my folders; there is just not enough room. So I weaned myself off of using my desktop to organize my files. Since I live by the adage, "out of sight, out of mind", to let go of this habit was quite an undertaking. But what I lose in sight I gain in structure.

The first step involved the management of files on the hard drive which meant moving all of my files to alphabetical folders in my Windows 7 Library (see image to the right). What I will try to do is use the same folder names in the alpha folders on my two other computers. If I had different structures on each computer, it would be silliness again.

What is great about using an alphabetical system is any file you store away is limited to the 26 lettered folders.  If you happen to not be able to find a file or folder by thinking how it was intially categorized, you can use the computer's key word search (called Spotlight on the Mac) to locate it quickly. Or you could always print a list of all the alphabetized files and folders.  You cannot go wrong if you file things logically and use the search feature as a backup.

There are many articles on the web for help with organizing files and folders. The information shared on CHNL initially got me interested in creating the alphabetized folders.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Passenger Lists as a Research Tool

The Dutch Flute-an early 17th century ship
       Last May, I attended a webinar hosted by John Colletta, PhD on the topic of passenger lists. An authority on the subject, Mr. Coletta has written a book called "They Came in Ships" (see the image below). One suggestion he offers when searching for passenger lists on the Ellis Island website is to start out searching broad such as by using a first name or a village name. He also suggests to think like a transcriber as to how names could have been misspelled. Ellis Island processed arrivals from 1892 to 1924. For the dates between 1855 and 1890, Steve Morse has a search page set up for searching Castle Garden lists.

Other resources provided by this webinar include:

  • Use as a starting point. They have a comprehensive document with associated links called "How Can Ship Passenger Lists Help Me in My Research?" to get you pointed in the right direction.
  • ...another comprehensive website is Immigrant Ships. These folks are looking for volunteer transcribers.
  •  ...and yet more links to keep you up past midnight: The Ships List, and Genealogy Branches
  • For paying sites, check out Ancestry and World Vital Records.

Lastly, Lisa Alzo is conducting a webinar entitled "Tracing Immigrant Ancestors" on December 7, 2011 sponsored by Legacy Family Tree. She will cover tips and tricks for locating and searching passenger lists.