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Thoughts of an Accidental Local Historian

I recently was the recipient of the 2013 Caroline Historical Society Award in recognition for my efforts to research, document, promote, and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia.  This was one of several awards that I have received for my efforts to preserve local history.  As I drove to Caroline County, Virginia to attend the meeting where I would be presented with the award I thought about the path that led me to become a local historian.

I have always been a bookroom who loved school, reading, writing and performing research.  However, as a student, history was my least favorite subject.  It was just an endless list of dates and events that had no significance to me.  Despite my lack of interest in history, I did enjoy researching my family history.

I became interested in genealogy as a teenager after Alex Haley’s book and movie Roots became popular in the 1970’s. My research at that time mainly consisted of talking to a few relatives and reviewing census microfilm.  As a young adult, college, career, marriage and motherhood caused me to put my research aside; however, every once in awhile I would do a little research.

In 2004, I began to devote more time to my research. Technology has changed greatly since I first started my research back in the 1970’s. The internet has provided me access to many resources and people that were previously unavailable.   Additionally, the 1930 census was now available and this document provided the link that I needed to research my family all the way back to 1870 in Caroline County, Virginia.  I was able to locate cousins who lived in Caroline County and began traveling to the county to perform research.

As I became more involved in my research I wanted to know more than names on a pedigree chart. I wanted to know about the everyday occurrences of my ancestors: Where did they live? Work? Go to School? What clubs and social organizations did they belong to?  I became interested in the community where they lived, the impact they had on the community and the impact the community had on their lives. Understanding this information gives me a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors.

I began taking an active role in preserving the history of the communities in which my ancestors lived.  I created my website (woodforkgenealogy.com) to share documents and other information that would help others with their research. I was one of several interviewers for the Fort AP Oral History Project. The final product of the project was a book titled Wealthy in Heart: Oral History of Life Before A.P. Hill.   

As I traveled to various, archives, libraries and other repositories to perform research; I noticed a dearth of information about African Americans.  However, as I talked to African Americans in the county, I would hear interesting stories of their lives growing up in Caroline County.   As I listened to their stories, I would often think, “This is wonderful information. Someone should write it down and preserve it.”   In 2009, I decided to become that someone.  I initiated the Union High History Project to research, document and preserve the history of Caroline County, Virginia’s only high school for Negroes during the era of segregation. The end product of this project was a book titled, Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969My experience with the Union High History Project inspired me to start speaking to genealogy groups on the importance of preserving local history.

I no longer see history as a list of insignificant dates and events. Instead history gives me a better appreciation for what I have today,  inspires me to continue the legacy and make the future better for the next generation.

History Makers in Our Midst

Summer is almost here.  Families will be gathering for barbeques, cookouts and reunions.  There will be many stories of days gone by and lots of photo albums and memorabilia to share.  As you are visiting with family this summer, why not use it as an opportunity to preserve  history.  Not only will you learn family history, you may also learn that you have history makers in your midst.

Caroline High School Literary Program
Beryl Jackson is in the first row on the left

Beryl Jackson is such a history maker. She shared her memories of being in the first group of students to desegregate the Caroline County School system when I interviewed her for a book I was writing on Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.  In 1965, Beryl and a few other students transferred from Union High (the high school for Blacks) to Caroline High ( the high school for Whites).  Although her experience did not make national news and is not recorded in history books like the story of the Little Rock Nine, it did change the Caroline County School system forever.

Your family member’s memories have historical significance, not just for your family but for the community as well. Here are a few topics that are likely to come up during family discussions:

  1. Way of Life –What was the lifestyle of the people living in the community?
  2. Employment – How did people in the community earn a living? (ex. farming, working in steel mill)
  3. Migration – Did family members come to America from another country? Move from one area of the country to another?  What was their experience?
  4. Clubs/Social Organizations – How did family members socialize with other members of the community?
  5. Institutions – Where did family member go to school or church? What impact did these institutions have on their lives?
  6. Community/Neighborhood –Communities change overtime. What was the community like when your family member lived there?

The next time you go to a family gathering be sure to take your digital recorder and/or video camera and preserve history.

Self-Publishing Tips (Part 1) – Preparing the Manuscript

In an early post, I provided several tips for taking an active role in preserving local history.  One way to preserve local history is to write a book. In 2009, I initiated the Union High History Project to preserve the history of Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.  The end product of the project was a book that preserved the history of the school and the memories of the people who were associated with the school.

I decided to self-publish the book because I wanted creative control.  I researched numerous self-publishing companies and narrowed the list down to CreateSpace and LuLu.com.  I selected CreateSpace because it was associated with Amazon.Memories of Union High Cover

This was the first time I had every written a book and I had no idea what I was doing.   I did a lot of research, made it up as I went along, made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons.

I am happy to say I am pleased with the book.  It is  titled Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969 and I have received a lot of positive feedback.  The book uses remembrances from alumni, faculty, family and friends; excerpts from school newspapers and yearbooks; and over 100 photographs and other memorabilia to preserve the history of the school.

When people learn that I have self-published a book they often ask me for a few tips.  Therefore, I decided to create a blog post to share what I learned from my experience with the Union High History Project.  I have a lot of information to share, so I decided to divide it among several posts.

Originally, I decided to do all the work for the book myself.   As I researched the book design process and began reading about editing, formatting, pagination, fonts etc.  I quickly realized I did not have  the skills to produce a professional quality document.  Therefore, I decided to outsource the editing and design work.  The end result of the book design process was two PDF files (one for the cover and another for the manuscript) which I uploaded to Createspace and printed.  This process was much simpler and I recommend that you hire an editor and graphic designer. The final result is well worth the cost.

Here are some tips for preparing your manuscript for editing and layout before you hand over your manuscript to a professional to create the final product:

  1. Using a word processing software.  Your manuscript should be created using either Microsoft Office or WordPerfect.  Since Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software  I would suggest you use that.
  2. Decide on document layout (but don’t layout the book).  When I was writing my book I inserted images, captions, text boxes, headers, and footers in the document.  After I hired the editor I learned that I should not have done that, so I had to undo all that work. The positive aspect of me laying out the book was I had a clear vision of what I wanted the document to look like and could communicate my vision to the professionals. Even though you should not layout your book, you should have a general idea of what you want the book to look like.
  3. Format the document.   The document should be double spaced with a clean, readable font such 12-point Times Roman. Use the same font throughout the document and do not format the text (e.g.  no bold, italics, underline etc.).   Use a left justified margin and indent the first line of each paragraph with a single tab. Use only one hard return between paragraphs.  Do not use hard returns at the end of a sentence; let the text wrap naturally to the next line.  Begin each chapter on a new page and give each chapter a title.   Number every page.
  4. Decide on image placement.  Images can be grouped together in one section (usually the center) or dispersed throughout the document.  Grouping the photos in one location will help keep the cost down because it makes the graphic designer’s work easier.  It also can save on printing cost if the images are color because that one section can be printed in color (which is more expensive than black and white) and the remaining sections of the book can be printed in black and white.  In some instances it is more appropriate to spread the images throughout the document. In the case of Memories of Union High, photos and text boxes were positioned next to a person’s memory; therefore, the images were spread throughout the document.
  5. Ensure document has the proper sections.  A book has three main parts: Front, Body and End.  Each of these parts is comprised of various sections (some required and some optional).
    • The front portion of the book consists of the following sections. Half-title page contains only the title of the book. Title page contains: book title; subtitle; author; collaborators and contributors; and publisher. Imprint Page contains the copyright notice, publisher contact information, Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN) and ISBN. (You will learn more about these items in a future post.)  These sections are followed by the Dedication (optional), Table of Contents, Acknowledgements (optional), Author’s Notes (optional).  The Foreword is optional and is usually written by someone other than the author.  It explains why the reader should read the book.  The Preface is optional and explains how the book came about.
    • The body of the book is the main part and usually consists of the chapters including the introduction and conclusion.
    • The back portion of the book consists of End notes, Appendix, Bibliography and Index. These sections are optional; however, if you are writing a local history book, I encourage you to at a minimum have end notes and a bibliography to document the sources for your information. The Appendix can be used to include supplemental information which may be of interest or use to the reader.

Memories of Union High contains three Appendices.  The first appendix contains Principal Messages from the yearbooks.  These messages added value to the book by providing insight into the principal’s thought process, but there was no place to include them in the main portion of the book.  Therefore, I thought it was best to put the information in an Appendix.

The second Appendix contains a summary of historical events that took place during the time period covered by the book. Originally, I included explanations for these events in the main portion of the book.  This made the flow of the book awkward and difficult to read.  Additionally, the information was not necessary for people who were familiar with these historical events.   Summarizing the information in the Appendix was the best place for the information because it allowed readers who needed the summary to review the information before reading the book.

The last appendix contained a list of all the Union High History Project Participants.  Originally, I included this information in the acknowledgements section; however with over 100 participants the list was entirely to long.  Therefore, I moved the information to an appendix.


6. Ensure images are of good quality.
 It is important to have good quality photos to eliminate the need for the graphic designer to do extra work to correct problem areas which can greatly increase the cost of the graphic design work. Images should be of high quality (300 dpi or higher) and should be free of major flaws or blemishes.  Poor quality or damaged images may require some restoration.  If you are handy with graphic editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, you can repair the photographs yourself.  Otherwise, it may be necessary to use the services of a person who specializes in photo restoration.  I used Drew Klausner from pixlfixl.com and was very please with his prices and his work.  He often gives discounts to repeat customers.

1948 Union High Baseball Team - Before Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team - Before Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team -  After Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team - After Restoration

7.  Create an image folder. Each image should be labeled sequentially (ex. image1, image2 etc.) and all the images should be placed in one folder.

Image Folder Example

Image Folder Example

8. Insert image and text box place holders.  A place holder such as [Image1], should be used to indicate where the image should be placed in the manuscript. The place holder should correspond to the filename for the image in the image folder. The text for the text box should be included in the manuscript.  A place holder (ex. [textbox 3] )should be used to indicate the text to be included in a  text box

Image Place holder example

Image Place holder example

9. Create caption file.  The caption file should be a sequentially numbered list  and contain the text for the caption for each image or text box.    (ex. Homecoming 1968 attendants, Miss Union High and Miss Football Sweetheart.  Source: 1969 Union High Yearbook.) The number on the list should correspond to the number of the image or text box. Example, Item 1 on the list in the caption file is the caption for Image1 in the image folder.

Caption File Example

Caption File Example

10. Proofread the manuscript.  You should meticulously proofread the manuscript before submitting it to the editor and graphic designer.   This will greatly cut down on the number of revisions that are needed which will help keep the cost down.  I suggest enlisting the help of a friend or family member with the task. (Just one person will do. Feedback from too many people will cause confusion.)

If  you follow the above tips, your manuscript will be ready for editing and design by the appropriate professionals.  The next blog posts will discuss selecting an editor and graphic designer, the editing and design process and how to obtain identifying information for your book.

If you have any questions about the information in this post feel free to submit a comment and I will reply.

Next Post:   Self-Publishing Tips (Part 2) – Preparing to Hire an Editor and Designer

 

Taking an Active Role in Preserving Local History

I started researching my family history in Caroline County, Virginia in 2004.  I was frustrated by the dearth of information on African Americans.  As I talked to African Americans in the community I would hear interesting stories of their lives growing up in the county.   As I listened to their stories, I would often think what interesting information it was and that someone should preserve it.

In 2009 I decided to become that someone and take an active role in preserving the history of the communities where my anceMemories of Union High Coverstors lived. My first project would be to preserve the history of Union High School – Caroline County’s only secondary school for Negroes during the era of segregation.

I knew nothing about the school and had never written a book; however, I decided to take on the challenge.  Once I began to spread the word about the Union High History Project many people were eager to participate.  The result of the project is a book titled Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia, 1903-1969.  The book available at amazon.com and my website.

In addition to writing a book, I have collected a large amount of Union High memorabilia and ephemera including hundreds of photographs, a complete set of yearbooks, commencement programs and school newspapers. I plan to donate these items to libraries and historical archives.  Because of the collaborative efforts of numerous ordinary people, the history of Union High School has been preserved for posterity.

You many not want to take on the monumental task of writing a book.   Here are some ways you can help preserve local history on a smaller scale:

  1. Donate items to libraries, historical archives and genealogy societies. When going through family members’ belongings, save old documents, papers, photographs, memorabilia and ephemera and donate them to a local library or archives.  A lot of historical items are classified as junk and thrown away because the person who is cleaning out an elderly or deceased person’s home is not mindful of the significance of the items.

I urge people to donate original items on a regular basis and keep copies for their records. Using this method, you or your family members will not be faced with the daunting task of sorting through a large amount of information years later.  You don’t have to organize the items just put them in a box and take them to the organization.  Some organizations may even send staff to your house to retrieve the items if you have a large amount of information.

L. R. “Jack” Davis, the funeral director of Davis Funeral Home (which later became Storke Funeral Home) in Bowling Green, VA, was responsible for moving  graves after the government purchased land in Caroline County, to establish the  AP Hill military reservation. Mr. Davis kept very detailed records in a 250+ page document which provides information of the location of graves before and after the move.

Many years later, his daughter made copies of the document and distributed it to libraries and the Caroline County historical society.  This document is an excellent resource for anyone performing genealogy research in Caroline County.  Because of the generosity of Mr. Davis’ daughter, numerous family historians and genealogist have been able to obtain valuable information about their ancestors.

  1. Write articles for newsletters.  As I research my family history I also collect information about the communities in which they lived and the organizations in which they were members.  I have written several articles for the Caroline Historical Society newsletter in order to share this information.
  1. Create a website or blog. I acquired several documents from the Fort A.P. Hill Environmental Office that continued valuable information about the people who lived in the community prior to the establishment of the military reservation.  I uploaded the documents to my website to make them more accessible.  I have been contacted by people all over the world who were very grateful for this information being on the internet since it was not feasible for them to travel to Caroline County to perform research.   Some information may be copyrighted so be sure to get permission from the owner before you post any information and documents on the internet.
  1. Give speeches and make presentations.   I have made several presentations on the subject of researching, documenting and preserving local history.  I share my experience from the Union High History Project and give tools and tips for preserving local history.
  1. Share research strategies and information with staff at libraries and historical archives.   Performing genealogy research for African Americans can be a frustrating experience, especially when researching our ancestors who were enslaved.  Because slaves were considered property, the traditional methods for performing genealogy research can not be followed.

I frequently perform research at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The staff is very friendly and helpful. On one occasion I struck up a conversation with several staff members who inquired about my research.  I told them I was searching through documents about my ancestor’s deceased slave owner (Elijah Wigglesworth) to learn more about my ancestors. I explained how I had to research my ancestor’s slave owner family in addition to my own

family in order locate my ancestors. I showed them how my ancestors were listed in the Inventory and Appraisement of the slave owner’s estate,  and how the document showing the distribution of his estate showed my great great grandparents family being separated when the slave owner’s estate was divide among his wife and children.  I then explained how I had to search for slaves in wills, inventories, and other court documents for each of the new slave owners to trace my ancestors’ movement during the slavery.

I pointed out that since the names of the slaves were not provided on the summary for documents in the collection I had to spend hours reading through documents in hopes of finding information on my ancestors.  They agreed this was not an easy task since many times the documents were handwritten with poor or fancy penmanship, faded and very difficult to read.

Once the CRHC understood the research strategy they began including the slave names on the summary for documents in the collection that is published on the CRHC website.  I find most staff at libraries and archives are very helpful and open to suggestions.  I recommend that you share your research strategies and ideas whenever you have a suggestion for improvement.

  1. Participate in activities to preserve the history of the communities you are researching.  In 2007, the Fort A.P. Hill Environmental Division initiated the AP Hill Oral History Project to preserve the history of the communities that existed before military reservation was established.  I was one of several individuals hired to interview people who had lived in the community.  The end result of the project was a book titled Wealthy At Heart: Oral History of Life Before AP Hill.

Although I live over 100 miles from Caroline County, I was still able to contribute to the project by interviewing former residents who lived near me.  All interviewers were required to take an oral history training class.  Therefore, not only did I help preserve the history of the community where my ancestors lived, I also learned techniques for performing oral history research that I still use today.

 

  1. Support genealogy and historical societies.   Most genealogy and historical societies rely heavily on volunteers and donations. I urge you to volunteer at the genealogy and historical societies where you perform research, become a member and make financial donations.

Preserving local history is not just the responsibility of professional historians.  It must start with the ordinary people who live, work and have an interest in the community.  I urge you to follow the above steps to help preserve the history of the communities where you and your ancestors lived.

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