Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ten Things I've Learned in Ten Years of Blogging

I can hardly believe it, but it was 10 years ago on August 28th that I began Nordic Blue.  My efforts for an unseen audience began tentatively, nervously--prompted by the stellar example and success of a respected writing seminar classmate (have you ever heard of FootnoteMaven?)

From the blog's first baby steps, I had hopes of growing it into a burgeoning collection of family history material, gleaned from wherever on earth I could dig up data and stories, and maybe swiping a bit from the stratosphere, as well.  This blog, in part, represents the ebb and flow of my life over the past decade.  There have been discoveries along the way, and if you have tried blogging, I'm sure you have experienced much of the same revelations as those I list here, and perhaps more.

Chery in a contemplative mood, some years ago.

1.  If You Write It, They Will Come (Eventually)

...Distant cousins and interested parties, that is.  More than a few times I have been pleasantly surprised when a relation finds pertinent information on Nordic Blue. If I am contacted with questions or a request for further sharing, and/or offered appreciation for the information I have made available, it makes blogging worth the time and effort.

2.  It's Okay to "Dabble"

Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems was a keynote speaker at the Northwest Genealogy Conference earlier this month in Washington State.  One of her memorable pieces of advice was that it is perfectly okay to "dabble" in genealogy.  We do not always have to be full steam ahead in research to enjoy both the hobby and the challenge.  Sometimes dabbling, or just keeping our feet a little wet in the sea of family history, is satisfying enough for the time being.  Each person should feel free to go at his or her own pace.  Family history should not be not a contest, but a pleasure!

3.  Sometimes, the Laundry Has to Wait

There are moments when a story starts spinning inside my brain, and the reel of thoughts unwinds so quickly that I fear it will get away from me.  I know then that I must sit down and write out the main points before all is lost.  Better yet, I need to get to a computer to type out a blog post draft before the dots connecting before my eyes begin to fade and float out of reach.  "Use it or lose it" is the motto under such circumstances.  Those moments of high creativity are never equal to any forced attempts at a later date.

In addition to important obligations like employment, commuting, and taking care of hearth and family, I can find dozens of reasons why I should not sit down to work on a blog post at any given moment.  And summertime?  Oh, don't get me started!  Summer in the Pacific Northwest is a colorful palate of possibilities:  long walks, berry picking, farmers' markets, canning and preserving, craft fairs, craft projects, antiquing excursions, country drives, picnics, outdoor concerts, gardening, staying in touch with family and friends, and just settling in the yard with a cold gluten-free beer to watch the trees grow.

Breathe...  it's okay.  It's called "life."

4.  Sometimes, the Laundry Can't Wait

Although I occasionally engage in the guilty pleasure of turning my back on the laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc., to do more enjoyable things like family history, everyday life is a distraction that will not be ignored for very long (thank goodness!).  My genes are full of farming blood, and my ancestors would all turn in their graves if I were to ignore my responsibilities on a regular basis. So, when I come home after a 12 or 13 hour day of working and commuting, my first thoughts usually do not settle on blogging.  Dinner needs to be pulled out of thin air, family members need to update me on their latest needs and thoughts, and yes, sometimes there really is laundry, too, or plants to water, dishes to clean, and on and on.  Plus, if the dog pulls one of those "poor me-you've been gone all day-look at my sad brown eyes" routines (bless his little pea-pickin' heart), then he and all of these other obligations must certainly come before any of my hobbies.  Last time I checked, I did not have a clone that I could implore to write blog entries, while the other me focuses on the world spinning 'round.  

5.  Get Refreshed

Just like getting some new clothes for the body once in awhile, the creative mind needs to be refreshed--even the mind of a family history blogger.  When was the last time you attended a genealogy conference, signed up for a writing class, listened to a podcast, joined or started a group, gave a presentation, bought a new book or CD about things genealogical, or even set a new research goal?  There is no time like the present.

6.  Upgrade Your Tools

The right tool for the job, so they say.  Are yours a little dusty or chipped around the edges?  Perhaps you could use some new ones.  I still have so much to learn, and the genealogy conference I just attended convinced me that Evernote and Google Earth Pro are tools I might not be able to live without in future.  Digital storytelling looks like a whole lot of fun, too.  Now I just have to make the time to learn to use them well.

7.  Strive for Improved Organization

Guilty, guilty!  I am a family historian who laments the lack of proper identification on vintage family photographs, but who is sloppy about doing the same for my own, more contemporary ones.  It hurts to admit that, but it is true.  Though once in awhile I make an effort to corral files on my laptop, do backups, and even look for duplicate photos stored online, there are certain things I procrastinate over.  None of us is perfect, but we can always make an effort to do better, especially when it comes to organization.

8.  Flex Your Family History Muscles

You can build your knowledge base and increase the resources available to you in many different ways.  Some ideas are:  join a genealogical society, and actually attend meetings; go to a library or archives--be bold and ask the reference staff some questions; plan out a research trip to somewhere you have never been before; volunteer time on a genealogy project, like photographing grave markers, transcribing data, or doing good deed lookups for others.  And yes, you can even start another blog. 

9.   Stay Open to Inspiration

Inspiration is all around us.  Yes, it's in that DNA test you just had done, but also in that little idea a friend just shared.  It's on display in a store window, tagging alongside on a field trip, and waiting inside your morning shower.  You can find it if you look hard enough.  Sometimes, a cup of good strong coffee helps you to see more clearly.

10.  Blogging Should Not Be a Chore

Blogging would not be so popular if it were not rewarding.  By all means, have a good time.  Try something different:  tell a new kind of story, make a few jokes, use your senses and imagination, but most of all, be you.

I'm looking forward to at least another ten years of blogging about family history.  I hope you will share in the Nordic Blue adventure, and allow me to share in your adventure, too!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Show and Tell for Posterity

Many family historians, myself included, take the necessary time and energy to track down every detail possible about their ancestors, but make very little time for recording their own lives and experiences.  Who would not rather learn about an ancestor through his or her own writings:  stories, letters, notes, and diaries?  Let's face it, though vital, census, and other genealogy records are useful in many regards, they lack personal perspective.  Like cocoa without sugar... hmmm, something's missing!

Family Tree magazine recently published an article with guidelines for answering some basic questions your descendants will probably want to know the answers to:  "16 Things to Write Down About Yourself for Posterity."  Diane Haddad, the author, states:  "We forget to preserve information about our own lives. Thus, in 100 or 200 years, our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews will be struggling to understand our lives and what we were really like."  To make matters worse, most modern day correspondence is done digitally, through texting, e-mail, and social media, from which the data is not likely to be preserved.  We are less likely to find printed documentation generated by persons alive now within the archives, libraries, and depositories of the future, unlike the paper trail of previous generations.

So, what if you would like to leave a personalized record of your life experiences, but are not much into writing about yourself?  You have heard the saying that, "one picture is worth a thousand words."  A way to organize and preserve family history that I thoroughly enjoy is by designing photo books.  You can create them using many online vendors, including:  Costco Photo, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Walgreens, and others.  There are review websites than can help you determine which vendor to use.  Or, just pick one and dive right in!

Covers from a couple of photo "memory" books I created.

At this point, I have completed a half-dozen photo books, some that contain vintage family photographs, and others that serve as memory books (think "scrapbook").  I have plans for more, because they are fun to create, and the recipients really enjoy them.  Also, the books are "print-on-demand"; you can have just one printed at a time, or multiples.  Your book stays on the vendor website, protected by your log in and password, and it remains available to edit or print whenever you like.  As far as content goes, you could even address the "16 things to write down about yourself" by carefully selecting photographs, and then including names, dates, places, and other interesting information in the captions.  I scanned various memorabilia to add, as well:  cards, letters, childhood drawings, notes, and especially, genealogy and DNA charts.  I also created "favorites" collages using online images; these collages are based on the preferences of the person who is the subject of the memory book.

A "favorite things" collage.
Television shows that had a personal impact.

A Useful Tip
Since photo book vendors can only accept certain file extensions when images are uploaded (.jpg, .tif, .bmp, and .png), you may have to work around this a bit.  To create collages, I used a word processing program (Microsoft Word).  Then, I printed the finished pages out and scanned them as images, in order to create the correct file extension for uploading to the vendor's software.  There may be other methods to achieve the same result, but it is not as hard as it sounds--only a few extra steps are required.

A couple of photographs from my childhood along with a letter sent by Santa Claus (aka, my dad), mailed from North Pole, Alaska, of course!

A U.S. Army veteran's World War II memories.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless with photo books, either for your own story, or for someone else's.  They are fairly quick to self-publish, and there is no end to the ways you can be creative.  Once you get going, I think you will find it hard to stop.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016 Interview

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Tessa Keough recently, who prepares some of the "May I Introduce You to..." articles on the, an online genealogy-based community created by Thomas MacEntee.  I was even more surprised when Tessa wanted to interview me, even though I was previously interviewed in 2010.  She indicated that she wanted to address how a blogger's participation changes over time--how blogging, as well as focus and inspiration, evolves.  You can read the "May I [Re-] Introduce You To:  Chery Kinnick" interview on the Geneabloggers site.  Thank you, Tessa and!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Elmer Strand, Norwegian-American Bachelor, Continued

As a child, I was occasionally delighted by the mystery of new adults entering into my sheltered world.  They came through the front door, often smiling, and left behind new sights, sounds, and stories.  From their visits, I developed a little more insight into human behavior, as well as a wider sense of connection, and sometimes good gossip to digest.

Relatives, relatives by marriage, or even friends from "back home" in Minnesota would sometimes land in our living room for a mere few hours.  They always left fully-fueled, since my mother's Norwegian-American habits would not have permitted her to let a guest leave without being offered the usual round of coffee and sandwiches, or cookies, fruit... whatever we had on hand.  As a quiet and cautious youngster, I did not ask many questions of my parents, but I could not ignore my curiosity about family connections or how my parents, who had obviously experienced things further afield than I was aware of at the time, came to know people. 

I clearly recall Elmer Strand, a lanky and laid-back older gentleman.  Our visit with him during the summer of 1965 was complemented by the experience of a new location, which was outside the comfortable frame of familiar surroundings at home.  The summer before I entered middle school, my mother asked Dad to drive the four of us (Dad, Mom, my 6 year-old sister Becky, and me) to Sonoma County to visit Elmer.  We had just moved from our house in Richmond, California (San Francisco East Bay), to nearby El Cerrito.  After all the work involved in moving, Mom probably looked for a little rest and recreation.  A drive to Sonoma County from the San Francisco Bay Area was the nearest thing to a pleasant day trip into the country you could manage in a large metropolitan area.  Sonoma County, part of the beautiful Redwood Coast area in California, is also wine country, with long, meandering two-lane highways that climb, dip, and roll gently past vineyards and farms, toward the rugged Northern California ocean beaches I knew and loved as a youngster.

Elmer Strand with his family, to that point (left to right):  Thomas (father), Theodore, Elmer, Arthur, and Regina (mother), ca. 1895, Chippewa County, Minnesota.

When I asked my mother who Elmer Strand was, she could only say that he was a longtime friend of my grandfather's.  Elmer, who was the eldest of his siblings, had never been married, and my maternal grandfather, Ernest Johnson, had been a widower for many years.  The two men were close in age to one another.   Elmer Strand was born on March 4, 1890, and Grandpa (Ernest) was born on January 23, 1889, both in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  Elmer eventually moved to California from Minnesota as an adult, as did Ernest. When Ernest Johnson retired in the early 1960s from the Ford Motor Plant in Campbell, California, he sold his house and took an extended vacation on the southern Oregon coast. Elmer Strand went along.  The two men lived in Ernest’s trailer for a few months and did a lot of fishing.  It must have been old Norwegian bachelor heaven!

It was not until many years later, after I began genealogy pursuits in earnest, that I found out Elmer Strand was not just a friend of my Grandpa's--he was a cousin.  Not even my own mother had been fully aware of the family connection.  Elmer Strand's parents were Thomas and Regina (Winje) Strand.  Elmer's mother, Regina (see post entitled Duty, Fate, and Beauty), was the younger half-sister of my grandfather's father, Ole M. Johnson.

Elmer Strand as a young man, ca. 1918.  Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

In Elmer Strand’s later years, he worked as a ranch hand for a landowner in Sonoma County. Though he developed diabetes, he was wiry and still quite lively at the time my family visited him in 1965. Elmer lived simply, without many belongings, in a trailer on the ranch owner’s property. He ate his meals up at the main house. At the time of his death in 1985, he was a resident at the London House Convalescent Hospital in Sonoma. Elmer was a member of the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco for some years.  Though Elmer was originally a Lutheran, it is thought that the ranch owners converted him to their church, since he had the opportunity to ride along to services with them.   After his death, his ashes were scattered in the ocean, just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, in a communal, clergy-led ceremony aboard The Neptune Society’s yacht, the Naiad.

Related posts on Nordic Blue:

Elmer Strand, Norwegian-American Bachelor
Duty, Fate, and Beauty

Elmer Strand (center) with Ernest Johnson, and my mother, Doris Johnson (Wheeler).  Photograph was taken ca. 1948 in the front yard of the flourplex where Ernest's sister, Mabel Johnson, and daughter, Doris, lived in Richmond, California.