google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: April 2013

The Stovepipe: A Memoir with Many Lessons

When we write our family history stories, it’s important to tell our tales from a place of empathy. Sometimes, we have to wait to share those stories.  Regardless of whether they are personal memories or they belong to our ancestors, the pain can often get in the way of recalling an honest account. A story-line that tells a difficult truth but does not live in a place of anger or revenge is key to telling true narratives that will resonate with readers. It is this very quality that is demonstrated so profoundly in Bonnie Virag’s memoir, The Stovepipe.

Regardless of whether you are a family history writer, a memoirist, a family historian or you just love a good book you will discover honest and incredible emotions in The Stovepipe. This is one of those books that will stay with you long after you have finished reading. You will think about these young girls over and over again, and it will certainly cause you to wonder if you really have anything to complain about in your life.

I was first introduced to The Stovepipe because it takes place in my neighborhood. The author, Bonnie Virag was born in Simcoe, Ontario. She grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in the rural area of Southern Ontario known as Norfolk County.  At the age of four, Bonnie was removed from her mother’s care by the Children’s Aid Society along with her twin sister Betty and two sisters and a brother. Their lives would intersect throughout the next fourteen years, as they became permanent fixtures and collateral damage of the foster care system.

In The StovepipeBonnie recalls with great clarity her time in foster care until she is 19 years old.  Please don’t let the subject matter stop you from reading The Stovepipe.  It is the grace with which Bonnie handles this difficult subject that makes her book a fantastic read. Bonnie has found the most empathetic and gentle place to tell her story. This memoir is not filled with revenge or hatred. While there are many painful moments in this memoir, the reader shares a wide range of emotions with Bonnie and her sisters and brother. You will laugh, cry, cheer them on and yes get angry, after all isn’t that what we want in a great book.

Bonnie’s healthy perspective with which she writes this book is a lesson to us as family history writers. Let Bonnie’s book be a wonderful example of how we can tell those painful stories.

This moving story of a young girl finding her way under very difficult circumstances; demonstrates the power of sisterly love and the will to survive with grace. Through this honest and stirring memoir, Bonnie not only draws from her own memories but also consults her sisters in the writing of this book and enlists the records of the Children’s Aid Society.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie at a local author’s fair. I have great respect for any writer who can turn a very difficult time in her life into a work of art shared with such poise.

I hope you pick up a copy of The Stovepipe or download it to your e-reader. I know you will not be disappointed. While Bonnie may have grew up in a small town this book is no small feat. Her story and writing has received national acclaim. The Stovepipe was awarded a Kirkus Star and designated as Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012.

There are many lessons in this memoir, resilience, family love and of course, let’s not forget how we must do better for the children caught in the foster care system. For the family history writer, learn to tell an emotional and painful story with compassion through Bonnie's example. Please read The Stovepipe.

Since the author's fair, I have been in contact with Bonnie and she has kindly agreed to an interview. We will talk with Bonnie about her process in writing her book. This interview will be an exclusive in our June newsletter of Storylines.  In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our first issue of Storylines due to arrive in your mailbox early next week and grab a copy of  The Stovepipeand give it read so you'll be ready for our interview next month. 

The Long Distance Interview

Often we use the excuse of geography as a reason not to conduct a family history interview. In this day of technology and all things of instant communication, there is just no reason why we cannot connect with relatives in far off places.

The long distance interview is a little more challenging and limiting than a face-to-face interview, but no less valuable. Today we have at our disposal Skype, Google+ Hangouts, email and telephone all of which are excellent options when conducting a family history interview.

When I was conducting interviews for my family history book, I wanted to reach out to a Great Aunt. She was elderly and living in a nursing home in Florida.  I had not seen her in many years and I could count on one hand the number of times I probably saw her in my life. However, this aunt was the last living child of my great-grandfather and I knew that she held some important stories and information.

I reached out to her son, who was living near the nursing home and caring for his mother. I had never met him. I managed to get an email address and sent him off an introductory letter.

I was thrilled when he replied and was open to my requests.  We exchanged about four emails over the course of a month. I included about 3-4 questions in each email. His mother was in failing health and I knew I had to be respectful of her energy and of her son’s time. I didn’t want to overwhelm her or him so I restricted my questions.

While I could have spent hours interviewing my great aunt, I had to choose just the right questions. I knew my opportunity was going to be brief and I didn’t want to waste a single question. I focused my queries on the things I knew I could not find in a document or vital record. I asked her to tell me about her parents, their personalities, and how they interacted. She shared some very vivid memories of her mother, an Irish woman who died of a stroke very young. She recalled the Christmas Eve her mother died and how her life changed from that day forward. She was twelve years old at the time. She described her mother working around the house singing Irish lullabies, she described her mother’s interaction with her husband and I was given a window into this relationship and family that I never had access to before.

Her son was very gracious. I think he appreciated the task of asking these questions, perhaps he learned some stories from his mother that may have never occurred without those email prompts. In return for his kindness, we sent him a copy of the family history book. My great aunt died a few months after our long distance interview. Her son sent me an email a short time later, thanking me for the book and including her stories.

While I had wished for an in-person interview and more time with her, I was very grateful I had reached out across the miles and conducted that long distance interview.  I was appreciative for the stories she shared. I was able to add so much more detail to my narratives for the family history book because of her interview.
Don’t let geography be your excuse! Make that phone call today, send that email, reach out to your family who are miles away and interview them for their family history stories.

If you would like to learn more about conducting a family history interview including conducting a long distance interview and group interviews, download my free ebook, The Complete Guide to the Family History Interview. 

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The Cake is a Little Sweeter!

Tomorrow, The Armchair Genealogist rolls past its fourth anniversary and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then by finding this blog listed in Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2013.

Some mornings I get up and wonder how I ended up here and why I continue to blog. There is little reward or remuneration in blogging. Few can make a living from it. Yet day after day, I’m drawn to it.

What inspires me and allows me to keep things fresh, interesting and remain consistent has little to do with me but YOU!

 Those little morsels of comments that you leave keep me going. It’s when I wake up in the morning to an email from a reader who learned something in the last post and wants to thank me for helping them. It’s when a reader takes the time to comment even if it’s just a ‘thanks I enjoyed this post.’ It’s all those who tweet and retweet, leave a comment on my Facebook page, and even a click of your mouse on the LIKE button is an endorsement that tells me to keep doing what I’m doing.

I appreciate the time each one of you takes to offer a few words at the end of a blog post. It encourages me to comment more myself.  Don't leave a remark just because it’s good for SEO. Please comment because what the blogger wrote moved you. Comment because you found something valuable in their post, even if it’s just one small thing. Comment if you actually took one idea away and implemented into your life. Comment if the post brought you to tears or made you chuckle. If that blog post stirred any kind of reaction in you, please tell the writer. Comments are the commodities by way of which most bloggers are compensated.

More than ever, I am conscientious of that now! I’m very aware when a new genealogy blogger joins the ranks.  Do you remember how it felt to get that first comment, to know that someone actually read your words, looked at your blog? It’s such a small gesture on our part yet a big deal to the writer. Years from now when they look at this era in the birth of social media, let’s make sure we can reflect back on the good that came out of it. My hope is that through technology we found a way to be a more supportive community than we could have ever imagined.

I am proud to be a part of this village and I want to thank Family Tree Magazine for the recognition they bestowed on me this week. They are right, being on this list is a little icing on the cake and it makes the work a little sweeter. I want to congratulate all the bloggers on the list but also all those who are not on the list. There are hundreds of brilliant family historians writing beautiful moving blog posts every week. Reward their efforts and leave a comment.

Most importantly, as I celebrate four and forty, I want to thank you for taking the time to stop by every week, for supporting me via a comment, email, tweet or like and for being such an incredible tribe. I look forward to the next couple of years and the wonderful things we are going to accomplish together.  

A 10 Step Plan: Getting Sources & Citations Under Control

Let's not kid ourselves, many genealogists started their researching careers with a lack of knowledge  or understanding of the importance of citing their sources.

 I didn’t get drawn into genealogy because I love to write a citation. Before I started genealogy, I hadn’t used a citation in probably 30 years. Seriously. It was not part of my daily diet.  It still is the least exciting part about genealogy ranking right up there with the tedious task of scanning. you I made my share of mistakes and I have been fixing those mistakes.

We all were pulled into the excitement of the research, the thrill of the hunt and discovery of our family history. Eventually we all come to realize the importance of knowing where our information came from, and what sources we have to support our history as fact. However, more often then you realize, this knowledge arrives after we've been researching for some time.

Now what do we do?

Seasoned professionals love to beat this stick. I like to think it's not because there exists some rigid rules meant to frighten and intimidate you from this very passionate hobby. I think it’s because many of them made these very mistakes. They understand the work involved in going back through your research and making sure you have proper sources for all your information.  They want to help you from repeating history. They are trying to save you time and grief later.  But they also understand completely if you too got caught up in the excitement of the hunt and paid little attention to those boring citations. We're not passing judgement, many of us, whether we care to admit it or not have walked in those shoes.

So I’m not going to beat that stick as well. I ‘m going to assume you followed human nature and did like the rest of us, got caught up in the excitement and left the citations at the curb. But of course, now your ready to clean up your research and address those sources and citations. 

Do you have spotty and shotty sources and citations? Click to Tweet

Here's a 10 step plan to help you do just that! It's meant too be easy, uncomplicated and do-able in manageable chunks. Once you create your system and put your plan in place your citations will slowly get under control. You'll expand your knowledge of sources and citations and you just might tear down a brick wall by looking at your research with fresh eyes. 

There is no miracle to taming those out of control sources and citations, only a slow and steady pace. Check out the mind map below that lays out this 10 step plan. 

If you would like a larger view of this mind map click here, you can download a PDF of this tool to help you clean up your sources and citations. 

Scrivener for the Family History Writer - Annotations

We are back with another video in our series Scrivener for the Family History Writer. Today we discuss inline annotations. A handy little tool to help you stay focused on your writing while not losing track of the added research, editing, social history and various other elements that need to be addressed but often distract us from the task of writing.


Check out my list of Scrivener Videos for the Family History Writer and or subscribe to my video library and be sure to download your copy of Scrivener  here.


Monday Morning Mentions Says Goodbye!

For the past 2 years, Monday Morning Mentions has been bringing you some of the best highlights from the genealogy blogs and beyond. I have shared with you blogs, books, webinars, podcasts that span research and writing family history to social media and productivity. Each week, I've helped introduce you to new bloggers and shared some of the finest blog posts from across the internet. However, after much soul searching, I have decided that it's time to retire Monday Morning Mentions.

For the last couple of months, I have thought long and hard about this decision. It was a difficult decision because the numbers indicate that many of you enjoy my weekly round-up. Why walk away from a regular blog post that draws so many readers?

I believe in keeping things fresh and moving things forward. Over the past four years, I've grown as a blogger and as a writer and I believe growth can only continue to happen when we are willing to change and reinvent ourselves. I want that for myself and for my readers.

Monday Morning Mentions served several purposes. It exposed myself and you to so many great genealogy blogs. It was a way for me to be generous to this community, and of course in the process I've made a great many new friends. However, I feel it is time to be generous in other ways. It's time to focus on new projects so we can all continue to grow and expand as family historians and writers. I have many projects in the works and more waiting in the wings and it's time to clear a little space on this blog and in my calendar.

Of course, I will still continue to follow and read the thousands of wonderful blogs I've come to know and love. I just won't be highlighting them here, in this format. However, keep an eye on my twitter feed @LynnPal and my Facebook page, and our Google+ Community for Family History Writers, I'll continue to share many of those great reads in all these social media outlets.

Like I said,  I have many projects to get on with, including our newsletter Storylines. Our first edition will be out later this month, be sure not to miss it. I'm certain a few mentions will end up there as well. You can download my first ebook, for free, The Complete Guide to the Family History Interview, and I'm excited to bring you plenty more ebooks in the near future.

Of course, I'll continue to post each and every week with great tools and tips for researching and writing your family history, so make sure you're on the email list so you don't miss a thing.

So right or wrong, it's time for a change.

Of course, I don't really feel like you and I will be missing out, there are so many great genealogy bloggers who have this under control. I'll be following their round-ups as well. Therefore, in the spirit of Monday Morning Mentions, I'll leave you with a list of where you can find some the great highlights from this week's genealogy blogs.
Other Great Round-ups

You can find more new genealogy bloggers at Thomas' list of New Genealogy Blogs at Geneabloggers.

For other great reads, Randy at Genea-Musings offers the Best of the Genea-Blogs

Read Friday Finds by Julie Cahill at GenBlog

Dan Curtis, Professional Personal Historian always puts together some interesting selections in Monday's Link Round-Up.

British and Irish Genealogy blog offers lots of goodies, This week brings Genealogy News for April 5th.

And Jana Last lists some favorites on Follow Friday -- Fab Finds for April 5th 2013 by Jana Last on Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog.

And John at Transylvanian Dutch brings us his Weekly Genealogy Picks.

Have a great genealogy week, keep researching and writing!