2020 was a memorable year in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide. As the pandemic raged and forest fires surrounded us, the desire for re-connection with family and friends took hold. Isolation gave way to reminiscing and taking up overdue projects. Many of us found ourselves doubling down on technology as a way to stay close. As personal historians, 2020 challenged us to build on our strengths through video conferencing, taking up our own family projects and consider silver linings as the year progressed.
Have you had old friends reach out to you as the pandemic hit close to home? We did. Family, our past and our futures, took on new meaning as the pandemic found us considering loss and mortality. Long-time friends of Trena Cleland reached out, anxious to preserve their parents’ stories. Trena solved the problem of gathering those stories from a distance using conferencing software. Technology in 2020 helped Trena, and every member of the group realize we aren’t confined solely to face-to-face meetings for family history interviewing.
Digitizing Family Photos And Memorabilia
How many of us found ourselves looking through old photo albums, totes, and old slides, thinking fondly of family, friends and years past? 2020’s reminiscing bug caught our own Joani Hamilton. As the year closed in, she finally had time to turn to a long neglected cataloging project, digitizing family photos and memorabilia. Joani’s tip: add as much historical information to the materials as possible. Through naming and notes, Joani will have what she needs when she’s ready to take her family history to the next level. Whether she decides to create memory books for family, share photos online, work on a family history project or focus on a theme, she has guidance at her fingertips through her colleagues at Personal Historians Northwest.
Unlike Joani, many of us put off digitizing our collections. This year Pacific Northwest wildfires and the pandemic created anxiety for families related to their personal history photos. Enter member Mike Loftin who saved families angst and tedium through his service DigaPix. Mike was VERY busy throughout 2020 digitizing VHS, 16 & 8mm film, slides and photos. His studio is a one-stop shop. Scanners and conversion equipment in his studio will be even busier in 2021 as Costco phases out their photo labs.
Covid Chronicles is the silver lining Gloria Nussbaum found in 2020. She’s developed this series of podcasts to capture the stories and feelings of her fellow Mennonites. There has been an urgency surrounding the past year. and people are eager to tell their tale to Gloria, who is an oral historian. Gloria’s work was highlighted in the Northwest Senior and Boomer News article Listen To My Story.
A Grandfather’s Architectural Legacy Unfolds
Like Joani, others of us burrowed into family projects: Connie Shipley dedicated more time to her great -grandfather Emil Schacht’s biography. She rediscovered the Genealogical Forum of Oregon and became an avid researcher through online databases. Sources include Multnomah County Library and pre-pandemic, the archives at the Oregon Historical Society and the State of Oregon archives for materials related to her great-grandfather, Emil Schacht’s work.
Chronicling History Through Story
Human interest stories are just part of author Julie McDonald Zander’s repertoire. Even as she continued producing focus pieces on her neighbors and area residents for her newspaper column, Julie was busy writing and publishing her latest book, Washington Territory’s Grand Lady, The Story Of Matilda (Glover) Koontz Jackson. She’s not resting on her laurels though. Julie has a new book project in the works already about a former immigrant who came to America with a dream.
Many of us notice a plotline winding through the bits and pieces of our past. Just look through your “treasure box”. Mementos and ephemera can tell their own stories. New member Jeanne Quan is intrigued with ephemera and joyfully uses memorabilia in the story-telling process. 2021 will find her focusing on family recipes, cookbooks and the rich stories contained in mementos.
Introspection Inspires Change
For some of us, 2020 was a time for introspection and redirection. Emily Garcia opened a second bespoke company, and has been spending a lot of time outdoors building a studio workshop by hand. It has been a cathartic process that she attributes to her fathers’ memory.
Family commitments have been a big part of the past year for some. Some of us have been simplifying our lives, winding down and winnowing as we evaluate our personal work.
As personal historians, we hope during 2021 you will make a commitment to preserve the important history that treasured photos tell. Whatever path 2021 takes, we know there are stories that deserve to be told. Memories are precious. Open that old photo album and tell stories. Watch videos of those who can no longer sit beside you. Your history is alive and worth sharing. We invite you to tell yours.
Tools for Beginning Your Own Personal History
You Can Write Your Family History: Sharon DeBartolo Carmack : A study guide for those interested in delving into their family history.
Conversation starters from Trena Cleland: Questions to ask to get the gears for family stories in motion