Tag Archives: Personal writing

Letters to My Children – Star Wars

Letters to My ChildrenThis is an occasional series in which I recollect my own memories and attempt to share them with my children (or whomever will listen!). For more information about the purpose and scope of this series, read my introductory post.

November 2015

Dear Sea Turtle and Penguin,

It is a cloudy and wet Saturday. In many ways, the rain is a boon that we are all enjoying as it has been dry for months. California is experiencing a drought of epic proportions. Autumn has finally begun in Northern California. The temperature is dropping and we have turned our clocks back for the winter. When you are older, you may remember the years of the drought. But this weekend, as we are stuck inside, between laundry, grocery shopping, and other chores, we watched two of the original Star Wars movies: Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. We are just over a month away from the release of the newest chapter in the franchise – The Force Awakens. But today, as we engaged in our typical banter over unrealistic plot points, we discussed which characters were puppets (Yoda), inhabited by dwarves (Jawas/R2D2), or giants (Chewbacca). I lectured over the CGI effects which were added into the digitally re-mastered versions from the 1990s. Sea Turtle, you are much like me in my love of fantasy books and films/shows, but you have never bought into the Star Wars hype. I feel that I have failed in passing on my nerdy ways to you in this respect. Penguin, I love that you are enjoying the Star Wars universe. Your Uncle J was almost your age when the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977 so it is wonderful to watch your joyful energy as you take in the stories.

Today, in 2015, the Stars Wars universe is almost 40 years old. It is already a firmly established part of popular culture. But I remember a world where Star Wars did not exist, even for a brief time. Up until then, science fiction shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who had limited special effects. We laugh at how pathetic those special effects seem today. Star Wars was a whole new ball game in 1977. People lined up around the corner of movie theatres to see the next showing. They also went back, again and again.

The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980. Of the three original Star Wars films, I think this one is my favorite. There was a lot of anticipation in the three years between the first two movies, but even more so between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The last film was released in 1983. In the 1990s, George Lucas digitally re-mastered the three films, adding CGI effects that had not been possible only a decade or two previously. Your dad and I went to see these “new” old films together, as well as, the three new movies that comprised the prequel trilogy: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I shall refrain from giving my opinion on these three movies.

David with Deborah, circa 1978, Mt. Wachusett

David with Deborah, circa 1978, Mt. Wachusett

Star Wars became part of popular culture and it hasn’t really ever gone away. Uncle J and I had the soundtrack to the movie which we played over and over again. Our favorite piece was the background music for the cantina in Mos Eisley. We loved to listen to it on the record player. We owned Star Wars themed t-shirts, toys, sheets, legos and so on. Even today we have Star Wars items around the house from Han Solo (frozen in carbonite) ice cube trays to the Darth Vader mask and light saber toys. And, of course, we have all the movies in our DVD library. For Christmas this year, I am fairly certain there will be at least one Star Wars themed present.

Memory is a funny thing. When the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, many of the big fast food chains sold drinking glasses. They had colorful decals on the outside with cartoons or other popular characters. In July 1977, a few weeks after Star Wars was released, McDonald’s was investigated by the FDA for having too much lead in the decals on their glasses. Uncle J and I owned several of these glasses and they were thrown away as a precaution. We loved those glasses and like typical children we were devastated. In my mind, those glasses were Star Wars themed. However, after examining several old newspapers, it does not seem possible that the glasses were Star Wars after all. Burger King won the bidding for the Star Wars franchise and began selling glasses in 1980.

McDonald's glasses

The Berkshire Eagle, 9 July 1977, p. 1, col. 1-2. Image courtesy of Newspapers.com

I am looking forward to seeing the new movie in a few weeks. The anticipation for this movie is incredible, especially after seeing many of the trailers over the last few months. The original stars (Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford) will have parts in the new movie and that brings back quite the feeling of nostalgia of a time long, long ago…

I hope you enjoy the new movie,

Genealogy Tip:

When interviewing a family member, bear in mind that memories are fallible. Record what they remember, but do some research. Can their memories be backed up with contemporary sources? Until I tried to find evidence about the glasses that were thrown away in 1977, I firmly believed that they were Star Wars themed. Now, I’m not so sure….

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/11/11/letters-to-my-children-star-wars/

Letters to My Children

Letters to My ChildrenAs a genealogist, I spend copious amounts of time tracking down long dead ancestors to glean vital clues about their lives. But, what if I had a time machine? Like most people, I would jump at the chance to go back and find out everything I possibly could. One of the first things any new researcher should do when embarking on their genealogical quest is to interview living family members. Many of us regret that we didn’t ask those questions or care about listening to the family stories until after those family members are gone.

But what if you could do something today to help the future generations of researchers? This is a topic which has been swirling around in my head for awhile now. I have two school-aged children, and while I occasionally bore them with stories of my life, research shows that children who know their family’s stories are better adjusted and able to deal with challenges and adversity. A few years ago, I participated in a project called the Book of Me. Participants were given a weekly prompt to use to write about themselves. While I wrote quite faithfully at the beginning of the project, I lost interest. Perhaps the topics were too contrived. I cannot say for sure. I think the project has a lot of potential (and I recommend it to anyone who wants a way to record their story). I gained several friendships with fellow genealogists while I was participating. If you are interested in reading some of my Book of Me posts, you can find them archived under the My Ancestors tab at the top of the page.

So, how DO I go about writing my stories, beyond the standard genealogical birth-marriage-death vital statistics? I think the answer to the question is different for everyone. I have always been in awe of my father, diligently writing his life down in his journal everyday (a habit which he acquired in the weeks after my birth). I have attempted to keep a journal at various times in my life, but it is not a habit that I have found addicting. I have been thinking of solutions to this dilemma. How do I record ME for my descendants and future generations? Transcribing daily letters for the past three years has made a mark upon my psyche. In the back of my mind, I have been keeping a notebook of ideas of things and events from my life that I would like to write down. Potential topics range from foods that I ate as a child to the social history of events that I lived through.

I have tentatively settled on the format of writing letters to my children. Each letter will focus on a different topic. Posts may be sporadic as the urge to write comes over me. Topics will definitely not be chronological, and may jump around on my timeline. To protect as much as possible the identities of my children, they will known as Sea Turtle and Penguin, animals which they love and have been affectionately nicknamed. While these posts are mainly for myself and my children, I hope, dear readers, that you enjoy reading about my life. Stay tuned for my first letter!

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/11/08/letters-to-my-children/

Progress – September 27th

Well, this update is not about the book because I am on book hiatus until the end of October. [Insert crying face emoticon here] I have too many other projects on the stove cooking at the moment to devote time to the book. I am frustrated by this lack of time. I want to be able to focus on the book completely instead of stealing a moment here or there. But the time just is not there at the moment, and I have to be realistic.

My main focus is writing my proof argument for my ProGen Study Group. The first draft was due September 25th which I turned in a few days early. After I wrote mine, I had to review the four papers of my group mates. We have such different writing styles and research problems. It is great to see what we are all working on. This next month we have to take the comments and suggestions of our group mates and polish up our first drafts into the final arguments.

I chose a research problem which I have been working on for 20 years, since I first starting working on Gladys’ family. One branch of her family has Quaker ancestry which stretches back to the early days of Pennsylvania and William Penn. Due to all the various migrations across the eastern part of the United States in the early years of the nineteenth century, some records are non-existent. The purpose of a proof argument is to gather indirect and direct evidence together in one place, and to write an argument “proving” whether or not events occurred. In my case, I have been searching for the parents of Alfred M. Dicks, Gladys’ great grandfather.

I believe I have a very solid argument. My first draft was 18 pages long, and over 6,000 words. I received some good feedback from some of my study group mates, and now I am beginning to make some corrections and additions. It is also my plan to publish the argument as an eBook when I am done in October.

In my genetic genealogy work, my father’s mtDNA results came in last week. I have two exact matches, but I think they are several generations too far away to help me at present. Mitochondrial DNA is the type of DNA which was used to prove that the bones buried under a parking lot in England belonged to Richard III. My goals are a little less lofty, but no less important to me. I am hoping to prove the connection between Sarah Ann (Jewell) Rea and her parents with mitochondrial DNA. The most plausible candidates are John P. Jewell and his wife Mary (Hoagland) Jewell. My father’s haplogroup is H1g1. This haplogroup appears to be more common in Germany and the Northern European countries. If Sarah’s mother was Mary Hoagland (who was of German ancestry), and I can find another of Mary’s descendants who matches, then I may have solved this mystery.

Last night, as I was searching for more information about Crawford and Clark counties (in Illinois) where Gladys’ family lived, I discovered that the Marshall Public library has begun digitizing the local county newspapers, back to the 1850s. This is AMAZING news! I have been stymied by the lack of records access in these two counties for the last two decades. I finally had to step away from the computer at midnight, but I could have gone on for hours more. The website says that they are still scanning and adding more newspapers, so patrons should check back often! [Can you see me doing Snoopy’s happy dance?] I was able to find the obituary of Gladys’ great grandmother, Belinda C. Foster, which previously I had only been able to find in a transcription, and many other little tidbits of gossip about my ancestors.

I will leave you with a small sample from the weekly news gossip column of West York, Illinois, from March 1896, announcing the marriage of Gladys’ parents.

Foster-Lawhead Marriage Announcement, 1896

Clark County Herald (Marshall, Illinois), 11 March 1896, p. 5, col. 2.

©2014 Deborah Sweeney.

Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2014/09/27/progess-september-27/

The Book: Progress report – September 6

World War II letter book coverIt has been two weeks since my last progress report, and sadly, I have very little to report. I haven’t been able to do a thing on the book. Work and family have taken every spare minute. Oh, and my ProGen assignment for September and October has expended every other remaining moment of time. I have to write a proof argument; the first draft is due September 25th. Knowing that I am very busy at work this month, I tried to get a head start on this assignment. I spent a good portion of the three day Labor Day weekend working on the proof argument.

I am fairly excited about writing this proof argument. Genealogical writing is an area where I would like to focus my genealogy work in the next couple of years. I chose one ancestor who has been rather elusive in the direct evidence department so I think he is a good candidate to write about. After I submit the assignment this month, my ProGen Study group mates will edit and critique it. I then get to rewrite the report for October and submit it for a second round of evaluation. I have also enlisted the aid of my co-worker to do some additional editing. I am hoping to publish the report at the end of October/early November. I may even try to use CreateSpace’s ebook publishing software and directly market my work on Amazon. When it comes to my eventual goal of becoming a certified genealogist, I want to have several published works on my resume.

imageOne absolutely, amazing genealogical thing finally happened this week. I received my grandfather’s World War II Naval military file from the National Archives. Because he served in the Navy, his records were not burned in the big fire in the 1970s which destroyed most of the Army’s service records. The process took about five months from my initial request to having the documents in hand. I am not my grandfather’s next of kin; I had to enlist my father’s aid in acquiring the file. Since it has been less than 72 years since Roscoe retired from the Navy, his records are not available to the public. There must be at least 100+ pages in his file, and the envelope I received was easily an inch and a half thick. The file gives me additional background documentation for the book.

Many of the documents in the file are copies of originals that I already possess. Roscoe and Gladys (surprise, surprise!) kept copies of all of Roscoe’s orders and military paperwork. There are some documents in the file that are new to me, including: character references from people in Kentland when Roscoe made his original application in 1942; a copy of his county birth certificate; reviews by senior officers of Roscoe’s performance; and a copy of Roscoe’s commission. If you ever have the opportunity to find an ancestor’s military file, it is completely worth it. I am fairly tempted to go back and reorder the complete military file for some of my Civil War ancestors. I have purchased several pension files in the past, but never the complete file.


© Deborah Sweeney, 2014.
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2014/09/06/the-book-progress-report-september-6/

The Book: Progress report – August 23

World War II letter book coverThis week went rather slowly, and I feel like I did not accomplish much at all. My eldest child had her first full week of school so we are working on getting back into our daily routine. Plus three nights this week were occupied with activities outside the house. That really cuts into my book time.

I received the sample book from CreateSpace at the end of last week. It is really great to feel the texture of the cover and pages, and to see what they actually look like. These types of things are hard to visualize on a computer screen. I chose white paper instead of cream, and I like it. I can just imagine my grandparents’ words on the clean, crisp white pages.

I did progress some on the first edit. I am now halfway through the fourth chapter of letters: September 1942. There are three more to go (October, November, and December). I do foresee the next few weeks being slow as well. My youngest starts swim lessons in the late afternoon for the next two weeks. A book launch of Thanksgiving seems unlikely at this point as I am in the middle of my busy season at work. The next two months I will also need to spend considerable time working on a proof argument for my ProGen study group. I had thought of using my ancestor Nathaniel Hobart. I have spent the last few ProGen assignments focused on him, but I have pretty strong direct evidence of who he was, where he lived, etc. I think I will be doing myself a disservice if I try to write a proof argument about him. I need to pick an ancestor whose evidence is less direct. Sigh….

Another positive note is that my “editor” returned my first two chapters to me yesterday. At some point this weekend, I will spend some time going over her notes. Of course, the real priority for this weekend is the premier of the eighth season of Doctor Who and the book is just going to have to wait!

To do list:
Continue first edit
Write mini bios

CreateSpace sample book

My CreateSpace sample book

© 2014 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2014/08/23/the-book-progress-report-august-23/

The Book: Progress Report – August 16

World War II letter book coverThis week in book land I feel like have accomplished a lot but I know I still have a small mountain to climb.

After reading some more of the tutorials on the book publishing site, I realized I needed to re-format my page size. I had been using a page size of 8 ½ x 11 (in Word), but the actual book pages are going to be 6 x 9. Once I adjusted the page size, my page count jumped from just over 400 pages to almost 800. Yikes! And I hadn’t even finished adding the letters for December or any of the appendixes. At that point, I decreased the font size from 13 point to 12 and the book still was over 700 pages. I went back to the CreateSpace website to try and find any information on suggested font sizes. Most books don’t inform the reader about font type or style so it was really hard for me to judge what size fonts are in a typical book. I finally found a “book template” on CreateSpace which used an 11 point font. I went back through my manuscript again and changed everything to 11 point. The book is now just over 600 pages, and will probably have a finished length of around 650.

I finished adding all the letters to the manuscript this week. Yay! I am now in the process of my “first edit.” I am going back through all the letters, checking typos, adding more footnotes, and deciding illustrations (photographs and documents). I am reformatting the letters back to their original indents and removing the page notations, for example “[page 1],” that I had on the blog. I feel that while they may have worked on the blog, in the book they didn’t. The letters flow better.  My current plan is to go through this first edit stage and then print off a copy of the whole manuscript. From this copy I will do another round of editing as well as begin to build my index. Although I will have an opportunity to purchase a “proof” copy of the book before it goes on sale, I want to make sure that the book is ready before I upload it. I see a lot of editing in my future.

This week, I was back at my regular school site and I twisted the arm of one of my colleagues to be an editor for me. I gave her my first two chapters, the Introduction and Who Were Roscoe and Gladys?. Because she is not overly familiar with the ins and outs of my family, she is a great one for asking questions about things that don’t make sense in my narrative regarding my grandparents. Because I know the story so well, it is sometimes hard to remember that not everyone knows all the details. I’ve also started thinking about who I might want to include in my Acknowledgements page. Many people have encouraged me and supported me over the last (almost) two years.

Another major victory for myself this week…I FINALLY got Word to format two different page headers. The left page header has the book title Dear Mother, Love Daddy, while the right page header has the current chapter. I manged to do this while keeping the page numbering intact (at the page bottom) and having no page heading on the first page of the chapter. Of course, I have now probably cursed myself…..

This to do this week:

Continue first edit
Begin mini bios

Deborah Sweeney, © 2014.
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2014/08/16/the-book-progress-report-august-16/

The Book: Progress Report – August 9, 2014

World War II letter book coverSince last week I feel like I have done a huge amount of work on the book. I had already been thinking of using CreateSpace, Amazon’s printing company, to publish the book. This is a print on demand service, with sales through Amazon. Eventually, I can format the book for the eBook format. I finished setting up my account last weekend, downloaded the instructional booklet, and started studying. My book is now registered and officially has an ISBN number assigned to it. Things are beginning to feel very real! At this point, it would be great if I could have everything ready for the end of Thanksgiving when the blog celebrates its second anniversary. However, I have to be realistic and look at my heavy work schedule for the next few months. Best case scenario, the book will be ready by Thanksgiving; if not, probably early in 2015.

I finally finished organizing the chapter of November letters, and am more than halfway through December’s chapter. After reading the preparing your manuscript guide from CreateSpace, I know that my pictures should already be in the manuscript when I upload it. I have added 12 photographs/documents at this point with many more to go. Any images I use have to be a minimum of 300 dpi. While most of the photographs I have already scanned are at a higher dpi, some of the documents I want to use were scanned at a lower resolution. I am not using any color images so everything also has to be in black/white or grayscale.

I ordered a sample book from CreateSpace so I can see and feel what the paper I plan on using is like. It currently has not arrived, but I am anxiously waiting! For size, I have chosen on a 6 x 9 paperbook. This is one of the standard publishing sizes so it gives me more options for advertising the book in outlets besides Amazon. I believe my book will be about the same size and shape as my large paperback editions of the Game of Thrones. I have a feeling that the book is going to be about as thick at this point, too. As of last night, the manuscript numbered 426 pages. I think it might hit 500 before I am done.

While doing some preparation of my title page and the reverse side, I did some research on CIP, or Catalogue-in-Publishing information. This data is found on the reverse side of a book’s title page. The data is generated by the Library of Congress and it helps libraries to catalogue their books. It also aids in purchasing so libraries have a general idea of what a book is about before they buy it for their collections. Unfortunately for me, this service is only available for books that are printed by publishing houses. Print on demand and self-publishers are considered too small to warrant inclusion at this time. I had hoped to classify my book under World War II Letters, or Indiana correspondence, which would have aided in my sales marketing.

I learned some new formatting tricks this week with Microsoft Word as well. I figured out how to put title headings on every page, but have the first page of the Chapters be different (without a header). I played around with different styles of page numbering so now my title pages and the beginning pages of the book aren’t numbered. The numbering starts at the beginning of the first chapter. If you have never done this before, let me tell you, it was very frustrating to figure out! And of course, rather easy once the trick is mastered.

Goals for this week:

Finish assembling December’s letters
Begin writing Biographies
Continue to add photographs
Work on re-writing and expanding the chapter titled Who Were Roscoe and Gladys?

Question for readers: Do you think I should spell out words that were abbreviated, specifically if they improve comprehension and readability? Bear in mind I already have a ton of footnotes, so I really don’t want to make the reader look around and lose concentration to find what the word means/is.

Deborah Sweeney, © 2014.
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2014/08/09/the-book-progress-report-august-9-2014/