Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gifts of Heritage 2011

Last year, I posted about Gifts of Heritage in October. I am a little behind in thinking about gifting this year. However, in keeping with my theme of upbeat posts through the holidays, I return to this subject. It certainly is not too late to be a little crafty about your gifts. (Trust me, it is hard to bite my tongue about Mitt Romney's records and to not write a post about it...but I made myself a promise to continue giving thanks through my blog this year by writing happy posts.)

I am in part inspired by Marian Pierre-Louis at Roots and Rambles and her "Simple Gift for Non-Crafty Family Historians."

Here is a list of some additional simple gifts that don't take a long time:

  • Create an ornament with your name and the date. My tree is overstuffed with ornaments and each one reminds me of the time I got it. Some of my favorites are the ones I made. You can paint on plain ball ornaments. Or, this year, I took my daughter to a local pottery place where they provide ceramic ornaments to paint that are then fired.
  • To up the ante a bit, consider Creating Your Own Heirloom Photo Ornament
  • Last week, I mentioned my project to create "art trading cards." These little cards are a little larger than a business card. With a little effort, they can be very beautiful. Consider using copies of materials from your personal archives as embellishments. Here's a web site with good artist trading card info and samples.
  • Paper mache is a fun craft that can be useful for a fun afternoon of creating heirloom gifts. Make copies of your treasured documents and use the copies to mold tree shapes, snowmen and more. 
  • Give a traditional calendar gift a little twist by adding a favorite family recipe for each month. I use Shutterfly to create calendars with pictures of the grandkids for my parents. For non-relatives, sharing your treasured recipes is a good way to share a bit of your family's love with dear friends. 
Quite honestly, last year's list is a pretty good one. So check back there for more ideas if you haven't done so already.

If you are inspired by anything here and do create something, I'd love to see it and share it with other readers if you're game! Drop me an email and a picture at Melissa @ mannon dot org to show me what you've done. If you've got other unique ideas, I'd love to see those too. Happy holidays! Happy archiving! Happy crafting!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Cranberries and Pumpkin Pie

I had the pleasure of coming across a large stack of holiday postcards at my local antique shop the other day. Out of the pile, this one caught my eye.

This is how I picture Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Despite the convoluted history, and the religious and political meanings that many attach to it, for me it is a holiday of sharing and giving thanks.

However you "celebrate", I wish you the very best of everything. I hope that you have the opportunity to make wonderful family memories, to explore rich traditions, and to express what Thanksgiving means to you and your community. Our diverse experiences and varied historical memories are what keeps civilization vital, interesting, and moving forward.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Archives and Beyond

Turkeys have been roaming my neighborhood since late summer. They move around like a gang of teenagers, picking up new members in the area and returning to their favorite hangout spots in larger numbers each time they visit. I haven't seen them in a few weeks. Were they smart enough to hightail it out of here before Thanksgiving?

Perhaps I began a new annual tradition last year when I posted interesting online finds representing Thanksgiving related holdings in archives around the United States.  This year I bring you more:

New York Public Library vintage Thanksgiving menus are part of the library's spectacular menu archives The collection is also notable as the subject of a NYPL crowdsourcing project that seeks to digitize the holdings.

I found lovely, nostalgic photos of Americans celebrating Thanksgiving by searching the collections of the Library of Congress.

Historic New England is known for their collection of New England ephemera. Their materials include thanksgiving, cards, menus, and dinner tickets. This Thanksgiving postcard caught my eye.

The Thanksgiving art work of Norman Rockwell (which I hoped to find on the Norman Rockwell Museum's page) is highlighted on a Norman Rockwell Collector site. Rockwell's work helped mold our modern ideas about Thanksgiving celebration.

Though not specifically Thanksgiving related, the University of Illinois Archaeology and Public Engagement Department's Plymouth Colony online archive has interesting documents that we generally associate with the "founders" of the Thanksgiving holiday. The site includes unique analysis of the records, so that we can better understand them in context and encourages us to "undertake [our] own analysis and interpretations."

I had a fun time searching for events of past Thanksgivings in the Google news archives. I searched the year of my birth and found that dinners were served to soldiers and native Americans protested the holiday. 


This year, perhaps because of my focus on personal papers through my book and workshop, I am also thinking about how I can relate these archives finds more strongly to my family's celebrations:

 Perhaps I'll find a new dish to use in the NYPL menus. (I began decorating oranges for Christmas one year when I read about how it was a Victorian tradition.)

I plan to make some Thanksgiving "art trading cards" to
share with friends and add to our personal collections.
I do plan to show my daughter some of the postcard images from Historic New England. She came home a few weeks ago with a school project to create "art trading cards." We have been using dried wildflowers and markers to decorate business card sized oaktag pieces to swap with friends.  Perhaps Thanksgiving art cards can become a new rage!

Photos are always part of our celebration. Recently, I have been sure to get a new photo with my siblings each year. My home has become the Thanksgiving hot spot and it is the one time we are sure to be together to capture my brother and sister and me in transition...

Whatever I decide, I'm going to practice what I have been preaching in my writing all year and create documentation that records our special time together. I will not just look beyond my home for history. I'm going to see myself as the center of this special time and stop to recognize how at this moment I am living history. I hope that you will do the same.

However, at the same time, this activity has put me in the mood to visit my local antique shop and track down some holiday ephemera that is not connected to my family. Perhaps I'll have a new find to share with you next week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Thanksgiving Tree

Last year, around this time, I introduced my family's "tree of thanks" on this blog. I started a tradition four years ago of drawing a tree and posting thankful leaves on it throughout the month of November. My intention is to instill a sense of gratitude in my daughter and to promote a family tradition that she will remember for the rest of her life. The tree also allows us to look back at changes and growth in our lives.

My house is a great big mix of traditions. My husband and I were raised with different faiths. We were both raised outside of New York City, but now live in New England. Though in distance we haven't settled that far from the place of our birth, what is accepted as "traditional" in New Hampshire is often foreign from what we experienced growing up. For example, this time of year, my neighbors place bales of hay and cornstalks alongside their mailboxes. To me, such things belong on a farm and are not materials for decorating. So, creating some traditions that are all our own, that do not seem unusual, is important to me.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I welcome the opportunity to remind myself of the things for which I am grateful and to share that gratitude with other. I have saved all of our thankful trees thus far. They are folded and rolled in my closet alongside my archives boxes filled with family papers. Looking back at the trees of  past years shows me changes in my growing daughter's handwriting and changing interests. It also shows consistencies as we remain thankful for friends, family, books, "hugs and kisses."

We invite those who visit us to contribute to our tree. Some of their postings are humorous. For example, one friend who spends a lot of time with horses wrote that she is thankful for "Shampoo and soap! (really!)" Some of the postings are hopeful. "I am thankful for an honest mechanic," reminds me of when I switched to a new garage that stopped telling me that my car was broken every time I brought it in for a regular checkup. The postings sometimes remind me of larger historical events as in leaves indicating that their poster was thankful for election results in 2009.

Our trees are a valued part of our personal archives. This year's will be especially poignant...

Last week, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center had a table set up in the hall near where I had a scheduled appointment. A large tree held leaves of thanks. I was happy to extend my gratitude out from my home and to connect to a larger community.  I wrote on the Dartmouth tree that "I am thankful for my health and for my good doctors."

I just completed my last cancer related surgery on Monday and for that I am very, very grateful. My home tree has become a place to remember all of the good things that remain, have come back to me, and that I have found on this journey. I am also thankful that I can close this chapter of my life, share my experience with others, and perhaps help others feel gratitude for the traditions that keep us going. I am thankful that I can find some good in what I have gone through and that I can show my daughter that illness is a part of life from which we can often learn, grow, and move on.

This blog post begins my holiday celebrations. I wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope that you may find some peace and gratitude no matter what you now face. Focus on the traditions that help give our lives meaning, savor them, record them and make your memories strong. My postings over the next month aim to be lighthearted and filled with the gratitude that I feel right now. Happy almost Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sense of Place: My Heart's Original Home is Not My Daughter's

Earlier this week I talked about my first book signing. Today I thought I'd share one of the book passages that I read from "The Unofficial Family Archivist." "A sense of place" is a topic I return to again and again. I even consider Robert Archibald's "A Place to Remember" as one of my professional bibles with its focus on place as a center point for our memories and community. Capturing a sense of place should be a vital part of the work of professional archivists and non-professional "citizen" archivists. Thinking about our environment feeds our identity, helps us understand human differences, and helps give personal stories context and meaning.
Figure 36. I asked my mother to send me photos of her and Dad from their childhoods that demonstrate a sense of place. Their city upbringings are evident in these images. Mom stands with her little brother in a carriage. Dad is the little boy on the lower left in the other image.

Sense of Place [p. 179-180 "The Unofficial Family Archivist]

"The backdrop to your personal story provides a valuable bit of information toward the understanding of your personal history, but it is one of those intangible elements that you will likely need to consciously convey and incorporate into your documentation efforts. A setting can influence us and the events around us in poignant ways. “Who am I?” has been influenced by the places I have lived.
"For example, I grew up in a suburban environment, in a town about 45 minutes outside of New York City. I could walk to school and to the grocery store. Wildlife consisted of birds, bugs, and an occasional raccoon in the garbage. Sidewalks were the norm, and my cul-de-sac enabled me to learn to ride my bike without fear of being hit by a car. I now live in a more rural suburban environment. I need a vehicle to get almost anywhere. The hills are too big for easily learning to ride a bike. I have had deer, fox, and fisher cats in my yard. Frogs keep me up at night instead of traffic, and friends have told me that there is a bear in the neighborhood. My formative years were certainly different from my daughter’s early years, and her sense of self has a distinctly New Hampshire tinge to it. When we visit a city, she is struck by all the people and buildings, noting them as distinctly different from her norm.
"The place from which we come gives us shared memories with other community members.[1] The place may also deeply impact us so that our “otherness” is obvious to others. Transmitting remembrances about our spaces is vital toward helping others understand us. One who lives in the inner city will have a very different perspective than one who lives in the country. A person of a particular nationality will also have alternate views from someone from another place. Explaining these differences is vital toward promoting harmony among diverse groups and can help us better understand ourselves and each other.
"Try to capture your environment in your documentation work. Use visual tools to relay your setting to others. Describe what makes the place or places you have lived unique. Try to convey how your sense of place has impacted you. Use sense of place as a thread through your other documentation work, or focus exclusively on it by describing the setting directly. To convey your sense of place, think about the location itself. Consider the buildings, natural elements, and infrastructure that you recognize as your own. Also mull over the cultural environment that your residence has that makes it unique. What characteristics of the community reflect its uniqueness? What language, ideas, history, and recurring events are distinctive elements of this place?

The Sense of Place passage is part of a U.S. registered Copyright. "The Unofficial Family Archivist," Melissa Mannon. ArchivesInfo Press, 2011. No part of this passage may be reproduced without the written consent of the author.

[1] For more on “sense of place,” please see Robert Archibald’s A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 1999).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve as a Writer and Speaker

This past weekend, I had my first book signing for "The Unofficial Family Archivist." I had a small table set up at the Toadstool bookshop in Milford, New Hampshire. (It's a fabulous independent bookstore by the way.) The store arranged a small cluster of seats behind my table for people to sit and hear me speak. I chose to use my standard informal style by pulling a few interesting old photos out to generate conversation, but I also decided that I was going to try my hand at reading from my book -- an experience I have never had in the past. As a public speaker, I have learned that when you speak from your heart people tend to perk up. I hoped that the book signing would be the same and that I could move from local author to friendly woman with expertise who wants to share ideas.

Public speaking has not come naturally to me, but after ten practiced years, it is now one of my favorite things to do. I love sharing my passion for archives, history, museums, and a whole lot of other things that keep me happy and busy. But, this book talk route is new for me, despite "The Unofficial Family Archivist" being my fourth publication. Reading one's own written words out loud to strangers is a jarring experience. It's not the same as preparing a speech to which I'll refer from time to time while presenting. And it, at first, was certainly not the same as the more cozy workshops I run that often flow like a conversation of give and take from teacher to students. But I wanted it to be more like the latter and purposefully sought to make it so. I acknowledged this before I went in and tried to prepare myself by choosing passages that come from the heart and connect to my audience.

After talking to the audience and sharing my pictures, I learned that a nice gentleman was a collector of local history papers. So, I thumbed to a bookmarked passage about a local collector I met while working as an archivist in Waltham. This was a good warm up. I have genuinely strong and fond memories of the elderly gentleman who eventually donated one of Waltham's most fascinating collections to the library. I hope that those feelings came through as I stumbled across words that seemed a little strange reverberating around the bookstore instead of in my head or against my living room windows. Though I read through my book out loud while editing, it felt much different to read in public than in private. And, while I happily read children's books to my daughter's book club and in her classroom when I teach art history, reading my own words to an adult audience was very, very different.

The audience was quiet.

Did they like it?

And then it began. We addressed the connection between personal papers and repositories. We talked about our desire to promote history and how a local collector can do that in collaboration with his local historical society of library. We talked about how to preserve valuable personal items and how to share the family information we have with other family members.... And pretty soon, many of the most important concepts of my book were out there because my written words jogged memories and thoughts and questions.

It quieted down and I decided to give it another try. I opened to another passage. After all, no one had gotten up to leave yet. I might as well keep going and pretending that my words were valuable prose that shined my ideas on caring for your personal papers in the best light possible. I read a passage on conveying a sense of place, which talks about how my daughter's childhood differs so greatly from mine because I grew up a few states away from where she is being raised. Again, I wore my heart on my sleeve and this time, I chose a passage that was even more personal than the first. But this time, I also immediately felt like the audience was right there with me. They were listening, and understanding, and agreeing, and perhaps even thinking about their own sense of place and what kind of documentation they could make to highlight how their environment has influenced them.

People wandered in and out of my little sitting area. The crowd was small, but electrifying. The experience was not only empowering to me individually, but I do think that we all walked away with a great sense of community on Saturday. Our shared experiences and the differences between our lives hung in the air like stories waiting to be assigned to paper or organized and preserved for posterity. The book signing was one of the best experiences that I ever had and I am anxious to do it again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Family Dinner

Things have been a little crazy here in New Hampshire. We received over one foot of snow this past weekend. I have never before seen snow like that preceding Halloween. The storm knocked down many trees limbs and took out power lines. Many schools have been closed all week and Halloween in my town has even been postponed until next weekend.

Despite the Halloween delay, I am getting in a Thanksgiving mood. I am also in no mood to write a serious blog post. So, I thought I'd share an image that I just purchased for our Life in Context Project. Part one of the project focuses on food memories. (Apropos for this time of year. Don't you think?)
Family at the Dinner Table- 1950s Vintage Photograph

I love this distinctly period piece. Everyone is lined up on one side of the table, much like one would see in a tv sitcom -- posed facing the camera so all characters can be seen. Here, I suspect that the photographer belongs in the empty chair, since there are five glass on the table. I just wonder about the funny arrangement of the drinking glass in the bowl and the serving platter in front of the empty chair.

This is not a Thanksgiving meal, but it gives me the feel of one. It's that feeling of the family community. The media and others have told us that family dinners help maintain a healthy family unit. This image is an "old-fashioned" idealized view of family life with Dad at the head of the table surrounded by his wife and kids. It is quaint and a little funny --the manner of dress, the idealized happy family, even the chandelier -- but it is an iconic theme of life in mid-twentieth century America. It is an ideal that I know many of my friends still struggle with today.

My family does not always eat at the family table, but we try to do so at least half the week. And when we do, I keep in mind scenes like this. I remember my family sitting at the table when I was a child. I think of all the stories we shared about our days. The family table, especially during the holidays, was also a place to share family "heirloom" stories...the ones that get passed down from generation to generation. I strongly remember Dad telling me about growing up, playing stick ball and handball in New York City. I remember the warmth of the memories and of the foods my mother and aunt so carefully prepared for Thanksgiving. They had a long table set up in my cousins' playroom and a smaller table for the kids. We were surrounded by trains running along the outskirt of the room that filled our afternoon as cooking smells were generated in the next room.

This is the time of year that these stories come back to me in full force. It reminds me the importance of continuing to share them and breathes new life into our common family table. I try to write the memories down when I can. I also try to tell them to the next generation so that they too can picture a family history that roots them to tradition and reminds them from where we came.