Thursday, December 31, 2009

I love it when an experiment succeeds

Today I went into Jacksonville to the headquarters public library (a Library Journal "Star Library") to try something which some have been talking about on the Transitional Genealogist's Forum -- photographing an image on a microfilm reader screen.

JPL (Jacksonville Public Library to me; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is on the OTHER coast!) has a digitizing microfilm reader, but the images it produces are Adobe pdf images, and they tend to be rather stark. They can be hard to read when they are of old handwritten documents that have been subjected to bleed-through of writing from the other side, blotching where a scribe did not take care with his pen nibs, tearing, and worm damage. I prefer jpg images, which are not as stark, and which my Paint Shop Pro software can read and on which I can use NeatImage, a freeware program that is great for cleaning up cluttery backgrounds on images.

I took several photographs from Reel 148 of the East Florida Papers. I will be using the EFP extensively in my project on St. Augustine. I held the camera about 10 to 12 inches from the screen, and used mainly the "intelligent ISO" setting on my camera (a Panasonic). I took a few shots on the "macro" setting, but really there is not that much difference between the two. The shots taken with the "intelligent ISO" setting (mainly, there is a built-in light meter) may have come out only slightly better.

But the experiment is a success. Now I can bring the images home, load them on my computer, and use another nifty little program called Transcript to transcribe them. In Transcript, the screen is split between the digitized image at the top, and a work area for transcribing in the lower half. The transcriptions are saved as RichText files. I love it!

And I can work on the images at all hours, not just during library hours. I'm a night owl!

It is great when an experiment succeeds!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Getting Ready for the New Year and the New Term

This week, this hiatus between Christmas and New Year's, I'm doing a little preparation for the new term at the University of North Florida, mainly for my grant project on the family structure of St. Augustine, Florida, from 1783 through 1820, the "Second Spanish Period." I have collected a bunch of journal articles and am beginning to read them (and weed them) for relevance to the project. Some involve background information on family life of the period, particularly in Spain, where many of the St. Augustine colonists originally came from, and continued to be from, throughout all the time of Spanish colonization of the town beginning with its founding in 1565. I had not suspected how many of the townspeople had migrated in from Mexico or the Spanish South American colonies as well, including Indians and African slaves.

This week, probably tomorrow, I am going to the Jacksonville Public Library main branch to look at microfilms of the East Florida Papers, my major source for information about the people of St. Augustine at the time, and to test the idea which we have been discussing on the Transitional Genealogists Forum, that of taking photographs of a frame of microfilm as displayed on the microfilm reader screen. Digitizing can sometimes enhance the readability of a document in one way: I have found that even scanning a paper copy of a document can bring out even a tiny bit more of the writing on the document which does not show up well on the copy itself. That is how I discovered the birthplace of my 4x-great-grandfather. If this method of photographing the microfilm frames on the screen works, it will make the project even easier, as I will be able to do a lot of the transcription work on these St. Augustine documents at home.

I have a dandy little piece of freeware that I found on the web, called Transcript. It presents the user with a divided screen, at the top of which is displayed the document you want to transcribe, and in the bottom half is a work area where you do your transcription. I have used it on some of the older Spanish documents I transcribed for my paleography classes, and which I have been using also to keep up my skills. It is a terrific software for the task. I love practical things, and this software is practical! Genealogists and family historians will also find it useful for transcribing wills, inventories, letters, and other original documents.

It is also time for me to plan my schedule of research trips to St. Augustine and Gainesville (day trips) to the archives there, and a three- or four-day trip to Tallahassee to research at the State Archive, probably over spring break. And, if I can swing it, perhaps a research trip to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which houses the originals of the East Florida Papers.

It is going to be a busy year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Technology of Memory

This week my family -- me, my husband, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and our grandson -- have been at Walt Disney World celebrating our grandson's fifth birthday, the actual day of which is tomorrow. We have been to one Disney park per day -- the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each place, we have had access to technology for preserving memories.

First to come to mind is probably the camera, in various forms. With today's digital cameras, we can edit our memories instantly: we can delete the fuzzy, out-of-focus, ill-lit, over-exposed or blurred photograph right at the camera. In the old days of the Brownie Hawkeye camera we were stuck with the photographs we took, and it was not until we had already paid to have them developed that we could sort through them and discard the ones that did not turn out well. These days, we can have printed only those pictures we want, and we can get this done either in a store or online.

Today's camcorder technology puts more power into a smaller package, such as the camcorder my husband recently bought, and which he can hold literally in the palm of his hand. Small as it is, it makes clear, sharp home movies. It is, believe me, a far cry from the home movies of the 1950s, when he and I were children. What was that stuff they used? Oh, yes -- film.

Film would break, become brittle, or in some climates like ours here in Florida, turn into a jelly if not properly stored. Film could be edited, but it was a clumsy, imprecise process for most people, involving special equipment and materials. It was not, in its basic form, terribly expensive, but again it was imprecise due to the imprecision of the less expensive equipment. Film was carried through the movie projector on pin-like sprockets. The film had sprocket holes, which would tear, causing the film to break or stop and burn from the heat of the projector lamp.

Also today we have personal computers, on which we can view or edit our photographs and movies. Don't like that tourist who got into the left side of your photo of Mickey Mouse with your grandson? Open the photograph in image-editing software and crop him out!

With the computers, too, we can share photographs with family members and friends all around the world, instantly. One thing we had better be able to do: label those photographs!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Calendar: The Dreaded Fruitcake

I am not going to mention a brand name, but there is a rather infamous brand of commercial fruitcake manufactured in the state of Georgia which has, from time to time, surfaced in the family and in the presence of friends as well. It is to be dreaded: it is dry, it is not very good. Frankly, it is a brick.

Have I ever regifted a fruitcake? I would not wish one of the above-referenced bricks on my worst enemy.

However, I have tasted some really good fruitcake, too. Done right, it can be delectable. My friend Amanda does it right. She uses the right ingredients, of good quality, and soaks the thing in brandy until it staggers down the walk of its own accord! Oh, yes, it is good!

So take heart, friends: there is such a thing as good fruitcake.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Kudo in a Full Week

I am honored that Elizabeth O'Neal, who blogs at Little Bytes of Life has nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award.

So this requires that I (a) reveal seven heretofore unknown things about myself (unknown to most everyone except my family who read this) and (b) nominate seven other genealogy bloggers to receive the award.

So here goes the first part (be prepared to be amused or bored . . .)

1. I was in the U.S. Coast Guard, active and reserve, and made it from Yeoman Third Class to Lieutenant (junior grade). I am the first woman in my family to serve in the military.

2. For a long time, I had an uncontrollable fear of spiders. I've gotten better about that (and there's a family story behind the phobia; I might reveal it one day).

3. I have developed an aberrant affection for cheesy disaster movies. They're such fun!

4. I am very fond of acoustic guitar music, and took advantage of the opportunity, while I was at Florida State University in the 1960s, to see and hear Andres Segovia play. Marvelous!

5. My three favorite composers (I love classical music) are Richard Rodgers, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin.

6. I like to read about forensic science (and yes, I do watch the "C.S.I." TV shows).

7. I collect frogs -- ceramic, wood, stone, stuffed, all sorts of forms. When I was a child, I collected real ones.

And now for the nominations:

Elyze's Genealogy Blog
Genealogy Frame of Mind
Miles's Genealogy Tips
The Armchair Genealogist
Spence-Lowry Family History
Night Before Noon

Stop by and give them a read. Some are on hiatus at this busy time of year, but I'm sure they'll e back once all the brouhaha of the holidays simmers down! Happy reading, and happy blogging, and happy holidays to all!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I got the grant!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned applying for a grant to conduct research in the family ties of St. Augustine in the Second Spanish Period (1783-1820) and examine how those family ties influenced and were influenced by the events of the period.

In my university e-mail this morning, I received word that I have been awarded the grant! I think what I'm going to do with it, or most of it (it's $500 for me and $1000 for my mentoring professor) is go to Washington, D.C., to use the originals of the East Florida Papers, which have most of the censuses I need to use, as well as letters, tax lists, and other documents. The originals, so one researcher has commented in his works, are better than their reproductions on microfilm.

I am going to look at the microfilms anyway, and maybe make note of those which are too hard to read (due to faded ink, over- or underexposure, or other factors), and which might be more readable in the original.

What a nice Christmas present!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Calendar: Christmas Cards

And today's entry for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories from Geneabloggers:

Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

I am the world's worst at sending out cards! And it's exacerbated in recent years by my being a college student once again, and having papers and exams at this time of year! So I usually don't get them out. Sigh. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is way too busy!

We usually put the ones we receive either on the counter between the kitchen and the family room, or we hang them on the curtain. There are one or two which survive from our parents or grandparents. I haven't kept many, myself, though I do have the last one that my brother and his wife sent out, the Christmas before his death. I also have a few sent by my high school best friend, which have photos of her and her husband and their son. I also have a few of those dreaded "Christmas letters" that friends have sent me -- after all, they are informative of the year's doings. And I have kept a few cards I have received from friends overseas -- Italy, England. They're usually pretty.

Not much chance I'll get any cards out this year, either. Maybe my husband will sit down and do it!

Advent Calendar: Ornaments

I'm late with my 3rd Advent Calendar installment. Finals are coming up, papers are due!

Anyway, here it is, with the instructions from Geneabloggers:

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn and cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

When I was young we had some of the old fashioned glass ornaments which dated from early in my parents' marriage (16 July 1937). There was a house, and a car, and a bird, a Christmas tree, and a bell. They were not very big, but I loved them. When my mother and I lived in an apartment during the 1960s, when I was in high school, someone broke into our storage cabinets, in the complex's carport, and broke every last one of them. Why people feel like they have to destroy the property of people they don't even know is way beyond me. Ever since, I have fondly remembered and pined for those ornaments.

We have since bought other glass ornaments which I also love. Every year we try to buy one new ornament, sometimes we have done so on our travels, so we remember those trips anew at Christmastime. Sometimes we buy ornaments to represent events we have enjoyed. We have a couple Jacksonville Jaguars (local NFL football team) ornaments, commemorating the first three years, when we had season tickets. We have a couple of Coast Guard ornaments, too, as my husband and I both served in the Coast Guard. And we have handmade ornaments sent by friends. All of these bring wonderful memories and associations at Christmastime.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My book is out!

My husband came in this evening bearing a rather heavy box that had been left on our doorstep. It was addressed to me and when I opened it, there were 10 copies hot off the press of my new book,Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, available from McFarland. The link takes you to the page where you can see a photo of the cover. I'm very pleased with it.

I'll take some of those copies and give them to libraries -- the genealogy departments of the Clay County Library and the Jacksonville Public Library main branches, the library of the University of North Florida, where I'm a student, and the library of the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society, of which I'm a member.

Nice to see a real product at the end of a few years of work! Now to get to work on the next one!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar: Breakfast!

Well, not really breakfast -- I guess you could call it "pre-breakfast." It has been a tradition since our daughters were babies that I make hot rolls on Christmas morning and serve them with hot chocolate, to be consumed while we are delving into our stockings.

For the first many years, I made cinnamon rolls. But at about the age of 15 our younger daughter developed a true allergy to cinnamon. She can't even smell the stuff or her breathing passages swell up in an anaphylactic reaction. It has the potential of being fatal. All cinnamon left the house at that time, and hasn't been back. So for the past twenty and more years it has been orange rolls. I use a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens bread cookbook. If I ever fail to make the rolls, the reaction is swift and sure!

So we eat our fresh-from-the-oven orange rolls and drink our homemade hot chocolate (from Hershey's cocoa powder) while we see what silly things have been stuffed in our stockings. Then it's time for real breakfast, and then the opening of the main presents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendar: The Ersatz Christmas Tree

Back in the 1970s, when our daughters were small children, we had bad economic times. The economy was doing what it pretty much as been doing, again, these past couple years. We had very little money that year for Christmas, and in order to be able to afford some presents, mainly for our kids, we did not buy a Christmas tree.

But my husband very much wanted one. So he came up with a ridiculous solution: he went out into the yard and cut a raintree sapling. Not hard to come by -- the raintree that grew in the back yard, though it was beautiful to look at, was a wanton among trees. It reproduced with great abandon, to the point that the most prolific weed in our yard was raintree saplings! He stripped the sapling of its few spindly branches. He cut a bunch of ligustrum branches. We had no problem attacking the ligustrum -- we hate the nasty things. These branches were tied or otherwise affixed to the raintree sapling.

And there was our tree -- ridiculous to look at, but decorated to the nines, anyway. We laughed at the poor thing then, and we still laugh about it today, when we recall how, despite being scrawny and jury-rigged, it brightened what could have been a dismal holiday season. I do have a photo of it, but with papers and final exams looming, and being sick the past couple days, I have not had time to hunt for it.

The poor thing is long gone, but it still keeps on giving us joy every time we remember it and laugh.