Organizing for a Family History Project

Last year I created family history videos based on letters written by my two grandmothers on January 7, 1968 (see Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Nina and Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Char). Both letters describe a 104th birthday party thrown for my paternal great grandmother, Georgenie Agusta Sedgwick. During production, I realized I have quite a bit of information and lore for Great Grandma Georgenie, and some interesting physical artifacts. I started thinking about a project to create a short family history “documentary” about her life.


Great Grandma Georgenie Agusta Sedgewick – notice the detailing on her dress and her pierced ears (punched with a sewing needle and thread). She is about 20.

I’m still in the early phases of researching and reviewing what I have for Great Grandma Georgenie. I thought I’d organize what I have, using the recommendations from the Library of Congress described in Personal Archiving. Somehow it seems less daunting to organize for a particular project, than to organize everything I have stored all over the house! This will give me experience for the big event. Here is an inventory of my “clumps” and their contents:

  • Photos
    • Photo Box: MQ’s youth and Pre-marriage (in living room)
    • Photo Albums (in upstairs office)
    • Digital photos (computer/cloud)
  • Physical items (upstairs office)
    • Georgenie’s beaded purse with calling card
    • Washcloths crocheted when she was almost blind
    • Green and white sweater crocheted for my infant brother
    • Newspaper article about Georgenie’s 104th birthday
  • Letters (info in Grandma Nina’s letters)
    • Georgenie’s early life
    • Courtship of Georgenie and Will Sedgwick – she was 20, he was 35 (widowed twice with children)
    • Migration: New York, Ohio, Kansas, then California
    • Georgenie’s 104th birthday
  • Stories (and story arc)
    • Georgenie was a dressmaker in New York
    • Her mother was a MacDonald and a violinist
    • Georgenie’s courtship with Will (from wedding guest to engaged)
    • Grandma Nina built several rental units in Rialto, and Georgenie lived in one
    • Later Georgenie lived near the railroad tracks (across the tracks was a Hooverville type encampment; Dad would sit on top of the arbor eating grapes and watching the trains and camp activity)
    • Later in Chino, Georgenie had a room (she had a green chenille bedspread and a beautiful comb and brush set)
    • Grandma Nina had great devotion for her mother, and they were very close
    • Her Dad, Will, was stern and called her “Girl”
  • Audio Recording
    • Grandma talks of her early life in Kansas, the Sedgwick Feedstore, her family, and her mother.
    • Related – check my own journals for stories I jotted down during visits.

This is a family history project, but the same kind of collection and analysis would be required for any kind of collection you might be dealing with. Stay tuned for more developments!

Toolkit: Visual Notetaking

I love learning something new, or learning a new skill. This time it’s visual notetaking, also called graphic recording, sketch noting, and other similar terms. Instead of frantically recording every word of a meeting or class, the idea is to use text and graphics and containers to capture the main thoughts. The visual note taker creates this visual record as the meeting unfolds (almost a performance art), providing a record and a catalyst for the discussion. The individual note taker can implement the same ideas for personal notes.

My note taking style is to encapsulate ideas into summary  statements, so the idea of adding simple visuals to this process is intriguing. Especially since the instructor, Jody Kruger of SAP Labs, emphasizes that the images can be a compilation of several simple shapes and don’t need to be fancy. We received special pens for the class – Stabilo Point 88 (fine 0,4) for lettering and Fine One water-based markers from Germany (.5-5mm) for color. But you can find comparable pens at your favorite art store.

Ms. Kruger practices her skill at meetings (check out her Instagram account), and using Ted Talks posted online. When you get really good, you can work conferences and workshops, making considerable money. To learn more about this technique and see fantastic examples, search the web for visual notetaking, graphic recording, and sketch noting. For classes and workshops, check out The Grove Consultants International.  And you can try it out yourself, using markers and pens that you already have.

Great Signs

While traveling in Alaska, Canada, and the United States, and visiting parks, recreational areas, and natural wonders, I’ve seen some really great signs. They are well made and durable, and typically packed with information and photos. I’ve collected a few examples from my rambles that convey different types of information.

Signs can provide historical information. This sign tells about Frederick Schwatka’s exploration of Alaska and Yukon Territory in the 1890s, and is based on Schwatka’s diary and annotations by Arland S. Harris, in Schwatka’s Last Search: The New York Ledger Expedition.


The sign about deserts meeting provides geological and natural history for deserts in  Southern California. The images of plants from the two deserts help illustrate what the reader has seen in the landscape near the sign.


Signs can provide orientation, like this easy-to-read map of the Eagle Beach State Recreational Area near Juneau Alaska.


These signs provide interesting information about First Nations people. The first one describes the tribes that live near Palm Springs in California, and the other describes the history, migration, and life of tribes in the Kluane Lake area in Canada.


Signs can convey information about process, such as this one describing the life cycle and community of a manmade lake at Bishop Ranch in Northern California.


Signs can also convey information about tools, such as the sign from a historic farm in Dublin describing the tooth harrow, or the one from an East Bay Regional Park in Richmond describing the cement structures used by native oysters.


In addition to being informative, these signs are sustainable. There is no need for brochures or leaflets, which could end up littering the area or in land fill. Folks can easily take a snapshot with a camera, to read or refer to later. Signs provide an excellent way to impart information to readers.