Posted in Storytelling

21st Century Journaling

Isn’t it wonderful to inherit letters, scrapbooks, diaries and journals from your ancestors? Sure, the records we collect in the archives tell us who our ancestors are and where they lived, but don’t give us much about their personality or the world they lived in. That’s why letters and such become treasures.

My grandfather died when my mother was still a toddler so, when I inherited my grandmother’s “stuff” I was delighted to discover she had saved a stack of letters from him. It took him five years to convince her to marry him. During most of that time she was teaching school at various locations in Georgia. In addition to schmoozing her, he was also passing on a lot of local news about friends and family. What a treasure!

I recently made a connection to a research cousin on my father’s side of the family. She had inherited a diary from her second great grandmother (sister of my second great grandfather). My ancestor was killed in the Civil War and the children were sent to various families in the area. Tracking them was a challenge until this cousin told me she had transcribed the diary and included notes from her research. She had then published it through Amazon and within minutes I was reading it on my Kindle. It’s no literary masterpiece but it is a treasure to me.

DayOne journal entry
The story of a spoon captured in DayOne

What are you doing to share your world and the family members who were part of it? Today we have some amazing tools that make it easy to capture stories, events and the ephemera that color our lives. Let’s take a look.

The mobile smart phone is a revolutionary device. It’s a phone, a camera, a word processor, a GPS device and so much more. It’s always nearby and ready to capture a moment when it happens. Add a journal app and you have an instant baby book, travel journal, scrapbook and diary.

Today’s journal apps are quite amazing. When you create a new entry, the app automatically adds the date, time, place and sometimes even the current weather – all the things you’d love to know on your old photos. Your journal entries aren’t just words either. Most allow you to include photos, video and audio too.

The app shown above is Day One for iOS and Mac. It automatically adds metadata – location, date, time and weather – along with the tags (keywords) you add to make it easy to organize your entries. It supports multiple journals and has export features making it easy to export all or selected entries to a PDF or text file. Another app Diaro is available for iOS and Android devices and provides many of the same features.

How can you put these apps to use? Here are some ideas:

  • Tell the story of your precious treasures. Have you inherited a family quilt, portrait or other heirlooms that you know nothing about? Done leave future generations in the dark. Use your journal to document what is so special about the things you have collected so future generations will know why they are important to you. Paintings, vacation souvenirs, books and even Christmas decorations often have stories.
  • Do you have any favorite childhood hangouts that no longer exist? Capture today’s favorite places while you can. Restaurants, beaches, fishing holes and attractions may be special to you, but how will the younger generations know what makes them special if you don’t tell them in your journal.
  • These apps are delightful for keeping a travel journal. Since photos, location and date are easily captured, all you need is to do is add a few words.
  • Young moms are seldom very far from their phones, so gifting them with a journal app makes it easy to capture all those precious moments. And, the built-in social features make it easy to share them with you.
  • Although when using the term “research journal” we generally think of a list of resources we have already searched, it can also be used to capture the little stories our research delivers. Although my family’s eyes glaze over when I open my genealogy program, they love these little stories.

If you are active on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you might find the Momento app quite interesting. Once you connect it to your favorite social networks, Momento will automatically capture the status updates, photos and check-ins you post to those accounts. You can also add private notes, photos and videos manually.

Both Day One and Dario support Markdown – also known as archival-quality text. Momento saves as plain text. This means your journaling efforts will last long after these apps are gone. Grab an app today and get into the journaling habit!

If you would like to learn more about Markdown, visit Moultrie Creek Gazette for an introduction and click Markdown in the tag cloud for additional articles.

Posted in Blogging Support

Archival Blogging

I love blogging! It has so many advantages for the genealogist/family historian that I can’t imagine trying to research without including a blog in the process. Not only does it allow me to write the stories of my ancestors as my research develops them, it’s also easy to update those stories when new facts come to light. And, it’s amazing how quickly that collection of family stories grows! While even the idea of tackling THE FAMILY HISTORY is overwhelming, blogging “little stories” is a joy.

Blogs are also cousin magnets. Even if your blog stats show few visitors reading your posts, the search engines are keeping a sharp eye on even the smallest blog and will deliver a research cousin in a heartbeat when their search matches your content. Then there is the commenting system included in most blog platforms which have turned blogs into community centers where people gather to share information and inspiration.

There is one issue that has been a concern – a rather serious concern. Most blog platforms have limited backup capabilities and trying to move content from one platform to another is a nightmare. And, there’s the dreaded shutdown notice giving users a short period of time to grab their work before the platform is taken down.

How do you protect your work from crashes, shutdowns and old technology? Here are a few ideas for developing “archival quality” blog posts.

Writing Platforms

This article was written using the Byword [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99] text editing app. It supports Markdown making it a lot easier to incorporate HTML code especially when writing on a mobile device. It also includes an optional Publish feature – a $4.99 in-app purchase. With it you can publish your Byword files to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Evernote and Scriptogram. Byword is just one of a growing number of editing and journaling apps that support blog publishing. Not only do they make it easier to write articles, you also maintain archived copies of them on your desktop. This is handy when you decide you want to turn some or all of those articles into a published book.

Writing apps that support Markdown have another advantage . . . they produce archival quality text. Unlike word-processing apps, each with its own proprietary data structure, Markdown apps save your stories as plain text with simple codes to define formatted elements like bold, italics, bullet points and more. We all have experienced unreadable “orphan” documents created with software that no longer exists. Plain text hasn’t changed since the beginning of the digital age. Using Markdown insures that future generations will be able to read your stories.

In addition to Byword, you can also take advantage of a number of journaling applications like WinJournal – $40 and MacJournal [Mac – $40, iPad – $3.99] as well as desktop blog editors like Microsoft’s free Live Writer and Blogo [Mac – $30]. Note that not all journaling and blog-editing apps support Markdown.

There’s another advantage to using a writing platform for your blog posts. As your collection of stories grows, you’ll find it very easy to reorganize and repurpose those articles into all kinds of family history publications. For example, you could pull out all the articles on family members who served in the military to create a Veterans Day (November 11th) memory project. Use them to commemorate a special anniversary or honor someone who has passed away.

You’ve done the heavy lifting – researching and writing each story – with your blog posts. Now you can enjoy the fun part of family history publishing – turning those stories into beautiful treasures.