Hoping to be the supreme gift giver this holiday season? Use these four simple steps to hone your skills and create a perfect holiday gift to celebrate your family and its unique history. Also, if you’re running out of time to make a gift this holiday season, here are some extra gift ideas that are guaranteed to excited family members and friends.
This week was an exciting one for us here at Mocavo. On Wednesday I had my first byline in the Huffington Post. I wrote about the dangers of not teaching our children to read and write in cursive. It was published in the HuffPo ”Impact” section, where you can “discover worthy causes, find ways to take action, and read truly inspiring stories. Hear from social good experts and share how you can make an impact.” Read Killing Cursive is Killing History. If you like it, or even if you disagree with it, please leave a comment. Let’s see if we can start a discussion about the impact of cursive writing on our history, and our future!
Today is National Punctuation Day. To celebrate, we’ll start with a little pop quiz. Which of the following is properly constructed:
- John Smith and Mary (Eaton) Draper moved their family to Nebraska in the 1870’s.
- Rufus Draper (1800-1841) and Mary “Polly” Hemenway (1801-1879) were married in Dedham about 1825.
- I am looking for information on the Moody’s and the Hayden’s in Hadley.
The answer is: none of them. Each one of them contains punctuation errors.
In the first sentence, an apostrophe is incorrectly used to express the decade 1870s. Apostrophes are used to indicate a contraction or the possessive. Neither of these is the case here. When indicating a decade, one simply adds the letter s to the end.
In the second sentence, a hyphen is incorrectly used instead of an en-dash. Hyphens join two words together (twentieth-century). An en-dash is used for a range of numbers, including dates (1800–1841). And an em-dash is used to separate phrases (I went to the cemetery — final resting place of generations of family members).
The third sentence is another common problem among genealogists. When referring to all of the members of a family communally, one says “the Smiths.” One doesn’t use an apostrophe. Once again, the apostrophe indicates the possessive, and you are trying to indicate the plural.
Punctuation is very important. Punctuation marks are used to clarify the meaning of what we write. How many times have you heard people say that it is difficult to communicate electronically because people misunderstand what others are saying? Part of the problem is the lack of use of proper punctuation.
When it comes to genealogy, punctuation is critical. Missing punctuation marks can completely change the meaning of the words. It can also set you off on a difficult research path. Those who have researched in documents from the eighteenth-century or earlier are familiar with this problem. In this time period, punctuation was not used as it is today, causing difficulty in interpretation.
For example, let us look at the following example:
“Item, I leave to my children John William Thomas and Mary the residue of my estate.”
How many sons are being mentioned? It could be one, two, or three. The testator might have named a single son (John William Thomas), or possibly two sons (John William and Thomas or John and William Thomas), or possibly three sons (John, William, and Thomas). Without the use of commas it is impossible to tell.
There is a trend today to use punctuation marks any way we like. Even worse, younger people do not know how to use punctuation at all. As a genealogist, failing to use proper punctuation not only casts doubt on one’s ability to clearly communicate, it also casts doubt on one’s ability to research. So, celebrate National Punctuation Day by learning more about how to properly use punctuation marks in your writing — whether it is online or in print.
It’s the season for family gatherings, which is why I was inspired to write a blog post suggesting helpful tips for taking oral histories during the holiday season. After reading my post “Tips for taking Oral Histories” one of our Mocavo Community members, Jean Henley, was prompted to ask an important question:
“The holidays are my favorite time of year because I get to talk to so many people that I haven’t had the chance to catch up with for a while. I also think it’s a great time to learn about my family history from my relatives, however, I never seem to know which questions are the right ones to ask. Any suggestions for questions to ask?”
Well, Jean, here are five more helpful tips for your family interview and some sample questions to help get you started! These conversations are a great way to catch up on some family research and can help you fill in unknown facts while offering clues for further research.
- Approach your interview as a conversation. Relatives may relax with a conversational tone, thus will be more willing to share personal details and memories.
- Start with an icebreaker question to get the ball rolling. This question should be more informal to help ease your relative into the conversation and make them feel more comfortable for the duration.
- Bring sentimental family heirlooms or mementos (such as photographs, documents, old trinkets, etc.) that relate to family members or occasions you will be discussing. These items will help to jog your relative’s memory and will help create a richer conversation. You can also use this as an opportunity to ask your relative to identify the people and places in photographs.
- Record both questions and answers throughout the duration of the interview. When writing notes, make sure you use a pencil. Avoid writing on photographs or documents as much as possible, but if it is necessary to annotate them, use a pencil.
- After the interview, write your relative a thank you note and share your notes, recording, and/or transcription of the conversation. Seeing their personal story documented will help them see the value of your research and will serve as a physical thank you for their time.
Ice Breaker Questions
- How did your family celebrate the holiday season when you were a child?
- How long have you lived in your home state?
- How many homes have you lived in?
- What were some of your favorite hobbies as a child?
- What was a typical family dinner when you were a child?
- What is your full name? Do you know why your parents chose that name? Were you named after a family member? Do you have any nicknames?
- When and where were you born? What are the names of your brothers and sisters? When and where were they born?
- Where did you live as a child? What was your house like? What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What are the names of your grandparents? Where did they live their adult lives and what did they do for a living?
- Who is the oldest relative that you remember as a child? Where did they live? Did they have a nickname?
- Do you have any special stories about your parents, grandparents, or other relatives?
- Do you have any special family heirlooms or photographs of sentimental value that have been passed down through your family?
- Did you ever get married? What is your husband/wife’s name? When and where were you married? What is your favorite wedding memory?
- What is one of your favorite family traditions that you received from your parents or grandparents?
- What advice would you like to offer future generations?
I hope that these questions help you find the information you are searching for and we want to wish you all a very Happy Holidays from Mocavo!
Most people know the difference between the 50-yard dash and the 100-yard dash. But when it comes to grammar, more people have trouble with the different dashes (and hyphens). When sharing your family history, use them properly so you look your best. There are three different marks that are often confused: hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.
Hyphens (-)are used to connect words, often to make them into a modifier. There are no spaces between the hyphen and words it connects. For example, one lived in the twentieth century, but drove a twentieth-century automobile.
When writing about a range of numbers (dates or otherwise), the en dash (–) is the appropriate punctuation. In genealogy, this is often used to express a range of years, such as 1830 – 1910. It is slightly longer than a hyphen, and is the same with as the letter “n” (thus giving rise to the name en dash).
An en dash should be both preceded and followed by a single space. Finally there is the em dash (—). This is the punctuation one uses to express a phrase within a longer sentence. For example: John would be found at his desk—no matter the time of day or night—whenever an emergency occurred. Like the hyphen, there should be no spaces between the words and the em dash.