Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Challenge of Change

We're imaging documents from the 1890's now.  By our next post we'll have "turned the century."  Many more of our documents are on printed forms rather than scraps of paper.  We're starting to see more typed information with the invention of the typewriter in the 1860's and its becoming more common in business and government.  "Modernization" and a raise in standard of living are evident in every aspect of people's lives.

Our probate records show receipts for imported goods from Europe, piano lessons, and sewing machines.  We've yet to see a decline in horse shoeing and veterinary services, though, since horsepower is still quite literal in the 1890's.

Change comes, and with it come both positive and negative consequences.  The beautiful cursive handwriting by the earlier clerks is now a rare treat to find in the 1890's.  

Truly works of art--the clerks' documents of the mid 1800's

The high-quality "rag" paper that made our earlier documents easy to handle has now been replaced by cheaper wood-pulp paper that, because of the acid in it, often crumbles in our hands when we try to unfold it.

Cropped the best we could using the manual cropping templates of the "old" software
Auto-cropped by the updated software--no input from us at all.

I have had cause to reflect on change and improvement this past couple of weeks, because we have been "updated."  The software that FamilySearch develops and maintains for doing our imaging has a new feature--auto crop.  It was hinted at over a year ago--the solution to many of our challenges with probate documents of infinitely variable sizes and shapes.  Until its arrival two weeks ago, we had to determine, on the fly, how to best crop each document so that it was captured in its entirety without adding extensive unneeded "black" around the image causing it to be more pixels than necessary.  We had become quite proficient at creating and using a battery of cropping templates that we controlled with a "stick" of extra computer keys.

Our stick of extra computer keys.  Now we only need a few of them.

We prided ourselves in developing those skills and producing efficient and complete images.  Now, with the new software, the most challenging part of our day has become child's play.

One of our loyal Terre Haute missionaries, test driving the new "cropper."

Our hard-earned skills are obsolete, like the 1870 clerk's beautiful penmanship.  He was no longer praised for his art but was faced with learning to type on the newfangled QWERTY.  Don't misunderstand.  The change in our case is definitely an improvement.  We have so much more latitude in how we place the document down to be captured, and there is very little chance of an image not being perfectly cropped.  Instead of our being faced with the option of 10 to 15 cropping templates, we have only 5, and those are more for our convenience than for an actual need.  It really is a modern miracle.  We see the potential of maintaining a daily output of 1800 to 2000 images and they'll be more consistently and tightly cropped than we could ever have done before.

One change I'm grateful for--a new all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet in town.

Yet, I am mourning the passing of our "generation."  New missionaries won't even know about the skills that we, for a year, depended on.  This feeling of obsolescence is not a new feeling for me.  Do I do calculations with a slide rule even though I spent a semester in high school learning how?  Do I put pen to staff paper when I compose these days, now that computer notation software is available?  I don't have to "dial" a phone any more.  I don't have to listen for the bell to ding that signaled the end of a line of text and my need reach up and "return" the carriage.  The list goes on forever of my skills that advancements have made obsolete, the "lost arts" that used to be every-day occurrences.

We're grateful for improvements in medicine--Ann is a 7-year survivor of breast cancer.

What have I come to better understand?  That the real skill I will always need, and that I must improve at every day, is the ability to change.  I need to be resilient.  I need to be quick to adapt to my changing environment.  What worked for me yesterday may not produce the best results tomorrow.

The Lord has blessed Indiana with its own temple--a sign of growth in the church.

As a missionary I call that skill to change and improve "repentance."  Over time it is my hope and faith that it will bring about my redemption and sanctification--my being brought into a unity with God.  I am striving to acquire His skill set in every aspect of my being.  A couplet from a hymn comes to mind:

Change and decay in all around I see;
O, Thou who changest not, abide with me! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Secret Ingredient

Lately, I have heard references to an article printed in the New York Times dated March 15, 2013 entitled The Stories That Bind Us, by Bruce Feiler.  He started his article by sharing a memory from a family reunion a few years ago.  One crisis after another occurred, as can be expected in a large gathering of relatives.  The aging father was subdued, thinking the family was falling apart.  "No, Dad, it's not," the author suggested.  "It's stronger than ever."  But lying in bed afterward, he began to wonder: Was he right? What is the secret ingredient that holds a family together?

Sometimes our documents are held together by brads.
They are easy to undo and don't create much damage to the documents.

Midway through the article, he states, "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative."  It appears the children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.  Mr. Feiler told of a group of psychologists who set out to test and measure what is called the “Do You Know?” scale. They asked children to answer 20 questions. For example: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Earlier documents were often bundled together
and tied up with ribbon.

They asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001 and compared the children's results to a series of psychological tests the children had taken.  There was an overwhelming conclusion. "The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness."

Rivets are also used to keep papers together.  If they
are positioned just right, they don't need to be removed.

Mr Feiler concludes the article.  "The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come."

Hundreds of little receipts that needed to unfolded.  They have
been kept in a nice little bundle for 140 years.

I think Pres. Boyd K. Packer said it best.  "Keep the fire of your testimony of the restored gospel and your witness of our Redeemer burning so brightly that our children can warm their hands by the fire of your faith.  That is what grandfathers and grandmothers are to do!"

Faith of Our Fathers Journal

Several years ago, our family started a project called Faith of Our Fathers.  Twice a year we gather three or four stories from our ancestors, or from current generations, that help us get to know them better and to learn from their experiences.  My sister, Ilene, writes them in wording that children can use for Primary talks or for Family Home Evening lessons.  We usually have someone in the family illustrate the story.  At Christmas and at our family reunion we distribute copies to the extended family members.  It has been a fun tradition.  I wanted to share one story with you.

My grandmother, Elva Aroline Arave Bennett

"One of the Ten Commandments tells us to honor our fathers and mothers.  To me, that means to be respectful and kind in the things I say and do, and to be obedient when they try to help me and teach me the right way to live.

"My great-great-grandmother, Elva Bennett, was a good example of that.  When she was growing up many years ago, girls dressed differently than they do now.  Mostly they wore dresses, except when they were working on the farm or doing chores.

"One day Grandma and her friend put on some of her brother's clothes and they started walking to the grocery store for an ice cream treat.  They hadn't walked very far before Grandma's dad came along on a horse.  He stopped and said, "Your mother and I think you should come home and change clothes.  You'll look more like a lady."  He then turned the horse around and went back home.

"Grandma remembered thinking that she still had a choice.  She could continue on to the store, or she could go home and change her clothes.  She decided to honor her parents and be obedient to their counsel, so she went back home and changed into her 'girl clothes'.

"I'm happy to know that my great-great-grandmother was obedient and that she showed me what it means to keep the commandments.  I know my parents love me and I want to honor them by being obedient."

The hardest documents to capture are the ones that are glued
together.  There is no way to capture them without destroying content.

We love gathering, preserving, and retelling these kinds of stories of our family.  But what if your family does not have oral or written histories of ancestors in the past?  First of all, it's not too late to start.  Begin with those who are still living.  The tradition needs to start somewhere.  Secondly, there may be information out "there" that can be pieced together to help you know Great Grandmother better.  And that's where Elder Packham and I come in.

Rubber bands were often used to group documents.  These bands
might have had elasticity in 1840, but now they look like dried earthworms.

For the past fourteen months we have been capturing images of documents from as early as 1812 up to 1935.  If papers were related to each other, they were often bundled or connected in various ways.  In order to capture the best image, the documents needed to be separated.  Depending on how they were put together, it could be a challenge to get them apart.  We have seen massive amounts of glue, pins of all shapes, rivets and brads, string and ribbon, and even sewing thread holding papers together.  Our anxiety level rises when we see forty documents glued together.  On the other hand, the very concept of keeping documents together is so appropriate for the work we are doing.  I can't help but be reminded of how we are trying to keep families together when I handle bundled documents.

Elders learning the tricks of the trade.

Just this last week we had two volunteers that found their own family records in the papers they were helping prepare.  They were so excited to get copies of the documents and do some individual research.  That's what our work is all about.  It's like proud parents-to-be announcing a new bundle of joy, only in reverse.  We love to see proud great grand children announcing a new bundle of joy when they find an ancestor.

We LOVE pins.  They are the easiest to remove.
Mostly we see straight pins.  This was our one
and only safety pin from the 1880's.

Probate records are an excellent way to get to know the lifestyle of our ancestors.  By looking at medical receipts, we can understand about their health concerns.  Records for music lessons indicate talents and abilities.  Inventory lists provide an insight to their livelihood.  A listing of unpaid debts enlarges our empathy.  A court hearing to determine an ancestor's insanity creates a tender heart in us.  FamilySearch feels it is important to preserve this information for the generations to come.  When I come across a new bundle of documents, I deal with the rivets and pins as patiently as I can, and then realize I am holding in my hands, some secret ingredient that may bind a family together.