Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Reading Samuel Pepys’ Diary

Genealogists researching their London ancestors will find the diary of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) of great interest and value. I am currently working my way through the entire book and getting an appreciation of the people and events of the period about which he wrote.

The book is a unique collection of observations of someone who lived in London and relates Pepys’ daily experiences with people (family, friends, work cohorts, politicians and regular citizens), the Great Plague of London, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Fire, local weather and other normal and not-so-normal events that transpired between 1660 and 1669. Pepys was just 26 when he started recording his thoughts. His observations span the last year of the Interregnum and the early years of the Restoration and reign of King Charles II.

The original diary along with other artifacts and manuscripts collected by the man are preserved in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge.

Various versions of the diary in book and digital format can be purchased from many retailers or read and downloaded directly from Internet Archive or through Project Gutenberg. For background, it is worth looking at both webpage sets.

The diary was originally written in Pepys’ own shorthand which has challenged people to transcribe it. The 1893 published version by Rev. Mynors Bright was a tremendous accomplishment in making the complete record available for everyone to be able to read.

I started reading the diary while researching information about the plague of 1665-66 and about the local weather during this period of the Little Ice Age. It is an invaluable resource for information about the epidemic and surrounding events and the people in London during the late 17th century. His experiences in moving around London during the height of the infection brings home the fear residents felt, the precautions they took to avoid catching it, how efforts were made to handle the sick and dying and some of the horrible, daily scenes witnessed. He also quotes weekly statistics of deaths which makes the publication a good reference source.

Samuel Pepys served as a clerk and administrator in the Royal Navy, rising to become Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. He was elected to Parliament in 1673. The diary provides first-hand glimpses into the lives of Londoners during the Restoration almost from the time Pepys began his working life until what he believed was failing eyesight forced him to halt his writing. The affliction turned out to not be true. No doubt our knowledge of British history would be much greater had he continued to document his experiences until his death in 1703.

In addition to Pepys’ own recollections and records, the book also has considerable background history about his family as well as the (notable) people with whom he came in contact as friends and work colleagues. Incorporated into the digital text provided by Project Gutenberg are many editor’s notes explaining who various people were and what events were occurring that were referenced by Pepys.

Pepys’ writing contains many personal comments about his own life. One of the early notes from 3 January 1660, gives us a peek into that day’s activity that would be a preview of what comments about future days would be like:

I went out in the morning, it being a great frost, and walked to Mrs. Turner' s to stop her from coming to see me to‐day, because of Mrs. Jem' s corning, thence I went to the Temple to speak with Mr. Calthrop, and walked in his chamber an hour, but could not see him, so went to Westminster, where I found soldiers in my office to receive money, and paid it them. At noon went home, where Mrs. Jem, her maid, Mr. Sheply, Hawly, and Moore dined with me on a piece of beef and cabbage, and a collar of brawn. We then fell to cards till dark, and then I went home… and there found Mr. Hunt and his wife, and Mr. Hawly, who sat with me till ten at night at cards, and so broke up and to bed.

From July 1660, Pepys’ home was in the Navy Office buildings on Seething Lane, near The Tower of London. Pepys, of course lived in the city during the last major plague of 1665-66. None of his family were infected but he does comment on many of his friends who succumbed such as this comment on 25 August 1665:

This day I am told that Dr. Burnett, my physician, is this morning dead of the plague; which is strange, his man dying so long ago, and his house this month open again. Now himself dead. Poor unfortunate man!

Samuel often mentioned the weather conditions, probably as his travels around the city were mostly on foot. And without the modern conveniences of air conditioning or central heating, people were much more attuned to the temperature and precipitation (or lack thereof) around them. Still though, many comments are not unlike one might today or at any time over the past centuries. These contrasting entries are typical of his observations:

6 February 1665 – this being one of the coldest days, all say, they ever felt in England

7 June 1665 – it being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June

18 March 1666 – very fine fair weather, but all cry out for the lack of rain

1 January 1667 – being a bitter, cold, frosty day, the frost being now grown old, and the Thames covered with ice

7 March 1667 – this day was reckoned by all people the coldest day that ever was remembered in England

27 July 1667 – it having not rained, I think, this month before, so as the ground was everywhere so burned and dry as could be; and no travelling in the road or streets in London, for dust

The location of Pepys’ home was very fortunately just outside the area that was consumed during the Great Fire in 1666. Pepys makes many comments about the fire, the people who fought it and those who were impacted by it in losing their homes and businesses such as this on the day it started – 2 September 1666:

So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King' s baker' s' house in Pudding‐lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus' s Church and most part of Fish‐street already. So I down to the water‐side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell' s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water‐side to another.

Whether or not you have ancestors in the London area, the diary is a must read to gain insight into how locals viewed what we now regard as important history of late 17th century England.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

A clerical error or were they lying?

In the preparation of an article I am writing, I have been looking at the history of a particular family. One of the individuals was a woman by the name of Doris Fisher. She was the first-born of a couple by the names of James Fisher and Minnie Elizabeth Buckland.

Before I get to Doris, I would note that James was actually James John, but on almost every document I have found he did not use his second name. Being a relatively common name, it led to some complicated searching to figure who he was and to what family he belonged. His birth registration filed in 1854 shows his full name. So does his baptism record, however, he was not baptized until 1872 which added to the complexity of the search.

On every census, voters list, birth and baptism records of his children, and even on his marriage record James John was shown as just James. On his 1927 death certificate his full name was finally recorded again. One of the things that allowed me to identify him was his occupation. For most of his life he was a builder / decorator. From that and the names of his children I could track him around southeast England as he obviously moved to find work in developing communities.

Doris was born in 1890. Her birth record shows just “Doris” but her baptism record has Doris Isabel. The second name was important in finding her on subsequent documents. She was living at home with her parents in 1891 when the census for that year was taken but disappears from family records afterward. I thought for a long time she might have died or emigrated, but I could find no death or passenger record to confirm either scenario.

A 1928 passenger list recorded her mother, Minnie E. Fisher, on her way to Canada, to join with a son, Mr. H. Fisher (Harland), who lived in Vernon, British Columbia. There was also a note that her nearest relative left behind was a daughter, Mrs. D. Wood, of 375 Harold Road, Hastings, Sussex. The address was the family home for many years and the person I thought could only be Doris. Now the challenge was to find when she married and what his name was.

The search led me in circles, though. Voters lists for Hastings for 1929 showed both Minnie Elizabeth Fisher and Doris Wood living together at 375 Harold Road. This list post-dated when Minnie left the country which is not unusual as it can take a while for civil record administration to catch up. By 1930, Doris, now shown as Doris Isabel Wood, had moved to another location in Hastings. Interestingly, Doris’s husband was not shown on any voters list with her indicating they had separated or even divorced.

I wondered if she had died in Hastings and when. The death record might give me some information on her family connections. A search on FreeBMD found only one person who fit her age and location: Doris Wood, age 60, died in 1951, in Hastings. I took a chance and ordered the record from the General Record Office. On the certificate her usual residence was 69, Southwater Road which was the same as on the voters list; her husband was George Wood, kennelman; and the informant was her son, L. P. A. Wood, living at the same address as Doris.

Now I had another name to look up. So, I did. Leonard George Albert (not L.P.A. as Doris’s death record had stated) was born in 1920 in Wood Green, Middlesex to parents George Edward Wood and Doris Isabel née Fisher.  

In later years, Doris was found on voters’ lists and the 1939 register living with her son, Leonard, in Hastings. Leonard served in the military during World War II but returned to Hastings after it was over to again live with his mother until her death in 1951. It appears he never married.

The family was also found on the 1911 census, living at 30 Guildford Road, Brighton, Sussex. They had been married less than a year then. With them were Charles Wood (b. 1868-69) and Emily Frowd Wood (b. 1866-67). All of them were indicated to be Visitors. But were they related?

I had found most of the information related to the Fisher family. The rest of the Wood family was to be a bit more complicated.

The 1921 census stated that Doris, George and Leonard lived in a residence belonging to H. C. Pearcy. In 1911 Henry Charles Pearcy (b. 1873-74) and his wife Martha Alice (b. 1875-76) lived with Annie Wood (b. 1841-42), who was the “wife’s mother.” Their address of 48 Pellatt Grove, Wood Green, Middlesex was also the address shown on the 1909 marriage for Charles Valentine Vickers Wood (b. 1868-69) and Emily Frowd Keevil (b. 1862-63).

One of the witnesses to the nuptials was Alice Pearcy, very likely Charles’s sister. That seemed to establish connections between George Edward Wood, Charles Wood and the Pearcys. Was George a son, a nephew, or what?

The family of Charles Valentine Vickers Wood (b. 1836-37, d. 1879), from results of searches of censuses and other records, included parents Valentine Vickers and Annie (Woodall) Wood (b. 1841-42) and their children, Annie Jane (b. 1862-63), Martha Alice (b. 1863-64) and Charles (b. 1865-66). Charles’s 1950 death record has his age at 86, suggesting a birth year of 1863-64. We had our Wood family then. Given their unusual names it is hard to argue that Charles and Emily are not the same people on the several documents even though their recorded ages differ.

Census records have a variety of ages for the Wood children. On the 1881 census, Annie Jane’s birth year was shown to be 1863-64, Martha Alice’s was 1864-65 and Charles’s was 1865-66.  On the 1901 census, there is a family headed by widow Annie Wood (b. 1843), living in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, with children Charles (b. 1868-69), Annie J. (b. 1866-67) and Alice (b. 1870-71). Their birthplaces match most other records even though their ages do not. Some liberties appear to have been taken relative to the birth dates. Also on this census record is a George Young (b. 1892-93) an “adopted son.”

Now I came to a dilemma. Or was it a fabrication? The only marriage record I could find was dated 30 November 1910 between George Edward Wood and Doris Isabel Young. His father was shown as Charles Wood and hers as George Young. The relationship with Charles could have right, but the name of Young appeared to be totally wrong, given other information from the 1911 and 1921 censuses and the 1920 birth record of Leonard Wood.

Was George Edward Wood actually George Young, the adopted son of Annie Wood? The age matched and the name shown on the marriage record was curious.

George was very likely not the 22 years of age (b. 1887-88) shown on the marriage certificate as most other documents show his birth around 1892. With George being underage, it might have led the couple to take liberties with the truth and marry in the register office rather than in a local church. He was recorded as being 20 on the 1911 census (b. 1890-91) and 29 on the 1921 census (b. 1891-92). So, there was a pattern of growing younger as he aged.

Was there a clerical error made when the marriage record was filled out or did George and Doris conspire to give wrong information. The fact that Doris signed as Doris Young suggests the latter.

I am not sure we will ever know the true facts.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Old City Maps & Aerial Photos

In Calgary, where I was born, there is a website where you can look at air photos of the city from 1924 to 2022. That date range covers a great deal of the expansion of the city and certainly my own family’s lifetime residences there.

With the mapping tool you can set up side-by-side views from different years to see how the locations of your old house changed. Or look at individual maps for almost every year there were aerial photos taken. The maps are all georeferenced so the views are exactly the same as you flick through the years without changing the screen view.

Our first house on Hunterburn Crescent NW from 1970 to 1980

We designed and built our first house in northwest Calgary in a brand-new subdivision. The montage above shows the bare lands in 1969 before roads were graded, in 1972 when the home was finished and we had moved in, and today with planted trees now mature. The 14th street extension was not begun until 1976.

Our house on Superior Avenue SW from 1980 to 1990

Our house on Superior Avenue was built in 1929 for the William Thomas and Anna Esdale family. He was a local druggist. Anna was involved in the Calgary Women’s Musical Club which was founded in 1906. The living room of their custom home featured a raised stage at one end which we believe was used for choral presentations and rehearsals.

The house was greatly in need of renovation when we bought it and I spent hundreds of hours doing the work to bring it back to its original state, with some modern improvements of course. As can be seen on the montage, the location was still a vacant lot in 1926, as was most of the area.

Anyway, the point of this post is that old maps and especially old aerial photos are great ways to source information about past family residences and businesses. I found the site for Calgary aerial photos with a simple Google search for “Calgary 1920 map” when I was looking for information about our old neighbourhood. Two blog posts came up: Daily Hive and Everyday Tourist. They led me to the Calgary Imagery webpages.

Try a search for your own location and see what comes up. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I am certainly going to have more fun with this website in looking at all our family homes and businesses over the years.


Websites for Calgary:

Dayhive.com blog: https://dailyhive.com/calgary/calgary-changed-past-century-maps

Imagery website https://maps.calgary.ca/CalgaryImagery/

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Genealogy and the Little Ice Age - New Book

Genealogy and the Little Ice Age

by Wayne Shepheard

paperback 84 pages, published 2023, illustrated in colour

A new book by the author of Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests: The Effects Climate Change and Other Natural Phenomena have had on the lives of our Ancestors.

Amazing presentation Wayne. Thank you for reminding me that you can never research an ancestor's life separately from their environment. Their life stories become so much richer when you have a better understanding of the context in which they were living. - Linda. comment on Wayne's presentation on "The Little Ice Age" at Family History Down Under 2021.

This book deals with the physical parameters of the Little Ice Age (1300-1850), the effects climatic conditions of that period had on people and how the environmental situations influenced the broader society.

That era is particularly important for genealogists to understand as it encompasses the time interval during which most of the records relating to family history interest were created. It was also the time from when surnames were first commonly used by our ancestral families.

In assembling the most complete histories of families it is important to understand the physical environment in which people lived. The Little Ice Age was a cool climatic period, a time in history when, from a physical or environmental standpoint, in comparison to the warm periods that preceded and followed: temperatures around the globe were substantially cooler; weather was mostly unstable; food production was especially challenging; and living conditions overall were difficult and harsh.

These factors had enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods of people, contributing to famine, spread of disease, injury to being and habitat, untimely deaths, social unrest and, in many cases, migration.

Much of the information summarized has been taken from published articles and books researched and written by a large and varied group of scientists and historians concerned with weather and climate; population; economics and marketplaces; sociology; medicine; archaeology; and geology, astrophysics, oceanography, and other natural sciences.

     Little Ice Age definition
     Relevance to family history
Little Ice Age time period definition
Climate relationships during the Holocene
     Warm & cold periods
     Rise & fall of civilizations
Weather versus climate
     Climate zones
     Climate mechanisms
     El Niño & La Niña
     Little Ice Age impact
Medieval Warm Period
Circumstances of the Little Ice Age
     Consequences of the change in climate
     Measuring climate changes
Impact on the physical environment
     Landforms & geography
     Northern Atlantic Ice Pack
Impact on people
     Agricultural developments
     Rivers and coastlines
          Holderness Peninsula, East Yorkshire, England
     Major storms
          1342 Magdalene Flood
          1530 St. Felix Day Flood
          1703 The Great Storm
          1780 San Calixto Hurricane
     Drought, deluge and famine
          1315-1317 The Great Famine
          1540 Drought & famine in Europe
          1585-1612 Roanoke & Jamestown Droughts
          1739-41 Great Frost & Famine
          1788-93 Australia
     Disease and epidemics
     Indigenous populated regions
Impact on society
     Age of Enlightenment
          Welfare programs and the end of feudalism
     Industrious Revolution
     Industrial Revolution
     Surname usage
Information sources for genealogists

AVAILABLE in both print and ebook editions 

book - UTP0151 - $32.50

ebook - UTPE0151 - $12.95

Listen to my video to get more information. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VB38T4PUUTA

Happy Birthday Jimmy!

Today I am repeating part of a blog post I wrote seven years ago. As you get older, I think you more often remember those people that were close to you that are now gone – both family and friends. And you wonder what life might have been like if those that died very young were still around or at least had accompanied you further into old age.

I never really got to know my brother, but I often find myself missing him.

Jimmy would have been 75 years old today.

These words are from my post, My Brother Jimmy and the Loss of Other Siblings of Past Ancestors, published here on February 24th, 2015:

James Edwin Shepheard, named for his two grandfathers, was born on February 23rd, 1948 and passed away on May 15th, 1950. The clinical cause of death was from a pulmonary infarction due to Eisenmenger’s Syndrome, a congenital heart defect. We were just told he had a hole in his heart, which is true.

We don’t know if surgery could have saved Jimmy. In any case the first open heart surgery to correct such defects was not accomplished until 1952. Surgeries involving a heart-lung machine were not done until much later.

I am reminded of Jimmy often, particularly around my own birthday and those of my sisters, and I often wonder how our lives might have been different if he had survived. I also think about him when I come across the deaths of other infants and children of my ancestors’ families. And, to my surprise, there have been many!

I only have snippets of memories of him, playing quietly with him in the back yard or on the living room floor. My two older sisters remember Jimmy as “a little angel who came to brighten our family . . . a happy, sweet tempered little boy . . . and so cute.” He never learned to walk – he was not strong enough – but he did talk and loved to laugh. His favorite game with our oldest sister was the nursery rhyme, One Two, Buckle My Shoe. When they got to ten, he would laugh and shout out, “Big Fot Hen!” in his growly little voice.

Me and my brother Jimmy in 1948

Some of the things that go through your mind as a surviving sibling are: If he had not been ill and we had grown up together, would we have shared similar interests? Would we have played sports or had business interests together? Might he have been my best man when I got married? There are so many scenarios that can be imagined with stories like these.

My youngest sister came along after Jimmy died. She likes to tell everyone that she was the only one of us that was planned. Of course, we disagree about that. She has also commented that she might not be here if Jimmy had lived. I think she would have, and that we would have been a family of five children. But her initials would probably not have been J. E.

Psychologists suggest there can be major conflicting emotions when siblings die, especially at a very young age. Some individuals will be fearful or anxious; some may feel guilt. Others may feel abandoned especially if there are no other brothers and sisters to lean on. I think most children will experience a loss of innocence or, at least, an unwanted welcome into the real world. In our family, we learned that death is a part of life, that it is not to be feared nor dwelled upon but, basically, that things often happen that are beyond our control. While we can and will be sad that someone close was lost, we do have to move on.

Perhaps because we were ourselves so young, my sisters and I did not fully appreciate the seriousness of Jimmy’s illness or how his passing would affect any of us. It’s only as we get older that we really understand death and the loss of a loved one. The more years we have together the closer we become and therefore parting with the person, and our interactions together, is so much harder. We cannot know if Jimmy’s death had any lasting effect on us as siblings since our lives unfolded in what we have come to believe was the way they were supposed to. Perhaps there were some scars that accompanied the pleasant memories. . .

My maternal grandfather was a twin. His brother was still born. I think he also always wondered what life might have been like had his brother lived, especially so since they were born on the same day. Edwin Miller was a sensitive and caring man who, on the day of his 83rd birthday wrote the following poem. It relates a sentiment that I think all of us feel who have lost a brother or sister at a very young age.

My Birthday – February 17th, 1870


In a Kansas shanty – in a form more like a toy,

Eighty-three years ago today, was born a baby boy.

A Kansas blizzard raged without; within, a tiny wail

Came from the throat of that little form so frail.


You may believe it or may not; that feeble little cry

Came from that babe, that little babe – the babe that once was I,

At the same time there lay beside me on that bed

A normal child in every way except that child was dead.


And so the little weakling grew up to be a man,

They laid the strong beneath the sod as only parents can.

It seemed to me my greatest loss as I grew up alone

Was my twin baby brother whom I have never known.

Edwin died just seven months after writing this remembrance poem.

I never really knew my brother either, but I do still miss him.

Happy Birthday Jimmy! Wish you were here.

Monday, 13 February 2023

Preserving Home Movies

My dad was a great movie maker! No, not for Hollywood but for the family. He was one of the earliest people who took up picture-taking with 8 mm movie cameras. He shot thousands of feet of film. The first years of action were in black and white.

Taking movies was part of regular family activities. Dad usually had his movie camera(s) everywhere we went. Some of the family activities every year was getting together with other keen members of the Calgary Movie Makers club for picnics and other events where, of course, everyone took movies.

I believe Dad may have been a charter member of the group which was just a bunch of friends who loved to take movies and enjoy each others’ company. When my parents moved away from Calgary in 1971, they were presented with a Lifetime Membership certificate "in recognition of long and meritorious service." They had previously been awarded an Honorary Membership in 1970 “in recognition of 25 years continuous service” (from 1945). I do not think the club is active anymore as all the old friends are gone. 

I still have Dad’s movie cameras, as I wrote about in a previous blog post (My amazing picture-taking machines, 22 October 2019. They have become family memorabilia, even antiques given their age, and rest proudly in my camera cabinets.

I got involved a bit as well, but never to the same extent. I do own movie cameras, but they never got a lot of use. I switched to video records when they came out, first a big ungainly VHS machine and then a Sony camcorder.

These days we all use our iPhones or other such digital equipment to take videos (they are not called home movies anymore). Our kids and their kids are very active in this realm, and we must have hundreds of hours now in our digital libraries.

We moved from VHS recordings to Camcorders which was a real boon to getting videos of special occasions as the equipment was light and easily portable and tapes could be stored in smaller places. The tapes could be converted to longer MP4 files using video converter software. We have several videos taken at events such as birthday parties.

Several years ago, I decided I needed to get all our 8mm films digitized and put into a format that everyone could enjoy and get a copy of. It was getting to the point that the old film was deteriorating. It only has a certain shelf life. So do CDs and DVDs as we are learning now.

Part of the problem, of course, was that the films were on dozens of individual rolls, some of which had been compiled by my father on to large reels but many that had not. Dad’s idea of giving people copies of the old movies was to cut up the various rolls and put them together in four individual collections. That way, my sisters and I would each have a copy of some of the memories of trips and special events.

The downside, of course, was that we would only have a small piece of each film record, mainly ones with ourselves in them. At the time he started the project, which was just in the year or so before his death, he did not have access to techniques with which he could convert the films to other types of media.

I have all the films still stored in a suitcase-like container, but I suspect over coming years they will continue to dry out and eventually will not be playable.

I thought the best way to accomplish my preservation goal, was to put together all of the small bits and pieces of film that had been cut up and, together with the original and compiled reels, find someone to convert them to a format that could be put on a DVD.

I contacted Myron and Malcom Achtman, at Adita Video Inc., again, who had done the wedding slide shows for me. They were willing and able to digitize all the old films and get them in a form that I could assemble into reasonably sized files that would be copied on to DVDs.

I broke down the collection into films from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which spanned the life of my father’s movie taking. For each collection I chose a number of songs that had been hits during those decades to use as background music to the films. The old movies, of course, were recorded without sound and it would have been boring to just sit and watch pictures with no background noise.

Each DVD comes with a list of what scenes are present, the locations and dates when the films were taken and the people who are shown. The names of the songs are also on the list so that people under 50 years of age (now) who eventually view the DVDs will know what the music is.

The videos each run for about an hour so there is lots to see (almost three hours of action). There are some rare movies of all of us as we grew up, as well as members of the family who no longer are around. The quality is not always great, but these are live-action scenes which will never come again.

If you have old movies still on film, look at getting them into digital format. The film will deteriorate with time.

Monday, 6 February 2023

Constructing Slide Shows

I first wrote about preserving family photos in a blog post titled Digitizing Memories (7 March 2017). Our photo albums remain in storage boxes but the scanned pages are in the cloud where family members can look at them anytime. Perhaps we will eventually find a place where we can set up shelves and put the books back on display and people can then thumb through them again.

Since that post, I have been meaning to address related subjects involving 35mm slides and 8mm movies. Here is the next part about slides.

I am an incorrigible slide-show maker. For decades now, I have been putting together presentations using photos from our family albums, to celebrate weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. It has been a way to share memories with the whole family. Learning how to do it has also been greatly helpful in putting together the many presentations I have made to the genealogical community.

It seems like centuries have past (well, it was in the last century) since I was doing slide shows with 35mm projectors. I have hundreds of slides from both personal (family) activities as well as professional (geological) pursuits. Prints of some of them were made years ago and put into photo albums. The vast majority, though, have not been scanned and remain hidden away in metal storage boxes. I can inspect them on a hand-held, single-slide viewer, but I gave away/sold my carousel projectors and screens years ago, so I can’t do a regular “slide show” anymore.

One of the projects on my to-do list (which never seems to get shorter) is to digitize all the slides for preservation and possible reference in the future. I do have a slide scanner but it has seen limited action.

The first electronic or digital slide show was one I made was for our daughter Tamara’s wedding in 1999. It was on VHS tape. Many people reading this may remember what that was. That media went out of use and favour with the advent of the DVD and more recently with conversion of video and still picture files to MP4 and other formats that can be stored on personal computers, in the cloud or on a smart phone.

For that first one I found some people whose business it was to digitize photos (among many other digital projects), Myron and Malcom Achtman at Adita Video Inc. in Calgary. I took them photos of my daughter from the time she was born along with a couple of songs on DVDs (Daddy’s Little Girl and Thank Heavens for Little Girls). Yup, that was before you could download them from iTunes.

With a script I wrote and some narrated comments by me, they scanned the photos and put it all together with the music to produce a VHS tape that I showed at her wedding reception. It was not very long (less than seven minutes) and the quality is not as good as I can do today, but it was a hit with the audience and something I am still proud of having done.

I did a similar thing for the 2001 wedding of James (our son) and Alice (his bride). This time I took copies of old photos I had scanned, music I had downloaded, recordings by the parents of the bride and groom, and some videos copied from television and recorded on video cameras. That one was much longer at 21 minutes but still just as much of a tear-jerker as the one for Tammy. Myron and Malcolm put this one directly on to a DVD. I had progressed a bit farther with the technology.

After the wedding projects, I found some software that allowed me to make slide shows on my own. The one I have become comfortable with is put out by AVS4YOU (AVS Video Converter and AVS Video Editor). The basic version is a free download. I can input scanned photos or videos, add music and narration, and other special effects, and do all kinds of things to produce a seamless video file. Then it can be saved in a number of different formats: AVI, DVD, MOV, MP4, MPEG, and others.

Most recently I have saved the finished files on my computer and in the cloud rather than put them on DVDs but I have made copies on DVDs for family members.

For presentations I use PowerPoint. These are basically slide shows as well. The program allows me to add narration to each slide if I want to have them available for recorded webinars.

My last major slide show was one I put together for Christmas 2020 when the family was unable to visit in person. We played it live on Zoom on Christmas Eve so that everyone could view it together.

Slide Shows! They are wonderful ways to share memories and easy to put together. And when they are done you can send them around the world through file transfer services like WeTransfer.

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Climate Always Has and Always Will Change

I write a lot about the implications of climate change on people and families of past centuries. What about the future? Here is an article that explains very clearly why what we see today is perfectly natural.

While the Climate Always Has and Always Will Change, There Is no Climate Crisis

  • by Wallace Manheimer    


The emphasis on a false climate crisis is becoming a tragedy for modern civilization, which depends on reliable, economic, and environmentally viable energy. The windmills, solar panels and backup batteries have none of these qualities. This falsehood is pushed by a powerful lobby which Bjorn Lomborg has called a climate industrial complex, comprising some scientists, most media, industrialists, and legislators. It has somehow managed to convince many that CO2 in the atmosphere, a gas necessary for life on earth, one which we exhale with every breath, is an environmental poison. Multiple scientific theories and measurements show that there is no climate crisis. Radiation forcing calculations by both skeptics and believers show that the carbon dioxide radiation forcing is about 0.3% of the incident radiation, far less than other effects on climate. Over the period of human civilization, the temperature has oscillated between quite a few warm and cold periods, with many of the warm periods being warmer than today. During geological times, it and the carbon dioxide level have been all over the place with no correlation between them.

Download and read the whole piece using the following link. 


Monday, 9 January 2023

Record cold and snow decimates cattle herds: 9 January 1887

Cattle in a blizzard on the plains during the Big Die Up (Harper's Weekly)

If you wonder whether winter conditions are better or worse these days, here is a story from that past that illustrates not much has really changed. The following is from History.com’s This Day In History website:

On one of the worst days of the “worst winter in the West,” nearly an inch of snow falls every hour for 16 hours, impeding the ability of already starving cattle to find food.

The plains ranchers had seen hard winters before, but they had survived because their cattle had been well-fed going into the winter. By the mid-1880s, though, the situation had changed. In the hopes of making quick money, greedy speculators had overstocked the northern ranges in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Deceived by a string of mild winters, many ranch managers were also no longer putting up any winter-feed for their stock. Disaster arrived in 1886.

The summer of 1886 was hot and dry, and by autumn, the range was almost barren of grass. The cold and snow came early, and by January, record-breaking snowfalls blanketed the plains, forcing the already weakened cattle to expend vital energy moving through the snow in search of scant forage. In January, a warm Chinook wind briefly melted the top layers of snow. When the brutal cold returned (some ranches recorded temperatures of 63 degrees below zero), a hard thick shell of ice formed over everything, making it almost impossible for the cattle to break through the snow to reach the meager grass below. With no winter hay stored to feed the animals, many ranchers had to sit by idly and watch their herds slowly die. “Starving cattle staggered through village streets,” one historian recalls, “and collapsed and died in dooryards.” In Montana, 5,000 head of cattle invaded the outskirts of Great Falls, eating the saplings the townspeople had planted that spring and “bawling for food.”

When the snow melted in the spring, carcasses of the once massive herds dotted the land as far as the eye could see. One observer recalled that so many rotting carcasses clogged creek and river courses that it was hard to find water fit to drink. Millions of cattle are estimated to have died during the “Great Die Up” as it came to be called, a darkly humorous reference to the celebrated “Round Up.” Montana ranchers alone lost an estimated 362,000 head of cattle, more than half the territory’s herd.

Besides sending hundreds of ranches into bankruptcy, the hard winter also brought an abrupt end to the era of the open range. Realizing they would always have to grow crops to feed their animals, ranchers decreased the size of their herds and began to stretch barbed wire fences across the open range to enclose new hay fields. By the 1890s, the typical rancher was also a farmer, and cowboys spent more time fixing fences than riding herd or roping mavericks. Belatedly, settlers realized that they had to adapt to the often-harsh demands of life on the western plains if they were to survive and thrive.

A quick search of the Internet will reveal other similar storms and outcomes on the North American prairie: Schoolhouse Blizzard (12 January 1888); Kansas Monster Blizzard (1-3 January 1886).

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

MyHeritage 2022 Yearend Summary

 News report from MyHeritage:

2022 was quite a year here at MyHeritage. We released several fantastic new features, including DeepStory, Family Tree Timeline, Photo Tagger, and AI Time Machine™;  added 2.5 billion historical records in 271 new collections; launched our podcast, Blast From My Past; and released several improvements to existing features to make your family history discovery experience on MyHeritage that much better. We also facilitated many emotional reunions and enjoyed the stories of incredible discoveries our users made through family history research and DNA — all while keeping true to our core values of innovation, compassion, and the desire to have a positive impact on the world.

And those are just a few of the highlights! 

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2023… so stay tuned!

Legacy Family Tree Webinars 2023

 The 2023 schedule, LFTW’s 14th season, was released this week:

Choose from 177 classes from genealogy's leading educators on topics ranging from scanning old negatives to Microsoft PowerPoint, from the West Indies and Greece to Germany and Liverpool, from mtDNA and YDNA to the Erie Canal and the First Kansas/US Colored Troops 79th Regiment, from urban mapping tools to telling better family stories on MyHeritage, and from deciphering handwritten documents to turning witnesses into evidence. We are also introducing Webinar Shorts and bringing back genealogy's pioneer in problem-solving methodology, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL for the brand new members-only series, "The Best of Elizabeth Shown Mills: Genealogy Problem Solving".

I am pleased to note that I will be part of the 2023 program for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.  My talk will be about Surnames: Why? When? Why then? It will be presented on 19 April 2023.

Come see what Legacy has to offer this year. They start tomorrow with Diahann Southard’s The 5 steps to organizing your DNA in 2023.You can register for any or all talks here.


Monday, 2 January 2023

Life in Europe During the Little Ice Age

I read a lot of scientific and socio-economic articles about research into conditions during the Little Ice Age. They give me context into how our ancestors fared during the period from the early 14th to the early 19th centuries.

Hunters in the Snow - 1565 painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

One such piece I came across was written in 2001 and titled, Variability of climate in meridional Balkans during the periods 1675-1715 and 1780-1830 and its impact on human life. Okay, it’s not a new study but as you read more about certain subjects you continually come across more articles and books written in past decades that are just as relevant now as when they were published.

The paper specifically discusses the Balkans region but its conclusions are similar to those of other studies done for much of the European continent. I will note other publications in future posts to give readers a broader view of overall conditions of the Little Ice Age everywhere.

The authors used data from (limited) instrumental records; annals, chronicles and historiographies; records of public administration and government; travel reports; scientific writings (books and historical climatological papers); and monastery records. Sources offer “direct or indirect information about the course of the weather or meteorological phenomena or they describe natural phenomena and social events related to weather. Information about famine and epidemics, such as plague, are also included.”

Data have been collected from former Yugoslavian countries, Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Romania, Syria and Turkey. Comparisons were made with similar data from the period 1961-1990, where there is also valid instrumental measurement, in order to quantify older references.

The authors describe not only the physical conditions of weather and climate during the period but also how such parameter impacted people directly.

There is an excellent bibliography of relevant studies from most parts of Europe that will be worth reading.


Xoplaki, Eleni, Ranagiotis Maheras & Juerg Luterbacher. (2001). Variability of climate in meridional Balkans during the periods 1675-1715 and 1780-1830 and its impact on human life. Climate Change, v.48, pp. 581-615. Download from file:///F:/Downloads/Variability_of_climate_in_meridional_Bal%20(1).pdf

Other blog references:

Book Review: A Cold Welcome (12 June 2018) https://discovergenealogy.blogspot.com/2018/06/book-review-cold-welcome.html