Episode 113 - Coordinating Family History Data Across Platforms / Another Grandpa Gone Bad!Nov 16, 2015
This week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show, Fisher opens the program with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Fisher found a mug shot of a third cousin in San Quentin from 1928 and David reveals his own grandfather's life outside the lines. What did these guys do? They'll tell you. Then, in keeping with the salute to our veterans of the past week, David reveals the identity of America's oldest living soldier. You won't believe how old he is! David then talks about how to preserve your veterans' stories with the National Archives' "Project Vets." As part of "Family Histoire" news, David talks about the latest DNA test results from the remains of Czar Nicholas and his family from 1917. Was it really them, or did they survive? David also shares an exciting boon to New England researchers now available through a Harvard web site, along with this week's Tech Tip, and free NEHGS database.
Fisher then visits with Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com. Janet is a national speaker and shares some great insight in how to manage your data across multiple platforms. There's no "one button" solution, but she has some great ideas for reducing duplicated efforts.
Then Illinois resident Debra Bruns talks about her genealogical journey, sharing stories of her Carver family down through the years. Yes... there's another grandpa gone bad in there! What can you learn from Debra's research?
Finally, Tom Perry of TMCPlace.com, the Preservation Authority shares his professional tips for creating better videos as you and your clan make family history. A few simple suggestions will change the way you look through a viewer forever.
That's all this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!
Transcript of Episode 113
Host Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert
Segment 1 Episode 113
Fisher: And welcome back to another mind blowing addition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com! I am Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well it’s great to have you, and we have some great guests this week, Janet Hovorka is back from FamilyChartMasters.com. And not long ago I was teaching a class, and somebody said to me, “Hey, what do we do though if we want our stuff over here and we want to have it over here, and we want to keep our own database. Isn’t there just one button we could push that puts it everywhere?” Well the short answer of course is no. But Janet is going to help us to figure out some ways to make it a little bit easier to share the material we get and make sure it gets out there. So that’s going to be a great segment coming up in about eight minutes. Then later on in the show from Illinois, we’re going to be talking to Debra Bruns, she has been making some incredible discoveries in her own family. We’re going to talk to her about that and what she found out about her grandpa. Always good to know about grandpa! [Laughs] But right now let’s check in with David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org.
Fisher: How are you David?
David: Great! And greetings from Beantown, how are you doing Fish?
Fisher: You know, last night I was up very late because we painted a room as we’re getting ready for family to come in for the holidays. And so I sat up and did a little research and I tracked down my first felon in the family. Descendent from the immigrant ancestor, a third cousin of my dad, I found his mug shots from San Quentin!
David: Oh my goodness Fish! Well hopefully it’s the last criminal in your family.
Fisher: We’re hoping. We’re hoping. Yeah San Quentin, he was a forger in 1928, then I found the digitized accounts of his capture and what he was doing. It was crazy.
David: See I don’t have to go that far back. I just have to look at my grandfather. He was in jail for being a bootlegger during the Great Depression.
Fisher: [Laughs] These stories are out there too and we can get them.
David: That’s true. I haven’t found a mug shot of him yet. But I have found his prison records in a variety of articles in the newspaper stating that “George Lambert” should give up the liquor business.
Fisher: [Laughs] So what do we have in our “Family Histoire” news this week?
David: Well in honor of November being the month celebrated Veterans Day. I wanted to tell you that the oldest American veteran is the soon to be 110 year old Frank Livingston of, Lake Charles, Louisiana.
David: This young man joined the army in 1942 and right through the end of ’45. His memory is sharp, I watched an interview with him online. And it’s great to know that he has some close company because Richard Overton who was thought to be the oldest veteran of WWII as of last year is 109. So he’s a little young.
Fisher: Oh he’s just a kid!
David: Well you know it’s funny, veterans from the war have lasted a long time. I mean the last veteran from the Revolutionary War died four years after the Civil War!
David: I mean you have WWI veterans that were still alive right until 2011 when Frank Buckles died. I mean it’s amazing. These guys live for a very long time, and if you really think about it, my Dad was in WWII. I’m sure you had relatives in there as well.
David: And it’s like they could be living for the next 25 years if these 90 year old guys live to be super centenarians.
Fisher: That’s right. Into the late 2030s
David: Exactly. And you know it’s so important to get these stories down. People on social media are always posting a photograph of that or they thank a vet online, which I always try to do around this time of year. But it’s so important to get these stories down. Are you aware that the Library of Congress, for a while now has a program to record the stories of veterans?
Fisher: Yes! And it’s fabulous.
David: Oh it really is. Because you know everyone thinks the Library of Congress has to be Abraham Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. No, it could be about your dad. And if your dad is still alive and he was a veteran or your mom was a veteran, the Library of Congress on their website has the details to record these stories, capture these images and videos. It’s like a time capsule left over from the 20th century for future generations. It’s fabulous.
Fisher: Love it.
David: Well you know I’m going to go to the other side of the world and talk to you about recent news from Moscow. Remember a few years back they found the remains there, pretty sure of Czar Nicholas II and his family?
Fisher: Right, yes.
David: DNA has helped out a great deal at the end of September they re-examined the jaw bones of both the Czar and Empress Alexandra, and they took also a neck bone. First they abstracted mitochondrial and Y DNA from the remains. And also matched it up with blood from a shirt that Czar was known to have worn, and it’s a perfect match. So the Czar and the five children are now accounted for that was obviously executed during the Revolution. Now the jury is basically still on with Russian Orthodox Church waiting to decide if they want to believe these results. It’s amazing. DNA has so unraveled this mystery. Speaking of that, Harvard University over in Cambridge, across the river from us, has made a remarkable new free database on http://colonialnorthamerican.library.harvard.edu/ You can find over a 150,000 color images from the Harvard archives, covering from the 1600s right through to the early 1800s from their collection. It’s amazing.
Fisher: Ooh, that is fun!
David: There are maps, charts, drawings, diaries, letters from presidents and former governors, some really great stuff. But it’s searchable by last name or by community so you can put in a search for your family or where they live and see if they come up in one of these documents. My tech tip for the week is going to be a real simple solution. Now, when you’re trying to illustrate your genealogy, you know you can look through all your family photos, and oh, you know, you can’t go three hundred miles to get a picture of that church. But wait the church burned down fifty years ago. Go on eBay and put in a search for your community. For my home town I put in that town in Massachusetts, and I searched for postcards. The old penny postcards were produced from the early 1900s.
David: Sometimes right through the 1960s and ‘70s are great for that. I’m sure you purchased a few in your time while doing some genealogy.
Fisher: I absolutely have and I got a few from my dads home town in Bogota, New Jersey.
David: I have a penny postcard taken about ten years before my father was born, and it’s the only known image of the house that he was born in.
David: It was in the corner of a postcard but I know exactly where he was born in ‘25 and sure enough there’s a trolley coming around the corner and there’s the building right next to it. So it was the best five bucks I ever spent.
Fisher: Yes! [Laughs]
David: So it’s real simple, you can setup on eBay search terms so if you’re looking for Abington MA, Abington Mass, or Abington, Massachusetts, then just add the word postcard and it will send you an email every time something gets posted. So build your own little town archives where your family lived.
Fisher: Nice tip!
David: All I can say is it helps illustrate your family for really low cost and the images are out of copyright.
David: That’s really even a better part. This week our free guest user database on AmericanAncestors.org is going to take you a little further south of the border, we have 18th through 20th century Guatemalan records. And this is brought to us courtesy of our joint partnership with FamilySearch.org, and it’s just another way that NEHGS in Boston allows you to see that we’re far more than what New England and our title is.
Fisher: Exactly. All right, great stuff David! Thank you so much for coming on and we’ll talk to you again next week!
David: Talk to you next week my friend.
Fisher: And coming up next we’re going to talk to Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com about how to coordinate getting your data out to many different platforms with the least amount of effort. That’s coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 2 Episode 113
Host Scott Fisher with guest Janet Hovorka
Fisher: And we are back! Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And you know it is not uncommon when talking to other genealogists to find people who are just saying, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to upload to Family Search, oh and I want to upload to My Heritage, and to FindMyPast and to Ancestry.” “Oh, and I want to have my own Roots Magic database.” “How do I keep these things all coordinated and how do I choreograph it, so that I can keep this work at a minimum.” And boy that is a real problem, and that’s why I’ve got my good friend Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com on the phone. Hi Janet, how are you?
Janet: Good! How are you?
Fisher: Awesome. I saw you gave an address on this at BYU back over the summer at a family conference there about choreographing all these databases on all these different places that we like to be. And of course, there are advantages to being on all these places because you might hook up with other folks with answers.
Janet: Absolutely. Absolutely, there’s so much out there, that it’s just a challenge to try to figure out how to get it all organized and keep everything together so that you can figure out what you’re doing. But that’s a good thing. There’s so much out there. It’s great.
Fisher: That’s right. And you know, if you think about it, FamilySearch for instance, you can’t upload a gedcom file, but you can in other places. So there’s got to be a way to minimize all these efforts to add the same piece of information or major bits of it in different spots. How would you suggest going about it?
Janet: Well, that’s why I developed this course that I taught, with scenes, with charts. When we ask people to send us their information, they used to just say, “Oh, I can just send you my Roots Magic file or my PAF file or I can download it from Ancestry or something like that.” But over the last two or so years, most people now are saying, “Well, my mom’s side is over in Ancestry and my dad’s side is over in Roots Magic,” or whatever. People are getting a little scattered. And that’s like “How am I going to put this together?” I think the key, the biggest key, is to find a place to plant your tree. But you have to have one go-to place. And that can be a number of different places, but you have to have one place to plant that tree, and then you can go out and look for other information to bring back to that tree.
Fisher: Yeah, that makes sense.
Janet: So the biggest thing is pick one place. And then the key to that is to decide, after you figured that out, you want to decide whether to keep it online or offline.
Fisher: Now wait a minute, let’s stop right there for a minute. Why would anybody want to do it offline?
Janet: Well, anything that’s in software is actually on your computer rather than on a database.
Fisher: Right, but why would they want to do it offline instead of having it online where others might find it and share other information.
Janet: Well there’s several reasons to do it offline. First of all, a lot of software has better reports. You can keep track of it. They’re also usually faster. In fact one of my good hits in this thing is to have two machines or maybe two screens hooked up to one machine where you can have one that’s out searching the net, but then bringing things that you find into your software, most of them can sync with different databases. So MyHeritage will sync automatically with Family Tree Builder. Ancestry will sync automatically with Family Tree Maker. Legacy, Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic will all sync with FamilySearch. Roots Magic will also go out and search for documents in MyHeritage. They can give you a little more crossover and also, you own it. You have it. And you can add information that’s private. You can add all sorts of things and you don’t need to put that out on the databases if you’re worrying about any privacy or anything like that.
Fisher: And most privacy issues of course have to do with the living.
Janet: Yes, absolutely right. So you’ve got things that you want to keep track of but that you maybe don’t want out there, just making sure that you’re safe, and then you’d want to keep them on your own machine. But then again, a lot of the reasons to have it on your own machine or on a piece of software is to have your own copy. You can do it if you’re in the car, whatever. There are some good reasons to do that.
Fisher: Well and that’s a great point too about the various pieces of software that can coordinate with the various websites. You might be able to just handle it from one place there. That’s great. I love that. That’s a great tip to start with.
Janet: Right. So usually you’re going to use kind of a combination. You’re going to maybe use dominant software. Because there are benefits to having it on a database too, right?
Fisher: Oh yeah.
Janet: You’ve got collaborations. You’ve got an instant backup. You don’t have to worry about a computer going bad. And then the hints, the software sometimes will have hints as well, depending on which software you’ve picked. But there’s some good reasons to have it online. So you can pick the combination, but you still just need to have one place where your real updated version is in one place, one software website combination like Ancestry- Family Tree Maker, or Family Search- Roots Magic.
Fisher: Do you ever see the day, Janet, where all the different software makers coordinate with all the major databases out there, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and FindMyPast?
Janet: That’s a good question for smarter people than me. But I would think, because there are commercial entities here and because they have commercial interests in that, I would think they’re going to hold their cards closer to their chest. FamilySearch, being a non-profit, has opened that up for other people to work with, and once the partnerships that they have done with the big databases as well, that has loosened things up a bit, that from them being non-profit.
Janet: One thing to note though, if you’re going to plant your tree in the FamilySearch database, that database is a little bit different than the others. It’s built on a Wikipedia site structure, where people can write over on top of each other’s information.
Janet: And so, if you’re going to plant your tree there, you need to be aware that your brother-in-law or your niece or whoever, can come in and change what you’ve been doing. So a lot of people prefer to have it in another place where they can keep a little more control over it, but then interact with FamilySearch a little more carefully. For example, if you have an LDS account, you can plant your tree over in Ancestry and still interact with FamilySearch. You can plant your tree in one of the softwares that work with FamilySearch and then also we used it with Ancestry and Family History Maker and things like that. There’s a lot of ways to kind of correlate it together. Probably more than we can go into here quickly on the radio. But lots of good ideas about how to use the softwares together and the databases together by syncing the software and then moving that data from the software over into another software that then syncs with other databases as well.
Fisher: Well, that’s the nice way to go. I was teaching a class once and talking about this very point. And the guy said, “Well this is really very inefficient that I can’t coordinate everything from one place.” So these are great answers. All right, what else do you have Janet?
Janet: I have a few other little hints for you that have set up my research ability. And these are a little of the side notes that I think would really help. If you already know how to do this, then it’s kind of, “Oh, big deal I already knew that.” But if you didn’t know how to do this, I’m about to blast your world right open [Laughs].
Fisher: Okay, great. [Laughs]
Janet: The first one is, when you are in any kind of application on Windows especially, you can grab that top bar and slide it over to the side of your monitor. Grab that top bar slide it over to the side of your screen and it will give you an exact half screen of that application. So a lot of times I’ll take my software and slide it over on one side, and my browser and slide it over on the other side, and then I’ve got a perfect half screen, where you can work on both together.
Janet: Another quick hint is, when you’re cruising along in your internet browser looking up things, say I do a Google search for something, I go down that list and I right click, instead of just clicking on it and going to that next page. I right click and it gives me an “Open link in new tab” option. And I can go down, say I’ve got a Google list of seven things I want to look at, if I right click and open link in new tab, right click and open link in new tab, I open up seven new tabs but I leave that Google list open. Then I can work my way back through those tabs and say, okay yes, that’s my grandpa, no that one’s not. Yes, that is. And work through that information. But then when I’ve closed all those tabs, I’m back to where I started and I can go on to the next several parts of the search that I was using and keep working through my search. And that works anywhere. That works on Ancestry that works on FamilySearch that works anywhere.
Janet: And then the third thing I found really helpful too, is to actually sign-in to my browsers. Through Firefox, Google, anything like that. Up under settings you can actually sign in, and what that does is it helps share your tabs, and your bookmarks, and your saved passwords and even your history, over on to any other devices that you have. So I sign in to Chrome on my laptop, and I’ve also signed in to Chrome on my iPhone, and I’ve signed in to Chrome on my tablet, and so then, if I’m doing something on my laptop and I have to leave and end up waiting in the line at the grocery store or something. I can pull out my iPhone and I go in and look at those same tabs that I had open still on my laptop.
Janet: And I can just keep going anywhere wherever I am.
Fisher: What a great tip!
Janet: Having those things open across different devices.
Fisher: I think that’s all great advice. Because it really, at the end of the day, there’s no way to take everything and share it with every place. You’ve got to work on some places and you’ve got to supply information here a little bit. But there are some little tricks and I like them. Great ideas, Janet!
Janet: And then bring it back to your planted tree. Yep.
Fisher: Back to the planted tree, and that’s the place. I’ve come to much the same conclusion, but I wish I’d taken your class a while ago. I had to figure it out for myself.
Janet: Well, I’m glad you figured it out. Hopefully these ideas will help some other people too.
Fisher: Absolutely, yeah. One home base and then you work and spread and share to some of the other places as well. Great ideas! She’s Janet Hovorka, FamilyChartMasters.com. Thanks so much for the advice, and great ideas Janet!
Janet: Great to talk to you.
Fisher: And coming up in five minutes, we’re going to be talking to Debra Bruns. She’s in Illinois. She’s been working on her family history for ten years now, and she’s found some interesting things, particularly about old grandpa. We’ll tell you about it coming up in minutes, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 3 Episode 113
Host Scott Fisher with guest Debra Bruns
Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth. And I love it when a listener checks in with a great find from their research and shares it with everybody. Not only the details of the story, but some of the details of how they actually found this information. And on the line with me right now from Montgomery, Illinois, its Debra Bruns.
Fisher: Hi Deb, welcome to the show!
Debra: Thank you! I'm glad to be here.
Fisher: I'm excited to have you. And I love it when you reach out and share as you have. And you've been working on a little problem with is it, a grandparent?
Debra: Yeah, [Laughs] my grandfather. He was quite the character.
Fisher: Now did you know him?
Debra: No. You know, I remember seeing him once when I was about five.
Debra: And that was it. I just never knew any of that side of my family. How I got started in genealogy is I wanted to know if he was still alive. So I decided, "Okay you know, he'd be old now." This was ten years ago. And he was born in 1915 but I thought, "Well, there's still a chance."
Fisher: Sure, ten years ago… maybe.
Debra: Yeah. So I went into the social security death index and found out right away he had died. So I thought, “Geez!” You know I had heard stories about his mother and I wanted to know what happened to his father, and because I had always heard well the father left the mother with all these kids. I heard there was like nine kids in the family. And I thought, "I want to see what happened to the father." So I went in and I found out the father's name was David Seth Carver, and I just went crazy from there. You know, I got the genealogy bug and I went with it. [Laughs] And I just kept researching and researching that on my grandfather and found out he had been married four different times.
Debra: And his last wife was his brother's widow. [Laughs]
Fisher: Well that's almost Biblical, isn't it?!
Debra: [Laughs] Well and he had two sons with her that my father never knew. He never knew he had two half brothers.
Fisher: So were you able to get in touch with that side of the family?
Debra: Oh definitely! Yeah and it was just, you know I can't tell you how much fun it all was. I mean, you know, to discover here I've got two half uncles both younger than me. We planned this big family reunion back in 2007 and we had a bunch of people there. I mean it was just...it was awesome! There's no other way to describe it but that. So now every couple of years, we have a big Carver reunion. We're planning one for this coming June. And we just discovered more family that we didn't know about, so they're going to be there. [Laughs]
Fisher: That's great! That's awesome. Now talk about some of the stories you discovered that have made you go, "Oh!"
Debra: Well, my grandfather. [Laughs] Seeing all the times that he's been in jail!
Fisher: That would do that.
Debra: [Laughs] He had robbed a tavern, him and his brother, so he got caught with that. The thing I don't understand is, he liked to drink, okay? So he robbed this tavern and he takes everything but the booze. He took cigarettes, he took clothes, [Laughs] He took the cash register but he didn't take any booze.
Debra: I don’t understand that.
Fisher: Now how old was he?
Debra: When he did the robbing?
Fisher: Oh, okay.
Fisher: Okay so he wasn't like a kid who was just going through a phase?
Debra: No! And then he hid, and in 1943 he joined the Army and he was only in for three months, so I would really like to know what the story behind that was.
Fisher: [Laughs] Usually they insist you stay a little bit longer.
Debra: [Laughs] Yeah.
Fisher: Especially during times of war.
Debra: I'm kind of thinking there probably was a dishonorable discharge, that's what I'm thinking.
Debra: [Laughs] Yeah there's been several characters like him that I've discovered through the family. There was Captain David Carver who would be my fourth great uncle. He was actually Chicago's first lumber merchant. He came here in 1833 and then moved onto Ottawa County, Michigan, and he ended up…his father ended up dying so he went back to Ohio, and became Postmaster of a town called St. Louisville, and he was embezzling money from the government. He got caught doing that.
Fisher: So you started this whole thing wanting to find out about your grandfather, and now you've discovered a family tradition.
Debra: I guess you could say that!
Fisher: Yes, okay. The black sheep are pretty interesting in anybody's line. And you're certainly not alone with this.
Debra: Yeah, they really are. He didn't want to go to jail obviously, Captain David Carver. So he went off with John C. Freemont on his fourth expedition.
Debra: He did come to a terrible end though. He ended up freezing to death.
Debra: They were out in Colorado and he had something to do with the railroads. They were going to put in railroads. And he out there exploring, I guess looking for the best route.
Fisher: And so David wound up freezing to death, obviously in a sudden storm or something like that.
Debra: Well, you figure its November and its Colorado. [Laughs]
Debra: Which leads to another great story actually, my Seth Carver, the third Seth Carver.
Fisher: Okay so what era are we talking, and where?
Debra: He was born in 1801
Debra: And he was born in New Jersey. And the family came to Licking County, Ohio, right around 1812 to 1815. So that's where he spent his years growing up. And then he eventually moved to Illinois. But the thing about him is that he went out in the gold rush and nobody ever heard from him again.
Fisher: Were you able to track him down?
Debra: No. You know, I keep hoping I'll find one of these old newspapers some story you know, what happened to him. I looked for him for so long and could figure out anything. And then finally I found an article that was written about his grandson, Dr. Charles Carver Ryan, that mentioned that he went out west in the gold rush and the family never heard from him again.
Debra: You know, anything! I don’t care what little tidbit… anything! [Laughs]
Fisher: Yeah, right, you hope to find. Of course, you know I always say. “If you give me enough fuzz on the tail of the cat, I can pull in the whole cat!”
Debra: Yeah. [Laughs]
Debra: Yeah, you know just every little bit it just adds to the story, and eventually you can put all these pieces together and you come up with something. And that’s what happened with Captain David Carver, I mean I kept getting little tidbits, and finally I was able to piece together most of his life.
Fisher: Now were you able to find some full stories on his passing, and the episode with the Fremont group?
Debra: Things that were written yes. There were some diaries written by some of the people that survived, there was an article in a magazine back from 1994. So you know, you just kind of put all these little things together, and that was a horrible expedition. And I would actually like to find some movie to watch that might be about that whole expedition. I think that would be nice if there is a movie out there.
Fisher: Well that’s a good question. Maybe back in the 1930s they did an awful lot of historic based flicks at that time. Have you written any books about this yet for your own family?
Debra: Yes I did back in 2007. I wrote a book, “Seth Carver and His Descendents.” but it’s so outdated now. I have found out so much more since then.
Fisher: Yeah, that happens.
Debra: Yeah I’d like to do another book when I think that I can go any further when I think I’ve discovered everything I’m going to. And we also have a DNA project going on. I love DNA. I’m really into the DNA stuff.
Fisher: Yes, it’s exciting. Well keep going Debra, it seems like you’ve found quite a bit. You picked the right ten years, by the way, to get started in, because everything’s been happening in the last decade.
Debra: Yes. And I just love it with now more and more records online. I mean you still have to do foot work, but less of it. [Laughs]
Fisher: Less of it. Exactly right. She’s Debra Bruns from Montgomery, Illinois. Thanks so much for sharing your stories and good luck with Grandpa, he sounds like he was quite a handful!
Debra: Thank you. Yes, he was. Thank you!
Fisher: [Laughs] And if you have a great story of discovery, just drop me a note on our Extreme Genes Facebook page, and you may find yourself on the show. And coming up next, he is our Preservation Authority Tom Perry, from TMCPlace.com. He’s going to be talking about how to take better photographs because we’re making family history every day. It’s coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.
Segment 4 Episode 113
Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth with Tom Perry, from TMCPlace.com, he's our Preservation Authority. Hello, Tom.
Fisher: Well, you know we are making family history every day.
Fisher: And it’s an interesting email I got from one listener who is asking, "Wait a minute! If we're making history now, we want to make our images, our memories, our photographs look the best they can possibly be and mine don't look that good." So she is looking for a little advice on what she can do to make modern day photos look better right now. And I'm thinking, mostly off the cell phone, right?
Tom: Oh exactly! That is such a super question, because back in the day when I was first into this industry, cameras were pretty expensive, unless you had one of those little, teeny brownies. And then developing the film was expensive. Now you've got an iPhone, already you can take killer pictures with it or an Android or any of those. It’s just amazing, the quality. However, no matter how sharp and crisp your picture is, if your pictures aren't composed correctly, they're not going to look very good. They’re going to be kind of unpleasing and sometimes uncomfortable to look at. And a lot times, people don't know why. They look at some photos and say, "Oh, that's such a beautiful photo! Why doesn't mine look like that? I've got this big, expensive Nikon." The thing is it’s nice to have nice camera equipment. However, that doesn't make you a good photographer. In fact, when I used to teach classes, I would have parents coming in and saying, "Oh you know, I want to buy my kid this camcorder." And I go, "Well, before you go spend a couple of grand on a nice camcorder make sure they understand the basics, that they're doing good with the basic equipment, then go and invest in it." Because they could get tired of it, not want to continue on it. They could not learn the composition stuff they need. But now you can buy that same $2000 camera for a couple hundred bucks.
Tom: So it’s amazing what you can buy nowadays.
Fisher: And when you consider that most phones keep getting better and better. You see some of the ads that are on television right now and show the pictures that people have taken on a phone, it’s astonishing. Things you couldn't have done on a multi-thousand dollar camera even twenty, thirty years ago.
Tom: Oh that is absolutely so true! Like when I was in high school I had a Nikon. And so I was taking pretty good pictures. But then when I had my teachers kind of teach me about composition, they looked so much better. And now, like you say these iPhones, in fact this new iPhone 6S, the pictures it takes you know are crazy.
Tom: In fact I always said, "Oh I'm never going to go to digital. I love my Nikon. Nothing's ever going to look like it." Well, that still is true. Film has a special look to it which is wonderful.
Tom: But these new digital cameras are absolutely phenomenal. It’s just incredible!
Fisher: Well it’s the realism of them that's so phenomenal now. They will never fade.
Fisher: Let's start there. You could make a print I suppose that fades at some point. So what is some of the basic advice you'd give people in your classes about composition?
Tom: Okay, the best thing you want to do is, do what I call a “rule of thirds.” So if you take your viewfinder and split it up into like a tic tac toe grid, the first line that's going horizontal is where you want their eyes to be. And it’s fine to cut off the top part of somebody's head or their hair, even into their forehead. Don't go below their eyebrows. It’s especially important that you never cut off the bottom, because if you see their jaw going in and out of the frame, you're going to be going "waai…!"
Tom: It just doesn't look natural.
Fisher: So you're talking video and photograph.
Tom: Oh exactly! Most of the composition will go for both of them. So like if you have a still picture and their chin's cut off, it just doesn't look right, especially if their chin and their top of their head's cut off.
Fisher: [Laughs] Unless there's a special look that you're going for.
Tom: Exactly! Which you know, I don't know what that look is but if that's what you're going for, you know, rock and roll!
Fisher: Well if grandpa has an ugly head or a really nasty chin.
Fisher: It might be exactly what you're looking for.
Tom: But that's why we have PhotoShop.
Fisher: Yes, that's true. So what's another great tip concerning photography?
Tom: Okay whenever somebody's kind of looking to one side or another, you want them looking to the empty space at the camera.
Tom: So if they're looking to the right, you want to make sure their head’s on your viewfinder towards the left, so they're looking into the empty space. If they're looking right at the edge of the film or the camera whatever you're shooting, it’s going to look like they've ran into something. When you're watching somebody run or watching somebody move, you're moving with them and you're keeping a little bit of space in front of them so that they don't go out of the frame too much and you see the back of their head. Same thing in composition, you want to keep any of the, what we call “white space” or “open space” in front of them. Just like you'd also keep the open space on the bottom if you're shooting a tight shot, cut off their head it’s fine. Don't cut off their chin! Never! Never! And whenever you're talking a picture especially if you're doing kind of a group picture, always look at the background before you look at your group. Because if you've got like a whole bunch of telephone poles behind them and you're shooting a real deep depth of field, these telephone poles and fence poles are going to be coming out of their heads or stop signs and it's going to look really, really funky. So after the break, we'll go into a way that, if you're into a situation where there are fences and there are telephone poles, how you can make them disappear.
Fisher: Interesting stuff. And we'll get into this more in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.
Segment 5 Episode 113
Host Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry
Fisher: We are back! Final segment of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, the Radio Roots Sleuth with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he's our Preservation Authority. We're talking about photography and composition. Because you know we're making family history every day, and we live in the now with modern equipment. And one thought I had, Tom as you were going through some of the things concerning composition in the first segment is that you can learn a lot by watching movies. When you go to the movies, step back a little bit in your mind as far as the story is concerned and look at how they film people in terms of the spacing they give it, in terms of the rule of thirds like you talked about.
Tom: In fact, one movie I love is “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” with George Clooney.
Watch it again and do exactly what you said, just sit and look at framing on it, look at the colors, how they have the composition done. A lot of stuff is done in color correction. But just kind of look and see how they shot people running, how they shot people interacting, how they did extreme close ups and just kind of learn from it.
Fisher: You could actually turn the audio off just to see how they shoot the film.
Tom: That's an excellent idea! That's really, really good. Because sometimes that audio kind of carries the video and so you're not really so much into the video. But if you do that, if you totally turn off the audio, then you're really going to pick up things you never did before.
Fisher: The lighting, for instance.
Tom: Exactly! [Laughs]
Fisher: The background, the movement, all those things and that all applies to how we shoot either photographs or videos.
Tom: And one thing you'll notice when the audio's turned off is, you'll notice mistakes because everybody makes mistakes.
Fisher: [Laughs] Those are fun though. [Laughs]
Tom: Oh, they are they're hilarious. Some of the things you'll see are crazy. One thing that I really, really dislike about Hollywood is all the night scenes, the way they light them is always this perfect full moon, everything's bright, there's no shadows, it's just so wonderful. And it drives me nuts because I've never seen a night really like that.
Tom: Because what they did, they would get these big balloons with light in them and send them up in the air, so it just made this nice, soft look. Whenever there’s a night scene in a road, you'll always notice that it just rained. The roads are always wet because they would always have a water truck go through and wet the road to make the good contrast of the black road. And you'll notice things like that where you thought, "Wow, I've watched this TV series" or "I've watched this movie and I've never noticed that stuff." It really opens your eyes to catching a lot of those kinds of things. You know one thing I would suggest you do, go to the Boy Scouts of America website and download the photography manual. And it’s free. It’s a PDF. And it will give you a lot of good tips. And it’s got a lot of good links to other things you can do where you can sit down and look at stuff which we don't have the time to get into. And radio isn't a very good visual format. And so, look at these things and they'll help you a lot. One of the biggest things you want to do which we talked about in the first segment, if you can't move your people and their stop signs or a chaining fence, move them as far away as you can and adjust your depth of field on your lens. Now this is one problem you run into.
Fisher: So this is focus you're talking about.
Tom: Exactly! Your depth of field tells you what's focused. Depth means how deep my picture is in focus. And you can do something where you have the tip of their nose in focus and their eyes are out of focus.
Tom: If you go a super, super small depth of field. This doesn't really work if you're using an Android or an iPhone, but if you're shooting with a Nikon or anything that has an adjustable lens and has what they call “F stops” around your lens. And the shutter speed you can adjust these things. So if you want a really small depth of field, you want to sit and play with your F stops so the fences are blurry. Then they're not going to say, "Hey" you know, "why's this stop sign coming out of Aunt Martha's head?" Because it looks really funky, It’s very displeasing and she won't be thrilled at all with you.
Fisher: Well, and that's great advice too about the scout thing because it would be so fundamental because it’s for kids. And it’s also a great way to maybe teach your kids and grandkids how to have a lifetime of good experiences using their phones or their cameras.
Tom: Absolutely, just learning some basic stuff. I would rather have a cheap camcorder or a cheap camera and have some understanding of the basics than a big, expensive Nikon and not knowing what the heck I'm shooting.
Fisher: Great stuff, Tom. Thanks for coming on!
Tom: Good to be here.
Fisher: I cannot believe we're done for another week! Thanks once again to Janet Hovorka from FamilyChartMasters.com for coming on and talking about how we can share some of our information across various platforms to make sure other people can get it and we can make sure our stuff is preserved. Also to Debra Bruns for talking about her journey and discovering her grandfather and his sordid past. We've had a lot of black sheep on the show lately! Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!