The forensic investigator pulls up to the crime scene and snaps a fresh set of rubber gloves. She props open the trunk of the car and carefully, slowly, sweeps a tube of florescent light back and forth inside the trunk, watching with an eagle eye for the glimmer of something that shouldn’t be there.
It’s a familiar scenario – well, that is, if you watch Court TV or CSI or one of the other of myriad of television shows featuring forensics. If you’re like me, you’re fascinated by this type of investigation. Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists: they are looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.
So it will be be no surprise that this recent news item grabbed my attention:
Image from the National Library of Wales website. Click to view.
Poetry and pictures drawn in the margins of a medieval manuscript–and then erased–have been rediscovered using modern imaging techniques. The Black Book of Carmarthen is the oldest known surviving Welsh language manuscript. Written in 1250, it’s now “throwing up ghosts from the past after new research and imaging work revealed eerie faces and lines of verse which had previously been erased from history,” according to a National Library of Wales blog post.
“A combination of ultraviolet light and photo editing software” were used to better see ancient doodles that had been erased from the margins. The process revealed “images, and snatches of poetry which are previously unrecorded in the canon of Welsh verse.”
We’ve featured several types of forensic analysis as applied to genealogy over the years. In fact, forensic genealogy principles inspired my popular presentation, How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case (if you’re a Premium Member of this website you can sign in right now and watch it under Premium Videos).
Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists:
they are looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes 89 and 90 features Dr. Robert Leonard, a forensic linguist featured on an episode of Forensic Files on TV. It was such a riveting interview that I brought him back for Premium episode 48 where his brother Dr. George Leonard joined us. And way back in the pioneer days of this podcast (2008) Episode 18 featured “Vehicular Forensics.”
It was my genealogical take on using alternative light sources on not the trunks of cars, but rather their faded license plates as they appear in old photos. That episode has been “retired” but will soon be remastered and available for listening (stay tuned to the free Genealogy Gems email newsletter for the publication announcement.) In the meantime you can read about it in depth in my very first book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.
Have you looked to see what lurks on the pages and photos of your ancestors? Email me and we may share it in an upcoming blog post or episode.
As the host of the Genealogy Gems podcast, Lisa Louise Cooke spends a lot of time on the asking end of the microphone. Recently the tables were turned! Lisa was invited to appear on the The Paperclipping Roundtable, a scrapbooking podcast.
Family history and scrapbooking are sister pursuits. Genealogy is more research-driven. Scrapbooking is a visual art. But they are both rooted in the preservation of stories.
In the podcast, Lisa and other guests chat about the new dimensions each pursuit brings to the other. Lisa has been creating scrapbooks since her children were young, and a fellow guest on this roundtable-style podcast is a scrapbooker who later discovered family history. Both have likely tried different styles of what you might call heritage scrapbooking.
Genealogy “seemed so overwhelming” at first, said the scrapbooker. “But once you start, it’s really a lot of fun.” From the point of view of a genealogist, the same might be said for scrapbooking!
Click the link above to hear Lisa on the free podcast. If you’re a “scrapbooking genealogist” (or a genealogy-loving scrapbooker) who would love to hear more inspiring tips about combining the two, contact us to let us know!
Are you new to genealogy or ready to learn how to do it “right” from the start? Check out our free podcast, Family History Made Easy. In this series Lisa takes you through the process of tracing your family history step-by-step.
A recent email from listener Helen reminds us to search our basements and attics for unique and amazing family history finds. There’s no substitute for being able to tell family members’ stories through their own words and photographs.
“I just had to tell you about my recent find. My late father-in-law served in the Canadian Navy for 39 years, entering Naval College when he was only 14. Most of my knowledge about his life came from talking with him before he died. Of course, then I did not know the questions to ask.
“About a month ago, I was preparing for a lecture on his life for a local World War I Seminar. I starting looking around in our basement as I knew we had some material from when we cleared out his house when he died, but I had no idea of just what exciting material I would find.
“I found his personal diaries, with the earliest from 1916! The journals give an amazing first-person record of naval service from a person who devoted his life to the service of his country. I was able to weave his actual words into the somewhat dry official record of his long time service [ending with] his being presented with a Commander of the British Empire medal shortly before his retirement.
“I am so grateful that the family saved these invaluable documents through the myriad of moves that a naval officer’s career entails. In a different box, I found his photographs from the same era—some even earlier than the journals. I am now seriously considering publishing the journals along with the photographs, as they deserved to be shared.”
Got a living relative whose story you want to capture? Click here to read our blog post about the free StoryCorps app that can help you!
Genealogy Gems Premium members can click here to access Premium podcast episode 116 to hear a discussion between two authors of books on life-story writing, and here to access a Premium podcast AND video on how to make a family history video.
Boulevard du Temple, Paris, by Louis Daguerre, 1838. Wikimedia Commons image, Scanned from The Photography Book, Phaidon Press, London, 1997.
London. Paris. Athens. Berlin. Bombay. Rome. New York City. Copenhagen. Dublin. Edinburgh. Jerusalem. The oldest known photographs of these cities and more are featured in this post at Abroad in the Yard.
I love the details in these photos that are usually left to our imagination. An 1858 image of a Toronto thoroughfare was likely taken in at its best, since the photo was part of a (failed) bid to become Canada’s capital. And yet the streets are still muddy enough you wouldn’t want to step off that freshly-swept sidewalk, especially if you were in a long dress.
You can read the shop signs in these pictures. See signs of construction and destruction, an eternal presence in these metropolises. Count the number of levels in the tall tenements and other buildings that sheltered our ancestors’ daily lives without air conditioning, central heat or elevators.
Despite the busy city streets shown here, they don’t look busy. So much time had to elapse during the taking of the image that anyone moving wasn’t captured. Only a few loungers and the shoe-shine man (and his customer) appear in these photos of busy streets.
Although not shown in the blog post above, my favorite historical image of a city is the Cincinnati Panorama of 1848, the oldest known “comprehensive photo” of an American city. The resolution of this series of photos is so high, you can see details the photographers themselves couldn’t possibly have caught. The panorama can be explored at an interactive website, which offers “portals” to different parts of the city and city life when you click on them. Whether you had ancestors in this Ohio River town or not, this is a fascinating piece of history.
Looking for pictures of your ancestor’s hometown or daily life? There are some great search tips in Lisa’s newly-revised and updated 2nd edition of her popular book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Maybe you already use Google to search for images. Learn how to drill down to just the images you want: black and white pictures, images with faces, images taken of a particular location during a certain time period and more!