Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Finds: History, Culture and Music of Our Ancestors.

Saturday is usually the one day during the week that I can afford to waste online and I heartily take advantage of it every week. This week, I was directed to check out Time's 50 Best Websites of 2008 and there were two that appealed to the genealogist in me. The first is one I'm sure more than a few already know and have blogged about, but it was a find to me. It is the 'Digital Vaults' part of NARA. It contains 1200 historical and culturally relevant documents free for perusal. The site is fascinating and it is easy to spend hours combing over their extensive collections. Since I am currently researching the role my family played in the Civil War, I spent the majority of my time looking at that collection, which was massive. Some of my other favorite finds so far:

  1. A treaty from 1807 between the major Native American tribes of Ohio and Michigan and the US. The treaty effectively gave the US millions of acres and in the bottom, are the signatures of Thomas Jefferson and (then Secretary of State) James Madison.
  2. Peace Corps Act. Signed in 1961 by JFK it formalized his vision of creating a volunteer organization based around helping and educated developing nations. My father was in the Peace Corps throughout the 1970s and worked teaching English and basic subjects to children in Nepal. He has always remembered this time in his life fondly and to this day can speak Nepalese like a native.
  3. A Question from Tomorrow's Voters was a fun find. It is a letter from Walt Disney to then Vice President Richard Nixon requesting a TV interview with him in 1956.
Another website Time showcased was the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project from UC Santa Barbara. The project aims to preserve the music of the past, the music our ancestors listened to. By preserving these cylinders, it provides a wonderful glimpse into the musical tastes of the nation when cylinders were the equivalent of today's CDs (or should I now say mp3s?). There are about 8,000 songs and recitations from the mostly the early 1900s. There are also old vaudeville recordings, comedy routines, hymns and even spirituals. The neatest part of the website? If you find something you like you can freely download it as an mp3 to your computer. Some of the favorites I'm enjoying are:

  1. Blessed Assurance, which is an odd choice for me since I'm not religious. I like it because it is my grandmother's favorite song and I frequently hear her humming it. It never fails to remind me of her and make me smile because of that.
  2. The right of the people to rule, a speech by Teddy Roosevelt. I've always been drawn to Teddy because he was my great-grandmother's favorite President and I was lucky enough to know her and hear her talk of him. I'm also always surprised whenever I hear him speak because his voice seems so different from the way I always imagined him to sound (with a gruff and deep voice, probably because of the whole "Rough Riders" thing).
  3. American Polka by John Kimmble. This struck home for me in two ways. First, my grandmother has a "mysterious" accordion in her home that no really knows the story to. She's never played it and she doesn't remember any in her family playing it, yet it has always been around. I remember playing with it when I was little but sadly, it has become too fragile to really try and play any more and is solely a decoration piece now. The second part of why I was drawn to this is because I, like many I'm sure, saw my share of Lawrence Welk when I was little. Whenever we went to go stay with my great-grandmother we'd inevitably watch PBS and catch ol' Lawrence's show and the many horribly dated musical numbers. Although to this day, I quite like polka music and I've always thanked Mr. Welk for that, even if his show was torture to a five year old.
  4. I Want to Go Back to Michigan. I am a big Irving Berlin fan, yet I'd never heard of this song (from 1914) before today. I love it because it reminds me of my father and his family who are from the "hand state" as I always called (it IS shaped like a hand!). There is a substantial section on ethnic and US regional songs and this is from there. The song is also hugely catchy:

"That's why I wishigan

that I was in Michigan,

down on the farm!"

  1. In the Valley of the Sunny San Joaquin. Since I'm showing some Michigan lovin', I'd be remiss to not mention my favorite state and the one I'm from, California. Since my mother's family has deep roots in San Joaquin County, I knew I just had to love this song and I do!

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