Family History - How to Effectively and Efficiently Transcribe Family Letters

13 June 2011

I just found a way to effectively and efficiently transcribe family letters so I thought I’d share my technique.

First, a little background.  I’ve got a lot of handwritten family letters.  The collection starts in the 1910s with a series of letters my great-grandparents wrote to each other as they were dating and prior to their marriage.  We literally have almost all of their letters.  The collection starts with some of their first correspondence - they met at a wedding and started writing letters shortly thereafter.  And, the collection concludes with a letter announcing the arrival of their first born child (my grandfather).  It’s an incredibly cool collection.  After that, we’ve got a massive collection of letters that my grandparents wrote to one another when my grandpa was stationed overseas during World War Two.  Again, a large collection of love letters.

Several years ago my family decided it was time to bring this collection into the digital age.  That meant transcribing and digitizing.  My mother took the responsibility of transcribing the letters between my great-grandparents.  She sat at her keyboard and dutifully typed out every single letter.  She did an amazing job - thanks, mom!  Right now my aunt (my mother’s sister) is doing the same thing with my grandparent’s letters - keep up the good work, Cathie!  Only recently did I come up with an easy way to facilitate this process.  It’s a lot of letters and speeding up the process would be awesome.  So, here’s my idea.

I own an automatic document feed scanner.  What that means is that I can load up to 50 sheets of paper into the scanner and it will feed each sheet through the scanner and scan it individually.  It can scan both sides of the paper and can automatically generate PDFs.  I own the NeatScan by the Neat Company, but you can buy ADF scanners from other manufacturers as well.  That’s step one - scan all of the letters and generate PDFs.  Time for step two.  Once you’ve got your letters scanned you can use Dragon Dictation (an iPhone app) from Nuance to transcribe the letters simply by reading them out loud.  I took the first letter, opened Dragon Dictation, and simply read the letter as articulately as I possibly could.  When I finished I simply copied and pasted the text from Dragon Dictation into an email message to myself.  Amazingly, the transcription was virtually flawless.  Bravo, Nuance!  My grandparents used alternate spellings of words and had quirky punctuation so I did have to make final edits after the transcription.  However, using this technique massively sped the process of transcribing the letter.

If you’ve got a large historical collection of letters to transcribe I recommend using my technique - it sure is speeding the process for me.


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Awesome Apps: Instagram, Postagram, and Want!

09 June 2011

Today I've been busy doing tech research. Trying to wrap my brain around a concept I've got and have been feeding myself all kinds of information on other founders, companies, concepts, products, business plans, etc. Inevitably, all of this research leads me to different products and services and their respective web portals, mobile apps, and interfaces.

It's rare that I find a mobile app that I really like. I'll stumble on quite a few during the week, but it's rare that any of them really blow my mind. Well, today's been a bit odd, because in one day I've found three apps that I think are brilliant.

The day started with me finally joining the Instagram community. Instagram itself is a brilliant app. But, it joins a long list of other service providers offering various degrees of the same product. A photo app with filters and social sharing. Instagram's been very successful, but it's in a bit of a crowded space. The thing I like about it, and the way I'll most likely use the app, is that in it's simplest form it's a photo version of Twitter. An easy way to create a photostream that represents your experiences during the day, week, month, whatever. The app lets you scroll through the pictures of those you follow just like you would scroll through Twitter updates. I like that. If you want to follow me, my username is cityofthedes.

After toying around with Instagram for a bit I spotted a Tweet with a headline about a company called Postagram. Postagram is a concept I think is absolutely brilliant. Postagram is an app that lets you create postcards with your mobile photos (from either your iPhone camera, Instagram, or Facebook). Once you've created your postcard Postagram prints the card and physically mails it to your selected recipients. The price per postcard is 99 cents. I look forward to sending postcards to people like my parents, grandmother, sisters, friends, etc. Such a neat concept.

Check out the article I read on Postagram here : "Postagram pokes Facebook, friends Android"

The third app to draw my attention today is called Want! Again, the app was brought to my attention by an article. The article starts with a discussion of Facebook's "like" button. They author points out that sure, people may like stuff, but ultimately they want stuff. Enter, Want! The reason I like the app is that it allows you to create an inventory of things you want, and then it allows you to share your list with your social community. Seems like a very easy way for people to get ideas for birthday gifts, anniversary presents, etc. I've got a few wish lists over at but I don't think anyone I know has ever checked them out. That's half my fault and half Amazon's - there isn't an easy or awesome way to share my wish lists with anyone. Want! makes that part easy by integrating the app with various social communities. I like it.

Check out the article I read on Want! here : "The Day The Like Button Died."

Now, head on over to the app store and start tinkering around with these three apps. I'm expecting postcards :)

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Happy Birthday, Grandpa Kenneth Ekwall

06 June 2011

Today I’m celebrating my late grandpa Kenneth Ekwall’s birthday.  If he were still alive he’d be turning 98 today.

Grandpa Ken was born June 6, 1913 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Here are a few pictures to celebrate the day.

Here’s grandpa Ken in 1918 (at age 5):

1918 Kenneth Lee Ekwall at Age 5

Here’s grandpa Ken playing around on a tricycle in the 1930s:

1930s Ekwall - Kenneth Lee Ekwall on a Tricycle

Here’s a shot I’ve always loved, it’s grandpa Ken and his wife grandma Frances in the 1940s:

1940s Spencer - Frances Irene Spencer and Kenneth Lee Ekwall with a Boston Terrier

Here’s a picture from July 1975, taken by my mother at Desoto Bend:

1975 07 Laurie Ekwall - Desoto Bend 12 - Kenneth Lee Ekwall

And here’s what I remember most, pictures of grandpa Ken at Christmas time - this one from Christmas 1980 :)

1980 12 Thede - Christmas - 09 Frank Masters and Kenneth Ekwall

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Update: Our Backyard Garden

06 June 2011

It’s been about a month since Laura and I planted our massive backyard garden.  So, I thought I should take some pictures and share the progress with everyone.  Here’s a look at what’s been taking place in our backyard.  I’m shocked at the progress.  Even more shocked that this stuff survived multiple intense thunderstorms and near tornados.  Nice work, garden!

We’re growing everything as organically as possible.  Everything planted in the raised stone bed is 100% organic - organic soil, organic seedlings, and a home-made organic pest spray.  Our other garden beds are in the soil in our backyard, so aren’t 100% organic.  However, the seedlings were organic and the pest control is all organic.  We’ve also got a compost bin that has been filled primarily with kitchen scraps - again, all organic.  So, we’re doing our best.

We recently shaved Vincent and Carmine for the summer, and they couldn’t help but put on a show for the camera.  So, get ready for a look at the boys as well.

Here we go!

Here’s a look at the various garden beds facing west.  As you can see the corn is growing well!

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

Here’s a quick look at our herb garden - we’ve got cilantro, basil, mint, parsley, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t spell :)

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

My dad and I are having a pumpkin growing competition.  We each planted the exact same giant pumpkin seeds.  Here’s a look at our pumpkin vines thus far:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

Here’s a snorkie’s eye view of our leeks:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

Some of our hot peppers are doing amazingly well, here’s a bunch of them:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

We have tomatoes!

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

I’m shocked by the bountiful-ness of our corn stalk’s tassels :)

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

I think we’re gonna have a ton of zucchini’s :)

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

I think we’re also gonna have a ton of cucumbers.  Here’s a shot of a cucumber blossom filled with tiny ants … interesting …

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

So far this season we’ve harvested a grand total of six blueberries.  Here’s a shot of a few we hope to pick soon :)

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

We’ve also got a few blackberries ripening:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

I can’t wait to see these sunflowers grow up!  Thanks, Dominique for the sunflower seeds :)

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

And finally, the gentlemen responsible for keeping rodents, birds, squirrels, and the like out of our garden.  I give you Vincent:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

And his trusty sidekick (and brother), Carmine:

2011 06-04 Adam Thede - Backyard Garden

Thanks for checking out the garden!  We’ve got our fingers crossed for an amazing harvest :)

Here’s a final slide show with all the pictures I took of the garden.  Enjoy!

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Favorite Place to Walk :)

06 June 2011

It’s been extremely hot here in Nashville this past week. We’re talking 90+ degree temps, with a heat index over 100 degrees. And, that gets topped off with a thick coating of humidity. Yummy. Laura and I are pretty protective of our dogs, so we haven’t taken them for a walk because we don’t want them to overheat. Well, we had a couple thunderstorms today that helped drop the temperature a bit. So, we saddled up Vincent and Carmine and took them for a walk at a place Laura and I have begun to love.

Here’s a look at today’s outdoor activity - a walk with the boys :)

GPS tracking powered by

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October 1981 - Halloween, etc.

19 May 2011

Not a picture-laden post today.  Just a couple quick shots from the Fall of 1981.

Here I am with Melissa Peters.  According to my parents I spent a ton of time with this little lady.  Trick or Treat!

1981 Thede - Halloween and Melissa Bates' Birth 01

Oh, and I’m gonna include a couple shots from after Halloween.  I couldn’t resist posting the shot of everyone getting a bottle from dad.  :)

1981 Thede - Halloween and Melissa Bates' Birth 04

I used to love parking my Matchbox Cars between the keys on the piano.

1981 Thede - Halloween and Melissa Bates' Birth 10

Should’ve submitted this photo to JC Penney - the entire family perusing the catalog :)

1981 Thede - Halloween and Melissa Bates' Birth 12

Just a regular conversation between a child and an infant.

1981 Thede - Halloween and Melissa Bates' Birth 19

Nikon 9000 ED 35mm Color Negative Scans, 4000 dpi.

Map time!

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October 1981 - The Fall With Adam and Emily

18 May 2011

There are some definite winners in this set of pictures from October 1981.  I keep finding these pictures of me that I’ve known about my whole life.  Scroll down and I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Yesterday we had those ridiculous pictures of me with my toy horses.  Today it’s me with a gigantic carrot.  I guess I can trace my desire to have a garden all the way back to my young childhood.  Such a budding little farmer!

1981 10 Thede - The Fall with Adam and Emily - 05

1981 10 Thede - The Fall with Adam and Emily - 08

I’m glad I’ve got this picture in here - from left to right we have my grandfather Harry Thede, Adam Thede, my grandmother Rose Thede, and Emily Thede.

1981 10 Thede - The Fall with Adam and Emily - 10

1981 10 Thede - The Fall With Adam and Emily - 15

This is awesome.  I still love reading articles :)

1981 10 Thede - The Fall with Adam and Emily - 17

I kinda wish I still had that snow suit.

1981 10 Thede - The Fall With Adam and Emily - 21

1981 10 Thede - The Fall With Adam and Emily - 22

This is epic.  The picture and the carrot.  Both are epic.

1981 10 Thede - The Fall With Adam and Emily - 23

1981 10 Thede - The Fall With Adam and Emily - 24

Uh, what’re you lookin’ at?

As always, a map of where these were taken:

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August 1973 - Kenneth Ekwall - Jasper, Alberta, Canada

18 May 2011

I’m straying from the 80s today.  I’ve been scanning a stack of Kodachrome slides and couldn’t resist posting something I scanned today.  My grandfather, Kenneth Ekwall, must’ve taken this picture.  The picture was taken at the intersection of Connaught Drive and Miette Avenue in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.  I love pictures like this.  It’s so fun to see the world through the lens of the past.  I find it amazing that this is what life looked like in August, 1973.

1973 08 Ekwall - Jasper, Alberta

Kodachrome Slide Scan, 4000 dpi.

Just for fun, I took a look in Google Maps using Street View to see what the view is like today at this exact same place.  Here’s the result:

Google Maps - Street View - Jasper, Alberta, Canada

And, just for good measure, here’s a map of this exact location.

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July 1981 - Emily Thede as a Newborn

17 May 2011

Seriously can’t get enough of the 80s these days.  And, I’ll just go ahead and admit it in advance, I’m probably going to begin each blog post this week with that statement.  Expect a heavy dose of the early 80s for the foreseeable future.

Today we’re taking a look at life in the Thede household with newborn Emily.  It certainly looks like my parents had their hands full.  There are a few real winners in this bunch - I’m particularly fond of the picture of Emily completely zonked out on my dad’s leg.  She must’ve been one tired baby.  And, this goes without saying, but what was with me and those toy horses?  What a weird child …

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 00

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 02

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 03

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 06

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 07

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 10

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 16

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 18

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 20

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 21

1981 07 Thede - Emily Thede Newborn 25

Nikon 9000 ED 35mm Color Negative Scan, 4000 dpi.

And, just for good measure, here’s a map of where these pictures were taken.

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