Tag Archives: podcasting

Interested in heritage podcasting? Here are resources I use that can help get you started

Devices like the Edirol R-09HR, the Snowball USB mic, the Zoom H2 and the iPhone offer a wide variety of options for recording quality podcasts and oral histories for just about any budget.

Sometimes recording a podcast or oral history can be more intimidating than the interview itself. After all, the final product is a tribute to the person you are interviewing. Technology for capturing audio has become simpler and easier to use in the last few years, but sorting out which instruments produce the best results is not as obvious.

I’ve recorded more than 100 hours of interviews in the last year alone. Most of these were heritage related and shared on the web. I’ve learned a few things about recording media (mostly from trial and error) and thought I’d share a few of my recommendations for equipment that will help you record a high-quality product that is suitable to archive (Note: some of these are Amazon affiliate links).

If you have an iPhone, you potentially have pretty decent recorder already. Just download the 99 cent app called “Recorder” from iTunes and you have a device that can capture almost any conversation. Face-to-face interviews are easy, but what makes this app so special is that you can purchase minutes inexpensively to record phone calls to land lines as well. The resulting audio is mediocre, but in cases where you don’t have direct access to your interviewee or the ability to chat with them online, this is a terrific solution.

One of the most popular portable digital recorders on the market is the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder. I’ve recorded many interviews with this flexible device. The H2 can be used on any standard tripod and comes with attachments that allow it to stand  up on a table for group interviews, or be used as a handheld mic for standing “reporter-style” exchanges. Its chic “old-time radio” design is  unfortunately offset by a cheap plastic casing. But it produces very good sound and is easy to use. At less than $150, it strikes the right balance between price and performance.

For $100 more, the Edirol R-09HR High-Resolution WAVE/MP3 Recorder is my personal choice for audio recorders. In fact, mine goes with me just about everywhere. It’s a tad smaller than the H2 and has a more understated casing of black with silver accents. It doesn’t have any fancy attachments and runs through batteries a bit more quickly  than the H2. So why do I prefer it? It records sound beautifully. Few other portable products come close. The better your sound, the more flexibility you have in sharing it.

Both the Edirol and the Zoom H2 use AA batteries and record to SD Flash Memory Cards. Both come with USB cords to download your recordings. The Recorder app on the iPhone will actually save recordings on the phone or online, giving you a web link to listen to the file, download it, or even share it.

If you would like to record directly to your computer, $70 will buy a pretty decent microphone that hooks into your USB port. Early on, I used the Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone (Brushed Aluminum), which has a cool form factor and records well enough for  most folks. I recommend these for quick voice-over work since a laptop and large microphone will likely intimidate most interviewees.

If your interviewee has a webcam, Skype is a great option for recording interviews and provides a more personal connection than a phone call. I’ve interviewed folks from Australia, Scotland, Hong Kong and Naples on Skype with excellent results. Call Recorder is the gold standard software for recording Skype conversations on a Mac. Pamela is its equivalent on the PC. Both are inexpensive downloads, and great for recording conversations with the kids and distant relatives if nothing else.

Whether you choose the  portable or direct methods of recording, you will ultimately need software to edit your files. Fortunately, some of the simplest software options are free. Audacity is an open-source program that runs on Macs and PCs. Garageband is a program that comes standard on most Macs. Each of these products let you “see” the soundwaves in your recording to edit extraneous noise and even out tones.

If you have questions about these products or others for recording your interviews, or would like to start your own heritage podcast, feel free to contact me.

 

Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe talks about discovering shared family history through new media

“Who are you?” A simple question, but one that could take someone on the adventure of a lifetime. For Mike O’Laughlin of Irish Roots Cafe, it took him on a trip to discover his Irish roots and began his journey to help others find theirs using his books, blog, podcast and personal tours of Ireland. Today we join Bethany Frank as she talks with Mike O’Laughlin. Mike is going to explore the ease of podcasting and how he uses it to share connect folks around Irish heritage worldwide.


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Frank: Well Mike, thank you so much for joining us today at Voices of the Past. Tell us about yourself.

O’Laughlin: Well I guess we are talking about how I got into the website and the Irish heritage or the Irish American heritage, and actually now it is the Irish heritage all over the world — Canada and Australia and England and Ireland and the U.S. It’s amazing. And it really started when I was a young boy when I go to the grandparents’ house with the parents on Sunday. And the old folks would always talk about the old days and sometimes they would hold it over you about how they knew everything and you didn’t even know who these people were. So at one point I came and found a travel brochure to Ireland, and it said, “O’Laughlin’s Castles.” And it said, “Here’s an O’Laughlin’s Castle in County Clare.” And my O’Laughlin family knew we were Irish, they didn’t know why, they just knew it. And maybe it was the “O” in front of the name, but I thought, “you know what. If I could go over there and see that castle and claim it as ours, then I would have something on them and I could drop by on a Sunday now that I am a little older and tell them some things that they might not know.” That’s really what started the whole thing. I made a reservation with an B&B whose owner was the same name as mine. From there I came out with a book and it just kept going and I just kept writing, and now I am the most published author in the world in my field of study in the world. But you notice, I didn’t say the best. In the world–there’s a difference.

Frank: There’s a difference. Well, why did you go about starting your blog?

O’Laughlin: Really I was on the web for several years before I even started the blog. I didn’t really understand exactly…I know it is whatever you want it to be when you get right down to it, but I didn’t quite understand exactly what people were doing and I wasn’t real comfortable with it. And I go, well, I’d have to take a lot of time if I wrote a syndicated column or something along those lines. So I waited and finally, I got the podcast going. The podcast actually came first. I thought, “Well, this is a perfect way to get into it. I’ll put the shownotes from each podcast onto the blog and maybe add some things now and then. So that got me into blogging very comfortably since I had several podcasts going. Actually, we’ve got seven different podcast series going now. All the way from genealogy to song and recitation, and local history and history in Ireland. And it’s really blossomed.

Frank: You said before you’re very well published and can see all of the stuff that you’ve published on your site. How did you make that transition from publishing books to publishing podcasts?

O’Laughlin: Basically it was born out of fun. I had no idea how easy it was to get started. Now, it takes a while, maybe 50 shows or so before you start to understand what sound is and how to adjust it and the different kinds of microphones. But in the beginning I got this new Mac computer, which is an upgrade, and my IT guy that came in and was helping me with it said, “Oh, you’ve got to check out GarageBand.” And I thought, “yeah, yeah, I’ve got so much to worry about.” And thought it was just maybe if I was a kid and I wanted to practice the guitar, that’d be the place the go. I didn’t know that you could do a podcast in five minutes. And I just went right to GarageBand, pressed the button to record, and there my voice was recording. So, it was so easy to start that it got me hooked. And plus it was fun, and who wouldn’t want their own radio show?

Frank: Have you ever done radio shows or anything like that before?

O’Laughlin: No. I had been interviewed a few times and I was active in cultural things on the Irish side. So, I started up a group and the local radio station interviewed me a couple of times, and I think I was on television once. But very small little parts, but I always thought it was great fun.

Frank: After you started, you hit start on GarageBand for the first time, how did you get it to evolve?

O’Laughlin: I will tell you, it still takes me a while to jump into things. But I had recorded in my living room several shows, and it’s not really shows. It was interviews with seven of my friends in a roundtable discussion on genealogy. This is back in 1984, and I had saved those recordings. And I thought, “Hey, I will just take each of those, break them up into seven segments and make those my first seven podcasts.” So really I got over the nervousness of it by the first seven podcasts were really rebroadcasts from 1984 that I had been done at home. So I sort of cut my teeth on that and got familiar with it and then started to try to refine things.

Frank: How’d you go about refining them?

O’Laughlin: Well, first of all, better microphones. And then the little setting on the machine. I didn’t know what those were at first, like the echo and the reverb and the different voices. I hadn’t really experimented with them. And how you keep the sound even and something like compression, which makes sounds that are a little too small come up to a level you can hear them and the ones that are a little loud come down to where you can hear them a little better. So little things like compression settings and the difference between the different kinds of microphones. And some are too sensitive and pick up every noise in the house when I’m recording or in the Cafe here when I’m recording, especially if it is a busy night.

Frank: You mentioned recording in the Cafe.

O’Laughlin: Yes.

Frank: So, it’s a real Cafe? Not a virtual one?

O’Laughlin: It’s a Cafe. Is there a difference? I’d say, at times it is just my place. And then at special times of the year, we open it up and it’s a cafe. And we do serve the food and we do have the performances. And we do record the Irish Song and Recitation Festival, and we are getting ready to have the seventh one of them, and I have been practicing old style Irish song, which I find very few people know about so I feel safe with that.

Frank: What exactly is old style Irish song?

O’Laughlin: Well they call it the sean nós. And it was usually solo and in the Irish language, although it’s loosened up in its interpretation now. And it usually told a story, and shoot, the old fellows might come in from the sea and be singing a song, and that was it. It’s really natural singing, I think, without so much concern for particular notes or phrasing. And each time it’s not the same. And I thought, boy, that sounds like the way I sing anyway. You miss a few notes and it’s not always on the same track. So I thought I’d give it a try. And we started up a little group here in town for sean nós, and we are just having fun with it.

Frank: So, back to Irish Roots Cafe, how did that get started and what all is it?

O’Laughlin: It’s really, that’s a very good question, It’s really presence of everything I’ve ever done on the Internet. And it is just a combination of everything because I’m spread out so far and I am just one person. I have no help other than volunteers that come in and help with the podcast or I interviewed, that type of thing. So it is a way to tie it all together, and it’s a way to put all 60 of the books I’ve written or published up online. And it was also a way to get all seven podcast series going and feeding into each other. So, it really started to tie everything in together. Plus I could have some fun, and I could talk about the things I like, like rare old books. And some little history tidbits now and then, and I’m still…I have a side site, that if you go to my site and you click on “Quick and Easy,” that’s the pages where I can play with myself. I don’t have to give them to a webmaster. And so I do a lot of little strange things there. And then give them to my webmaster and then he puts them on the formal pages.

Frank: And so you have an annual festival with Irish Roots, correct?

O’Laughlin: Yes. And that is basically the Irish Song and Recitation Festival. And we will get folks together and we will sing songs and then we will vote on who wins, and it can be anything at all. You never know what’s going to be walking through the door next.

Frank: On your site, you have your Irish Hedge School, and you talk about carrying the sod.

O’Laughlin: Yes. Well I will tell you. If you go back and read Irish history particularly in the 17th Century, that’s when the Irish culture, the existing culture, was plundered. There was nothing left and even the old Bardic traditions started to disappear. And everything was, you might say, government schools. And the new people that were coming in and taking over Ireland were maybe ruling it in a different way, and they said, “No, no Irishman can actually be a teacher. No Irishman could actually teach Irish.” That type of thing, and you cannot have your own school. And if you have a school house, you will be fined. And so, or maybe they will ship you to the Barbados. You never know what’s going to happen. And so, it was pretty rough times.

So in rebellion, the Irish said, “We’re going to keep our ways and our education, and we’re going to find old cow sheds or we might go and teach out on the side of the lawn on a sunny day next to a hedge row where nobody can see us.” And so the name “hedgerow” came about because of that. And so it became “hedge schools” with “hedge teachers,” and the hedge teachers would travel the country all on their own. They were sort of like migrant teachers, and they would be on the run sometimes. And they would hide, and they would meet with the local people and the local people would have to like them and send their kids to school. They might pay them with butter. Might pay them, if they were real lucky, they might get part of Patty’s pig. But it was a pretty rough way to go really. And you could imagine the conditions, but they actually taught Greek and Latin, things like that in these schools. And some of the folks of the upper classes were amazed at how these peasants that were holding their horses when they went into town could speak Latin and Greek.

Frank: So then how do you incorporate that with your site?

O’Laughlin: Well what we are doing is also teaching and trying to bring up and save the Irish culture and heritage in what little way we can by reviving the old ways, the old songs, the old history. The history podcast brings back the history of Ireland. We have the Irish in America, which does the local history in America and reminds people what role the Irish played in America, what role their ancestors played in America and in settling the country. And there’s things we’ve forgotten. So each one of these podcasts really brings back part of that history and brings it alive just like they did in the old days with the hedge schools, except I think, we have a lot more entertaining time doing it.

Frank: On your site you mention an Irish DNA project.

O’Laughlin: Yeah, that’s really my current issue. That’s were I am focusing right now. I am working on a book on Irish DNA, and I have been interviewing some folks that do Irish DNA for a living, and They’ve done movies on it. It is really fascinating what that’s going to do with what the whole genetics thing (15:28) means to people.

Frank: Can you tell me about it and what all is happening with it?

O’Laughlin: I think we are linked up with Family Tree DNA, and we interview them everyone once in a while with the podcast to tell us about R1B, which is a distinctive Irish marker, or moving up to M222, which is another marker. And so, they tell us what to look for and what has been traced back and examples of let’s say this fellow, the minute he took his DNA, he knew he came from this village in County Clare because that is where this DNA marker first started. So we are having some remarkable success stories with people who cannot find their family heritage, their location in Ireland or really in Europe or anywhere in the world. And that’s really what got us started and it takes the place of…well, if you have reached a dead end in genealogy research, it’s really the only way to go. And let’s say you were adopted and they couldn’t get any records, well they could take your DNA, and you might be able to find out what county or town or area that you came from. And it’s just another part of genealogy resources.

Frank: Did you go through all of this stuff and track your own heritage?

O’Laughlin: Yes. That’s way back to that first story when I talked about O’Laughlin’s castle. I was actually real lucky on my way over. I actually found the O’Laughlin ancestor and the Donoghue ancestor, which was my mother’s side. And that’s a story in itself. But I got very very lucky, and very few people can get that lucky. I actually had a flat tire in kilkan nora (17:06) County Clare, which is the town that eventually I found my ancestors in. I went up and talked with Father Van (17:14), who is the priest there, while my tire was being changed. I’d gone to about 10 parishes before then, and he took me down to the church, opened a safe and handed me the birth register they had kept, and I guess they had sent a copy in to the government when they had collected them. But he says, “Here. Look at it and lock up when you’re done.” Well, I was shocked at that too, but I said OK. It was a bit chilly, but I didn’t care. I kept going through this register page by page until I found it. The exact date that say Peter O’Laughlin had gotten married, and there was the marriage on that date in that parish. And so I nailed it in that case, and it was amazing. The feeling was just incredible. The whole search, to say that I’ve done this. And it was almost just as amazing in County Clare with my mother’s folks. I had to take time. You know you can’t be too pushy when you’re asking people for help. And I found that if you were patient and you went back maybe a second time or a third time, and just casually mention that you were looking for family roots in a certain area or a certain name, you might actually get some pretty intelligent answers, whereas in the beginning they might just think, “Oh, this guy, they don’t know what he is doing. He’s just going to fly by in a car and be gone tomorrow. He has no idea what he’s talking about.” But I have found out that if you ask more than one time, even to the same folks and you’re patient, you’d be surprised. You could have some pretty good luck.

Frank: So, you’ve done your journey for genealogy, and you have all these resources for other folks to work on their journey. Why is having it all available through the web and through the Internet important?

O’Laughlin: Well, I reach the whole world. Or the information reaches the whole world. And I get feedback, and I get corrected if I’m wrong. Somebody says, “No wait, here’s the family history. That’s a little bit off what you’ve got there.” And never in the history of the world could somebody like me be in their house, reach out and get 5 million hits a year from people all over the world–Australia, like I said before, Canada, England, Ireland–regular conversations and regular input. And it’s not a one-way thing. You are sharing back and forth both ways. It could have never have happened. And it is really a way to share knowledge, and it is almost like a quickening. The world is so much smaller now. And here is one of the good things that the smallness of the world has brought about. You can share things and understand things, whereas before you’d never have a chance. I don’t know that I ever would have talked to someone from Australia about Irish roots–or maybe about anything unless I bumped into them on the street.

Frank: Are you anywhere else online other than just on your website?

O’Laughlin: Well my blog propagates pretty well since I am an author on Amazon. I’ve got a, with each of my books, I’ve got a blog. So I have several blogs on Amazon.com. And then I have a separate blog on IrishCentral.com, which is like a gigantic site for all things Irish–Irish news and all things great and small in every subject what so ever. So, that helps reach out to a whole new group of people that I might not be able to contact. Those blogs are great, but still, my best pull is the podcast.

Frank: Where can folks find that?

O’Laughlin: The podcast is at IrishRoots.com. And I’ve got all seven of them there. And we’ve got three different kinds: regular audio, video podcast and then the enhanced podcast, which is a podcast that is audio, but you can put pictures up on the screen and embed links in it. So if I am talking about the McCleary family on the screen, you can have a little link and it will say, “Go here to see the McCleary family.” And you click it and you go while you are listening to the podcast. So that is sort of fun. And I think you have got to have QuickTime or you have got to have iTunes for that to work, but it is just another form of podcasting that is nice to play with.

Frank: And then with your website and with everything else, what is your ultimate goal?

O’Laughlin: Ultimate goal. Well, since we’ve been doing it for forever, I would say it is just to spread the word, to enjoy the Irish culture and heritage, and particularly enjoy the Irish-American heritage on my part. And the Irish-Canadian or the Irish-or whatever country you come from. But to enjoy the good parts of it, and to realize what are some of the good things that bind us all together and that we’ve all experienced in the past that can help us in the future. And it is also always fun to compare one culture to another, and to understand them and the things you have in common and the things that they have differently. And really you get into being an historian after a while because there is no way to avoid it.

Frank: Is there anything else that we can expect in the future from Irish Roots?

O’Laughlin: Oh my gosh. Well we are going to keep up the podcast, and I am going to try to add some links pages. I haven’t had time to do much with links, they change so quickly. And they take up so much time. I prefer to just go with data and things that help directly with research. But we are going to add some links and some more on the Song and Recitation. I’m going to do some more on that. And definitely we are going to have, I am going to do a book on Irish DNA and expand the page to explain more on our site to increase our links on the DNA links. That’s sort of the future of so much of what we’re doing.

Frank: What is your advice to anyone wanting to go seek their ancestors and find out about their genealogy?

O’Laughlin: Well the first thing you have to remember is to start researching at home. If you don’t live in Ireland, you don’t want to start researching in Ireland unless you have some kind of clue. What you want to do is find the place in Ireland that you came from on a piece of paper in the country that you’re living in. So you’ll want to find, Ireland is organized by counties, so you will want to find your county first of all, and then go in for the records. And if you are in America and you want a birth certificate or a marriage certificate or an obituary in a newspaper, you want that to say, “Came from County Clary (23:49) Ireland in 1850 with two sons and his wife.” And there you have your connection and then you can make the jump and look for the folks with the same surname and first names in Irish records. The top thing to remember: start in your country and start with every piece of paper they might have signed and with the computers today and all the massive databases, you can find out fast. You will find out with more information than you want to sort through as apposed to back in the 1980s, sometimes you couldn’t find enough to look at. Now, there’s plenty.

Frank: What’s your advice for folks their own blog or website and want to get interested in podcasting and stuff like that?

O’Laughlin: Well, if you want to get into it, first of all, follow your instincts. Follow what you think is fun, and then develop that into what you want to do in a more real sense. And then that way, it will carry you through. Because there are time when you are going to say, “Well I don’t know anything about microphones and what I want to do is get the word out to people on this or that.” Well you learn a microphone. It might take a while, but you will be much smarter at the end of it and everything you’ve done. You just start one piece at a time, and a blog is real easy to do. It doesn’t cost anything really. There’s sites that you go up for almost nothing, and so expense is no excuse. It just might take a little bit of time to understand it. And podcasts, I’m telling you, you can have a podcast going in five minutes and another five by just pressing a button and sending it off to iTunes, if you are using them. And then it is going to take you some time. It might take you 50 shows before you get a pattern down or you get the sound down, or you start understanding about echoes or microphone sensitivity. But that’s OK. You just go and you have fun and you will grow into what it is you want to be.

Frank: As far as social media is concerned and genealogy, what do you think is the future of genealogy with the impact of social media?

O’Laughlin: Well of course it’s changed things greatly. There’s going to be some megasight, it’s already happening. And I saw this 10 years ago, but as everybody gobbles everybody up with huge databases, there is going to be a few places who have most all of the data, and then the important thing is going to be making that data understandable and accessible. And of course, supplying new input to people. Now, you can always do that with a podcast because it’s current. It’s like a news show. And that will always be valuable to people no matter what and the same thing with the blog. And so, it’s really not a lot of work to do. It is a little more work to do the podcast than the blog because you have to learn about audio, but once you do it, it’s rewarding. Well with my podcasts, my genealogy podcast is first with the number of audience and then my blog is second and then my other podcasts fall in behind that. So it gives you an idea, you can reach a lot of people, and some people will not read and some people will not listen. So if you go both ways, you are hitting both people.

Frank: You’ve helped all these folks find their heritage, do you have a story that you can share with us with one of those journeys with one of those families?

O’Laughlin: Oh I tell you. One of my early trips to Ireland–I regularly took people over to Ireland that were members and helped them have a good time and also help them search their ancestors if they still wanted to do that when they got there. Most people want to just enjoy themselves when they get to Ireland, I’ve found, but a few people are looking seriously. And I tell you, our bus driver that drove us around at, at the end of the first tour he said, “You know what. I didn’t understand you guys. Coming over here, searching through graveyards that nobody cares about and they are just sort of a fixture in the community, it’s just overgrown with weeds and no one cares.” He said, “I couldn’t imagine why anyone would fly across the ocean and come over here, but once I saw the look in Ms. So-and-so’s eyes when they found the name on that gravestone”–you know when the tears come into your eyes. He said, “I understood.” He said, “We don’t know what we’ve got here in Ireland. We’ve been here forever so we don’t have to go hunting. And you do.” So that was a real neat comparison. Of course they don’t have to go looking. They know. That’s where they’re from. And that was in a, I think, Quaker graveyard. It was through this little town and we found an old graveyard, and one of the people had found the name there and that happens all the time with research.

Frank: Thank you so much for chatting with me.

O’Laughlin: And thank you.

Audio Podcast: Greg Lemon on podcasting to keep the storytelling tradition alive

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Greg originated the popular MythShow podcast. In this interview, he talks about the importance of the storytelling tradition, building a quality web presence around your podcast, and setting personal priorities with new media

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us on Voices of the Past. I wanted to start out by asking you how you actually got into the world of mythology. Was that something you went to school for or was it something that you grew up with an interest in?

Lemon: I think it began as growing up with an interest in mythology. I remember in elementary school going around the library, I found this book on myths and mythology, and I picked it up and I really enjoyed it. So, I am a computer professional by training, but I really enjoy stories and storytelling and mythology specifically.

Guin: What’s your favorite myth?

Lemon: It is really hard to pick a favorite myth. I really lean closely to the classical Greek and Roman mythology and pantheon. But if I were to pick a favorite book, it would be Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” where he goes in and talks about the mythical journey or the hero’s journey that is found common through many mythologies. So if I had to pick a favorite book, it would be that one.

Guin: You have to have a passion for this to actually turn it into a podcast. A podcast is a lot of work, and it’s a lot of commitment. How did that passion translate into you creating a podcast?

Lemon: Well I love podcasting and I love the technology around the podcasting. At the time when I was doing the podcast, I was really excited. I had a lot of interest in it, and I loved sharing stories and the storytelling and trying to convey that interest to other people. The one thing that I see that is missing today is the art of storytelling. And people are so interested in–or in education they are so interested in the reading, the writing and the arithmetic and tests that the have to take, that they forget the human side of the history. They forget the human side of this experience that we have, and I feel that myths, folklore, fairy tales and things of that nature really help to bring that back. I feel that’s kind of missing and I saw that that was missing from my kids’ education and felt that was something that needed to be brought back.

Guin: Well, you don’t actually consider yourself a “quote” heritage professional. Is that right?

Lemon: Correct.

Guin: Well then, what were your goals when you were actually creating the podcast? How did you want to add to the conversation?

Lemon: I wanted to be able to provide stories. And as I had mentioned before, I felt that the education material that was presented was missing a lot of that. My kids didn’t know who the Gods and Goddesses of the mythologies, they didn’t know the characters from the American folklore, they were missing that kind of stuff. And I felt that if I had the same feeling that perhaps there would be parents out there that felt the same. So I created these podcasts as an introduction to these stories, myth, folklore, fairy tales and what not. As an educational resource that people could turn to to maybe supplement what they were maybe learning in education.

Guin: You seem like such a natural podcaster. I mean it seems like something…you’ve got the voice and you’ve got the relational interview style. Were you in broadcast before this?

Lemon: Actually no. I was a Sunday-school teacher for many years, and I was a scout leader for the Boy Scouts of America. So i developed the art of storytelling around a campfire or sitting around in a Sunday-school classroom. The comfort with podcasting and with interviewing just comes with time. I’ve been doing this since 2006, I think…I’ve been doing this for many years, and so I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve become more comfortable communicating via person, via Internet, via video, via audio. And so that’s something that just comes over time with practice. I did have aspirations to go into broadcast at one time, but career paths being what they are, I feel that I enjoy podcasting and the intimacy that comes with this new media much more preferable.

Guin: Do you have any favorite podcasts that you’ve done?

Lemon: That I’ve done or that I’ve listened to?

Guin: Well, both. We’ll start with the ones that you have actually done yourself or your favorite episodes where there was some piece of information that you just connected to, or a guest that you just really enjoyed…

Lemon: I have had many wonderful opportunities to interview individuals on the Mythshow podcast. There’s the Celtic Myth podshow. A wonderful partnership between Gary and Ruth. In England, I was able to interview them and their podcast specifically focuses on Celtic mythology. But they tell it in more of a roundtable. As you would imagine a bard around a campfire, they use many voices, they use sound effects, and you really get the feel that you’re in a campfire. And you really get the feel of the storytelling.

Guin: Alright. Then let’s talk about the podcasts you enjoy listening to that are not your own. What do you listen to in your leisure time?

Lemon: The ones related to history that I really enjoy: there’s the History of Rome podcast, while not mythologically based, it does have that wonderful historical element that has gone and is continuing to go through the history of Rome. There’s also the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, which has since concluded since he’s covered all the Byzantine Rulers. But that was a wonderful history-based podcast that took the…because we know about Rome and we know about the Middle Ages, and this covered that stance in between. And so those are two wonderful solo-reading, one-person podcasts that I really enjoyed. I mentioned the Celtic Myth pod show. Wonderful stories are being shared there. But then I also enjoy the technical podcasts as well. There are many daily podcasts on news and technology, the weekly commentary technology shows and just a variety of fun shows out there.

Guin: Why do you think these stories are important to share in this new media format?

Lemon: We need to be able to remember that sharing stories has been a past time for generations if not even before recorded history. In fact, some of the earliest recorded history are these ancient stories. If we could think of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, that was originally an epic poem that he recited. We need to remember that there’s the story element, the human aspect. We as people are not names, places and dates and events, but it is the stories between those names and places that really captures the human element. I feel that with mass entertainment, while I do enjoy a good Disney movie and I really do enjoy the efforts they have done to bring those fairytales–or the mythologies–into modern dialog, we’ve got to remember that that’s not the only thing out there. The Disnefication of the Little Mermaid or the different princesses or even “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” those are wonderful stories that they’ve been able to interpret, but we need to be able to share the stories ourselves. How wonderful would it be if we were able to have a digital recorder in the pockets of the soldiers storming into Normandy on D-Day. How wonderful would it have been to have had audio recordings of the people in the Civil War or of times past. We have snippets of that, we have the official histories by governments, but if we could have that insight into the regular soldier’s life. If we could have that pioneer that was crossing the plains to the farmer. If we had those stories, how much more rich of an understanding would we have of our heritage or of heritages around the world?

Lemon: One of the favorite stories that I am reading to my children now are the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. While not mythology-based, I really enjoy sharing with my daughters the story of a young girl who lived in a completely different time under completely different circumstances. And I hope that the values and lessons that Laura Engles learned on the prairie can be translated into things that my own daughters can use.

Guin: You said that you weren’t originally a broadcast person and you kind of got into it in 2006–that was practically the ancient days of social media. How did you actually learn how to do it and get into it?

Lemon: Well the very first podcast that I listened to was one called “Muggle Net,” which is a podcast based around the Harry Potter books. I’m a big fan of the books, I loved reading them and sharing those stories. It’s a whole new fantastical story there and I started listening to it. And I really got into the technology of podcasting. There’s just so much more to podcasting than just clicking the record button. There’s the website, there’s the technology, there’s the audio editing, there’s the production, there’s the marketing. All of those things fascinated me, and in 2006, I went to the Podcasting and New Media expo. And I went there without an idea. I went there trying to figure out, I wanted to be involved with it. This would be a great, what could I do? And during that expo, I was brainstorming and I came up with the idea, I love to share stories. And I went home that night of the first expo and registered the domain name and started recording. And from then on, the association with other podcasters, with those at the time in Orange County, Calif., and those that I’d met throughout the country, and honestly throughout the world. That I enjoyed the interaction with the people. Probably too much, because as time went on the podcast started to get more slowly produced. But I enjoyed the social interaction and the technology surrounding it.

Guin: What technology do you use to do your podcasts?

Lemon: Well, the first couple of podcasts that I have, you see the headset that I use in this video stream. I started with just my computer plugging in a headphone. And honestly those podcasts sound terrible. But I got out there and I was enjoying the technology. Eventually, I was able to upgrade my equipment. You can tell a distinct different when I got a new H4 microphone, and I still use that today for recording podcasts. And it’s not so much that my hardware improved, but being more comfortable around the microphone. Knowing what I wanted to share, being able to speak more eloquently so I would have fewer edit cuts and it would take less time to edit the podcast, and also making sure I knew what I wanted to say, even practicing it. Most of my podcasts were written out, word for word. And it sounds like I am reading them, and it’s because, well, I was. I didn’t try to hide the fact. And that saved a lot on the editing time. But then again, open conversations like this one was a lot of fun as well.

Guin: Yeah. Well, you know, it is all about the content. And actually creating content that people can use. So, whether that’s scripted or whether that’s free-form, as long as people are getting something out of it and they are coming back for more, it’s all OK.

Lemon: The basic premise that I had with my podcast shows was that it was written, it was educational, and so I felt that it should start from the basis of a written essay. Whereas interviews and other shows, depending on how well they know their audience, depends on the kind of content that they should deliver.

Guin: Well tell us about that because audience is critical to having any form of successful online presence. Tell us about your audience and what you do to try to cater to that audience and build your audience.

Lemon: In full disclosure, the Mythshow and the Mythminute podcast that I produce have been on hiatus for over a year now. And so I have lost a little bit of the contact with the individuals that listen to the show. I still see that people are downloading it and still enjoying the content, but I have not been actively podcasting that due to economic situations, due to commitments with my family. Because when it comes to recording a podcast or reading a story to my kids, the kids win every time. And I think that is how it should be. And so, I wish I could have more time, but there’s only 24 hours in a day.

But to know your audience is so critical. Even if you don’t know individual names, you need to define the person you want to talk to or your desire to communicate. Are you looking for teenagers, are you looking for adults, are you looking for professionals in a certain genera, are you doing it for your family and your future posterity. Recording your own stories so that they can be enjoyed in years to come. Knowing your audience now will make the decisions so much easier in the future. You’ll be able to not agonize over every single decision, but you’ll be able to say, “Well, what would my ideal audience member want?” And go with that.

Guin: Well, do you have any tips for people who are just trying to get into podcasting?

Lemon: Well first of all, have fun. This is an exciting technology, and it is a lot of fun to participate in it. Like we said previously, know your intended audience. Be very specific about planning your podcast, even going as far as writing up a profile of who you would want to be. Name, age, gender, profession. Know this person and know why you are talking to this person. And why the information is important to them. Also, set realistic goals with your content creation. A lot of knew podcasters, when they start out, they go, “well, I’m going to produce an hours worth of content every week. Well, that goes two or three weeks, and then it goes two weeks in between and then it goes a month, and the content gets shorter and shorter, and I speak of this from personal experience.

You’ve got to set realistic goals. If you can only commit a couple of hours a month, understand that that’s what you can do, and don’t set the expectation for your audience that you’re going to provide a weekly show when in fact you can only provide a monthly show. Also, this is a new technology, this is a lot of fun, but record a few podcasts, experiment with the content. The format, the length. Try to get into a grove before releasing your shows. A rule of thumb I have often heard is record five full shows before releasing any, that way you have been able to record, produce and enjoy the process of five shows and you can see what works. And also, one last thing, is to build a community. Being a solo podcaster is kind of hard because you don’t have a group of individuals around you if have an historical society, if you have a group of like-minded individuals who want to create a podcast, share the responsibility. Share the fun, and then that way you can keep each other motivated. And you can share the work load.

Guin: You mentioned before that a podcast is only part of the undertaking. Tell us a little bit about that. What do you do to help support your podcast?

Lemon: There are many different forms that a podcast can take. You can have the simple RSS feed, which is really simple syndication. It’s the technology used to deliver the actual audio. You can be as simple as that, or you can have a website with shownotes so that people can add comments and you can start that discussion. You can even go as far as establishing a web forum, where people can converse and start to share a lot of information. Whatever you decide, you need to know your community. If the people that are listening to your podcast are very passive and only want to get the content and go, then it may be difficult to form a community. However, if you have an organization and the people begin really active, become really active with comments, a blog with comments, with active discussion and even a forum would be a great way to build that community. As you start out, there’s going to be very few people. But as long as you put out good quality content on a regular basis, whether week, month or whatnot, you’ll begin to build that audience. But you also need to send out emails. You need to be able to rank well in search engines. Contacting people in traditional off-line methods. Those ways you can bring them online and build your audience. And there are many books by professionals on the subject matter, and if I had the “holy grail” of podcast production and getting my message out there, I’d have a lot more time to produce podcasts.

Guin: Are there other forms of social media that you use to either support you podcast or to just maintain your presence in the social space?

Lemon: I use Facebook. I have a personal account on Facebook. I also have a fan page for the podcast as many other do. The Celtic Myth Podshow is an excellent example of people who have used Facebook to an excellent degree on being able to promote their podcast. I use Twitter. I have multiple accounts. I have a personal account, I have a podcast account. And so other people can follow me there. I have a lot of interaction with social media that way, but also just going out there and having fun. There are meet up groups that you could meet up with, and there’s Tweet ups, Social Media Club. There’s podcamps; there’s a lot of groups out there ready, willing and wanting to share this information to help you start your own podcast. This community is wonderful and you don’t have to go at it alone. There are so many people out there willing and wanting to help. And there are excellent resources available at your local bookstore to learn how to podcast.

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us.

Lemon: Glad to help.

 

 

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Podcast: Lisa Louise Cooke on podcasting genealogy and the importance of audience

When Lisa Louise Cooke’s daughters bought her an iPod a few years ago, she was barely even aware of podcasting as a business. But that gift would go on to inspire one of the world’s most popular genealogy podcasts. In this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, Lisa talks about how she turned her passion for genealogy into a dream career. Plus, she talks about the unreality of starring in the reality television showTexas Ranch House.”

Welcome to the Voices of the Past Podcast. I’m Jeff Guin. Today I’m talking to Lisa Louise Cooke of the podcast and blog Genealogy Gems. Lisa is going to tell us how she first became involved in social media–in particular, podcasting–and how she uses the web to promote genealogy and help others become more passionate about family history. Lisa, welcome to the podcast. How did your passion for genealogy develop?

Cooke: The classic story of being passionate about genealogy is from the time I was a little girl and sitting with my grandmother and talking to her about her parents who came through Ellis Island and she was willing to entertain me and jotted down some notes, which I still have.  I researched off and on throughout my entire life, and around 2000, I got really to where I was doing it practically every day. And really knee-deep into doing it. Before that I was raising kids and that kind of thing, and a friend of mine had said at the family history center, “Gosh, you’ve got some ideas here, you’ve been finding things that I’m not finding. You gotta find a way to teach people this.” And I thought, I don’t know how am I going to do that, and then 2007, my daughters all got together and they bought me an iPod for my birthday, and I discovered podcasts. And I always kid people because the young people go to see what they can spend money on, which is music and videos and that type of thing. Me, I’m cheap. I go and look for the free stuff. And so I found podcasts. And within a month I had my own podcast online. And I think it just captured my imagination. It just hit me, “This is my medium, this is a way to get the word out.” Because if you’re going to teach, it is wonderful to get to teach in a class of ten, but how about reaching 10,000? And then everybody benefits and you get this community going and it’s terrific.

Guin: But there seems like there would be quite a learning curve between actually having that passion and then translating that into reaching that audience of millions. What did you have to do to put a podcast together and actually start your own blog. Was that difficult?

Cooke: I think it wasn’t difficult because I was so passionate about it. It’s like when it hits you this is the right way to go, this is the right medium, I know what my message is, then it was like there aren’t enough hours in the day. And so for 30 days I think I was doing it around the clock–just eating up everything I could find in terms of how to get podcasts, how do you hook up the computer, where do you get a mic, how do you set up a blog, and I was constantly–if I wasn’t podcasting or setting things up myself, I was out running around and listening to other people on podcasts explain how to do it. And that’s why I think that within the month I was able to get it up and running. But the ideas had been formulating for a long time. And it is kind of the classic story of you can look back at your life and say, “Wow. Everything I’ve been doing up to this point has been about getting ready to do this.” Because everything from my theatrical background to producing videos to being on a television show and learning about interviewing, my passion for family histories, some of the teaching opportunities I had had in small class settings, all came together and it was like, “This is the time, this is the moment where it all gels.”

Guin: Well actually I was going to ask you about that because you really do have a vibrant personality and obviously you know what you are doing around media. Did you have a media background?

Cooke: Well, I’ve always been interested. I’ve always, when video first came out to the computer, I was always dabbling with that. I was creating home videos and compiling photographs and setting them to music. Around 2000-2001, I was actually the drama director at my church, and I convinced them that we need to do something beyond just talking in front of folks. We need to get visual and get multimedia about it. And so I started not only producing plays, which were live, but then saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a little three-minute video?” Well, that just captures them all off guard and catches their attention and gets them involved in the activities going on. So I did that for a couple of years and I was amazed at the response. The way people responded and they were willing to hear messages and maybe get involved when just getting up in front of the group and talking with a microphone wasn’t cutting it. So that really showed me the power of it.

Guin: Did it take a while for you to actually develop your voice for your blog?

Cooke: Well it had probably come a little bit easier to me because I had done some script writing. Many of the productions I was doing as the drama director, I was actually writing and producing some of those shows. So, I had a sense about dialog and having worked in community theater and that type of thing, but you are absolutely right. You have to figure out what your voice is. And I think, I was probably watching some documentary on Martha Stewart, and she was talking about sitting down and writing her first cookbook and that she had to find her voice. And I don’t know why but it always stuck with me. While I don’t have to write this academically, people may actually respond to me if I write it more like as I write a script, which is this conversation, this emotional connection with the people that are interacting on stage. Couldn’t I have that with my readers? And in the end, it’s just a lot easier to write as yourself. And I think that if you are very honest and true about what you’re saying and you really care about it, then you just have to let that come naturally. And it really does, and I find that the more I am myself, the more response I get.

Guin: Well, and also your audience develops around that. Who are those people that are your audience?

Cooke: You know that it’s funny. I was thinking about that question before we started, and I thought: I have two. I have my present-day audience and I have the audience of 2020. Do you know what I mean? Because the Internet is so different. What I’m doing, I’m thinking about how am I reaching those needs today and what people want to hear about, but this is going to be likely online for years and years to come. And everyday I see people streaming in and signing up and subscribing to the podcast, and I realized, “Wow, they are going back to episode 1.” And they are starting, and people will write me and go, “Oh, I’m on a binge, I just listened to 30 episodes in a row trying to get caught up.” And so that’s kind of the nature of media, and the idea that I’m not only speaking to the folks who are researching now in their genealogy, which typically are 50 plus, right? They tend to be older in age, they have a little more time, a little more income. But I do have, because of the multimedia presence that I have, I have a lot of younger folks as well, surprisingly. They may not be going to a genealogy society or they may not be attending conferences, but they are totally with me on Twitter and they are totally with me on Facebook and they found the podcast without me having to explain how to do it. I figure, the 20-somethings of today are the 50-somethings of tomorrow who will have some more time and who will have raised their kids and start to be thinking about, “Wow, I would like to leave something to this family and to these children, and I want it to be more than just me.” You know, we are all just ourselves and can only accomplish so much, but to give them an entire heritage of ancestors and family culture is a phenomenal gift and when that strikes you, that’s where that passion comes from. I hear it all the time from my listeners. You know, you can’t do it fast enough because wow, this is really meaning I can give back and in really significant way. So yeah, my audience is so warm and they are so wonderful, and I was recently out on a medical condition and people were emailing me and just, it’s a wonderful community. I love it.

cooke screenshot

Guin: Well, you mentioned your audiences are with you in different forms of media that you are engaged in. Kind of give me a timeline, an overview, of what you did. I mean, you started with your blog and your podcast. How has Lisa Louise Cook’s involvement in social media developed over time?

Cooke: It started with the Genealogy Gems podcast, and did that for about a year. I guess I started the blog later. I started in like February, later in the summer I realized I needed a blog. I needed another channel to get people, and I had actually produced a couple of videos that made the rounds. One of them was called, “Socks to America,” which is a funny little video I did about sock puppets and their heritage and how they immigrated. And it was funny how it took off and ran around the Internet and people were sharing it. So I very quickly realized I’d like to have a YouTube channel and have a place to put those videos. And of course the wonderful thing is, while my website is not as integrated as I would like it to be, I wish I had one website that had everything on it, but cost is a contributor and time. So I have a lot of different channels that are interconnected. So for the user it is hopefully a very streamlined usage of the website, but in reality they are going to different places: when they visit my blog, when they visit my video channel, that type of thing. And I got into Facebook probably shortly there after. And then I got approached by personalized media to do another genealogy show, and I had one in mind that I was thinking about and Genealogy Gems was taking off. So I started Family History Genealogy Made Easy, which is kind of more of a course in genealogy. Not a hardcore academic course, but each episode’s devoted to one topic and I try to do it in a way that you could start in episode one knowing nothing about genealogy and actually follow along and get going right away. And then let me think. I started doing speaking engagements. Family History Expos contacted me and said, “Hey, you ought to be out here talking to our folks,” and so I went and got hooked. I love going to the conferences.

Guin: You were talking about your speaking engagements and how much you enjoy those and how much it helps you to connect to your audience. How did that develop and what do you get out of going to those speaking engagements?

Cooke: I’m one of those odd folks who enjoys talking in front of a group. I am probably more nervous one-on-one than I am in front of a large crowd. And many years ago when i had just first started in the business world, I went to seminar, and it was how to make presentations. And I thought to myself, “I want to do that. I want to do what she’s doing.” But I had no idea what the topic was going to be. And I was raising children so I know I couldn’t travel from town to town or do that kind of thing. But again, I learned some of the techniques and it planted the idea. And so, I started doing some speaking engagements after we did “Texas Ranch House,” and people wanted to know about the experience of being on a reality TV show. And then I also started doing a couple little groups who asked me to come and talk about genealogy because I’d been working on the history of a local historical house in our community. And so I did some of those and I just found that I really enjoyed it. And I loved the instant response. Just like with the theater: there are two people on stage. There is you and then there is the whole crowd and their energy and what they’re doing. And so like I said, Family History Expo contacted me and gosh, just a couple months after the podcast started of in 2007 and said, “You got to come out to Utah, we’re having a conference. Do you have a couple of classes you’d like to teach?” And I said, “OK!” And so i ran and put them together and put together a little booth, and it just took off. My big emphasis is I love technology and I love using technology for genealogical purposes. And Google is one I started with shortly after my podcast started. My very first Gem in fact was Google site search, and those classes have been sold out, packed out and standing room only ever since I started teaching them. And I realized people are past how do I get online, but they really want to know, “How do I make the most out of what I’m finding” because there’s so much. And so I love to be able to fill that niche and then if they decide they want to become a premium member later and I’ve got the whole thing on video series. So I try to have resources I can point them to so when you get home from one of my classes, you’re not sitting there scratching your head saying, “What did she say? Where do I start?” So I love too that the podcast, the videos, pretty much all of that can all work together with the live presentations. I don’t have to give up working with people in person to be able to do multimedia online.

Guin: Well you brought up the premium memberships and that is a rarity among heritage blogs and just people working in the heritage field, they haven’t quite gotten to that level. What made you decide to go with a premium membership model?

Cooke: Well I knew I had to pay for what I was buying. My husband said, “Where’s the money going to come from?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I mean, I did not get into it to make any money. But you do find yourself yearning for the next software program or the Macintosh, which I just got into, and things that can help me do a better job of what I’m trying to share because that is a number one thing for me is quality. I would rather not put something out than to have it be kind of subpar and not really hit the mark. So premium membership was also something that people were asking for. They were saying, “Where can I get more? You are only doing this once a week or I want to see what you’re talking about and not just hear about it.” And so I thought, I found a place that had a reasonably priced membership software and I just hacked and hacked on it until I figured it out, and then I realized that this was a  way to go in depth into some of these topics that we hit on. And I always try to give people these nuggets they can work with. But I love having the ability to go more in depth and then having the video version so that they can follow along live on the screen with me, right as I go. And the response has been tremendous. I wasn’t sure. Genealogists like to get things for free; I appreciate that. But I think if they like what I am doing and they want more and they feel like they are connecting with me, then they’re excited about getting it and I’m totally excited about delivering it. So I have just gotten to know my premium members even more, and hopefully it will keep growing because it has made it possible for me not to “podfade.” That’s one of the things that happens to people. You get an idea and you are passionate, you find a way to get past the roadblocks and the technology, and it is just really easy to get overwhelmed, run out of money, whatever, and all of a sudden we’ve seen it before, those podcasts and those videos just fade away and you don’t hear from that person anymore. I felt like generating some income was important for me to sustain what I am doing, and I think that that’s another reason people are happy to pay for that additional content. They are getting something out of it and they also know that I am going to be around.

Guin: Did you use anyone else as a model when you created your premium memberships?

Cooke: Actually, the models that were out there, I didn’t like that much. Some of them were really expensive, some of them were “We are going to auto renew you for the rest of your life unless you can figure out how to cancel us.” There were elements to them that I didn’t like very much. So I’d have to say Jason VanOrden, he did the Podcasting Underground, I think it is called Masterminds minds now or something. But it was a podcast. He was dabbling with that model around the same time, and I started to get anxious and wanted to get going on it, so I just listened to what he was talking about and what he was thinking about for his business and then I ran out and tried to find and luckily there were some resources out there. But like I say, I tweaked the model to the way I felt it would best meet the way of my audience, which is preservationists and archivists and genealogists, they are an unique group with certain expectations, and it was important to respect that.

Guin: Absolutely. Well you mentioned earlier, and you brought it up, Texas Ranch House. Tell us about your experience there.

Cooke: One, I couldn’t believe that they’d picked us. That was a whole experience. It took as long to get selected as it did to go out and live in 1867. And just in case your listeners haven’t heard of it, Texas Ranch House was on PBS. It was part of their kind of “house” series, and our objective was to go out and live as if it were 1867 on a 400,000 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Actually, a gorgeous area near Big Bend, but the idea was, and it was really interesting, because the premise was you’re 20th century people or 21st century people, how would you handle the 1867 experience and how would you adapt. It was not supposed to be an reenactment, but it’s amazing with every house miniseries that came on line, everybody went raving mad. “Oh my gosh, they’re not reenacting, what’s wrong with these people.” That wasn’t the premise. But obviously being a genealogist, I think they picked me because I said, “Look, I had a great, great grandmother from west Texas in 1867, this is my one and only chance to walk in her shoes or her boots and her corset.” And they wanted that.

Guin: You didn’t have to wear a corset, did you?

Cooke: Oh my goodness! A corset and seven layers. Which, in a 114-degree weather were peeled off very quickly. And it was funny because I got together with some ladies who live out there and fairly minimal conditions. I mean, some of them kind of enjoy living more of that rustic pioneer life. And we talked about, “OK let’s get down and dirty. How much are you wearing and are you shortening your skirts at all and do you always wear your corset,” and they were like, “Oh no honey. Unless there is somebody coming down the road that I can see, that corset is off and it’s about getting the work done.” So anyway, my whole family went, which was my husband and I and three teenage daughters at that time. And can you imagine what kind of salesman I am to get three teenage daughters to agree to go Texas?

Guin: No I can’t imagine.

Cooke: Oh my gosh. But there were two experiences. There was filming a reality TV Show and there was living in 1867. And the two shall meet and clash heads, which they do, but you really are kept in the dark. That is the main thing that I don’t think people realize is how in the dark you are as a participant. We didn’t find out until we got there that our executive producer was straight out of MTV. And so you’ve gone through all this and then it hits you, they are trying to get the 20-something audience and this is a reality TV without the million-dollar prize at the end. And so it was a constant struggle between their vision and our vision. And then they had a struggle between their vision and the vision of the company in Great Britain that actually financed it. So I learned a lot about the makings of a television show; the politics of it. I learned a lot about interviewing because one of the things they did was they took us out about every 7-10 days and they interviewed us individually for an hour. And of course much of that never showed on the show. But one thing I can tell your audience is when you’re watching reality TV, be aware of what you’re not seeing because the final product is in the hands of the editor and also the person who adds the music. You can be saying something and they can be playing violins behind you and you sound really amazingly intelligent or they could be going doke-de-doke-de-doke, just some funky music behind you and you’re like, “Oh, I look like such a dweeb, you know?” So it was interesting. It was interesting to see the end product, and we all looked at each other and said, “What summer were they at? Which ranch were they at?” Because it was so different and it was this tiny sliver of, we calculated, 1800 hours we were out there, three months. And 95 percent of that was the day-to-day living and as a woman, as a wife and a mother, when I watched the house shows, I want to see how did they cook, how were they sowing, what was it like, how tired were they. And they almost never came in our house, I don’t know if you ever noticed that in the show, but they couldn’t come inside and film because you would see how much we were getting done. And their objective was to show us as lazy. So, you run the risk of a little bit of a character attack, but I still look back and say it was my seven million dollar free vacation. It was the genealogy Disney Land that you get once in a lifetime and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Guin: But would you do it again?

Cooke: Would I do it again? We would go out in a heartbeat and live in 1867 on a ranch without TV cameras, no problem. Rattlesnakes, centipedes, 114 degree weather, it was an amazingly fantastic experience. I know exactly what my great grandmother felt like. Would I go on reality TV again and let them paint my character and create a character for me? No. Because that was really painful, and that was something I probably never really had a chance to really talk about, which is, it was really really painful for our family. And I don’t know how they do that and go to sleep at night.

Guin: Right. And especially with teenage daughters because that’s a sensitive time and there are issues where they want their privacy and everything is a drama and I feel that way with my 5-year-old daughter, so I can image how it is going to be when she’s a teenager. So that would be something. You are kind of exposing yourself there a little bit. Although the premise for the show, it seems like there would be more purity to the concept than some of the other shows like Real Life.

Cooke: Well I think when the shows were done in Great Britain, they had more of that purity and I love those. When the British come to America and film Americans, they bring their own stereotype of what Americans are like. And also the American producers don’t trust the audience to be able to stay with the academic side of it or to stay with the historical side of it. And they think they need to spoon feed a bunch of chaos and they did a lot of things to try to stir that up. So it is an unfortunate statement about what they think about the intelligence of the American public. But one thing I can tell you about my daughters, they came out of Texas so confident, so capable. They had an experience that almost no American child gets these days. And that is, they knew that if I don’t bring the wood in, we all go hungry, period. So when you tell your 5 year old when she’s 10, you need to go back, you need to bring your laundry down. If they don’t, what happens? The world ends? But for three months, my daughters had a sense of “I matter to the lives and the well-being of my entire family.” And the bonding that we got out of that and the sense of trust and togetherness, was phenomenal. And for no other reason, that would be the reason I would ever do it again.

Guin: Do you have some kind of checks in your own life where even though you are so connected and you are dealing with an audience that always wants another piece of you. How do you center yourself as a human being away from these tools?

Cooke: In terms of technology, my approach is a little different, and this is one of the things I talk about in my classes–particularly my Google class. You are not the slave of the Internet or of technology. It is there to serve you. And so everything I do, I approach it that way. It is so easy to go online and become very very overwhelmed because you feel, we are taught to be polite and you respond to things. And you start to just have it take you away with it, versus, for example when I teach a Google class, you can go to Google and you can put in your key word and you can have it give you 10 thousand different results and spend the rest of your life trying to comb through them, trying to find your genealogy. But what I do is to show them how to use the tool to actually set it up to use it as a genealogy dashboard where it is kind of like their home center and get these tools to work for you. To go out and find things and bring them back, to help you select and stay on top of your priorities. It is kind of what I do all the time in terms of my media. I want to say a message. I want to know what my message is, and if you know what your purpose is and your research and your preservation work and your genealogy, then you have to approach the technology that says, “What will you do for me.” And you pick and select, and you just let the rest of it go because you cannot possibly do it all and there is just more to come. So I don’t think you should be a slave of it.


Guin: Has your sense of mission always been very clear in your mind or was there a point in your life where there was a transition or an event that kind of helped you form your sense of mission that you have today?

Cooke: Well I think having my children. It gave me a sense of going beyond myself and being committed to their well-being and the well-being of my family. Whenever I interact with my kids, even today as grown adults, in the back of my mind is: does this help me get closer to them in 20 years, does it help me get full access to my grandchildren, I’m going to be a grandmother this year. And is everything I am doing helping me to bring me closer and to communicate better how dear they are to me, and the same thing with my audience. Am I communicating how dear they are to me because they really are. And if it’s not going to communicate that, toss it aside. It’s like when you talk about blog writing: editing is the number one thing. It’s what you leave out, get rid of it. Ah! It is just like reality TV, it’s what you leave out. That’s how you craft your message and I have a little note that is on my bulletin board and I look at it everyday and it says, “Are you working on your dream?” And my dream is kind of my mission, it’s, “Ah, a tombstone, what do I want on the tombstone?” What do I want people to think about and it’s interesting when I go to a conference, people will say, “Oh, when I think of Lisa Louise Cooke, I think this or that,” and that’s awesome because that means that I have stayed on message and I have gotten rid of the periphery stuff that just doesn’t add value. And I don’t know, I just think that overall what I want to do is I want to be able to leave something of value for generations to come. Not only within my family but also within the world. And isn’t that a wonderful trait of the Internet and of technology? Those podcasts will be out there well beyond me. That maybe this is going to help somebody else’s grandchild. Ah, I don’t know, maybe it will all be irrelevant, it might be. But I like the idea that it isn’t just lost the second that it’s done. And that’s a good thing.

Guin: Well, I guess that leads us to our next question. Where do you see Genealogy Gems going in the future? And not just Genealogy Gems, but Lisa Louise Cooke as well?

Cooke: OK. I will tell you the truth. I don’t even go by Lisa Louise. Do you know why I started using Louise? No, I am just telling you. Because after Texas Ranch House came out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted everyone to think of Mrs. Cooke or Lisa Cooke. And actually I am one of seven generations of Louises in my family. So that is just a little tidbit for your listeners on where the Louise comes from, and where do I want her to be? Where do I want Genealogy Gems to be? I want it to be continuing to foster that relationship with the listeners and just on the technology side of things. Some of the things I am looking at is–I am hoping I can pull this off–I’d love to do a live show once a month. So that people can actually call in. Maybe it would be chat, I’m not sure how that would work yet. I am looking at some different platforms to help me do it, but I would love to be able to do more of the in addition to what I’m doing is once a month they can just call in and we can just talk about how are the things that you are learning on the show, that you are picking up on your genealogy society. How are those things working for you? What do you think about them? What are your roadblocks? Whatever people have been talking a lot about libraries that have been closing lately because of budget cuts. Those are things that are important to people, and I think that would be another step in the community would be to be able to actually live talk. Right now I give them a voicemail line. There are lots of different ways they can connect with me. But it would be wonderful to do a live show. I’m also doing a lot of things with Family Tree Magazine. I am doing some online webinars and I just finished writing three courses. They are putting together a family tree university that is going to be online, so I am actually going to be able to teach classes using this coursework that I have written, and my students can email me and it will be interactive. And they can take these courses and learn more in depth on different subjects. So there is always an educational component I guess to it. And the fun thing is, whenever I write a class like that or do the research for it, I get to get a breakthrough on my research. I mean, I always learn something new. So it is selfish in that way as well.

Guin: So here’s a scenario: Someone’s watching this and they’re inspired, and they are developing their own sense of mission, and they want to involve new media in it. What advice would you have for that person?

Cooke: Education. Educating yourself and know that there are a lot of free options out there to educate yourself. I mean there are some great books and things, but life keeps going on and you want to try to get as up to speed as possible as quickly as you can. I tapped into a lot of podcasts. I just went in there and I did key word searches on how do you do this, how do you do that, video, podcasts, whatever. And I would typically find somebody who had great information. So constantly educating yourself. Thinking about what your message is. You really can’t be everything to everybody. In fact, I was just interviewing a blogger on my family history podcast, and she was saying, “You know, you can’t be so and so, they are already there, you know? Don’t try to mimic somebody else, but take what your strengths are and use that. And then decide what the focus of your message is. And also one thing I have just been using lately when I wrote my courses for the university was YouTube. People, particularly older folks, tend to get nervous about going onto YouTube because there is a lot of stuff out there that they don’t want to see. I’m with them on that, but if you use that search box you will be able to hone right into what you are looking for and you bypass all that stuff. And so when I was looking for these different topics I was writing about, I would go out and throw a key word out into YouTube and I would find somebody who produced a video about it and I got a little snippet here and there, and I was able to reference that and give that to my students. My gosh, I just took up knitting. Couldn’t figure out how to do a yarn over and I went and put up “knitting yarn over,” and there was somebody showing me how to do it on the video. So that can be applied to anything. And there is a lot of great people producing content, and every single day there is something new. So it’s always worth going back and checking. I dunno, does that answer your question?
Guin: It absolutely does. And I think it’s important for people to realize as well for people doing that knitting video probably had a $300 camera from Walmart. It doesn’t take a lot of money or fancy equipment to produce this stuff. So I guess what would be valuable if you could just share about some of the equipment you use in putting together your content.

Cooke: It’s evolved over time. I have started out with one of those little $10 RadioShack microphones, you know, the little plastic ones. Very quickly realized I didn’t like the sound of it, and I went and bought a podcasting kit, which had the microphone and that type of thing on Amazon and have upgraded from there. And that brings me back to when you are trying to learn how to do some of this stuff, you think “I do want to do a blog or I do want to do video,” go out and find somebody that you think is doing a terrific job. And watch it. And look for the details. Don’t worry about all the big picture stuff that they are talking about. I really believe it’s in the details: that’s where the real connection happens, and the quality happens. And then right now I have my new Macintosh, which is kind of the video, auto center. I have my old PC that I finally got a new flatscreen for. I had my laptop because I do go and do presentations. Last year I invested in my own projector so now I can say, “Yep. I can go to a seminar,” and I can be set up to go. And my latest is my boom, I guess you can call it a boom for my mic. Before it was always on my desk, and you know, I would go crashing and it would hit the floor, and I would bump it and that kind of thing. Now it’s on a boom. It looks like like it does in a radio station. And I think it was a $100, but it seemed like an extravagance to me. I waited a long time to spend the money on it, and it is a godsend. That and the popscreen for the microphone. So, like you are asking me, if you hear somebody you think is doing a great job or you like their video. You’d be amazed. People are so helpful. I email people all the time, “By the way, can you give me an idea or an clue or whatever…” and people are always willing to share. That’s one of my mottos: ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, all they can do is say, “No, I’m too busy.”
Guin: And that’s the great thing about the web, you can ask people all over the world. You’re not limited to just your local area.

Cooke: I had a podcaster in Australia contact me and say, “Oh, I heard your podcast. Loved this, loved that, but you might tweak this to get the sound better.” And he had been doing podcasts for two years, so it was amazing.
Guin: Well, Lisa thanks so much for being on Voices of the Past.

Cooke: You bet. Thanks so much.

 

 

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