Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Music speaks to my soul

Many of my earliest memories are associated with music. Ours was not a particularly musical family, my parents did not play any sort of musical instruments, but I always remember places associated with a particular piece of music. If I hear the song, I will remember where I was when I heard it. When I was very young, the jukebox in the local town cafe played what we would now call country music. I can still remember hearing Hank Williams singing "On Top of Old Smokey" and Patsy Cline and others. One of my earliest memories is of a song called, Mister and Mississippi. The version I remember is by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The earliest known recording is now believed to be by a man named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville in  about 1857 to 1860. Unfortunately, sound recordings did not become popular until Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1878. As genealogists, we now have a little over 100 years of recordings some of which may be of people in our family. Many of those recordings are on media that will likely become unreadable, if it is not already. For example, I have a sizable collection of dictation made by my father on micro-cassettes with a dictating machine. I have other recordings on wide loops of magnetic tape from another, mostly extinct, dictating device called the IBM Executary Dictation Machine using Magnabelts. Most of these have been transcribed or were transcribed before the equipment became nearly impossible to find.

So how do you know what kind of music your ancestors listened to? Unless they wrote down their  musical preferences, you probably will have a difficult time finding out exactly what they might have heard. One of my grandmothers left a sizable collection of sheet music from the late 1800s and early 1900s, I can take most of those songs and go to and put in the name of the song and likely find someone somewhere has recorded a version. It is fairly easy to find out what songs were popular during your ancestors' formative years. Even if they were non-musical, they likely had music in their local church meetings and many schools and other organizations have choirs. Why do you need to do this? For me, it is simple, music speaks to my soul. I can live with my ancestors through their music.

I can't go on without mentioning one of the songs that I remember gave me a a direct connection to my Welsh ancestors. Here is a very nice recording in Welch of the Men of Harlech:
One of the challenges of writing my life story, I would guess is including the thousands of hours of music I have heard and sung. Since I was a young teenager I sang in Church choirs, one time even singing in the famous Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square with a University of Utah LDS Institute Choir. Don't forget the music.

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