Saturday, 13 September 2008


Last month we reported about Celia Baylis who did her genealogy manually, ending up with 34 publications.

Bob Saunders, vice-chairman of the West Gauteng Branch, transformed this into five CD’s. Here he tells how he did it.

Click HERE to view the previous report.

My collaboration with Celia, demonstrates that, no matter how insignificant you view your own efforts, it is still very important. Vital facts and personal histories are lost (possibly forever) every time one of us or our family passes from this world without those facts being recorded and stored in a suitable repository, whether it be in the form of a journal to another family member, or as a slightly more “official document” presented to the society for safe-keeping.

If you believe that your work is that insignificant that it cannot stand as a publication on its own, and is therefore not worth donating -- please think again. Those of us old enough to have learnt the three r's at school, notably reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic, will recall having to study poetry and learn said poems parrot-fashion. These poems were always in an anthology -- a collection of poems by numerous poets.

We could do the same with smaller works and create compendiums of these donated works, properly indexed. Thereby two important objectives are achieved:

• collecting important facts pertaining to families and
• preserving them for future generations.

The reality of “official” archive material disappearing forever is not that far-fetched. Besides gross insensitivity and ignorance, blatant disregard or disaster (fire, flood, earthquake, war), the greatest tragedy would be for a vital clue to be lost due to complacency by any one of us, here and now.

I appeal to you not to underestimate the value of your personal knowledge of your own family to future generations possibly seeking that vital link, in much the same way you have found yourself frustrated in your own pursuit of familial links.

Our blogmaster has asked me to report on the collaboration between Celia and myself.

Celia had produced 34 publications on her greater family. I (amongst others) was instantly impressed with the volume and quality of work, and immediately identified the value of it to future generations of those families. I realised what a remarkable contribution to the branch this collection would be. Added to that was Celia’s desire to see her works in an electronic format that could possibly appeal to the younger set, and be that much easier to distribute within the family. Add to this my knowledge of and access to technology that could achieve Celia’s dream and simultaneously secure this great work for our own branch collection, and you end up with an offer that cannot be refused and a challenge to achieve that goal.

For Celia, it was a relatively simple task: hand over the completed works, and finalise those that were still in production.
For me, the task was to master the technology and faithfully reproduce her works in the shortest possible time, as she was packing up home to move to the Cape. I am happy and proud of the fact that we both achieved our goal albeit in the nick of time.

In toto, I spent six weeks labouring on the copying (about six booklets a week = 1 booklet a day) scanning, collating and editing.

After the first six books were done, there was an experimental production of a disc to assess whether or not I was on the right track, and whether my methods were accurately reproducing the originals. It would also serve to propose the presentation, i.e. disc content and labeling, and cover “artwork”. This trial run turned out rather well, as Celia was most impressed with what I had achieved and couldn't find any mistakes or omissions.

There were however a few technical. I had compiled a couple of the booklets where some larger inserted items interfered with the flow of the document. When Celia highlighted this problem, I consulted with some more knowledgeable colleagues and a solution was found. I, on the other hand, could also see room for improvement and the need to restructure the works in a more logical and chronological fashion.

A second meeting with Celia ensued and the improved disc was presented as a “final draft”. We finalised the composition of each disc chronologically within each family group with a rough chronology of the actual production of the series. With less than a week to go, the last two books were received for reproduction and inclusion in the set, and the final production of the artwork was finalised and reproduced.

Then followed the cutting of two full sets (one for Celia and one for the branch) and 10 family specific sets for Celia to distribute as gifts to the families concerned -- a magnanimous gesture in my opinion. This was a total of 36 discs to be cut. A process which took 15 hours alone and caused me to miss the original (convenient) deadline, as I had grossly underestimated the time I would need to do this. Celia was sufficiently gracious to take this minor disappointment in her stride, and meet me the next day (on her way to dish out the first of her gifts), to collect the entire order.

I am sure she was a worried lady as I received a call as I was making final preparations to leave home for our rendezvous, to say she had arrived at the meeting place early. This was the last thing I wanted to happen, my “client” arriving before me. Anyway, I still arrived late because I also underestimated the traffic on Witkoppen road on a Sunday morning -- could it get worse? Well, fortunately it didn't. I had all the goods, and was finally able to hand over the discs and the last two books that I had copied, plus two others that had to be recopied as I had misfiled the original scans first time round. Celia was suitably impressed and obviously relieved that I had not misled her. So all was well that ended well, and off we went in opposite directions to enjoy Sunday lunch with our respective loved ones.

The 34 volumes translated into 4 833 pages to be copied -- thank heavens for technology and access to it. The only difficult task was to scan in documents larger than A4, as these had then to be patched together afterwards from a number of A4 parts. Thank heavens too for sophisticated software that literally did this seamlessly -- pun intended. Software also took care of a few printing errors, such as an upside-down page, and deleting a couple of duplications spotted after the scanning was complete. The set is called The Celia Bayliss Publications and each disc is simply numbered 1 through 5 and contains logical groupings of Celia’s works primarily by family.

In the final analysis, Celia had achieved her dream of having an electronic version of her works, I had been privileged to help her realize this dream and be party to the final “product”. The branch has seen yet another contribution to the collection of personal works initiated by Japie Bosch and augmented by Lucas.

I believe I have scored the most out of the deal, as I learnt to operate two new computer programmes in the process, have my own copies of these marvelous works, and last but by no means least, I have gained a new friend. What a bonus from a self-imposed challenge.

I urge you to take a look at the set, borrow a disc or all five, and just browse through them. They will give you many ideas as to how you could present your own collection of history and fact, and perhaps inspire you to finish off some project you may have started years ago and just never finished. Don't be daunted by the size of Celia’s project. It is not how much you can present or complete, but how much you save from being lost to future generations by adding what you have as part of a greater collection.

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