Blogs

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes book jacket
I had never read the literary works of Langston Hughes before coming across The Collected Works of Langston Hughes at the North Portland Library.  I knew of him as a great poet and poetry was not my favorite genre.  Nonetheless, I leafed through the seventeen volume set on the shelf and I immediately was hooked on the works of one of the literary lions of the Harlem Renaissance.

Not sure where to begin, I skimmed through the volumes on poetry.  I read quickly a few poems, tried to digest others, but it was his prose that truly beckoned me.  I paused skimming midway through his oeuvre and read the first two short tales in depth.  I knew then, as I do now, that I had found a literary gold mine because weeks later, I’m still digging through the Simple stories in volumes 7 and 8.

Originally published in the Chicago Defender from 1943 to 1965, the Simple stories read more like weekly columns on race relations in the U.S. The tales are narrated in a conversational form to engage readers on multiple levels.  On one level, the stories are comical and reader-friendly, designed to show the human soul of Jesse B. Semple, or Simple as he is known, and draw the reader in.  Readers get to see and feel Simple’s failures and successes as well as his frustrations and dreams.  On another level, the stories portray the complex world that evolved in the Jim Crow era in a non-antagonizing way.  Simple’s conversations with his bar buddy not only lured readers into the national dialogue over race, but they also engaged readers in a constructive conversation over racism—the ideological foundation that defined the racial boundaries of Simple’s life and, by extension, African Americans.

Though it has been sixty-five years since Langston Hughes published the first Simple stories in book form, the ideas in these tales still resonate.  Racial progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go.  Both fictional characters would probably nod their heads.  Yes, over a cold beer.  Still, such ideas, now more than ever, need to be part of a national discourse.

 

As with many pleasures,  like food, music, movies and books, we tend to find what we love and stick with that. When readers ask me for suggestions on what to read next, they usually know what they like and want to read more of it. But as with food, music, movies and other such pleasures, it never hurts to try reading something new. My something new is manga.
 
The most basic definition of manga is comics that are originally produced in Japan. Manga includes works in a wide range of genres. You can find manga translated into a variety of languages 
Manga reading direction example
but they all retain the traditional reading direction of Japanese manga, which is that is you read from right to left. If you are used to reading from left to right, manga will take a little getting used to. But believe me when I say that when you find a series that sparks your interest, reading from right to left will come easily.
 
The following three titles have been my introduction to this popular comic medium, and each one has made me finally fall in love with manga. 
 
Wandering Son book jacket
Wandering Son by Takako Shimura is a series that is hard to miss. Among a sea of similarly sized paperback manga, Wandering Son is the rare hardcover series. The story centers around a fifth grader named Shuichi Nitori who has just transferred to a new school. During their first day of school Shimura meets Yoshino and the two become instantaneous best friends. And both Shimura and Yoshino are transgender. I really love Takako’s minimal and dreamy illustration style, and that this series focuses on the elements of curiosity and discovery that go along with gender identity and puberty.
 
Black Butler book jacket
I admit that I was so excited and impatient to read Black Butler by Yana Toboso that I bought the first book. Set just outside of London during the Victorian era, this series revolves around a young noble, Ciel Phantomhive and his loyal butler Sebastian. Ciel is quite demanding and Sebastian is ever willing to oblige, to the point that it appears that Sebastian can do what no other human can. So, is Sebastian human? I love Toboso's  gothic and lush illustrations and the melding of historical fiction, mystery, and a bit of fantasy. 
 
Blue Exorcist book jacket
In Blue Exorcist by Kazue Katō you meet Rin Okumura and his twin brother Yukio. Rin and Yukio were both raised by Father Fujimoto, an exorcist. Rin has only ever known the world of his adoptive father, a world in which demons are to be fought and killed. But one day Rin finds out that both him and his brother are the sons of Satan, the most powerful demon. Rin being the stronger of the two brothers is the only one who has inherited demon powers. Determined to use his demon side for good Rin enrolls in the True Cross Academy, a school for exorcists in training. I’m a big fan of all things horror so this series immediately grabbed my attention. But I also love the dabs of comedy that are played out in the sibling rivalry between Rin and Yukio.
 
I am crazy in love with these series and excited to find more manga to dive into. If you have never tried manga I hope that I can convince you to give it a try. If you are already a manga fan, I'd love to hear about your favorite titles!
 
 

Ah, the lost art of letter writing. I still find myself checking my mail hoping that there will actually be a personal letter mixed in with the credit card applications. But alas, I can’t recall the last time I received a real letter. When I want to immerse myself in the beauty of letter-writing, I shall open up Shaun Usher’s, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of A Wider Audience

Letters of Note bookjacket

Shaun Usher loves letters (and lists too. His second book, Lists of Note includes such wonders as Michelangelo's illustrated shopping list and Marilyn Monroe’s New Year’s resolutions written when she was 29-years-old.).

But back to the pleasures of letters. Usher has collected 125 letters from far and wide and long ago to more recent times. Many of the letters are from well-known figures but some are from everyday folks. All of the letters have a short introduction to put them into historical context and a good share of them include a reproduction of the letter itself. The effort and creativity that went into these letters - a 13-year-old boy at a school for the blind wrote in Braille to President Eisenhower. The sadness - Virginia Woolf’s note to her husband before she committed suicide. Witty, funny, artistic ones. Beautiful, heartfelt, poignant letters. They’re all here.

If you’d like to peruse even more letters, take a look at Shaun Usher's website where he has posted a whopping 900 letters; they’re indexed in various ways so one could spend weeks reading all of them. Or take a look at some of these books that are chock full of letters. I, however, think I’ll go write a letter to a friend.

Photo of Bob's dad in 1944
In November of 1943, my Dad joined the US Navy at the age of 18. After basic training in San Diego and electrician training at Kansas University in Lawrence, he was assigned to service aboard an attack transport ship. He has often made light of this assignment, likening the captain and crew to that of the 1960s comedy McHale’s Navy. Sure, there were ships that experienced combat more directly. But just being in the South Pacific during those years left one under continuous threat of enemy attack. For instance, his ship once had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a mine; they fought off a kamikaze attack; and on April 1, 1945, his ship was one of the first ships in to debark troops for the final major battle of the war -- Okinawa. I’ve always been very proud of my Dad and his service to our country.
Photo of Bob and his dad in 2015

So August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Although it was thought that the war would only end with an all-out invasion of Japan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa ended up being the final fights with men against men; this was, of course, because of the atomic bombs being dropped on the cities of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9.

Interested in reading about the closing days of the war? Here is a list of books on the two final battles and the catastrophic events that brought the war to a sudden end.

Take a bite of an apple. Chew, swallow, and then presto, it comes out the other end! But how does it happen? How do our bodies turn an apple into fuel that helps us play sports, breathe, walk, and talk? The digestive system is the body system responsible for this process. The basic process is well understood by scientists but new research is coming out all the time changing the way we understand the inner workings of our guts.

Image of the organs of the digestive system
There are many resources on the Internet and through the library that can help you learn about the digestive system. Visit KidsHealth or TeensHealth to find information in English and Spanish for kids and teens including videos, articles, and puzzles to help you learn all about the digestive system and other health topics. Ask a Biologist lets you ask a real biologist science related questions. Ask a Biologist also has lots of great information about microbes and the role they play in our digestive systems.

The Multnomah County Library has science databases where you can search for topics, view videos and print pictures to help with school reports. Today's Science is a database that can help you answer questions like, "What is the latest research on the roll of bacteria in our guts?" or to ask more general questions such as, "how does the digestive system work?" For help using Today's Science, the library provides this useful handout.  If you need to look up basic facts about the digestive system, but can't use Wikipedia, try using World Book, an online encyclopedia. Here you will find information for elementary, middle and high schoolers, great for writing school reports.

When you use the library databases outside of the library, you will need to log in with a library card. Try using key words like: "Digestive System," and "Body Systems." Topics that might include the Digestive System are "Human Anatomy & Physiology," "Nutrition," and "Health."

Check out this video from KidsHealth about the Digestive System from KidsHealth:

How the Digestive System Works



If you want to explore this topic more, or if you have more questions about any of this, Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.
 

Christina Hammett and Troutdale: A Perfect Match

by Donna Childs

volunteer Christina Hammett

In the best relationships, each believes they got the better deal. That is clearly the case with Christina Hammett and Troutdale Library. Christina thinks the staff and patrons at Troutdale are terrific, and library staff has the highest praise for her artistic know-how, her shining attitude, and her unflagging readiness to help. 

Thanks to fond memories of participating in Summer Reading as a child, Christina began at Troutdale as a Summer Reading volunteer; now she is also a Branch Assistant and a Youth Program Assistant. She has really shone with youth programming, designing whimsically creative, interactive storyboards—often a couple a month--for the youth librarian to use in her storytime presentations. Because she is such a talented artist, the library has also asked her to make displays for other activities: Summer Reading, Lucky Day books, and the Lego group, for example. 

Christina studied journalism at Mount Hood Community College, where she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper; she has also been a sports reporter and photographer at the Gresham Outlook. However, with the decline in print journalism, plus the tight job market for new grads, Christina is now taking stock and trying to figure out what to do, whether to go back to school and what to study. Meanwhile she has a retail job and the Troutdale Library where she feels useful and connected to her community. She loves the people at the library, working with books, and interacting with people who read and talk about books. 

Every Wednesday, Christina goes through her 10-15 page list of holds requests. Like many volunteers, she finds this task a terrific way to discover new books she might not otherwise have known about. 

Christina may be unsure of her future path at the moment, but her intelligence, poise, creativity, and cheerful enthusiasm will make her an asset anywhere. Meanwhile, Troutdale benefits from her many talents.


A Few Facts About Christina

Home library: Troutdale Library

Currently reading: The works of Agatha Christie and A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

Most influential book: The Diary of Anne Frank

Favorite book from childhood: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

A book that made you laugh or cry: The Green Mile by Stephen King

Favorite section of the library: Fiction and mystery

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite reading guilty pleasure: A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George Martin and anything by Agatha Christie

Favorite place to read: My bed

Thanks for reading the MCL Volunteer Spotlight. Stay tuned for our next edition coming soon! See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Is your data safe? I don’t mean from hackers, I mean from catastrophic computer failures. We all hope it won’t happen to us, but do you really want to lose your music collection, digital photos or that paper you’ve been working on for 2 weeks? There are a number of ways to back up important data, and it’s even recommended that you use more than one of them, just to be safe.

The first level of data protection is often a local backup - usually to an external hard drive or a flash drive. If you own a business, experts recommend keeping a backup drive off-site so that you’re also protected should something happen not just to your computer, but to your business itself.

USB flash drive

One way to get your data to an external backup is to manually copy your important files to another hard drive or flash drive. This isn’t necessarily the easiest way, however, and it requires that you remember to do it! There are also many software programs that will do it for you. On Apple computers, the more recent operating systems come with Time Machine. Windows 7 machines have Backup and Restore built in, and Windows 8 uses File History. You can also do a search for ‘best backup software’ and you’ll find guides and reviews of both free and paid software options.

A second way to back up your data is to use online, or cloud solutions. While not strictly backup tools, cloud-based file storage services provide a small amount of online storage space for free (generally 2-15 GB, depending on the service) and additional space for a monthly or yearly fee. Some cloud storage services come with your email, like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive and Apple iCloud, and also feature access to online office software. Some services, such as Dropbox.com and Box.com, provide software that you can install to automatically sync one or more folders between your computer and the online storage, and your files will also be accessible online through their website. As an additional bonus, most of these services are also accessible from smartphones and tablets, which means you don’t have those photos and files taking up precious storage room on your handheld device.

cloud icon
Which cloud solution you choose depends on how much room you need, or if you need advanced features. There are so many options, it’s worth it to do some comparison shopping before picking one. You can search for recommendations, reviews, or lists of the best free and premium services. For example, I searched for ‘best cloud backup storage’ and found ‘The Best Cloud Storage Services for 2015’ from PC Magazine and ‘36 Online Backup Services Reviewed’ from about.com’s Tech page. One warning, though - it’s recommended that you do not save sensitive data to online storage, unless you encrypt the file first. (Some services offer encryption among their options as well.)

I hope this inspires you to make regular backups, if you don’t already, or gives you some ideas for more options try even if you do. Comment below if you know of some great services or software to recommend!

I've always felt I belonged to another era. As a child I would stay up late Friday nights to watch old serials. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates became my heroes. This led to scouring the local library for similar books. I discovered the pulps, with their fantastic cover art and stories of danger and adventure. As a scrawny and awkward kid I was often bullied at school, and books were my refuge, a place to which I could retreat and explore different worlds and times. Books, history, art, and my ideation of tough guy heroes led me into the very real world of tattooing. I've been a tattooist for nearly 25 years, and I am an expert in both the artistry and history of my craft.

As the father of four homeschooled children, books still play an active role in my life. As a family, we have traveled to Reichenbach Falls to visit Sherlock Holmes' place of death, to King's Cross Station where Harry Potter boarded the train, and followed the pioneer trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder. My family continues to plan trips based on our favorite characters, historical or fictional. 

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont

This book is a veritable who’s who of pulp fiction, early science fiction and horror. It’s such fun while reading to see cameo appearances of other authors and artists: Walter Gibson, Heinlein, Lovecraft and more become characters in the story.  This book has it all — daring heroes, heroines, military intrigue, cliff hangers, and even a Chinese warlord anti-hero. This book takes me back to a time that never was. (Best read on the floor with a crème soda.)

Falcons of France by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

This book follows a young airman’s journey though the war, from learning to fly, to fighting, and becoming a prisoner of war, to shortly after the armistice. While the book is fictional, the events described are true and are derived from the author's experiences. Hall himself had a career that reads like a pulp novel come to life. He fought in the trenches for the British in the early days of WWI, before joining the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of Americans flying for France. The 2006 movie Flyboys was based on this squadron. After fighting under three different flags he began a writing career with Charles Nordhoff, another American who flew for France. Together they wrote The Lafayette Flying Corps, then went on to write The Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. This book gives us a snapshot into the time and experience of young fliers in WWI as only they could tell it.

The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall

Some of Mav's art

This story about an English tattooist working in Coney Island takes place during tattooing’s pre-golden age of the 20s and 30s. A good story with a great tattooing backdrop to give you a glimpse into its history as a sideshow attraction.

The Tattooed Lady: A history, by Amelia Klem Osterud

A lovely book, profusely illustrated and well researched. This book tells the stories of some of the lesser-known female tattooed attractions, as well as the bigger names and chronicles the changing times in which they worked. I love that most of these tattooed ladies, some tattooers themselves, were able to rise above discrimination and objectification to empower themselves on their own terms. These tough and independent ladies really blazed trails and paved the way for future generations.

For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.

The first page of The Hound of the Baskervilles, from The Strand Magazine
Mmm... cereal. For the longest time I dreamed of opening a food cart which would serve nothing but different variations on breakfast cereal - and this was before food carts were such a très-Portland thing. But wait a second! I’m getting off track. This blog post isn’t about cereals, it’s about another 19th century innovation: serialized novels, stories told in installments.

Serials are big right now. Television epics like Game of Thrones or Mad Men are all serialized stories, with each episode leaving you hungry for the next. There’s the true-crime podcast titled simply (and rather unimaginatively, in my opinion) Serial. And if you want to get creative, even something like professional sports could be considered a serial: you follow the story of the Portland Trailblazers through regularly occurring games, newspaper columns, and blog posts, as the story of the season unfolds in all its promise and anticlimactic tragedy.

Serials used to be a big deal in written fiction, too. The dead white guy that everyone always talks about is Charles Dickens, but there were lots of other novelists whose works appeared monthly in literary magazines of the day: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wilkie Collins, and even Oregon’s own Abigail Scott Duniway, to name but a few. More recently, writers like Michael Chabon and Laura Lippman have released serialized stories in the New York Times Magazine.

If you want to really experience it 19th-century style, take a look at the Victorian Reading Project from Stanford University: you can download PDF scans of story installments from Dickens and Doyle exactly as they appeared in the magazines of the time. Try reading one installment every week, and see if you can resist the temptation to binge-read the entire story.

I’ve made a reading list of novels, both old and new, which started life as installments. I invite you to sit down, pour yourself a big bowl of serial, and dig in. One chapter at a time.

laptop
At your Multnomah County Libraries, you can find a wide array of free computer classes - from computer labs where you can get extra assistance to e-book and e-reader classes to office productivity skills, like spreadsheets and word processing.  Here are some other great options:

Three dozen Head Start preschoolers loudly proclaim in unison, “1-2-3, we are awesome!”

Markham Head Start self portraits

The refrain was a fitting recognition of the hard work of these young artists, who contributed Andy Warhol-style self portraits to an art show at Capitol Hill Library in Southwest Portland. On May 5 the children gathered with families, teachers and supporters to show off their colorful art.

“When I first saw these self portraits, I was blown away,” said Neighborhood House Executive Director Rick Nitti. “They create a reflection of self and an expression of self esteem. This partnership with the library is fantastic.”

Markham Head Start self portraits
The event was the brainchild of teachers at Neighborhood House’s Markham Head Start Classroom in partnership with Capitol Hill Library staff to engage children and families with the library as preparations for summer begin.

After proudly showcasing their work, the students joined Capitol Hill’s youth librarian, Natasha Forrester, for an interactive reading of Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh and sang a song about friendship with lyrics in English, Spanish, Somali and Swahili.

Each month, library staff (including Natasha or Suad Mohamed, a Somali-speaking library assistant) visit Markham Head Start classrooms to delight children with stories, songs and crafts. It’s part of Multnomah County Library’s mission to support and serve educators, children and families beyond the walls of the library. Many of the Head Start program’s students are Somali immigrants, and Capitol Hill Library is the first in Multnomah County to feature a Somali-speaking staff member. Suad leads the Somali Family Time program at Capitol Hill and she also selects books in Somali for Central, Midland and Rockwood libraries.

The partnership, one of many between the library and nonprofit agencies across Multnomah County, serves multiple purposes. It helps new immigrants become familiar with the services of the library in their native language and become comfortable in a setting that can help contribute to their success throughout their education and later in life.

“This is special,” said Head Start Program Director Nancy Perin. “It’s such a diverse, multicultural group and bringing them all together at the library, it’s special.”
The exhibition is expected to last through May 15.

Markham Head Start self portraits

Photograph of donation boxes, by Flickr user Joe Schueller.
Is simplifying and spring cleaning in full swing at your house? Have you accumulated quite a collection of unnecessary belongings that need to go? In my house the answer to both is, yes! Luckily there are many resources to help you find where to donate or recycle these items.

Oregon Metro is my go to site for information on where to donate, recycle, or as a last resort dispose of as garbage. They have a database where you enter what you want to get rid of and it finds places to either donate, recycle, or dispose of it. There is also information on where to bring hazardous wastes, neighborhood collection programs, and tips on reducing waste in the first place.

211 Info is a clearinghouse of resources. Simply put in your zip code and "donation" in the search bar and it brings up a list of organizations that accept items ranging from glasses to camping gear. If you like more of a list format this is the website for you.

If you have questions about recycling check out Earth911. They have a recycling guide as well as a search feature to find local places to recycle. 

What about that growing collection of old electronics? Free Geek accepts donations of computers, phones, and other electronics. If able to be reused your device will be refurbished and donated back to the community, how cool is that! If it can't be reused your device can be recycled through Oregon E-Cycles. If you aren't able to make it to Free Geek, Oregon E-Cycles has many other collection sites. 

If you aren't able to go to donation sites the good news is there organizations that can come to you. The Vietnam Veterans of America and The Arc of Multnomah-Clackamas both offer pick up services.

Finally here are my my personal favorites:

  • Have you noticed those green boxes popping up all around Portland? They are part of the Gaia Movement USA. They are an easy way to recycle your clothes and shoes. Use their map to find a drop off box nearest you. 
  • SCRAP accepts a wide range of art and office supplies. Just be careful not to leave with more than you donated!
  • The Rebuilding Center accepts building supplies and it's a fun place to wander around for hours. They also offer a pick up service.

What library blog would be complete without mentioning that the Friends of the Multnomah County Library can accept your book and DVD donations? If you have a small donation your local library will be happy to accept it.


Do you have questions about recycling, donating your unwanted posessions to local organizations, or anything else?  Librarians love questions, so please call, email, or text us -- or just ask the librarian on duty the next time you're at the library in person.  We'd be happy to help you get more information, or even just help you get your curiosity satisifed.


 

heading from an early page of the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths

Have you ever had trouble finding an obituary for a Portland ancestor who died around the turn of the last century?  You’re not alone!

In the 19th century and even in the early 20th, newspapers often put obituaries in with the regular news, making them hard to find.  This was also before it was common for Portland newspapers to include a "Daily city statistics" section listing the names of people who had died in the city recently.  So it’s no wonder that it can be a big challenge to find Portland obituaries from before about 1910.  

But I have good news for you: if your ancestor was a Portlander, and if they died within city limits 1881-1917, their death was probably recorded in the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths.

What is the Ledger Index?

The Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths is a long list of people who died in the city of Portland 1881-1917.  It’s quite a bit more robust than most modern death indexes -- in addition to the name and death date of each person included, it includes details like the address or name of the place where the person died, their cause of death, and (in some years) the name of the cemetery where they were buried.  This additional information makes the Ledger Index a pretty decent substitute for obituaries.  

Here’s what the Ledger Index actually looks like.  The library has a microfilmed copy, which is why it’s white text on a black background.

Finding your ancestor

The Ledger Index is arranged by date of death -- because of this, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Chronologic Index.”  If you know the date your ancestor died, simply go to that date and hopefully you’ll find them!

If you don’t know your ancestor’s date of death, try looking for their name in the Oregon State Archives’ Oregon Historical Records Index.  This index includes most records from the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths.  If your ancestor is listed, their date of death should lead you to the correct page of the Ledger Index.

Racial classification in the Ledger Index

There are some challenges to using the Ledger Index.  The information in the Index is a primary source, created a full century ago, and it is a government record reflecting the mainstream standards and ideas of its time.  There is no context or commentary to interpret the index for you -- you will have to provide your own analysis.  

One thing these records show us is the unexamined racism of the past.  The Ledger Index states the race of each person listed, often using terms that are decidedly not used in polite speech today: “Chinese,” “Colored,” “Half-Breed,” “Mulatto,” “White,” and possibly others.  Some of these terms appear on detail from January 1882 at left.  In later years, single-letter abbreviations are used.  There is no key showing what the abbreviations meant, but I’ve guessed that “C” stands for “colored” (meaning Black or African-American); “W” for “white;” and “Y” for “yellow” (meaning Asian or Asian-American).   

Causes of death in the Ledger Index

This detail from a January 1882 Ledger Index page shows some familiar-sounding causes of death: “still born,” "consumption," “scarlet fever.”  But read if you read through a few pages worth of deaths, you'll also find unexpected causes like “softening of spinal marrow.”  If you find your ancestor’s death has officially been recorded due to something that doesn’t sound like it would kill a person, be prepared to draw gentle, careful conclusions.  And remember, you may need to do some research to discover what a cause-of-death term meant in the past. 

Portland deaths only

Another thing to beware of when using the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths is that it only includes people who died within the city limits of Portland.  And the city was quite a bit smaller 100 years ago than it is now! 

Fortunately, the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability has a very helpful map showing historical annexations to the city of Portland (pdf), which you can look at to get a sense for where city limits were during your ancestor’s lifetime.  

Of course, people are mobile.  The Ledger Index lists people who died in Portland, not people who lived there.  Your ancestor who lived in Linnton or East Portland or St. Johns could well have died within Portland city limits, particularly if they died in an accident or in a hospital.

Using the Ledger Index, and getting help with it

You can consult the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths at Central Library.  Ask at any reference desk, and the librarian on duty will help you get the volumes you need.  To read it, you’ll need to use one of Central Library’s microfilm machines -- read more about that in my colleague Ross B.’s post Microfilm at the library.

But you don’t have to visit the library to tap the riches of this great resource --  librarians are always happy to help.  Just get in touch with us by phone or email via Ask the Librarian, and we’ll do our best to answer your questions or help you plan your research. 

In the meantime, happy researching!

 

Our guest reader is Steve Sheinkin, an award-winning nonfiction author and this year's speaker at our Teen Author Lecture.

I started out writing screenplays and comics, and then, because I wasn’t actually making any money, I got a job writing history textbooks. Now I’m trying to make amends for that particular crime by writing nonfiction books for teens that are actually fun to read. When I visit schools and describe my job, there’s usually one kid who raises his hand and says something like, “Oh, so you do homework for a living?” It’s not true, though I guess I do spend a lot of days just sitting at my desk, reading and taking notes. I happen to love it. I think of the research process as a sort of nerdy detective work.

In my free time, or while traveling, I love to read crime and detective novels. Everything from the original stuff, like James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and the short stories of Dashiell Hammett, to Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley books and Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Right now my absolute favorite is the incredible Martin Beck mystery series, a set of Swedish police procedurals written by a wife-and-husband team in the late 1960s and early 70s. I’m also tearing through Shigeru Mizuki’s History of Japan, a series of four 500-plus page graphic novels (last volume due in July) combining the artist’s own lifestory with that of the last 80 years of Japanese history. Not too ambitious, in other words.

In terms of movies, these days I mostly go with my kids, 8 and 5. When I get a chance to watch a movie that doesn’t have Spongebob (don’t get me wrong, he’s cool) I go for 1940s noirs, like Out of the Past.

Though I like comedies too, and actually just the other night my wife and I decided to show our kids one of my all-time favorites, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. My five year old declared the opening scene “boring,” and marched off to bed. Then he came back ten minutes later, just to see how things were going, and he watched Harpo rolling up his pant legs and jumping into the obnoxious vender’s vat of lemonade, and he laughed so hard he literally fell off the couch. So I consider that a success.

I won’t try to list styles or music or bands, it’s too hard, but I’ll tell you a story about one of my favorites, Elliott Smith. I know he had Portland connections, but he also used to live in Brooklyn, where I was born, and lived for years as an adult. Once, after a move to a new place, I started getting mail addressed to Elliott Smith. Couldn’t be that Elliott Smith, I figured; this was the late 1990s, so he was fairly well known. But it turned out it was him. He’d just moved out, the women on the top floor told me, and the crazy landlady downstairs, this fake-orange-haired troll who’d come out of her room to shout “You’re nothing but a couple of waiters!” to the aspiring filmmakers on the second floor, used to berate Elliott too, and eventually drove him out of the building. I’ve always wondered if she shows up in any of his songs. Wish I’d gotten the chance to ask.

For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.

After the dreadful Dark Ages and the morbid Middle Ages where death and ignorance reigned, something had to give.  All work and warfare made Giovanni a dull boy, and people were tired of being stuck at home on a flat world. A movement began in Italy to enhance people’s quality of life and up the cultural IQ in Europe. Art, literature and education flourished.  To find out more about this heady period in European history, read on!

For an overview of the Renaissance, check out this website.  You’ll learn about printing and thinking during the era; architecture, painting and music; exploration and trade plus movement out of the Middle Ages.

Florence was the most important city of the Renaissance.  Get up close and personal with Michelangelo’s David when you take the virtual tour of that city.  Here you can watch videos and read about all of the places important in Renaissance Florence.

In Italy during this time, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Medici family. This website, produced by PBS, is all about the specific contributions and historical legacy of the Medici dynasty during the extraordinary Renaissance period.  There is also general information about the Renaissance and links to books and websites about that era.

Check out the Boston’s Museum of Science’s Exploring Leonardo site for information on the amazing artist, scientist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci.  There’s an interactive map of Italy where you can find out where Leonardo did what, along with lots of other activities that will help you understand Leonardo and his world.

No Renaissance page would be complete without a tribute to one of the world’s greatest artists, Michelangelo.  For biographical information and photos of his work, see this site. Take a look at Artcyclopedia’s High Renaissance page for information about and links to collections of works by other artists of that period. 

Now go forth now and get some culture!

Some years ago I read Ross Poldark by Winston Graham.  I fell headlong into the story and quickly recommended the novel to my dad who shared it with a friend.  The three of us have varied reading tastes, but share a love of fine historical fiction and each of us read the entire series (12 books!). I’ve been rereading it, and it's just as wonderful as I remembered. Why? 

Let’s start with the fabulously good dialogue and concise description. Graham reveals character and relationships in deft strokes. Add a strong sense of place and accurate historical 

details which bring to life the social upheaval in Cornwall and England from 1783 - 1820's: the corn riots, smuggling, the vagaries of mining, the effects of industrialization and the Napoleonic wars. 

In the first novel Ross Poldark returns home after fighting in the American colonies to a world where nobody is much interested in or affected by the war he fought in. He’s been gone so long that everyone close to him thinks he died. What does he find? His father dead and buried, the house he inherited in a squalid state. I’m not even going to tell you what his sweetheart has done!

In 1975 the BBC adapted some of the early Poldark novels into a tv series which was wildly popular In June 2015 PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre will air a new BBC production starring Aidan Turner as PoldarkI plan to watch it with my dad, so we can compare the screen versions to the novels we love.

Come meet the dashing war veteran for yourself. 

"Poldark" trailer

Poldark: Trailer - BBC One


 

Mug shot of B. Traven a.k.a. Ret Marut (Otto Feige) after his arrest in London, 1923
When reading The Man Who Could Fly and other stories  by Rudolfo Anaya, a famous Chicano writer, I came across the name B. Traven. He was a German/American writer who inspired one of Anaya's stories entitled “B. Traven is Alive and Well in Cuernavaca.”  I couldn’t wait to know more about this intriguing character.  

B. Traven (1890-1969) is considered one of the most international literary mysteries of the twentieth century, because he refused personal data to publishers. Author of 12 fiction novels and several short stories, most of his books were originally written in German and were first published in Germany.  His real name, date place of birth and nationality are still begin questioned, which makes me think that he might be hiding his identity on purpose to gain more public attention or as a kind of strategic marketing maybe?

I became a bit obsessed with trying to know more about Traven. My quest began with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a book that was adapted to a film of the same name. The film won an Academy Award in 1948; another of his remarkable works is The Death Ship”: The story of an American Sailor  written in German and then translated into 12 languages including English. Both books led to him to international popularity.

It’s estimated that he used at least twenty seven aliases and many researchers are convinced that he is more than one person.

It’s amazing how books connect us with other important events and characters. I started by reading a Chicano writer and followed my curiousity to learn about B. Traven. Something else I found out going through this journey is that Macario, one of my favorite movies ever, was adapted from a short story by B. Traven --  or whoever the real person was. 

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

y no se lo tragó la tierra book jacket
What makes a literary work an American classic? Clearly, there is no one answer to this question. It is a matter of opinion. It is no wonder book publishers have debated this issue in the past, and that they will continue to discuss it in the future. The question, also, hangs over my head every time I read Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra: Is this fictional tale of Mexican American migrant farm working families an American classic? After all, this novella is an iconic piece of literary art in Chicano/a literature, and is a must read in Chicano/a literature courses in U.S. colleges. It was also the first recipient of the Premio Quinto Sol award.

Is it an American classic? Yes! It is. In spite of being written in Spanish,* …y no se lo tragó la tierra is a story of perseverance in the American tradition of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Like their fictional counterparts in The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, the characters in …y no se lo tragó la tierra have dreams and grit. The Mexican American migrant families’ determination to make their dreams real no matter the odds given - it is the 1950s and people of color are segregated in the workplace and society—is what makes their tale of perseverance an American classic.

The story takes place in two locations: a small town in rural South Texas, where the migrant families live on a permanent basis and the Midwest, where they toil in the fields of commercial growers. The hardships they confront in their annual migrations to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states in search of seasonal farm labor say more about their determination to better their lives than about the work itself. That is not to say that the seasonal farm work they do doesn’t influence their willingness to live their American dreams. On the contrary, the very work itself, with its low wages, no rights, no dignity, and no hope, drive migrant families to continue struggling for a better life.

Like two other American classics of the twentieth century, Native Son and Invisible Man, …y no se lo tragó la tierra illuminates an experience once ignored by mainstream Americans. It sheds light on a harsh reality that can no longer be overlooked.

*The library's copy is bilingual.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up...this was the first book I finished reading in 2015. I am a very organized and tidy person by nature and so am not the intended reader, but just the same, I love reading about organizing and simplifying. Also while browsing the pages I saw the words: storage experts are hoarders and I knew that Marie Kondo and I would be fast friends.
 
The presentation is nice, small little hardback edition, nice to hold, sparks joy. This is the main theme of the book—you should only keep those things in your life that spark joy when you touch them, look at them, use them, think of them.  Wouldn't that be lovely to only have the things in your life that spark joy? She believes you can.
As a reader of these sorts of texts, I didn't come away with any new information, but if you like a good prompting to tidy, this is the one. 
 

Often we need to contact government officials or agencies but knowing where to start can be daunting. Here is a quick list of useful contact numbers and websites to help you reach who you need in government:

Portland, Oregon City Hall with the Portland Building in the background
Local Government

Mutnomah County is, of course, more than just Portland. The following cities in the county have websites and general information phone numbers where you can connect to agencies and officials specific to those communities:

The League of Woman Voters of Portland provides a handy Directory of Elected Officials of local, state, and federal elected officials for the entire Multnomah County including local school districts.

 

State Government

There is no general information line for the state of Oregon. You can visit each agency’s website for their individual contact information or you can look in the state agency directory.

Looking for more information about Oregon government?  Try the Oregon Blue Book.   

 

President Obama addressing a joint session of Congress, 2009
Federal Government

USA.gov is the place to start online when looking for any information related to the federal government. Among other things, it includes links to find services, agencies and a telephone and email directory.

 In print you can take a look at the Federal staff directory for an extensive list of who’s who in the Federal government.

What about states other than Oregon? Caroll’s Publishing Company prints an excellent set of contact information guides for the Federal government as well as nationwide CountyMunicipal, and State governments. 

As always, Multnomah County Library staff is happy to help you find the information you’re looking for.  If you have any questions about this topic or anything else please let us know!

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