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My cousin Dick from St. Louis is working on a huge genealogy project, and it's amazing to learn more about the experiences of people from previous generations.

Those of us in current generations actually are pretty interesting, too -- perhaps more intriguing than we think.

Cousin Dick, my mom's first cousin, visited recently and asked all of us to do a biography to be included in the family history. He also asked Mom and others to help with others' bio info, such as her mother's.

Now, I'm sure Grandma Bauer would have said she could think of nothing interesting about herself. I beg to differ.

Way back when, she went to school and had a college degree, and for my grandparents' generation, that was unusual for a woman. She taught at a one-room schoolhouse, if I have my history right, then most of her life she was a farm wife ... and that's a tale full of tales in itself!

She cultivated the garden, raised chickens, canned food, baked lots and lots of pies, kept the men fed when they came in from farming for a hearty meal, sewed clothing for the family -- including we grandkids -- and quilted in her "spare time." She'd take eggs to town, for example, and "trade" for groceries, usually coming home with cash in addition to the foodstuffs she bought.

I love hearing the stories about life on the farm back then. I have treasured memories from when I was a kid of, for example, all the Christmas cookies laid out everywhere on the cool, enclosed porch at Grandma's. Her waffles were the best. She had a great laugh.

My mom did a great job with her bio. She was a nurse with a bachelor's degree back before that was commonplace, and after growing up on the farm and then marrying Dad, raised us four girls while also working at least part-time most of her life. She had experiences that I hadn't even heard about, or had forgotten -- you know, here in my old age.

The story of how my parents started dating is a cool one, and Mom included that, too. Good stuff.

But let's face it -- we all know I'm here to talk about me.

We discussed my sisters' bios and what they should write about, and Mom had a good suggestion for mine: I could relate how much newspapers have changed throughout my career.

Well, that's certainly been part of a tidal shift in society. And I've been in the trenches for it. Maybe I am interesting -- or at least, some of my experiences are. Hm.

In college at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, we worked on tiny computers that weren't much more than electric typewriters. Reporters wrote stories. Photographers took photos. Designers created advertisements.

It was all to go in the newspaper. The Internet wasn't around yet.

We learned how to "soup" film to develop negatives. Then we put them in machines to project the image onto photo paper, then we used trays of chemicals to develop the photograph.

At my first job, I was a reporter and also the primary photographer for the Lawrenceville Daily Record. We had something "fancy" there -- a machine that developed the print for you, so that you didn't have trays of different chemicals in which to get the image to show up on photo paper. I scrubbed the rollers on that machine a lot when it was putting out photos with "stripes" on them. It took a lot of maintenance.

No one had cellphones and no one but the media went to auto accidents to cover the tragedy. Police officers knew and trusted the local reporters and photographers. Many times, I could have walked right up and touched a vehicle involved in a fatal accident -- or the body still present inside it -- but I never took a photo of a body or anything gruesome like that. No one did.

At the Daily Record, our computers were monstrosities that could barely have been lifted by one person. They, still, were glorified electric typewriters, as we'd type our stories up and then print them out in single column form. Those columns were then run through a machine that waxed the back, and cut-and-paste teams cut out the columns and pasted them and photos onto newspaper-page size paper with grids on them.

The end result was like a puzzle but came out looking like a newspaper page, ready to read. That cut-and-paste page went to the "plate room," like a darkroom, where a negative of it was made and developed, then the huge page-size negative was "burned" onto a metal plate, which was placed on the press and ready to go.

As time went on, computers became more integral to our work. Most of the above steps have disappeared. We place all our work -- digital photos, no negatives -- into computers, and page design and advertisements also are all done via computer. Much of it is online, so what I can access from here in Mattoon, designers from anywhere in the world could access.

We don't have a press in our building, but as far as I know, pages are sent by computer to negative now, then burned to plates, then put on the press, and away it goes.

There's no film. Photographers have memory cards and laptops. I don't have to take six rolls of (black and white) photos and hope that I got a few good images of a huge house fire in which a man was killed (New Year's Eve, about 1993). Anyone can see the photo as soon as they take it -- if they even use a camera; most average people don't have cameras but rely on cellphone photos, and why not? -- and delete it if it's out of focus or otherwise no good.

Reporters still use notebooks, putting ink to paper, but they often talk to sources via phone and type their notes right into the computer system. We do less shouting across the room -- "Is that story ready yet?" -- and more emailing to tell an editor that a story is ready, and what the name ("slug") of it is, so the editor can go into the computer system and read it.

And reporters don't just do stories. They do photography, sure, but they also do Facebook Live videos, attach other "assets" to stories to go online, so that people can read one story and also click to read a related story on the same topic. They fill out "keywords" for internet search engines to pick up.

Thinking about it all kind of makes my head spin.

I guess my life's been more interesting than I originally thought. From work to home -- yes, I had a transistor radio -- and from technology to life's basics -- anyone out there ever use an outhouse? -- things have changed a lot in 48 years.

Your cousin may not be working on a genealogy project, but consider writing your own story. I bet you find some tales that need to be told. I bet your kids or grandkids -- and future generations -- enjoy reading about your life.

See? You might be more interesting than you think, too.

I just bet you are.

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Penny Weaver is the general manager and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.


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