24 December 2012

Christmas Stockings: A Reprise

"A story always begins in the middle." So says Michael York at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2010 Christmas concert. His beginning statement in the narration of a touching story of the Welch immigrant who began the first "Tabernacle Choir" caught my attention. How true! There is always something before that influences our stories. For instance, we all have parents and grandparents and so on and so on. Their stories become our own. It's impossible to truly find the beginning.

So I will begin my story of the Christmas stockings somewhere in the middle: the year I learned to knit a stocking--a Christmas stocking. I had my mother's pattern, and after several tries, I managed to produce one. The desire to knit a Christmas stocking came to me from my childhood. My mother knitted red and white rug yarn stockings for all of us. We were 10. They hung on the 3 sides of our fireplace that jutted out from the divider between our living room and kitchen (a unique design of our dad's). As we married and left home, my mother kept knitting. Every December there were new stockings--first for the in-laws and then for the new grandbabies that came along next. But our mother finished knitting before we finished marrying and producing grandchildren.

However, before our mother knitted the Christmas stockings, our grandmother knitted us stockings as a Christmas present. They shrunk when we washed them in the washer, but we still marveled that she could actually make such an item. I asked Grandma about it when I interviewed her for her history. "Oh yes," she said, "We knitted all our stockings when I was a girl. It didn't take that long."

How long? In her mother's history, my great-grandmother, it is said that she could start and finish one stocking in an evening. These were the long black knee socks all the girls wore at the time. So I thought I would try my hand at knitting Christmas stockings. After all, I keep having new grandchildren too. I made several one year. The next year I had forgotten how and had to make my previous mistakes all over again.

One year, my sister gave me her pattern for knitting stockings. She does the real thing for her grandchildren too. And advises that they be hand-washed to prevent shrinkage. After several false starts (one turned out so big I used it to wrap a big package), I knitted several that year. Fast forward a couple of years and what? More to knit and I forgot how again. The story continues, but this is the middle after all.

22 December 2012

Angels Among Us

On January 1st my granddaughter Addie will have her birthday. Her mother, my daughter Rachel, was killed in a car accident 7 years ago. I just celebrated Rachel's birthday this month. Celebrated without her. Most of us who have lost loved ones have trouble getting through the holidays without sadness tempering the joy we may also feel. My thoughts turn to Rachel and to her two daughters often during this time. When Rachel's husband re-married we lost those two dear little granddaughters as well as their mother. The new mother did not want us in their lives.

I think of Addie, who will soon turn 11, and I wonder if she remembers her mother or her mother's family, all of whom adored her. How could she know how loved she is by people she no longer knows? Little Elizabeth, her younger sister, remembers nothing of us, I'm sure. But I remember them. I pray for them and I think about their lives and I hope they are happy and healthy and that their family is all they could need or want. Addie and Elizabeth also have uncles, aunts and cousins who feel the same way about them.

I know their mother Rachel still loves and remembers her girls too. So must my mother, long deceased. And my grandmother, who kept meticulous track of all her descendants and their birthdays. I do not doubt that Grandma still remembers each of our birthdays, including Addie's in just a few days now. Rachel named Addie for a great-grandmother, my husband's mother, who is also now in heaven. How could that grandma have forgotten or quit being interested in her little namesake?

Yet we are all strangers to Addie and Elizabeth right now. Some of us are here and some gone beyond, but we remember and still love those dear ones. It's not much of a stretch for my imagination to believe there are many grandmas and grandpas that I neither know nor remember, who despite my inadequate knowledge, know and care about me. I want to know more about these people. I am curious and even more than curious, interested, and even more, I care about those ancestors of mine. I wonder about my great and many-times-great uncles, aunts and cousins.  I imagine them also interested in me and in my life events, just out of sight, yet concerned for my welfare, my well-being.

This is the season of angels. We sing about them and read of the part they played in the Christmas story so long ago. This year we also have heard about angel teachers, school administrators and first-responders. We mourn those young angels added to the heavenly choirs from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Like Mary, I am pondering these things in my heart. But one thing I know. There is more to life than what we see and hear with mortal eyes and ears. There is more than I know or understand. I know that because I have a granddaughter named Addie who will soon be 11. She will celebrate her birthday with her mother and father and little sister and never think of me at all. But I will think about her. And so will angels that I know and many that I don't know. Yet.

30 November 2012

The ABCs of Family History Writing

My niece Jeni had a great idea. She loves ancestral stories. She loves her children. She’s a pretty good scrapbooker. “What if I made an ABC book about our ancestors?” she asked me. I thought it was a great idea and I said so. Then time passed and we did other things, but Jeni was working at her idea whenever she had time.

Last month she sent me the pages she had prepared for her Ancestor ABCs book. It is fantastic! She made each page the standard 12x12 and gave everyone in the family the choice of how they wanted to use it. With the help of my sister, a production editor, I put it into an InDesign book and made a pdf for printing. I chose a 12x12 hard cover version for my children and a soft cover 9x9 version for my grandchildren. I just received the soft cover books yesterday from the press. They were only $11.50 to print each one (we ordered together to get over 30 orders). And they are beautiful.

You don’t have to be just learning your ABCs to appreciate this book. The colors and designs are bright and beautiful, the photos are meaningful and the short “story” included about each ancestor that is featured leads the reader to want more. Jeni included a photo pedigree in the back and the website addresses so more can be had.

What a great Christmas gift!! Thanks Jeni.

06 October 2012

Finding the Story in Family History

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in a peculiar position when it comes to family history. “Mormons” believe that it is vital to not only know but to love their ancestors. They speak in scriptural terms, quoting the Old Testament—“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

And repeated to Joseph Smith: “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (JS-Hist1:39).

“Smite the earth with a curse”? “Utterly wasted”? This is serious business. As Latter-day Saints, we believe that it is our duty to help our ancestors have the same blessings we have. “They are waiting for us to find them,” we have been told. Latter-day Saint focus on families is so strong that our belief is that we are saved with our families in a long unbroken chain of covenants and promises between us and God—beginning with the prophet Abraham and continuing to our day. It is the redemption provided lovingly by our Savior Jesus Christ. We want to follow His example in dealing with our family members.

LDS Salt Lake Temple
Photo by Lindy Mathews Johnson
So how does this work? Those promises are made in temples and the Latter-day Saints are certainly a temple-building people. Just last month another temple was dedicated in Brigham City and more are on the way all over the world. And are members of the Church finding their forefathers and mothers and taking their names to the temple? Not so much. Under 3 percent in fact. The Church has redoubled their efforts to make the process easy, spending millions of dollars on record preservation and websites that put those names in one of the finest genealogy libraries in the United States, in family history centers all over the world, and on the internet with the capability of reaching inside every home. Training staff for these facilities is state of the art. Yet in family history centers outside Utah, more non-members avail themselves of the opportunities available than do members.

What is yet needed as motivation? Guilt obviously does not work. Talking about the resources has not yielded much. There are a few enthused and excited genealogists, but the vast majority of Church members love their ancestors generally, but have a hard time with the specifics. Even the lay leaders are too busy with helping the living members of their wards to worry about dead ancestors. The dead have been waiting awhile and they aren’t going anywhere soon. Many members of the Church are ardent temple-goers, but most settle for whatever names are provided for them through extraction of old records through Church headquarters.

So we come to the concept of STORY. Family story. We are back to “turning hearts.” How can we love someone we do not know? It is vital to know more than names and dates about a person to truly love them. And often we do not care enough about a person we do not love enough to give up our comfortable seat in front of the TV or even our busy nurturing of those we do know and love.

The Church is moving in the direction of tapping living memory of family to then extract the vital information needed for the family tree making. We need our members to be more than just clerks, said a FamilySearch speaker. A recent effort in India turned hearts to former generations. Their stories turned into a desire to take their beloved ancestors to receive temple blessings. African Saints who believed that it was necessary to provide family names to return to the temple searched out oral history and without the computer access we enjoy, traveled many hours to take the people in those family stories to obtain the blessings found in the temple.

So what do I know about my family members, not just living, but now “dead”? Who are they? What was their life like? What were their hopes and dreams? Can I relate? Do I love them? Will I sacrifice my time and energy in their behalf? Given this perspective the answer is YES. My heart is turned to my children and to my grandchildren and when I know my ancestors, my heart is turned to my family going in the other direction too.

This weekend is the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Listen for specific reference to this topic—the topic of heart-turning. The concept of story. I’ll be listening too.

30 September 2012

Storied: Capture and Share Family Stories

The ways and means of sharing family stories are countless. I was recently contacted by Anina whose son Eli is involved in developing an app for iPads and maybe other media to help people tell family stories. Eli and his partner Rylan are in the process of gathering funds to launch their app. They were inspired by Eli's father-in-law, Don, who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

I agree that story-telling is such a nurturing thing to share with one another and I have my own Alzheimer's story. A dear family member also suffers from this disease. I helped him produce a personal history and his book has meant the world to him. What a wonderful gift a family or personal history can be! I wish Eli and Rylan the best.

For further information, click here. Even a small donation will make a difference. And then use the app or develop your own means of telling family stories.

16 September 2012

The Power in Stories

Ann Romney wowed the Republican national convention when she told the story of her marriage to the Republican presidential candidate. MichelleObama stood up in like manner at the Democratic convention and told similar stories about the first years in her marriage to the president. More and more, politicians are frankly admitting that they are using the stories of Americans to tell thestory of America. They argue over which side these stories illustrate, but no one denies the power inherent in telling a story.

A few years ago, Ira Glass “You Tubed” an interesting 5½ minutes about story telling. He teaches us that a good storyteller has both an interesting story and an important piece of reflection concerning it. In writing family history we need to interweave these two components into our stories and make sure that they are both strong and hard-hitting. Our research brings us many anecdotes to choose from and thinking about those anecdotes while looking thoughtfully at a person’s life will bring us some insightful moments of reflection to share.

Storytelling, done well, is powerful and productive. Look at scriptural accounts. These stories and their forthcoming lessons have inspired millions. “It came to pass” soon leads to “thus we see.” In our storytelling it’s important to let the story do the telling. Too much sermonizing or moralizing will cause the reader to roll his or her eyes just as surely as a pointless anecdote. If we can write clearly enough, the point will be taken simply from the actions or inactions of the characters involved and the consequences that follow. 

10 September 2012

Current Family History

Is there such a thing as "current history"? I think there is. With nightfall, each day passes into history, History does not have to be in the distant past. In fact, when it comes to remembering and writing and having the resources to record history, sooner is better.

That's why, as my family "family history writer," I was excited to find a newspaper article that mentioned some activities of my nephew Bert. Bert is serving an LDS mission in Louisiana and if you have been keeping up with the news last month, you know that parts of that state were badly damaged by the Hurricane named Isaac. The news article I read spoke of Bert's evacuation during the 80 mph winds and then his subsequent return to water-soaked LaPlace.

Frank Johnson 1904
Newspapers are a time-honored family history source for stories as well as genealogical facts. As we know, often a news article can give specific "word pictures" that catch the imagination and put the reader "on the spot." There is a very sad picture in my mind of my great-great uncle throwing burning kerosene out his door just as my great-great aunt and her little son came up the walk. When I came across an old baby photo labeled "Olive's baby Frank," it wasn't just a miscellaneous baby picture. I had to stop and look into those little eyes and picture his accidental death by fire once again. That brain video came from an old news article that has never left my heart. Though everyone involved has been dead many years, I still have some heartache over the sad situation.

In the same way, the story of Bert and his companion wading through knee to waist deep water to help out residents of the town sticks with me too. Bert is quoted as feeling humbled by seeing the people's courage. I feel humbled too, by Bert's service. I took the opportunity to distribute his story to family members. I think maybe his courage and willing heart in the face of natural disaster will help me and others to face our own "disasters" with courage rather than "dis-courage" and with hearts that are turned to each other and to God.

05 August 2012

Writing Up Your Family History: A Do It Yourself Guide

John Titford was the keynote speaker on Tuesday for the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His presentation on “A History of British Accents and Dialects” was delightful and entertaining. Naturally I hastened over to my next class to hear what he had to say about “writing up” my family history. Following are some ideas I gleaned from his presentation.

John Titford's book
Titford’s instruction is clear and I agree completely. If you are capable of writing a narrative family history, then do it! Family history comes in a relatively dead form—names and dates on a paper or even a parish register—and the much livelier version. This version was alive at the time the person was alive and by writing the story of that person, we can again infuse our ancestor with spiritual life. Collecting data is only a start. It is definitely more rewarding as we analyze and synthesize our data and make it into a story that helps the person live and breathe once more.

As if that were not enough, this type of research can also inform our gathering of data. As we trace a life, we realize there are things we don’t know, in fact, things “we didn’t know we didn’t know” until we started imagining a life.

Titford gave us answers to our excuses:
I don’t have time. Take a break from research or whatever else is so important. This is important too.
My research isn’t finished. That’s true enough, since our research is never finished. But we write for this moment, this point in time. Just as in a court trial, new evidence will emerge.
I can’t do a good enough job. That’s perfectionism talking—Don’t listen. If I’m not so good at writing now, I’ll learn as I go.
My software crashed. Time to get it fixed.
My family’s story is ordinary. That’s good, we’ll relate to it. The truth is that every story deserves to be told.

How about telling yours?

07 June 2012

Stories from Original Records--Try the 1940 census

Rose Carolyn Higgins - Boulder City
I love indexing because I see stories on every page. In the 1940 census I saw the Japanese Americans living in California and thought about what was coming for them. I found my dad farming with his family outside of Las Vegas. I have never thought of him as a farmer, but his dad was listed that way and Dad was helping him on their own acreage.  I noticed some very interesting names in Texas and Arizona, and I found my mother-in-law as a teenager living with her stepfather and mother in Boulder City, Nevada. When I see her name, the photos of her at that age flood my mind. What stories do you know about people in the 1940 census? 

The Story Chain Map (see link) takes advantage of the fact that we know the people in the 1940 census. They are inviting us to submit photos, stories or links to videos or Facebook. An example of what to post is "what it was like where they were living" or "where they were during major events in the late 1930s or early 1940s (like Pearl Harbor). Then family and friends can start a story chain with anyone who would like to join in the conversation. FamilySearch is inviting us to publish them on this website. Check it out and add your own. 

05 June 2012

The Record Keeper

My sister Beth Breinholt made a presentation in a class she was taking and later wrote it into a podcast (here). I love her ideas. Not only that, but she quotes me in it. I asked her if I could use her material as a guest post. It's a little longer than usual, but well worth reading. Thanks Beth.

Beth's words: Today I am talking to you about preserving family records.  I love my family.  I grew up in a large family—I have nine brothers and sisters. Then I got married and raised my family of children. I love this family too, and it’s still growing—and now I have grandchildren, and I love them too.

I have found when I love someone, I’m always looking for things to give them. Like my time, or my energy, or other gifts. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received is the stories of my family—my ancestors.  My parents and others shared these gifts with me, and because of that, I know my ancestors, and I love them too, which, is not surprising, because I love family.

Something I’ve noticed about families is that there is always at least one person who becomes “the record keeper”—this is the “go to guy” if you want some information about the family. 

Hazel Johnson Christensen
One of the record keepers in my family—Hazel Johnson Christensen—is my grandmother.  She would call me in the hospital when I was having a baby to get the information about this new descendant of hers. Another family record keeper was Anna Christensen Whitney, my mother.  She taught me some of the basics of genealogy.

If you think for a minute, I bet you could identify the record keeper in your family. I didn’t really know if I was a family record keeper, but then I had an experience. Remember my desire to give things to the ones I love? Well, I’ve already mentioned that I know some cool family stories about my ancestors, and I really wanted to share them with my children, but I couldn’t remember some of the details, and I kept getting their names all mixed up in my head.  But I knew where to get this information.

Unfortunately at this time, my mom and grandma had already passed on, so I couldn’t talk to them, but I knew who had the stuff—my oldest sister, Joy.  I called her and yes, she had the stuff.  I said, “Hey I have this cool idea—what if we make these books, awesome genealogy books, which have all the pictures and stories and everything we know about our ancestors all together in one place?”
It was quiet on the other end of the phone for a sec, and then Joy said, “Sounds great. It is okay if it takes longer than a day?”  You see, I was known in my family of origin for my enthusiasm and speed, not so much endurance.  I said, “Sure!”  And so Phase One of the project began. 

I went to my sister’s house once a week, and we combed through boxes and boxes of material in folders and binders, sorting and organizing.  This time of excitement for me was also the time of a great revolution across the world--home computers!

Phase Two of our grand plan was to move the information we had on paper to the computer, for better organization and sharing. And that’s what I began to do, transfer the genealogy of my family from the long and handwritten old style family group to the new style.  I used DOS as my operating system and printed some things out with a dot-matrix computer, and it was cutting edge! We began word processing everything, including the hand written family histories, journals, letters.  This hefty project we undertook became a huge learning process.

One day, I switched on the computer to begin more data entry, and discovered that the information I have previously worked on was gone! Somehow the program had crashed, and I lot several months’ worth of work. That lesson was about back-ups.  Always back up your files. In many different ways!
As I started at the beginning again, I got a second chance to know these people.  As I reentered their names and information on the computer, there were a couple of names that kept coming back to me:
Thirza Angelina Hale Nay and Lucy Thankful Pine Nay.  Who were these women and what were there stories? I finally just had to know, and I took a break from the data entry and started a little bit of looking. As I studied more closely, I discovered they were married to the same man! Sister wives? Or were they?
On the family group sheet, there was a blank where the death date for Thirza should have been, but the place where she died was filled out.  Easy fix.  I would call the city office in Monroe, Sevier County, Utah and get that information.  Well, they didn’t know. Fine. I would take a drive down and read the headstone myself. John Nay and Lucy Thankful were there but no Thirza. I was perplexed, yet intrigued. I enrolled others in this quest. I started branching out and contacting second and third cousins. I asked them what they had on their family group sheets. One person told me Thirza died before 1860. That’s the year John Nay married Lucy Thankful. It was a logical explanation. Another said Thirza left her family and ran off with a soldier.

We found out a few more stories about her but nothing could be substantiated; however we did make some great new family friends during the process, swapped a lot of information, and many were interested in the plan we had to culminate this family information into a book.

Well, something about Thirza wouldn’t leave me alone.

It just rubbed me the wrong way to see that blank spot in the family group sheet with no death date. One of the strategies we can use in research is to look at other families for clues about the one in question. 
Thirza had a family before she disappeared, and her youngest son, Ormus Bates Nay, is my 2nd great grandpa. We discovered that he was a colorful character—in fact, he was a train robber, and spent 7 years in the Nevada state penitentiary!  Incredibly, this information eventually helped us.

One day, my sister got a phone call from one of our second cousins, Allen Nay. Talk about colorful characters—he was a minister at the time for a motorcycle group called Soldiers of the Cross.  He told us he had found an old pony express Bible for sale on EBay, and he thought we would be really interested in the inscription.

Ormus Bates Nay Bible
It said, “Circle Valley, March 26 1887. Present from your darling mother, Thirza Angelina Marley, to her son, Ormus B. Nay.”  We WERE interested!!  1887 was one of the years during the time that Ormus spent in prison, and apparently his mother lovingly sent him a Bible hoping to help him reform. We finally had the evidence that she did not die before 1860, but was alive and well many years after that time.

There’s more to the story, and if you ever want to read it, you can—it’s in the book (The Nay Family in Utah and the West)! We finally finished our first big project and shared it with many of our family members throughout the United States In fact this book is online in a readable format on one of our family web sites.

So yes, I am a family record keeper. I am one of the ones who get to help preserve our family records. It’s one of the gifts I give to show my family how much I love them.  How about you? Are you a record keeper?

22 May 2012

Sweetening the Stories

The old way of writing family history stories was to publish gigantic volumes detailing the lives of many ancestors. Illustrations were gathered together at the end or in the center of the book to facilitate affordable printing. We had one chance to publish our expensive book and we tried to guess how many to order. The more we printed, the lower the price would be, but we didn't want to get stuck with too many books that we couldn't sell. A few genealogy lovers would pore over the book. As our children grew older we hoped they would someday pick up the volume and do their duty—read it and hopefully enjoy knowing what we had spent our lifetimes discovering.
“The Mythic Tree” by Edward S. Curtis,
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-96192

Times have changed. Our children and grandchildren now expect a generous helping of media in hearing a story. Books can easily be published on our own computer and printing is not a problem either. We can “print-on-demand,” so whoever wants a book simply pays for that book and receives their personal copy.

So where does that leave us old-school storytellers? It's time to update. Our family history committee has published several fat volumes of family history stories over the years that daunt young people and even oldsters who have discovered the easy-does-it world of NetFlix, Angry Birds and YouTube. The practice of reading heavy books that overwhelm us with too much information has gone out of style. We still want to know things, but give us bytes and bits, not extensive biography.

I've learned to think of our family history books as family encyclopedias, plentifully illustrated and nicely arranged by family. I no longer have an expectation that they will be picked up and read by the average family member as story. But they form the basis for telling stories the new way. We can extract pieces of these books in ways that appeal to a wider audience. Our extended family has spent a year developing story podcasts to share some of their favorite ideas with other family members. This includes the family history committee, and glory be, interested young people of the second generation. And we are just getting started and learning to use this type of media. Ideas are blossoming for other projects. We have produced plays for reunions and we are working on short story books and Facebook pages.

Check out some of the work we have done. Here are three by some talented twenty and thirty-something young women: Christmas Is..., Buffalo Story, and Mother Love. Here are some others, labored over long or put together in a hurry, but all garnering more looks than the original books have: Hazel, A Life Well-Lived, Anne's Voice is Heard, Devoted to You, and our first effort about our dad, Bert at the Talc Mine.

What did we say in the olden days?  “If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed.”

29 March 2012

Memories of My Dear Cousin Babe

Ora Viola Benson--My Cousin Babe
Every so often I meet someone with whom I immediately bond, heart to heart. One such person in my life is my cousin, Babe (Ora Viola Nay Benson). She’s not a close cousin. In fact I didn’t even know of her existence until she was 84 years old, living in a nursing home and unable to speak because of cancer surgery on her throat. I was only able to visit her one time, since she lived over 850 miles away from my home, but she was definitely my family. We are both Nays, and the Nays love family.

The way we met is a story. This month marks the 3rd year anniversary of her death and I’ve been thinking about her. My sister, my cousin Joan, and I had just finished a book about the Nay family. It was a herculean task, but we had help from our other cousins on the “book committee” and from God. Now our names were “out there.” The internet wasn’t nearly as big back then, Google+ wasn’t yet thought of, nor was FaceBook. But back in those days we did have ebay. As I mentioned, Babe was in a nursing home and her only son, Larry Lee, was not well. He was increasingly worried about paying for Babe’s care, especially should something happen to him. Larry was a veteran and he had a computer. He knew a little bit about ebay and reluctantly, he decided to put the family’s Bible up for sale there.
Family Bible given to Ormus B Nay by his mother Thirza

This Bible was not the kind of Bible with scores of names, dates and places in it. It wasn’t even very valuable. But Larry hoped to make a little extra money for Babe. Another Nay cousin, Allen Nay,  busy writing a book from his vantage point as a motorcycle preacher, saw the ebay listing. He contacted my sister and the rest is history. Family history.

You see the only names in the Bible are the names of Thirza Angelina Marly and her son, Ormus B. Nay. Ormus B is Babe’s grandpa and my great-great grandpa. What a treasure! On so many levels. The date revealed even more—March 26, 1887. Ormus B was serving time in the Nevada State Penitentiary at that time. And Thirza was reportedly dead! Now we knew that, just as we thought, she was not dead in 1887, and the Bible proved it.

Ora Viola Nay Benson was a writer, an observer of people and a person who loved people. Our visit with her is one of my most memorable experiences and I treasure the letters she wrote to me before and after our visit. I’m re-reading those letters this month and I’m missing Babe. RIP dear cousin or as she and Larry would say, Mizpah.

06 March 2012

Interesting Links

Taking a leaf from the weekly Dan Curtis round-up of links, I thought I would pass along a few this week that I've found interesting and helpful. Feel free to add to the list.

1              Preserving Love Stories
A little late for Valentine's Day, but always appropriate, here are some prompts for extracting stories from your lovd ones. http://www.genetree.com/newsletters/13

2              Before the Archive: Trash or Treasure
I so relate to Suzanne's dilemma--how to sort the inherited archive we receive. We can't say no, but can we afford to say yes? One hint I hang onto is to keep a particular archive together and rough sort first. Later you may fine tune, but get the general sorting all done before tackling the specific files.

3              Save Every Step
"SaveEveryStep is about the passion for family nostalgia. We are relentless in our mission to encourage the world to preserve their personal memories for future generations." Save every step is an ongoing story site. See what Helen Spencer says about her own memoirs and then you may accept her invitation to write your own.

4              Get Your Book Written in Little Chunks
Another invitation this time from a powerful mentor, Nina Amir, to use the "power of the little bit" to complete a memoir or a history in small pieces. Divide and conquer!

5              Barry's Forgotten Recipes
Free collection of recipes to spice up your family history writing. Barry Ewell has many resources available on his blog. "Barry’s Forgotten Recipes is about sharing cookbooks and recipes of our ancestors. From generation to generation, family and friends came together for the main meal of the day and for conversation. Renew the powerful memories of smell, taste, and sharing food. Remember the traditions that linked generations."

03 March 2012


Ah, an easier way to “scrapbook.” I love and admire the scrapbooks my nieces and others are putting together, both digital and in paper form. However, I have 9 children and 25 grandchildren and I’m just not motivated enough to create family history in this way. I’ve started plenty of projects, but as I tell my daughters, tongue-in-cheek, “I’m nothing if not inconsistent.”

Thus, when I recently attended a class entitled “Smashbooking,” I was intrigued. The instructor was apologetic over how easy her method was. “I just carry stapler, some glue and a pair of scissors with me and stick stuff in this cheap notebook I bought at the first of the school year sale,” she said. “I like to doodle, so I put little drawings in here too. That’s it.”

An example that I did on our trip.
That’s it? This technique reminds me of my daughter’s version of journaling. She is an artist, so she occasionally puts gum wrappers and other found objects in her sketch book and draws little cartoon type people around them. My daughter is a smashbooker. And I saw the possibility of me being one too. I had long kept ticket stubs and programs along with various other miscellanea in my journal file. I have boxes of what I call keepsake items. Not valuable, but things that bring back memories. After you get to be my age, though, those boxes and files multiply and never organize themselves. They haven’t yet turned into the nice orderly row of journals on my shelf. Instead I have rows of miscellaneous notebooks and journals, most of them not quite filled. (See disclaimer above regarding inconsistency.)

So I started a smashbook. My husband and I took a trip to Texas. I kept the smashbook for several days. Then I reverted to my old methods of sticking stuff between the pages of the notebook and waiting for another day to glue, staple and label. I’m waiting for me to print out some photos, I tell myself. Well, I’m still not consistent, but my plan is improving!

05 February 2012

Indexing the 1940 census

I'm signed up; are you? On April 2, the 1940 census will be released, but it won't be indexed yet. A census provides an interesting snapshot of a particular family at a particular time. We have all enjoyed the peeks afforded us by previous censuses. Now, another decade has passed and the 1940 census is here. We will be able to access our family directly if we know exactly where they were living. However, when this census is indexed, we will be able to search by name to see that little "photo" the census taker provided.

Several companies and many people are working together to accomplish this quickly. Most of the work will be done by volunteers. I'm ready now. I've signed up. I'm practicing so I know the program. Let's work together on this. Sign up now at http://the1940census.com/.  By the way, my mother and father are in it.

02 February 2012

Collaboration: getting better and better

Jay Verkler gave the keynote address today--2 February 2012 at RootsTech. What a vision he presented, taking all the pieces of the internet genealogical experience and showing past, present and future. Two Google representatives (Robert Gardner & Dave Barney) a Chrome extension that shows historical-data.org. This extension makes genealogical data more searchable on the web. My understanding is that the exciting developments they showed us were directly as a result of last year's RootsTech. Wow!

Next, Jay invited brightsolid and archives.com people up to show how world-wide collaborating and sharing can take place. Very impressive! Even "Emma," a future child from 2060, was able to increase her collaborative knowledge. 

The exhibition hall is overwhelming--so many wonderful products and ideas to share and learn about. I scratched the surface and went with my sister to donate a digital book scan to  FamilySearch.  Now I'm learning about WikiTree--another free collaborative venture. Is this a great time to be alive and doing family history or what?

On a personal note--wish my phone was smart and that I was smarter too.  This little netbook is kind of slow and really inadequate for my needs. Maybe next year. PS I got my beads and name badge extension from Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers.


In today’s world, to publish family history or share what I know about my family, I have to use technology. The world-wide conference that begins today and continues over Friday and Saturday addresses the need we have as genealogists to be computer literate. Not only literate, but efficient in using the technology we are gifted with to share family history.

I have the opportunity to attend RootsTech in person, but anyone with an internet connection has at least some of the conference available to them. I have blogged before about the importance of educating ourselves as we write and publish. Blogs, webinars, Google+, websites and on-line classes abound. See the RootsTech site to sign on and see what’s going on in live streaming today.

I hope to share something of what I am learning about writing my family history with you this weekend and in subsequent days. We are a world community of historians. Historians with a particular interest on personal and family history, the everyday happenings of life that make it meaningful on a personal level. Small and simple, yet world-wide—that is the gift of modern technology. See you at RootsTech!

21 January 2012

“Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream” (Jacob 7:26)

Rootstech in 2 weeks! I should be dreaming about that. I am so looking forward to those 3 days of fun and learning. Second thought: I am dreaming about what personal and family history mean to me, sorting out in preparation to learning more. Let me explain. I spent last night combing through a huge pile of “stuff” in my uncle’s pick-up truck. No, not real stuff, not a real truck, not even a live uncle. In the dream I was sorting the accumulated detritus, the debris of a lifetime, not my lifetime, but that of my father's family.

It was a crazy quilt of things from my dad, used lighting fixtures and drapery rods, old posters, notes and illustrations from long-ago lessons given and forgotten. But no, not forgotten, because here they were in the back of the truck. In the stacks of well-used items there were also treasures, sparking memories of the past, things that my cousin said she would like. There were items left over from my grandparents’ life. As I sorted frantically - my uncle was waiting for me to finish - scenes of the past flashed through my mind and heart.

My sons (or variously, my brothers) helped me move mattresses and bed frames to another pile of “things we might want.” The family reunion we seemed to be attending was almost over and my uncle was ready to go home and join his wife. (In real life, this particular aunt has just died and “gone home to join her husband.” Ah, dreams.)

My son, who was valiantly helping me, hurt his hands in the process of moving the large items, but continued the work. My brother, on the other hand, declared himself finished with this madness and left to go to bed. My cousin who was there grew bored and reminded me that her dad needed to leave. I felt the pressures of my helpers’ pain (waiting, getting hurt, getting fed up) but I couldn’t stop. I continued to walk down memory lane, walking, not even able to run, but carefully examining each item. Why? Although we occasionally discovered some valuables (jewels, if you will), what I was getting out of this process were not the bits and pieces I was looking through, but knowledge and insight about my own life.

If you have sorted through the lives of family members or even your own life in the process of writing or preparing to write family history, you understand this dream. If not, grab a helper or two and tackle a pile of stuff, either real or imagined, and learn what it has to teach you about living and about yourself. Hope to see you at rootstech where we will continue this journey.

09 January 2012

Finding the Fun in Funerals

I don't mean to treat the subject of grief lightly. I have experienced my share. However there is an upside to a funereal family gathering. Last week some of my family members gathered at the funeral of a dear aunt. Death at her age was not a shock and she had wished to pass on for some time. Her grandchildren made a fine showing in speech and song and I think most of us felt gratified at the goodbye gathering.

Ralph and Doris Whitney
with sons Calvin and Howard
I am blessed with 7 sisters, all good company. The week before the funeral, two of my sisters and I took the occasion to scan the family photos we had inherited from my deceased father. We then organized them and copied them onto several DVDs as a slide show and as a computerized resource for our extended family. Four of us traveled together to the funeral which was held in a city a few hours distant from our homes. Now that was a treat! And I must admit that it was also very fun to reconnect with my cousins. At the luncheon afterwards we had a photo taken of all of us cousins together. Dozens of cousins. This is a family that has excelled in family reunions so it felt good to get together once more even for a somber occasion. Instead of flowers, we shared the photo treasures we had worked so hard on.

Then the day afterwards one of  my sisters and I asked for some interview time with two of the remaining siblings from my dad's family. My dad died about 6 years ago and others have left us in the meantime, including the aunt whose funeral we attended. Another cousin had videotaped some of the group a few years back so we had some follow-up questions from those interviews and also from the photos we had just reviewed. My aunt and uncle were so gracious to us. They talked freely about their memories and the two hours we had set aside went too quickly.

Howard, Bert (Dad) and Calvin
We tried to follow good interview protocol, using open-ended questions and giving the interviewees plenty of time to think and to come up with the thoughts and memories they desired to share. We had resolved to just listen and not talk too much on this occasion. We used two digital recorders to make sure we didn't miss a word if one malfunctioned. We waited until we were well into the interview to ask a couple of hard questions and they volunteered some sensitive information we hadn't even asked for. Best of all, we felt the joy they had experienced in growing up on their family ranch. No running water, bathroom, electricity or telephones, but they reported the same feelings our dad shared with us about the ranch. It was a wonderful and exciting place for these children. They never missed the "modern" conveniences, but accepted and enjoyed their lives as they were. We marveled once again at the parenting skills of our grandparents and the love shared in that long-ago home.

Home again, I have spent some time in research on this family. After visiting with my aunt and uncle, watching the videos shared by my cousin and spending time organizing the family photos, the documents I found meant much more to me. I think we are on the road to another book!