Missed Opportunities: Generations of Lost Stories

[Editor’s note: Saving Memories Forever blogger Stephanie Pitcher Fishman shares the impact that the world made on the lives of six generations of women in her family.]


History is made up of many things: world events, inventions, and even simple daily routine. Our world develops with speed and purpose in a way that our ancestors could have only dreamed. Along the way, our family history is created within these developments, and history begins to tell our family story. Are you saving your memories and experiences for future generations to hear? By capturing these family stories, we can use our family’s journey as part timeline and part history lesson.

Elizabeth Gorday Wilson


Elizabeth: Generation One

My family story begins in 1866. Elizabeth Jane was born the daughter of a Confederate soldier just one year after the war ended. She grew up on a farm in South Georgia, and, though her father was involved in other business in town, she was a farmer’s daughter. Elizabeth saw amazing changes in her life including the birth of ten children into the family that she created with her husband, John, a farmer and general store owner. Though she was spared the turmoil of a country in crises during the Civil War, she was all too aware of the changes that war could bring as she witnessed World Wars I and II. The Stock Market crashed in 1929, and her husband died in 1931 leaving her to navigate the Great Depression on her own. I look at Elizabeth’s life with awe and wonder. To have her stories of these events would have been a treasure trove. Unfortunately, because her memories weren’t saved we’re forced to speculate about her reaction to these events. Even still, her life inspires me to write about the struggles that I’ve experienced, though they may pale in comparison to great wars and depressions.


Ida: Generation Two

Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Ida, joined the family in 1885. One of only two girls in a family with ten children, I imagine Ida running through the fields after her brothers. Though it was a different time, she was still a little sister to some and an older sister to others. Ida married Jim in 1906 while Theodore Roosevelt was president. Like her mother, Ida experienced war and financial struggle. As a pastor’s wife, she also helped in the community through these times offering food and help to others when it may have been difficult for her own family financially. She cared for both her husband and young children after Jim experienced a stroke. She had to push forward learning to farm the crops so that the family business would continue. In my great-grandmother’s case, we are lucky that my grandmother was able to share her stories with us. They are different than having these experiences in her words or voice, but we are getting closer to holding personal memories in hand.


Cortez: Generation Threeceb.hsgrad.age.17

My grandmother, Cortez, was part of Ida and Jim’s younger set of children. She ran across the farm fields, picked cotton, played with her brother, and looked up to her older sisters. She graduated from high school at age 17 in a town that isn’t much more than a dot on the map today. She also continued to educated herself through additional classes and courses in adulthood. She witnessed her friends leaving for the service to fight in far-away places. She married Lee Roy, a Navy sailor who fought on a ship in the Pacific Campaign of World War II. She saw segregation end. She was also one of the first women in her family to travel the United States moving across the country with her husband and children. She flew in a plane, drove her own car, and even wore pants in church. Most importantly, she taught her children about the experiences she had, and she began to journal her stories. And, she began recording our family’s history with us. In fact, she is the one that got us hooked on this thing called genealogy. After her death, my mother and I found several notebooks and scrapbooks of clippings showing world events and changes. Her written records pushed us forward in our understanding. We know more not only because we knew her but also because she recorded her life in her own words.


Cindy: Generation Four

My mother, Cindy, was the first child to join Cortez and Lee Roy’s family. She swept in early and stayed late taking care of both her parents in their later days. She was also the first woman in our direct line to hold not only one but two college degrees. Education wasn’t a fight – it was an assumption. She saw teachers leave for Vietnam and the children of friends head to the Gulf War. And, she’s recording her stories as well as those passed to her.


Rounding Out the Family: Generations Five and Six

My daughter and I round out the generations. We’ve moved into a new century. Automobiles are no longer a luxury. My great-grandmother saw the development of the telephone that took up half her kitchen wall while my daughter spends too much time on a cell phone that is small enough to fit into the palm of her hand. War is still present. Financial difficulties still plague us. However, saving our memories has become even easier. I’m recording my stories through technology such as the Saving Memories Forever app and an online blog. Thanks to the family history work of my grandmother and mother, my daughter knows only a life of shared family stories.

Our following generations will not have to speculate about our experiences because they will hold our stories in their hands in written and recorded form. The history present in our past generations is too important to lose.

How will you share your memories and experiences with your descendants?


Photo Credits:

Elizabeth Gorday Wilson, held in personal collection of Stephanie Pitcher Fishman. All rights reserved.

Cortez Bullington Flowers, held in the personal collection of Stephanie Pitcher Fishman. All rights reserved.


5 Tips for Making Genealogy Fun

Five Tips for Making Genealogy Fun

Genealogy is a great hobby with frequent twists and turns. Sometimes when the brick walls and frustration take center stage it’s hard to remember why we became interested in family stories in the first place. These simple tips from the family historians at Saving Memories Forever will help you shake up your research time by adding some fun into your family history project.

Tip #1: Make a friend.

The easiest way to make something painless is to make it fun! One of the quickest ways to have fun researching is to dig into family history with a buddy. Your genealogy buddy can be a loved one interested in the same ancestral line or a friend who would like to learn more about his/her family as well. Siblings or cousins, children or grandchildren, friends or neighbors: they are all great candidates! Invite someone to visit the library with you and dig in. You’ll be able to laugh through frustration and support each other through brick wall research.

Tip #2: Find a mentor.

Whether we’re new to family history or a seasoned genealogist, there are always new tips and tricks that we can learn that will make our research adventure not only easier but more fun. Online communities such as Ancestry.com message boards and Facebook groups can help you locate others with similar interests. Many local libraries offer special events such as genealogy speakers, family history workshops, and even special opportunities to explore their collections. Local and state-level genealogical societies are a great place to meet others with a passion and knowledge of your local history and research repositories. Wherever you look, be it online or off, reach out to other researchers in your area. You’ll never know what doors it will open for your research!

Tip #3: Make it fit your schedule.

Whether you are a weekend warrior or a stay-at-home mom who researches during naptime, family history can fit your lifestyle. The easiest way to ensure time is on your side is to focus in on what you’d like to discover during your research session. If you’ve been involved in genealogy for a while you may have learned about research plans. These plans don’t have to be hard to create or a burden to manage. Chasing rabbit trails may be fun, but doing so can be time consuming. A research plan will help keep you focused so that you can make the most of the time you have available for your family history research.

Follow these simple steps to create an effective research plan:

1. Identify a clear goal in mind such as, “locate my great-grandfather’s death date.” This allows you to create a road map to reach your research destination quickly.

2. Write down any clues that you might have: places grandpa lived, people that he could have mentioned in an obituary, a general time frame that he could have passed, etc.

3. Take note of where you’ve already looked for this information so you know what needs to be rechecked or skipped.

4. Make a list of the places that you should look next: online databases, historical society catalogs, newspaper archives, and more.

5. Record your discoveries!

Tip #4: Focus on the story.

Another great way to make your family history fun is to realize that you are not just recording the facts of your ancestor’s existence. You are recording the story of their life. Storytelling is a large part of family history research, and it doesn’t exist only in shared family stories. Look at the facts of a record such as a death certificate or a census record, and try describing the facts in a narrative format. Stepping into the role of storyteller allows you to show all facets of your ancestor and share his or her life with others.

As an example, here is an entry from my own research:

“The 1910 US Federal Census shows us that, in April 1910, James T. Bullington, my maternal great-grandfather, was living with his wife, Ida, and infant daughter, Lola, in Amboy, Turner County, Georgia. At age 31, James and Ida had only been married four years yet had already lost one child. James tended his own farm which was located in the same town as his father and mother-in-law who were enumerated only two households before them on the same census sheet. “

Tip Five: Share your research with others.

The best way to make your family history research fun – and worthwhile – is to share it with others. First, identify a way that you can record your family history that uses your strengths. Do you love to scrapbook? Create a family history book using your family photos and research. Do you have a way with people? Use the Saving Memories Forever iPhone or Android app to record family stories to accompany what you’ve discovered.

No matter which method you use to share your family history finds, enjoy your accomplishment. You reached your goal to learn more about your family. And, by sharing the journey with others, it shows how fun family history can really be and how it can enrich our own lives.

American Widow Project: Saving Memories Forever’s First Outreach Effort

American Widows Project

Saving Memories Forever proudly announces its first community effort. Starting February 11, 2013 Saving Memories Forever will sponsor a fundraising campaign on behalf of the American Widow Project. The fundraiser will run through the end of March 2013.

The American Widow Project (AWP) is a non-profit organization that provides military widows with peer-to-peer support as they rebuild their lives. AWP places an emphasis on healing through sharing stories, tears and laughter. They host a Hotline service and write a monthly newsletter. They also hold multiples events each year where widows come together to enjoy life the way they did when their spouse was still alive.

The program is available to all military wives whose spouses have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated 3,200 widows. The American Widow Project was created in 2007 by Taryn Davis whose husband was killed in Iraq. Taryn has received numerous awards. She was named a Top 10 CNN Hero Honoree in 2011. She has also been honored as one of Newsweek Magazine’s “150 Women Who Shake the World”, Diller-Von Furstenburg Foundation’s “People’s Voice” Award Winner, and L’Oreal Woman of Worth Honoree in 2010.

The American Widow Project and Saving Memories Forever share a common goal: keeping alive the memories and stories of American soldiers, husbands, and oftentimes fathers. Saving Memories Forever honors the service of the men and applauds the life-affirming efforts of their wives. Saving Memories Forever welcomes the wives and looks forward to the years ahead as our service helps give them comfort and joy.

As part of this campaign, SMF will donate 20 Premium Subscriptions. In addition, AWP will receive 40% of the profits from people who subscribe to Saving Memories Forever using the special fundraiser Promo Code AWP213. You can visit the American Widow Project at: www.americanwidowproject.org.

Saving Memories Forever is committed to helping non-profit organizations whose mission ties in with telling and saving stories. If you know of an organization whose mission ties in with ours, please contact us.

Painless Genealogy in 5 Easy Steps

Painless Genealogy in 5 Easy Steps

[Editor’s note: Saving Memories Forever blogger Stephanie Pitcher Fishman gives you five easy steps to help make your family history research painless, organized, and fun.]

Are you hoping to spend more time researching your family’s history this year? Genealogy is one of the nation’s fastest growing hobbies, yet many don’t know quite where to start. There are websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch to help you research online from the comfort of your own home. Magazines and books can give you the skinny on a good resource or software program to help move your research forward. But, how do you manage your family history project on your own in a way that is fun and relaxing? Easy: Gather, Talk, Plan, Record, and Relax! These five steps will have you gliding through the decades as you discover your family stories.

Step One: Gather what you know

Start from the beginning – you – and work backward in time through the generations. Break out your genealogy forms and fill out as much as you know. Pedigree charts are a great way to organize your information. They can help you quickly identify the information that you need. Don’t forget to look through your home for what are commonly called home sources: Family Bibles; birth, marriage, and death certificates; scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings; high school and college yearbooks; and more. All of these items can help you locate clues that point you to a town of residence, an estimated year of birth, or a household of names.

Step Two: Talk to your relatives and long-time family friends

You’ve heard Uncle Earl’s family story every year since you were five, but have you really listened? Family stories are filled with clues. Just like with home sources above, stories can give us a possible direction to continue our hunt. And, they add rich details that records, such as a census, just can’t. Don’t forget the long-time family friends as well. Sometimes we are blessed with what I call chosen family. These individuals are just as important to our family story as those related by genetics. They can help us understand our ancestors in a special way. While you are talking with your relatives and friends, don’t forget to use the Saving Memories Forever App to capture those memories as part of your family’s legacy. Recording the voice of our loved ones talking about an ancestor unknown to us can help bridge the generations.

Step Three: Make a Plan

Once you understand the starting point of your project, the next step is to determine where you need to look to discover more about your family. You can’t have a successful journey if you don’t have a road map. It’s time to create your research plan. Perhaps you realize that you don’t know exactly where your grandfather was born. This could be your first goal. What type of record could help you find this information? Make a list of what you need to locate and where these records could be found. Research plans don’t have to be intimidating or overly detailed. Use them as a tool, and you’ll supercharge the time available to you to explore your family history project.

Step Four: Record your progress by taking good notes

Your research notes will be your paper trail should you take a break from your project. They will also help any other family member catch up should they help you in your hunt. And, it is very easy to forget that you’ve searched an online database or website if it isn’t written down. Your research time is precious; don’t duplicate steps simply because you’ve forgotten something. Let your notes guide you! If you like using technology beyond paper and pen, consider exploring Evernote, a software program which is handy for the family researcher (free version available.)

Step Five: Take a break and Relax!

Family historians are known for many things, but one of the most common traits is that we don’t know when to stop and take a break. The easiest way to become burned out is to chase the same nearly-missing ancestor for hours on end. You’ll quickly feel like you have no hope in finishing your project. Don’t forget to take a break! Stop for a cup of coffee or a walk, and, if necessary, take a break by looking for another ancestor in the same record set or geographic location. A little rest does the heart of a researcher good. You’ll become energized and ready to take on the next task on your project list.

Bonus: Share your stories

One way to energize a project (and a researcher!) is to share what you’ve learned. Reach out to your loved ones to let them know what you’ve found. While not all of your relatives may be ready to research alongside you, they will love to hear what you’ve discovered. Saving Memories Forever would love to hear your stories as well! Share them with us in the comments below or on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to celebrate your discoveries with you. Good luck, and have fun!