It’s All About Others

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Each month nationally known storyteller Kim Weitkamp writes a column for Saving Memories Forever.  In the blog post below she suggests a great way to connect families through storytelling.

The holidays are all about others. No matter what your religious beliefs are, the holiday season that just ended was all about love. As grownups, we understand this.  At least I hope we do! We write cards to others, buy gifts for others, and we cook, prepare, decorate, shop, and wrap for others.

Children, on the other hand, sometimes miss this message. They focus on the gift opening extravaganza…and it is all about them. So this month, I offer this idea that helps children understand the larger message of love and family.

Start by sitting your children down and asking them to tell you the name of a relative who they visited with during the recent holidays. Then, using the the Saving Memories Forever app to record their responses, ask them why they love that relative.  Ask them if they remember a funny thing that person did or a sweet thing that person did.  Ask them how they know this person and how they are related to them (this can be very humorous). While doing this, use your imagination when crafting the questions and try to make them open ended questions.

After you’ve recorded their response, upload it. Then go to the Saving Memories Forever website where you’ll automatically be in the My Memories screen. Make sure you’re in the Manager Mode and then help your child share the stories. When prompted, put in that relative’s e-mail address, add a message and press “share”. All the relative has to do is click the link that’s in the email message and follow the instructions.

Yes, it’s that simple. (It’s also that repeatable just in case your children think of a other favorite relatives.)

Now look what you have!  A great interview for your family history archives and a simple but incredibly sweet post-holiday gift for a loved one.  Plus you’ve got a child focused on the goodness and love of others.  I cannot think of a better way to start out the new year.

Have a peaceful and productive 2014!

kim-weitkampKim Weitkamp has been featured on NPR (National Public radio), SiriusXM, and other radio stations throughout the states. Kim is passionate about the power of story and story coupled with genealogy/family history. She regularly keynotes on those topics and can be reached through her website, www.kimweitkamp.com.

What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories

Grandpa and I Once in awhile, we run across an article that just blows our socks off.  This article is one of those.We love it because it substantiates our basic message at Saving Memories Forever: the importance of telling and sharing family stories goes far beyond a pleasant afternoon.The article below was written by Elaine Reece and was published in the 12/9/2013 edition of The Atlantic.

Reading to children has education benefits, of course—but so does sharing tales from the past. “Dad, tell me a story from when you were little. Tell me the story about the time you met your best friend Chris at school.” Six-year-old Alex, who has just started school himself, snuggles into his pillow and catches his dad’s hand in the dark. They have finished the nightly reading of Tin Tin and now it’s time for “just one more story” before Alex goes to sleep.

Most parents know about the benefits of reading stories from books with their young children. Parents are blasted with this message in pediatricians’ offices, at preschool, on read-aloud-parent-childTV, even with billboards on the city bus. Reading books with children on a daily basis advances their language skills, extends their learning about the world, and helps their own reading later in school. Reading with your child from a young age can instill a lifelong love of books. A new study published in Science even shows that reading literary fiction improves adults’ ability to understand other people’s emotions.

Reading books with your children is clearly a good idea.The cozy image of cuddling up with your young child while poring over a book, however, doesn’t fit with reality for some parents and children. Parents from some cultures are not as comfortable reading with their children because books were not part of their everyday lives growing up. For other parents, reading with children is a fraught activity because of their own negative experiences learning to read. And for some highly active children, sitting down with a book is a punishment, not a reward. Fortunately, parents can learn new ways of reading books with their children to engage even the most irascible customer–and to engage themselves.

Yet what most parents don’t know is that everyday family stories, like the one that Alex’s dad spun out that night, confer many of the same benefits of reading–and even some new ones.Over the last 25 years, a small canon of research on family storytelling shows that when parents share more family stories with their children—especially when they tell those stories in a detailed and responsive way—their children benefit in a host of ways. For instance, experimental studies show that when parents learn to reminisce about everyday events with their preschool children in more detailed ways, their children tell richer, more complete narratives to other adults one to two years later compared to children whose parents didn’t learn the new reminiscing techniques.

why you should read Great Kids BooksChildren of the parents who learned new ways to reminisce also demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. These advanced narrative and emotional skills serve children well in the school years when reading complex material and learning to get along with others. In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.

Best of all, unlike stories from books, family stories are always free and completely portable. You don’t even need to have the lights on to share with your child a story about your day, about their day, about your childhood or their grandma’s. In the research on family storytelling, all of these kinds of stories are linked to benefits for your child. Family stories can continue to be part of a parent’s daily interactions with their children into adolescence, long past the age of the bedtime story.All families have stories to tell, regardless of their culture or their circumstances.

Of course, not all of these stories are idyllic ones. Research shows that children and adolescents can learn a great deal from stories of life’s more difficult moments–as long as those stories are told in a way that is sensitive to the child’s level of understanding, and as long as something good is gleaned from the experience.Telling the story about the time the Christmas tree ignited because of faulty wiring and burned up the presents is fine, as long as you can find a tinsel lining. For example: Luckily you were able to save some favorite ornaments from the blaze, and your family ended up at a soup kitchen for Christmas dinner where you met Marion, who would become a treasured family friend.

Books contain narratives, but only family stories contain your family’s personal narratives. Fortunate children get both. They hear and read stories from books to become part of other people’s worlds, and they hear and tell stories of their family to understand who they are and from whence they came. As Ursula LeGuin said, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

Oral storytelling has been part of human existence for millennial. Toddlers start telling primitive stories from nearly as soon as they can speak, beginning with simple sentences about past experiences such as “Cookie allgone.” Adults quickly build on these baby stories, “What happened to your cookie? You ate it!” so that by age three or four, most children can tell a relatively sensible story of a past experience that a naïve listener will (mostly) understand.

By the time they are in school, children will regale a sympathetic adult with highly detailed stories about events of great importance to them, such as scoring a goal at a soccer game, but they may fail to mention the bigger picture that their team still lost. In the preteen and early adolescent years, children tell highly proficient stories about events in their lives, but they still need help understanding difficult events, such as the time their best friend dumped them for someone else. It is not until mid-adolescence that teens can understand the impact of events on their lives and on who they are becoming. Even older adolescents still benefit from their parents’ help in understanding life’s curveballs.

The holidays are prime time for family storytelling. When you’re putting up the tree or having your holiday meal, share a story with your children about past holidays. Leave in the funny bits, the sad bits, the gory and smelly bits–kids can tell when a story has been sanitized for their protection. Then invite everyone else to tell a story too. Don’t forget the youngest and the oldest storytellers in the group. Their stories may not be as coherent, but they can be the truest, and the most revealing.

Family stories can be told nearly anywhere. They cost us only our time, our memories, our creativity. They can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others. So be generous with your stories, and be generous in your stories. Remember that your children may have them for a lifetime.

Make Resolutions to Preserve Family Stories in 2014

LeftoversWhew! We made it! The holidays are over, the parties done, and the New Year’s Resolutions are on our minds. And here we are–already in the second week of 2014!

So how are those resolutions going and what’s on your list this year?

Ours include the usual ones like losing weight. Getting organized is another top priority. One of the big projects on our 2014 list is going through all our photos and preserving some of our own stories. Yes, even we (the founders of Saving Memories Forever) need to plan ahead. In fact, we’ve finally wizened up to the fact that we have to put these projects on an actual To Do list. Otherwise, they’ll simply won’t get done.  Sound familiar?

The start of a new year is a great way to make plans for preserving your family’s history through photos, documents and, most importantly, the oral history and stories that get passed down from generation to generation. Here’s the list that we’ve developed.

Resolution #1: Get Organized and Make a Family History Plan
That’s right Stan, a plan. All projects big and small require some planning and some efforts at organization. We’ve gone so far as to set aside two Sunday afternoons this Winter as story recording time. Before then we’re going to ask our family to select questions on the Saving Memories Forever app. Or they can make up their own questions. Then we’ll sit down with our interviewer (in person or on Skype) and we’ll respond to those questions. Then we’ll go through the whole process of uploading, saving, and sharing those new stories with our children and extended family.

The plan doesn’t just end with Winter. By early Spring, we plan to develop an extended list of relatives whose stories we want to begin to capture. Many of those relatives will be in sunny Florida in March. Before we go down there, we’ll arrange to talk to some of those relatives. At the moment our goal is to record 3 stories apiece from 5 people. Certainly sounds do-able over the course of a week and with scheduled time set aside.

Resolution #2: Preserve Photos the Fun and Easy Way
This summer when we finally get access to our stored boxes of photos, we’ll start sorting through our pictures. We’ve set a goal of going through 2 boxes over the summer. That may sound less than ambitious. But we plan to scan and group our favorite pictures so it’s not as simple as it seems. But storing our favorite photos as digital images on our computer is a good inside project to do when the hot, humid summer months in St. Louis make air-conditioning a strong ally.

One trick that we will probably use is to place a box of photos near the television. Each evening, we’ll set a target number of photos to process while watching TV. This approach should be easy and definitely help minimize the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Resolution #3: Create a Check In System
Most of us are all gung-ho about resolutions in January, but what about May or November? We’re certainly guilty of the same so we’ve set up a reminder system using both my wall and Harvey’s digital calendar on his iPhone. These programs will help us take inventory of the progress we’ve made. Just in case we’re not making the progress we had planned, we’ve added some time-sensitive incentives. These time-sensitive incentives mirror our plans. For example, our plan is to expand our circle of interviewed relatives during our visit to Florida in March. The incentive: dinner at a favorite restaurant down there. Who says Pavlov didn’t have the right idea?

So What Are You Waiting For?
Just because you didn’t include these plans in your original resolutions doesn’t mean that you can’t add them  now. We encourage you to do just that. It’s really up to you to make that step today. Preserve those family memories. Make sure they get passed on down to the future generations.
Thomas Editor’s Note: This article was inspired by a blog written by Thomas MacEntee. Thomas gave Saving Memories Forever permission to use his article as a base.

Christmas Memories

milk-cookiesWhen I think of Christmas memories in my family, so many stories flood back to me. Each year, my grandparents sent a case of grapefruit from their California vacation home. Each year and only on Christmas Eve, we got to sip hot cocoa from Mom’s special Santa Claus mugs. Then there were the matching pajamas for my sisters and me, the hand-embroidered stockings, and the long involved process of making and sending fruit cake to distant relatives.

On Christmas morning, it was essential to sneak downstairs to peek before waking our parents. Then, it was a lesson in patience as we waited – mostly for Dad – to get himself together so that we could all gather under the tree. Even the tree was unique. Still alive, carefully tended with the roots intact, we would plant it in the front yard on the 26th.

Today, I recall all of this and more with a small tug at my heart. I am enjoying new traditions, built with my own family, while carrying on some of what my husband and I knew as children. One of my favorites, though, is the Christmas letter.

The Dreaded Holiday Letter? I LOVE Them!

As a genealogist, and certainly as our family’s keeper of memories, the Christmas letter has become an essential part of my holiday tradition. I start crafting our version in October, filtering through my files for just the right photograph, just the right way to tell a story. A summary of an entire year in two typed pages (or less!) is not necessarily an easy thing for a family historian; and so, my effort takes time.

We send them off to loved ones two ways now: electronically and printed, and we receive them in the same fashion. Sent by branches of the family from all over the globe, the farthest letter comes from a cousin in Taiwan. Each one is carefully tended, preserved in a collection that started to accumulate over 15 years ago.

One of the most exciting elements to me is that this family tradition continues to grow. There are the “regulars,” the folks you can count on year after year to write a letter. Then there are the new additions! Cousins get older and start their own families. They, too, begin to write. Most do not even realize they are documenting their personal history. They only see their actions as a brief moment in time. I know better, though.

Something Old, Something New

The letters vary each year in content and tone. Some are written as simply stated fact, while others are humorous. There are years when “reporting in” is more difficult. Then there are the years when we report joyfully and happily re-live the shared experiences. The folks at Saving Memories Forever point out that it’s important to share it all: the funny and the sad.  It’s part of being a family.

Reading a select few, I am reminded of my first genealogy related travel experience, to Alberta, Canada for a second cousin’s 90th birthday party with my aunt. When combined, another group of letters is a remarkable examination of the family’s memories of Grandma’s last year with us, and how we all chose to remember her. For a decent stretch, every year brought new family members to my generation and the next; new spouses, new babies! All of these are letters to be shared and cherished.

Ho Ho Ho

In our family, there’s a second set of letters. These are the letters addressed and mailed to Santa at the North Pole. That tradition starts this year. Written in a child’s shaky handwriting, Santa will receive my daughter’s first letter. You can bet this Mom will be scanning the letter before it’s stuffed and stamped!

The holidays often bring families together, and this year is no exception. As I look forward to a week surrounded by those I love, I think I may just bring my collection with me. The journey down memory road is usually more fun with those with whom I traveled it in the first place.

Jen BaldwinGenealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper.

Hit The Road Jack

around the worldIf mass tourism is defined as “affordable travel without purpose”, then it’s only a teenager.

To some extent, it all started back in the 18th century. But at this time, only the wealthy traveled for pleasure. And they loved it! In a letter to a friend, one lord complained that there were too many princes and princesses staying at the Baltic Sea resort that he was visiting.

While the aristocracy enjoyed the seaside, the rest of us could hardly imagine it. That sentiment continued for a long time.

Early Travel

Well into the 19th century, travel in America was slow and difficult. Most of the time people walked.  Even when the stagecoach lines made travel faster and less expensive, it was still a long and cumbersome journey. Maybe you’ve come across old journals in which your relatives described the difficult journey.

Then came the railroad, steamboat, and the building of canals. Railroads were especially intriguing as they were twice as fast as anything Americans had previously experienced.

In the last half of the 19th century, the cost of railroad travel went down steeply. An inventive Englishman (Thomas Cook) capitalized on this trend and developed package tourism. Using railroads, Cook sent hoards of tourist off on adventures.  Some of us might even have memorabilia handed down from ancestors who took those early tours.

Move Over

Little noted at the time, the refinement of the bicycle triggered the next leap in transportation. Bicycles were affordable. Moreover, bicycle mechanics were clever. In 1893, bicycle mechanics built the first gasoline-powered “motor wagon”.

AAAA1912-ford-model-tExciting though it was, the car was not an overnight success. It was commonly referred to as a “stink chariot” and perceived by most as a rich man’s toy. Many people at the time traveled around using a horse and buggy.

In 1908, Henry Ford changed all that with the introduction of his low-priced, highly efficient Model T. In 1915 there were 2 million cars in the United States. By 1927, there were 14 million Model Ts alone.  This is where I connect: my grandmother’s first car was a Model T. (I’m willing to bet that a number of you have pictures of your relatives posed in their Model Ts.)

Route 66The widespread popularity of the car put pressure on the federal government to get directly involved in road development. Route 66, which ran from Chicago, Illinois to California is a prime example of this road construction. Maybe some of your adventurous relatives traveled along Route 66 in its heyday.

Anticipating a huge boost in travel, one enterprising man (Arthur Heineman) built America’s first overnight motel, the Milestone Mo-tel in San Luis Obispo, California. It opened on December 12, 1925. His plan to build a chain of Mo-tels spaced approximately one day’s drive apart was derailed by the Great Depression.

VT 22After WW2, car prices decreased even more. To accommodate the cars and the demand for easy travel, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that began construction of the 42,800-mile Interstate System across the country. (I didn’t realize until writing this blog that I was born just at the cusp of all of this. But I do remember riding up to Vermont with my family along Route 22 for years and then switching to the interstate when it opened up. In retrospect, I missed some of the character that Route 22 offered, and, nowadays many people make a point to travel along the old routes for scenery and local history.)

In the 1970s, passenger planes became mass transportation. Rising incomes and low travel costs made international travel possible for many.

While many still travel to far flung tourist destinations (Australia is on my bucket list), things have changed over the last decade. Largely due to the economy, many families are now choosing “staycations” or just day trips to a nearby beach, mountain range, or park. For those of us who take these shorter trips, the focus of vacation travel places equal priority on both “getting there” and “being there”.

blog_KidsInCar_Small_Dec2010Growing up, Jen Baldwin’s family took turns picking the destination. Jen’s favorite destination activity was riding on an old steam engine railroad. She fondly remembers the drive there with her four siblings stuffed into the minivan, the excitement of city lights, and the magical warm embrace of a relative.

When it comes to car travel, I fondly remember my grandmother’s 1954 Ford. While it lacked a back seat and featured vacuum-pressured windshield wipers that would stop when going uphill, this car was one of the few that started during the cold winters in upstate New York. Traveling in that car was always adventure; in part because I was never sure that I would actually make it to my destination.

Lessons Learned

  • No matter where you go, take the time to record some of your vacation stories.
  • Tune into the reactions of your children. If you notice your child staring in amazement at the long string of car lights, talk about this marvel and record that conversation.
  • Take a few pictures to document what your child is witnessing. The Saving Memories Forever system is flexible. It can be used both to document your child’s growing up and as a tool for recording times gone by.
  • Resolve to go through those boxes of vacation photos and start grouping them. Pick your favorites and write down a few points you remember. Then call your brother or sister and patch together a family vacation memory.
  • This holiday season, ask your relatives about favorite holiday trips they’ve taken. Record their stories.  Pay close attention to the details of how they actually got there.

Just as modes and routes of transportation have drastically changed over my lifetime, who knows what changes are in store for us in the future.  Maybe we’ll all be saying “Beam me up, Scotty!”

 SMF-Jane1Jane Baker, co-owner of Saving Memories Forever, likes to blog about little things in everyday life that strike her fancy.

Music and Family History: In The Key of “Gee!”

JukeboxHave you ever considered the role that music played in your family’s history? Even if you haven’t found an ancestor or relative who played an instrument or had a “golden voice,” the mere presence of music as heard by your ancestors could have a bigger impact than you realize.

What Music Meant to Our Ancestors

For many, especially those of us with ancestors who were poor or at least not “well off,” listening to music was not the experience it is today. With many different devices available to hear a favorite tune in modern time, we’re spoiled when it comes to music access, at least compared to our ancestors.

Consider the fact that not everyone had a “Victrola” or a radio when these inventions came on the market. Just like televisions and some of today’s tech gadgets, these items were expensive and often out of the reach of some of our ancestors. The most prevalent exposure to music was in a house of worship, including synagogues or churches, or if a family member or neighbor played an instrument like a fiddle or accordion.

Learning To Play A Musical Instrument

Did you learn to play a musical instrument as a child? Perhaps being a musician eventually became your profession or a pastime. Either way, for many of us, our first exposure to music was in grade school when we learned to play the flute, the violin or even the tuba!

Schools offered a variety of music participation programs and you, your parents and even grandparents most likely took part. Being a part of a marching band, chamber orchestra and even a choir presented more than just an opportunity to learn how to read music: you learned how to work and collaborate with others and you may have made lifelong friends or even met your future spouse thanks to music.

Attending Concerts and Performances

Many of us have memories of going to various musical performances and concerts. From classical offerings such as the symphony or opera to the latest rock concert, these events were sure to generate memories! In fact, many of my relatives collected items such as concert tickets, programs and t-shirts to help them remember the concert. All of these things represent an opportunity for you the family historian to interview your relatives about the events and have them share what they remember.

Music Can Bring Back Memories

The next time you are interviewing family members or working on your family history, remember to incorporate music into your research! Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Interviews: Ask your interview subject about their favorite type of music. Another good question: What one song represented your teenage years? Did you and your spouse have a song you called “our song?” Also ask if they remember when important music figures died such as Buddy Holly, John Lennon or Elvis Presely. You might not realize it, but in addition to the questions that Saving Memories Forever supplies on its app, you  can also ask your own questions by going to the “Other” line under each group of questions.
  • Soundtracks: When creating videos or slide presentations, incorporate music soundtracks from specific time periods. Remember to observe copyright laws if you plan on publishing the content!
  • Memorabilia: Take time to review any “ephemera” related to concerts and performances such as newsclippings, ticket stubs, programs and similar items.
  • Reunions: How about a family reunion dance party? Organize music by era and get family members to dance to the music. Also take time to ask those at the interview about their favorite music.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community.Click here for more information.