Road Trip to Grand Teton National Park

In September 2012 my mother and I took a road trip to visit her aunt Dottie and some of her first cousins in Idaho Falls. We had planned to do a half week of genealogy research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and then rent a car to drive to Idaho Falls since it was less than three hours away.

Mom had not seen her aunt since the 1990s and the cousins since she was about age 15. I had only a foggy memory of my great aunt from the 1980s when she and my great uncle visited my childhood home on a brief stop through town; I had never even met my first cousins, once removed—only knowing their names from my genealogy database. We thought the visit would be the perfect opportunity to give information about the research we were conducting on our shared Anderson line, as well as to scan some of the photos of our common ancestors and collateral lines.

One of the highlights of the three-day visit was getting to spend an extended amount of time in the car visiting with my then 88-year old great aunt as we drove to see the Grand Tetons. We departed Idaho Falls to drive the two hours to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, located just south of Grand Teton National Park. The view was spectacular! The whole region, including areas outside the park along Palisades Reservoir, had trees adorned with beautiful fall colors.

Grand Teton National Park plaque

Because we came and went two different ways, I was able to get different views of the Grand Tetons. We even stopped at a few scenic pull-outs where I was able to take various photos. I learned that the Grand Teton National Park was originally established on 26 February 1929—in fact, 85 years ago from today—before it was later expanded on 14 September 1950 to 310,000 acres, including Jackson Hole, the Snake River, and other resources.

Although we did not do any hiking since my great aunt was confined to a wheelchair, the view alone was worth the drive. But the best part about the drive was hearing Dottie’s stories.

Landscape near Jackson Hole, Wyoming    View of Grand Tetons

I learned how Dottie felt as a young bride to receive news that her husband had been wounded and taken prisoner of war somewhere near Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and about the long wait she endured before he was finally returned home with a permanent disability.  I heard a tale for the first time about Dottie’s father-in-law (my great-grandfather) riding a stagecoach across Yellowstone to Montana as a young man in the early 1910s and purchasing land there before moving to North Dakota—who knew?  I also learned that my great-grandparents raised a foster daughter in the 1930s—a fact that had gone completely undocumented in my version of the family history until that moment.

As Dottie told her stories during the 4+ hour car ride, I was able to record them with a digital voice recorder that captured the audio recording in MP3 format.  The conversation flowed naturally and at times strayed to present-day commentary, such as explaining to me what a “spud hall” or potato cellar was.  I was able to capture Dottie’s personality as her stories unfolded, and although the recordings were not professional quality, they were perfect for the moment.Now in February 2014, reflecting back on those memories only several weeks after my sweet great aunt Dottie passed away, I am so glad that I was able to have extended time with her to record her memories.

I’m in the process of editing some of the longer audio clips into MP3 files of individual stories so I can upload them to my account on the Saving Memories Forever website. After uploading these MP3 files, I can easily announce that I have added new stories and share them with my family and Dottie’s children.  It is priceless to have Dottie’s voice recorded now that she is gone.

Every time I think of the Grand Tetons, I will remember my great aunt Dottie and how her eyes lit up when she told her stories.  I hope to return to the national park in the future so I can explore more of the landscape that Dottie had grown to love while living in the region. Although Dottie is no longer with us, her stories and memories will endure.

Deena Coutant headshotDeena Coutant is a professional genealogist specializing in the use of technology to facilitate successful search, storage and sharing strategies for family historians in the digital age. For more information visit DigiDeena Consulting www.digideena.com.

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Blogging: Another Way to Tell Your Family Stories

Ree Drummond

Two well known mommy bloggers (Ree Drummond and Stephanie Nielson) were Keynote Speakers at the recent RootsTech 2014 Conference. Their speeches adeptly  reinforced the general theme of the conference: connecting families–past, present, and future. Also, by being there, they serve as examples of how many people today are just stumbling into genealogy, each looking for an approach that resonates with their personality. For them, blogging fit the bill. Blogging on consistent basis has brought them both joy, satisfaction and a deep sense of fulfillment.

Ree Drummond

Ree Drummond (pictured above) is a down-to-earth woman who lives on a working cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma with her husband and four children. When she was first married, her mother-in-law gave her the Drummond family history book which she poured over for hours. Perhaps that family history book triggered a small spark.  Years later, on a whim, Ree began to blog about her family’s everyday country life, including the mountain-size loads of grass-stained laundry, the beauty of orange sunsets, the adventures of the animals on the ranch and –always– her kids.

Over the years, she got good at it, both the writing and the photography that went along with it. Today, she is an award-winning blogger and #1 New York Times bestselling author.  Her website, The Pioneer Woman, showcases her cooking and photography. The food looks good enough to make you drool.

“I love the fact that I’ve documented my family’s life,” she comments. “I’m so glad I’ve got the stories down. I didn’t start out to do this; it just happened. Writing just sorta ignited something in me. I like to look at the day in the life of our family and record it.”

Writing, she realizes, is not for everyone. Still, she contends, blogging is easy to do and you don’t have to be good at it, especially when you’re first getting started. She backs up that claim with an example of an early food photo where the fried onions in a sandwich looked more like worms than tasty onions.

Her takeaway message? “Start now. Don’t wait until you’re really good at whatever medium you choose. Just start now to document your life and the lives of those you love.”

Stephanie Nielson                                          Stephanie Nielson

Stephanie Nielson is the author of the popular NieNie Dialogues blog. In 2008, Stephanie and her husband were in a serious plane crash. Over 80 percent of her body was burned. Her story of survival and recovery are documented on her blog and have been recounted in interviews with Oprah Winfrey and on the TODAY show. She is a strong woman with a deep and abiding faith.

She actually started to blog when she moved far away from her relatives. While she was living her “dream job” of being a mother, writing her blogs gave her distant relatives and friends a good sense of what was going on in her life. Writing gave her simple pleasure. Back home, her relatives enjoyed reading about the neighbor’s cement duck that got new outfits for each holiday. Writing was simply Stephanie’s way of keeping in touch.

Blogging took on a whole new meaning after her horrific plane accident: it became part of her recovery. Just writing her first entries was difficult. A line was all she could manage. Today, she writes daily and with vigor. Today, she is grateful for the stories that her family has given her; she is grateful too that she has dedicated time each day through the thick and the thin, and the joy and pain to write down her life stories.  “Document your life,” she stresses. “No matter how you do it.”

The folks at Saving Memories Forever applaud the choice of these two women bloggers as keynote speakers. We join both Ree and Stephanie in their enthusiasm for recording everyday stories. Whether you record your life stories through writing or by recording your  stories through voice, we urge you to tell your stories no matter what they are and what form they’re in. Time flies.

This blog was written by Jane Baker at Saving Memories Forever. Saving Memories Forever is the Grand Prize Winner of the Developer’s Challenge Award at this year’s RootsTech Conference hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by ancestry.com, Find My Past, and My Heritage.   RootsTech Developer Challenge Winner emblem orange box

SMF-Jane2

Love Stories Over Time

Danny and Annie 1

Years ago, the romantic movie, Love Story, was all the rage. Sniffling teenage girls could quote verbatim the line that Jenny (Ali MacGraw) first delivered to Ollie (Ryan O’Neal). “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” What bologna!

So what is love? Since it’s Valentine’s Day today, it’s a timely question.

There is no easy answer. It involves so many facets of behavior. And despite being married for 37 years, we are hardly experts in the field. But with that longevity, perhaps there’s some insight.

Top of the list would be the role that good communication plays. It comes in many forms: listening, speaking (and knowing when not to speak), the quick hug,and the amused look. It’s all part of the package.

In his article “Why is Listening So Important“, Dr. Don Friedman (Board Certified M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine) addresses the  key role that listening plays in a loving relationship. Listening, he argues, is the singlemost important element of a relationship because of the importance that it puts on paying attention to the other person.  Dr. Friedman continues to outline the barriers to good listening and the real benefits of active listening. If listening is open, supportive, and selfless, it offers a sense of belonging and a place where others can find identity and grow. Perhaps, Friedman wonders, that’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth–to listen rather than talk.

At Saving Memories Forever, we couldn’t agree more. Listening is an act of love.

But communication also calls for delivering a message. Delivery can take many forms as well, including the actual voice, body language, and deed. We recently came across a recording that combines all three in an audio story called “Danny and Annie“.

This story was recorded by StoryCorps, a large and public oral history project which has visited over 1,700 cities and towns across America and collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews. Each conversation is recorded and preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to their weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition. This particular story reflects a new turn at Story Corps: it combines voice and animation.

The “Danny and Annie” recording recounts the 27-year romance between  Danny Perasa, an OTB clerk, and his wife, Annie, a nurse. The two reminisce about how they met and how they stayed in love. They have a sweetness about them that makes everyday items–like notes left around the house–seem exciting.  As the Perasas launch into their story, there’s an infectious enthusiasm that draws in listeners. Even though strangers to us, Danny and Annie personify the eloquence that can be found in the voices of everyday people when we take the time to listen.

Saving Memories Forever offers you an opportunity to do just that. Even better: you can capture and listen to the stories of your own relatives. Others apparently agree. Our service just won the Developer’s Challenge at RootsTech 2014.  Or you can click here to read our previous RootsTech blog. Sponsored by FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Find My Past and My Heritage, RootsTech is the premiere technology conference for family historians and genealogists.

Back to the movie. Sixty year olds in your family are likely to remember the tearjerker movie, Love Story. They are also wise enough to know that the trick to romance lies more in the listening and everyday small actions of kindness than Hollywood fanfare. Ask them how they might define love. Record some of their love stories. Treat yourself to reading both Dr. Friedman’s article and listening to the video. It’s our Valentine’s Day present to you.

Jane_Harvey26d442Jane and Harvey are Co-Owners of Saving Memories Forever

Storytelling Theme Prevails at RootsTech

RootsTech-Logo blue The RootsTech 2014 conference was held in Salt Lake City February 5-8, 2014.  The theme of this year’s conference was, “Connecting Our Families:  Past, Present and Future.”  The Friday keynote address was by Judy G. Russell, a certified genealogist and lecturer who also has a law degree.  Author of the popular blog, The Legal Genealogist, Judy enjoys helping others understand a wide variety of genealogical issues, including DNA and the interplay between genealogy and the law.

Backstage in the dimly lit “greenroom,” Judy explained to Harvey and Jane Baker from Saving Memories Forever that since DNA expert Dr. Spencer Wells from National Geographic’s Genographic Project was speaking right after her, she decided to focus on how easily family history can be lost.

Judy based part of her keynote presentation on a December 18, 2013 article on Examiner.com, written by Judy Everett Ramos and titled “Oral History Can Be Lost in 3 Generations.”  The full article can be read here.   The basic message of her speech was the importance of preserving family information accurately and intentionally.

To reinforce this point, Judy started her presentation by asking the audience to stand for a little quiz where they had to sit down if they didn’t know the answer to the questions. The quiz covered six questions related to only 3 generations (parents, grandparents and great-grandparents).

  1. What was the first illness your mother had as a child?
  2. What was the first funeral your father ever attended?
  3. What was your maternal grandmother’s favorite book as a child?
  4. What was your maternal grandfather’s favorite class in elementary school?
  5. What was your paternal great-grandmother’s toy as a child?
  6. Did your paternal great-grandfather know how to swim, and if he did, where did he learn and what was his favorite swimming hole?

Not surprisingly, in an auditorium that held thousands, only a handful were left standing at the end of this simple exercise. And they were laughingly told to stop showing off.

Judy then explained that since we are not repeating our family stories, those stories are being lost.  In fact, whole lives can be lost.  Judy told several stories to illustrate the importance of storytelling.

Judy Russell headshot

Judy Russell, CG, CLG, JD

The first story was about Judy’s 4th great-grandfather David Baker whose brother, Richard Baker, was killed in the battle of Trenton in the Revolutionary War.  One would think that if a family lost a son, they would pass that information down—but of the 5 surviving sons (Richard’s brothers), only one of them named a son after Richard, and none named grandsons Richard, so even his name was gone in just 3 generations.  Had Judy not found the pension affidavit where David mentioned his brother Richard, she’d not even have known that Richard even existed.

Judy recounted another family history where she was proudly told she had ancestors in the House of Burgesses, on the Mayflower, and possibly even homeowners who hosted George Washington overnight.  As it turned out, none of this was true!  It’s not enough for family stories to just be purposely passed down, but they must be accurately passed down.  Judy recommended the Genealogical Proof Standard as the measuring stick by which we evaluate the family stories we wish to pass down.

Judy’s final story was about her Scots-Irish Cottrell ancestors in Texas.  As a child growing up, she heard many diverse stories about her great-grandfather, including that he rode with the Texas Rangers, and held jobs such as cowboy, rancher, farmer, lawman, traveling salesman, and circuit-riding Baptist preacher! The stories seemed to be in conflict, but after Judy researched the facts and constructed a timeline, they all turned out to be true!

The moral of the story is that when relatives before us lovingly pass stories to us, we must verify and document these stories, and then pass them on to the generations that come after us.  We also should not neglect to tell our own stories as we capture the stories of the past.  We each have our own voice and can connect our own family’s history: past, present and future.

When Judy came off the stage after her speech, Harvey and Jane applauded her presentation—for its content as well as the delivery.  In many ways, Judy’s message was music to their ears because it ties in so well with the Saving Memories Forever mission. In fact, just minutes later Saving Memories Forever was announced as the Grand Prize winner of the Developer’s Challenge in part for the way in which their system facilitates family storytelling.

Capturing our stories can be as simple as using the award-winning Saving Memories Forever system to record stories whenever and wherever they begin to roll.  By uploading these recorded stories to the private website, they will be backed up and can be easily shared with other family members who will cherish the stories.  When connecting photos and documents to these stories, we make them richer and add depth and evidence that enhances the accuracy of the stories.  For those of us who take the time to record our stories and share them, we can break the dreaded cycle of losing of our family history 3 generations from now.

Every family has a story.  What’s yours?  (And…where did you learn to swim?)

Deena Coutant headshot

Deena Coutant is a professional genealogist specializing in the use of technology to facilitate successful search, storage and sharing strategies for family historians in the digital age. For more information visit DigiDeena Consulting at www.digideena.com.

Beatles Arrive in New York

Beatles-Ed-Sullivan-ShowDo you know anyone in their late 50’s or older?  While they might not remember the exact date (February 2, 1962), there’s a good chance that they remember the event. The Beatles arrived in New York! Maybe they were even among the 3,000 fans who caused a near riot when the group stepped off their plane.

Two days later the Fab Four made their first television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Although it was hard to hear their actual performance over the screams of the teenage girls in the studio audience, an estimated 73 million U.S. viewers (about 40% of the US population!) tuned in to watch. Sullivan knew a good thing when he saw it and  immediately booked the Beatles for two more appearances that month.

Yes, I remember. I saw the show, and, since then, I’ve often told our children how I went to see the Beatles’ move, A Hard Day’s Night and screamed all the way through it. Probably not one of my finer moments in retrospect, but lots of fun.

Even today, the Beatles stand out. But they share a crowded stage as noted in Kim Aubrey’s blog below. She talks about the importance of music in her life.

Kims’ Blog

Music has always been important to me. As a child, I remember my Nana’s love of singing and my own basking in spotlight of my Grandpa’s undivided attention.

My Nana loved to sing.  “I used to sing in the Tivoli,” she claimed as she closed her eyes and launched into her well rehearsed version of “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole.   We played that song at her funeral and we all wept because we would never hear her sing it again.

 My Grandad liked to hear me play “The Carnival is Over” on my old school recorder when I was just a child.  “Play me it again, Kimmy” he asked.  Thankfully for him, he was borderline deaf, but it made me feel like a million dollars to be his ‘musician.’

 Music plays such a big part in everyone’s lives.  From the time we are born our mothers sing soft lullabies to lull us to sleep. We can sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” before we can speak a grammatically correct sentence. As we age, we can remember the words to songs from our teenage years better than we can remember what we had for breakfast that morning.

We all have songs that we relate to major events in our lives.  In fact, one of the greatest tools for bringing memories back is to listen to music.  It is the background of our lives – the soundtrack of our existence. It weaves around us and through us with a cocoon of emotion.

And behind all of those wonderful sounds are the people who created them.  The singers and the songwriters and the musicians give us the words and the rhythms that our bodies react to.   The reaction creates our moods.  There are medical studies that prove that our moods can be changed by the music we listen to.

No blog could mention every musician who has impacted every person because that is a purely individual response, but there are some musicians who had such world-wide appeal that their names cannot go unspoken.

Elvis Presley took us from restrained admiration for musicians to a frenzy of hormonal peaks and lows as he crooned and gyrated his way into the lives of teenagers around the world.

beatlesThe Beatles took us from polite audience response to deafening high pitched screaming complete with tears and faints as teenagers realized that their music had been liberated.  The Beatles allowed us to exhibit our moods without fear of repercussion.

Jimi Hendrix gave us amazing talent coupled with humility on an instrument that had previously been secondary to the song.   The guitar became the song when in Jimi’s hands.  He crossed cultures and he crossed generations.

Janis Joplin tackled an industry that was male dominated and ruled it with her unkempt appearance and her distinct voice.  She led women into the field and she led by pure passion for her craft and disregard for societal norms.

Michael Jackson was the creator and the creation of a lifetime of song and dance.  From his first appearance at the age of 10, to his last appearance 40 years later, he gave us creativity.  He taught us to feel what we heard and to let the music shape us and propel us into action.

Freddie Mercury paraded and strutted and held the world’s audiences in the palm of his hand as he and the rest of the band Queen combined every style of music into the greatest live show on earth for almost 20 years.

Otis Redding, Mozart, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, Karen Carpenter, Bobby Darin, Vivaldi, Bill Haley, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Eddie Cochrane, Chopin, Richie Valens. The list is endless of musicians who changed the way we acted, felt and displayed our emotions, and who have now shed their mortal coil.  As the Righteous Brothers said, “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

We all, old and young alike, have our favorite musicians and we all, old and young alike, love to listen to them and sing along.  At your next family gathering, when music rears its head and you notice your grandmother nodding her head, tapping her foot and singing along, record her singing.  If she is too embarrassed, then take her aside and ask her quietly, “Grandma, what music do you like?  What are your favourite songs, your favourite singers?  What music makes you feel like you felt when you were younger?  What music makes you smile?” You might be surprised by her answers, but you will have captured her soul. And if you record and save her comments (and maybe singing) on the Saving Memories Forever system, you’ll be able to hear her emotion time and time again.

Never let the music die.

kimsmallKim Aubrey is an Australian genealogist who has been researching for over 20 years. Kim shares ownership of kkgenealogy.com with her youngest daughter, Kristy, and undertakes all research with the “digging deeper, learning more” approach . To date, KKGenealogy has published 6 books.  You can connect with Kim via kkgenealogy.com.

RootsTech: Just Around the Corner

Carhenge photoOur bags are packed; we’re ready to go. Well, we’re almost ready. We’re waiting for some last minute orders to arrive, and, yes, we’re still organizing packets that we hope will be of interest to genealogy societies.  But we have looked up long enough to put some thought into interesting spots to visit as we drive through Nebraska and Wyoming.  “Carhenge” in Alliance, Nebraska sounds like a winner.

We’re super excited about this adventure to RootsTech 2014! We’re a Finalist for the RootsTech 2014 Developer Challenge Award!  What an incredible honor and opportunity.  It’s an honor to be chosen. It’s an honor to be validated by the folks at FamilySearch and all the other big name sponsors. And it’s an incredible opportunity to present Saving Memories Forever in more detail to people there and potentially the ENTIRE RootsTech audience. Thank you!

We’re Pumped

“OK, we’re amazed that we’re in the running,” admits Co-Owner, Jane Baker. “It sounds corny, but being given this opportunity is the dream of a lifetime. Ever since we put our family tree together 20 years ago, we’ve had this in the back of our minds.”

Co-Founder Harvey Baker continues, “We came here last year with a solid product, and over this past year, we’ve added some features that we think make our product even more appealing. While our zipfile feature makes it possible for members to download their stories on their own computers once in awhile, I think the Virtual Relative Approach is the one that really interests people. It gives families a second chance to capture the life stories of deceased relatives so that they can be shared with generations who will never even get a chance to meet him or her.”

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard ‘I wish I had your product when my grandfather was alive.’ ” adds Jane.

Changes in Just One Year

To be honest about it, we were actually pumped up about going to RootsTech 2014 just as an exhibitor. We had already arranged to meet up with some genealogy  friends who we know through e-mail, but haven’t ever actually met. Plus, Jane missed last year’s show so she was eager to take it all in.

“It’s just amazing how quickly things can change,” notes Harvey. “Last year when I attended our first RootsTech conference, Saving Memories Forever was one of only a handful of exhibitors there with a focus on storytelling. We got a warm response and people were very nice. But I’d also say that a number of people were still hesitant. The most eager audience came from members of computer-oriented groups and those leaders in the industry who have already taken the leap.”

“Things have changed over the course of the year,” continues Jane. “The computer-oriented groups are on board and we have, in fact, heard from some members of more traditional  genealogical societies. They’re curious.”

On a larger scale, storytelling has become much more mainstream, evolving from being a new buzz word into actual practice. Industry speakers are actively promoting the value of storytelling in their presentations, webinars, and even e-books. In addition, large genealogy organizations such as FamilySearch have welcomed fledgling story-oriented businesses even to the point of offering compatible API platforms.  In time, with these platforms in place, who knows what sort of connections can be made? Surely all this benefits the field of family history and genealogy.

Even the Small Fries Benefit 

Maybe it’s just luck, but this year’s RootsTech theme, “Connect with Families” also matches what Saving Memories Forever is all about. We’re excited to meet people and other exhibitors who share this interest.

We also look forward to meeting people in the field with whom we’ve had a long-distance relationship but have never met face-to-face: bloggers and consultants, speakers and leaders.  It will be exciting to learn how we all might work together. It will also be fun to explore the exhibitor hall and to talk with other exhibitors, getting their insight and seeing their products firsthand. Perhaps we’ll find some more potential business partners like we did last year.

Will it be exhausting? Without a doubt. Much as we’d like to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing, we may just have to head back to our Bed and Breakfast home to rest our aching feet. But we’ll be ready to go the next morning to greet strangers, attend some lectures, and to search out new opportunities.  We’ll see you at the show!

Jane and HarveyThis article was written by Harvey and Jane Baker, Co-Founders of Saving Memories Forever.

 

 

Just Ask

Love.

The definition of love in the Webster dictionary is as follows:a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.

How many people in your life do you feel a strong sense of affection for? I am sure it is a long, long list. What a perfect month for recording stories of love.

One of the things that my children have always enjoyed is hearing the stories of how the couples in our family met. They giggle with delight to this day listening to my mom and dad tell their love story.

I can remember as a little girl, lying on the floor looking up at my mother as she would do the ironing. That time with her was so precious and I would ask all kinds of questions, but one of my favorites was to ask her (over and over again) to tell me the story of how she and my dad met.

Even though I have heard this story numerous times and could repeat it by heart, I still ask.

About a year ago I was at my parents’ home and we were eating dinner. I opened my Saving Memories Forever app on my smartphone, laid it to the side and asked the very same question that I asked when I was a little girl watching my mother iron, “Tell me how you and dad fell in love.”

Now, a year later, my father has had a heart attack and my mother’s hearing has gotten worse. As time wears on I am so, so grateful to have captured that wonderful love story complete with all of their humor, giggles and very serious words towards each other as they shared the story that day.

That recording is the best Valentine’s gift I’ve ever asked for.

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.