In the Beginning: A Question of Technology

SMF Census Building engraving

In the world of family history, a key event happened about 200 years ago on August 2, 1790.  It was a big day with enormous, if not shaky, consequences: the day the first census was held in the United States.

The result? On that day, the population of the United States was measured at 3,929,214 people. How long did it take? It took only nine months to complete the census process, especially impressive given the available “technology” of paper, ink, saddles, and candles. Was it accurate? Then Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, and President George Washington both expressed concern over the results: had the country been under-counted? Considering the individual refusal to participate, transportation challenges, and general limitations of the tools used to gather the information, it seems likely that the count was inaccurate. Despite its failings, though, family historians today are grateful for the work done then and since.

Other facts, including city populations, popped up from the tally. New York City was the largest city in the nation then. The top ten cities included Boston Town, Philadelphia and the Southwark district of Pennsylvania.

The Census occurred in a time of many “firsts”. George Washington, first President of The United States, had presented the first State of the Union Address just months before in January.  The Supreme Court had gathered for the first time in February.

While the actual census numbers are perhaps debatable, a headcount of almost 4 million people at the time was a big number. But the country was ready for expansion and primed for invention. Indeed the following decades witnessed the development of the U.S. Post Office and the creation of the cotton gin. Can you list a few technological advancements that contributed to westward expansion and the beginning of urban development?

Fast Forward 200 Yearsworld globalization

Two hundred years after the first U.S. Census a software engineer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee made a unique proposal to his superiors at CERN, a particle physics laboratory. When it was finally approved and publicized, his idea became better known as the World Wide Web. By late 1990, the first web page had been “served” and was visible to the world.  From 1790 to 1990, technology had moved from the cotton gin to arguably the most powerful communication medium the world has ever known.

Today, it’s not a surprising fact that most Americans use the internet. Among those using the internet are genealogists.  For many of us, utilizing the internet has become an everyday tool. We use websites for research. These websites contain thousands of documents on personal history.  We also communicate via social media and email. Apps such as Saving Memories Forever help us collect and save oral family stories and expand our numbers because they are so easy to use.  Digital photographs also make documentation of everyday life easy to do. National Geographic predicts that Americans will take 105 billion digital photos in 2015.  The quantity of data is no less than stunning. We are preserving history every day, and faster than ever before.

The Fuss about Technology

Just as technology offers advantages, it also presents disadvantages. There is certainly concern over the loss of research skills. And just as George Washington and his peers were concerned with the limitations of his contemporary technology, should we also be concerned? Is there now too much technology?

As a community, genealogists see new resources added online almost daily. Discussions occur regularly about best practices of digital photography, data storage, and online family trees. New organizations are forming, focusing on using only virtual tools to organize, educate, and build their communities. Genealogy-focused blogging –which includes the words you are currently reading- sees incredible increases in numbers each month.  Dare I ask: where does it end?

The answer to that question may never be found. The United States has always been known as a nation of innovation and creativity, and it does appear that counting heads and accessing information has become irreversibly intertwined with technology. Where do you think we are headed? Where do you see the ideal balance?

You Decide

How much will technology play a role in your family history research? There are so many options; the choices are nearly endless. A few of my favorites provided by the government include the US National Archives YouTube channel, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US National Archives Education Facebook page.

Considering the impact technology has had on the development of our country and our record collection processes, I can only look forward with much anticipation as to what is to come.

 

 

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Genealogist 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. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.

Summer Vacations Create Family Memories

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Whether your family goes camping, hits the beaches, visits historical sites or just remains local for a “staycation,” summer vacations are a great time to create and to capture family memories.

A Brief History of Summer Vacations

The concept of “taking a vacation” for most of us means getting away from the office and our usual routine for one or two weeks. No emails, no meetings, no cares, right? Prior to World War II, only the well-to-do had the means to just up and travel when they wanted to and take what most of us know as a vacation. My immigrant ancestors from Germany and Ireland didn’t have the luxury of a vacation – summer or other seasons; basically, if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid! Since the mid-20th century, most companies provide vacation time as a benefit to employees and most of us look forward to our vacations!

But why summer? The common belief has been that the practice is rooted in America’s early history as a rural, agrarian economy and the public education system. During the summer, children were expected to work in the fields and help with the harvest. But recent thinking holds that it was in fact urban America with its hot steamy cities and public health issues that pushed for a summer break when children could head out to the country.

Do You Remember Summer Vacations From the Past?

For me, summer vacations were not very frequent but I remember two as a child: Niagara Falls, New York and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I grew up in New York which is filled with history and whenever we went on vacation, my mother always made sure there was some element of “learning” about our country’s past. For Niagara it meant the War of 1812 since many of the key battles took place along the Great Lakes. And with the Gettysburg trip, we visited the historic battlefield as well as all the monuments as we learned about the Civil War.

While some of us only have memories, did you realize that you may actually be sitting on a treasure trove of family mementos from past vacations? I recently went through a box of items from my family and guess what I found? Old 8mm home movies from those two vacations from my youth as well as flyers and brochures from the sites we visited. And then, of course, there are the photos taken of me, my brother and my mother as we enjoyed our getaways in the mid-1970s.

Best Ways to Capture Vacation Memories

Here are some ideas on capturing memories of summer vacation, both those from your youth and those you may be planning for this summer or in the future:

  • Record Your Memories: Even if you don’t have any tangible mementos of your past vacations, write down your memories or better yet, record them as stories using Saving Memories Forever.
  • Preserve Paper and Photos: Don’t forget that over time flyers and brochures will fade and break down if not preserved using archival envelopes and folders. Also, make sure your photos are also preserved for posterity using sound archival methods.
  • Scan Items for Safekeeping: Besides preserving items, make sure you scan the important ones and create digital images. If the originals are lost, you’ll always have these files as a backup.
  • Convert Home Movies and Slides: If you are sitting on slides and movies from vacation, make sure you convert them to DVD or digital files. And don’t wait until the film or slides break down! You can find converters that will let you perform the conversion yourself but many use an outside service. Why? They are the experts at converting these items and they are conveniently located at local superstores (Walmart and Costco) or drug stores (Walgreen’s and CVS).
  • Create a Scrapbook: A fun project – even one saved for cold Winter days – is to create a scrapbook of old summer vacation memories. Choose whether to use the traditional book format or digital scrapbooking and include photos, stories and more.
  • Share with Your Family: The best part about discovering items related to past family vacations is sharing them with your loved ones. Amazing stories are sure to pop up as you all look at the photos, movies and other items. Also remember to use Saving Memories Forever to interview those other family members who were on vacation with you and capture their stories!

 

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Game Time at Family Reunions!

Games.  They’ve certainly changed over the years. Way back when, it used to be that a game of horseshoes or croquet in the backyard was the pinnacle of excitement. Then, maybe a rousing game of “Go Fish” or Parcheesee.  Then, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Uno. Card and tile games such as Bridge, Pinnocole, and Mah Johng still hold sway among the 60+ group. I understand that Poker’s also still a strong contender, but even Poker’s popularity stats fall far behind today’s leaders: video games.

I’ll admit it right up front:  I’m not a video game fan.  Even the Super Mario games that came out a good 20 years ago made me nervous, and they’re nothing compared to today’s games.

My objection to these games isn’t primarily focused on the violence and sex. My focus is on what those games take away. They take away contact. They diminish engagement. For me, even the convenient on-line games fall short of the mark.  In my book, players should be face-to-face. Otherwise, it’s simply not as much fun.

Games for Your Family Reuinion

Fast forward to a family reunion, and the key role that activities, including games, play in making family reunions successful.

“I think it’s fair to say that the activities pretty much are the glue that holds it all together.” comments Janet who has attended her family’s reunion of 200 people for “about a zillion years.” She adds with a laugh, “Well, the food’s mighty important too.”

Let’s Play

The trick to planning activities is coming up with activities that appeal to the wide age span and that provide something for everyone.  Below are three tried and true activity suggestions followed by a new suggestion:

  • What’s Special About You?
    Have each family member write something interesting about themselves on a slip of paper and put it in a bucket. Draw out a slip, read it, and have everyone guess who wrote it. An example is, “I can put both of my feet behind my head.” They can write anything that distinguishes them.
  • It’s All About Teams
    Organize a softball game. Pitting the older players against the younger players is always popular.
  • Calling Julia Childs
    Well, no one in your family may cook a fantastique boeuf bourginon, but I bet there are lots of relatives interested in a fun cooking competition. It gives talented cooks a chance to show off and the hungry masses something to smile about. Pick a popular theme such as baked goods or chili, and invite an all-age panel of family members to judge the competition.  Remember to take snapshots of the submitted dishes as well as snapshots of the recipes. (You can upload these as pictures and text files to your family reunions stories on Saving Memories Forever.)

New Activity Idea: Pass the Phone

Pass-the-Phone is a new activity idea.  It uses smartphone apps and storytelling so it appeals to the folks who like “high-tech” as well as others who value oral history.

It requires only a committed game leader (who does some advance preparation BEFORE the reunion) and family members who are willing to answer a question or two. Ideally, the game leader has a smartphone and is comfortable with using the Saving Memories Forever website.

The activity can be played by “going around the circle” or picking names from a hat. The game involves asking a question, recording the answer, and saving those recorded answers on the Saving Memories Forever website. The Saving Memories Forever apps provide some question prompts, but players can always ask their own questions. The game goes quickly and is flexible.  Interviews last only 5 minutes apiece with each question and response; the leader decides when to end the game.

Family reunions invite this Pass-the-Phone activity to be a group experience. You can be sure that family members will interject their comments and those unedited comments will also be fun to listen to down the road.  For more details about how to play Pass-the Phone, check our website.

Meanwhile, let the games begin!

Start With the Oldest

[Editor’s Note: Join us each month as master storyteller Kim Weitkamp shares her best tips for capturing your family stories. Be sure to visit Kim’s website: www.kimweitkamp.com]

 

I love to tell stories. So much so, that I do it for a living.

As a professional storyteller, it is one of my greatest joys to gather new stories from my family. I interview my mom and dad about once every two months. They are at an age where they feel the need to tell someone their stories. I am very honored that I am the one who gets to listen and gather these family nuggets. Plus, there is the added bonus of using this great material for my shows!

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One of the toughest things I have found when interviewing family members and friends is that when they saw me writing things down, they would tend to be more cautious and less relaxed. So, I started using my phone to record the conversations, but found the recordings were difficult to upload and open leaving it stuck in my phone.

When I came across Saving Memories Forever, it was the perfect solution to my dilemma! When the good folks at Saving Memories Forever asked me to be their in house Storyteller, I was absolutely thrilled! Each month I will have the privilege of giving you new tips on storytelling and story gathering.

I want to encourage you to begin your story gathering with the oldest folks in your family. The main reason for this is because you never know how long you will have them. Plus, they supply not only valuable information about your family but also a glimpse into history itself. So, open up your Saving Memories Forever app on your phone, add their name as the storyteller, put in their life information, and let’s get busy!

I look forward to helping you grow your family history each month.

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kim-weitkampKim Weitkamp is an internationally known, professional storyteller. Her material has been featured on NPR (National Public Radio), SiriusXM, and other radio stations throughout the states. Kim is best known for her personal stories of growing up free range in Amish Country, Pennsylvania. Her stories give the listener a humorous yet poignant view of life and growing up. Her articles on genealogy, storytelling, and family history have been published in various magazines and journals. Kim is passionate about the power of story (in business and in the home) and story coupled with genealogy/family history. She regularly keynotes on these topics. You can learn more about Kim by visiting her website at www.kimweitkamp.com.

Are We There Yet: Making Family Vacation Travel Easier

In the minds of most Americans, Memorial Day trumpets the beginning of summer. What better way to kick off the summer than with picnics and parades?

Just behind the parades and picnics come the family vacation! A lot of the vacation planning started awhile ago. Dates have been set; hotel and plane reservations have been made. The GPS system has been updated. But that doesn’t cover everything.  Not by a long shot.

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Consider, for example, the plaintive “Are we there yet?” from the 10-year old in the back seat of the car.  You’ve prepared for an 8-hour car ride, but it’s disheartening that your son is asking this question only 30 minutes into the ride. Then there’s the wondering. Did you re-confirm picking up the newspaper with the neighbor?  Will your daughter’s lousy cough develop into something worse?

 

There are actually travel apps that can help you with all of this.

An app called Viber allows you to text and call without those roaming fees. Then  there’s Wi-Finder that finds Wi-Fi in 114 countries. Still another app, mPassport, helps you locate certified medical help globally.

 

The Saving Memories Forever app provides help of a different kind.

Remember the 10-year old in the back of the car?  Instead of having him count car licenses from 50 states or playing endless hours of Nintendo, show him how the Saving Memories Forever app works and have him act as the family news reporter for the family trip, recording funny incidents as they occur. Yes, it’s easy enough for a 10-year old to operate.

Perhaps “downtime” is another aspect of vacationing that you haven’t fully considered. Don’t misunderstand. There is a clear benefit to doing nothing other than listen to the sound of ocean waves. In fact, be sure to do that.

But vacations also give you an opportunity to talk, to reinforce the bonds of what it means to be a couple and a family. Dedicate some vacation time to tell your children more about your family. You might want to focus on relatives who often get overlooked—the relatives who are no longer living. These may include people your children will never meet in person. But they don’t have to be unknown.

At Saving Memories Forever, we’ve come up with a process that helps you bring these relatives back to life. We call these re-creations Virtual Relatives. Click here for a blog that further introduces Virtual Relatives or click here for the How-To blog that provides step-by-step instructions.  It only takes minutes at a time to create a meaningful legacy.

 

Three step to consider:

1) Register on our website for the free version of our service by using the “Sign Up” link in the upper right hand corner of our home page. Try it out to make sure that your iPhone or Android is compatible with our system. This also gives you an opportunity to practice your family’s storytelling skills.

2) Practice before you show up at the family reunion or focus on creating your own Virtual Relatives.  We suggest you practice by recording a story or two about yourself. Let the kids listen to you as you record your story. It will be fun to listen to your children’s laughter as part of your recording.

3) Compare the free service to our Premium Subscription. Click here for the link that provides a chart comparing the two.

 

Where are you planning to go on your family vacation?  How will you gather and save those memories?

Virtual Relatives: 6 steps to creating a family project

Our first blog in this series provided a general description of the Virtual Relative project available through Saving Memories Forever. Put briefly, Saving Memories Forever offers an easy approach that allows families to re-create the life of a deceased relative—through stories. When combined, these stories give a rich sense of the life of a family member. They do this through photos, selected word documents (such as recipes) and the power of voice.

While it seems detailed, It’s really simple once you get started. Here’s how you’ll remember your relative in six easy steps.

Take the lead on your family stories project!

Step One: Take the lead.
Offer to be the project leader on this one, especially if you have an iPhone or Android device. If you have one of these smartphones, the story recording process is easy. Saving the stories involves uploading the story recordings to our website, SavingMemoriesForever.com. And that’s just a matter of pressing a “button” on the app. On the other hand, if you don’t have a smartphone and you know of someone else in the family who does, discuss the project with them and take measure of their level of enthusiasm. If they’re excited about it, ask them to take the lead.

Whether it’s you or some other relative, your second step is to go to our website and try out our system. Sign up for the free subscription, and then play around with both the app and the website. You’ll want to know how to use both. Also, this is your opportunity to make sure that your smartphone is compatible with our system.  (See the FAQs on our website for more information about compatibility.)  If the “worst” happens and there’s no smartphone available, you can still use our website to save and share the stories. You will also have to use an MP3 recorder to record face-to-face interviews or Skype for long distance phone call storytelling. You can upload these recorded stories directly to the site from your PC.

Step Two: Set up the Virtual Relative account.
Setting up a Virtual Relative is easy.  Establish a Paid account for the Virtual Relative by using the Sign Up button in the upper right corner of the SavingMemoriesForever.com Home Page and enter an e-mail and a password that will be used just for this account. Check the Paid button and choose either the monthly or yearly Premium Subscription.  (The Paid account allows you to add pictures and text files to each story and share it with all of your relatives.) Use the name of the Virtual Relative@somesite.com as the e-mail address. For example if the Virtual relative’s name is Jane Smith, use an e-mail address like JaneSmith@gmail.com. The e-mail doesn’t have to be Jane’s actual email. In fact, it can be made up.

Step Three: Invite others to record and listen to stories about the deceased Virtual Relative. 
You start this by sharing your first story. Be sure you are in the Manager Mode and then press the Share button. An e-mail form will pop up. Provide the e-mail addresses for all the relatives involved in the project. Don’t forget to include your own e-mail address.  Write a brief note explaining what you are doing and maybe give them idea of what your first story describes. Ask for their help and give them the e-mail and password for the Virtual Relative’s account. Ask them to suggest other family members who might be interested in either listening to or recording stories about the Virtual Relative.

Step Four: Connect and share.
Your relatives will receive your notification in their e-mail. This notification alerts them that your story exists and that they have your permission to add and access the stories about this Virtual Relative. To respond to your notification email, the relatives should click on the link at the bottom of the your e-mail. Then they should register on the system. Each participant has to register.  Registration is free and will allow them to listen to the Virtual Relative’s stories.  To record stories about the Virtual Relative, relatives should use the Virtual Relative e-mail address and the password that you sent them in your notification email. To share their newly recorded stories, they should repeat the same process with other family members.

Famiily photos add enriching stories to your project.

Step Five: Add and enrich.
Once people get going and have uploaded some stories,  encourage contributors to upload any pictures they might have.  These could be pictures that fit the story they recorded or just pictures of the Virtual Relative. Either way, snapshots will undoubtedly enrich both the stories and the overall collection.

Step Six: Establish a timeframe for the stories to be submitted.
We suggest giving a month for people to submit their stories. After the stories are recorded to the account, change the password of the Virtual Relative account and the audio story and picture collection is done. (This is to avoid any accidental deletions. Accidents happen!) If there are more stories to be added at a later date, just re-share the new password through e-mail and repeat the process.

Think of relatives in your family who you remember. Then tap another relative’s shoulder and ask what they remember.  Chances are, they remember a lot. Consider your role. Be the bridge between family members who knew the deceased well and those who never even met them.

Take advantage of this opportunity.

Mom, Tell Us a Story About You

[Editor’s Note: Saving Memories Forever welcomes guest blogger Cathi Nelson, Founder and CEO of The Association of Personal Photo Organizers. Just like us, Cathi believes in the power – and importance – of family stories.]

Our family has no shortage of photos, albums and home movies documenting   the milestone moments of our lives.  My son’s first step, my daughter’s curls, the first day of school, presents on Christmas morning – everything is well documented but something is missing.  That something is ME.  I am the person behind the camera, cajoling my kids to smile, grouping subjects for the perfect group photo and painstakingly printing and scrap-booking our memories. Recently I realized I was not part of the story and thus a critical point of view was missing.

Favorite Things - Saving Memories Forever

Fortunately, today there are many options to change this. I created a small album with 24 photos and called it, “A Few of My Favorite Things” it includes a photo of my coffee cup, my row of cookbooks, our backyard and a short sentence of why this is one of my favorite things. I know someday my kids will enjoy looking at that album and I wish I had something similar from my mother or grandmother. It can be even as simple as asking your mother to tell you a story, about her!  Come up with a list of 10 questions and interview your mom.  Where did you grow up? Where did you go to high school? What is your favorite past time?  How are you different from your parents? Saving Memories Forever makes it easy for you to capture those memories too! The answer to these questions will become part of your family history and Mom will no longer be the mysterious figure behind the camera.

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Cathi Nelson, Founder and CEO of Appo72 dpi brown jacket

In 2009, Cathi had her “light bulb” moment when she recognized that consumers were becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the exploding number of photos, media and memorabilia they were accumulating. She created Appo to support a new and emerging profession of photo managers by providing training, support and collaboration for people interested in adding photo management services to their existing business or as a new business. She is also a mom of two freshmen (college & high school) and a lifelong lover of stories and photos.