A Girl Scout in the Family

girl scouts at the white house

On March 12, 1912, the first Girl Scout meeting was held in Savannah, Georgia when Juliette Gordon Low brought 18 young women together to form a troop. Low’s focus was to provide opportunities to young women and ensure their physical, mental and spiritual development.

The vision that Low had, starting with that first meeting, was an organization that was “girl-centered.” What started with just 18 girls has grown to an organization with over 3.2 million girls and adults. According to the Girl Scouts of America, there are over 59 million women in the United States today who can be claimed as Girls Scouts alumnae.

The Girl Scouts of America was patterned after the popular Girl Guides organization in Britain, but by 1920 had developed its own distinct uniform, handbook and organizational structure. By then, there were 70,000 girl scouts across the country.

During the Great Depression, many troops focused on community service including food drives and providing meals to those in need. Also in the 1930s, with a focus on age appropriate activities, Girl Scouts were split into divisions including the Brownies. And did you know that ithe first Girl Scout cookies were commercially baked in the 1930s?

With the arrival of World War II, community service included scrap metal drives, learning how to grow Victory Gardens as well as how to handle blackouts and air raid drills.

The 1950s and 1960s is when the organization saw its largest growth, thanks to the post-war Baby Boom. As the Girl Scouts continued to grow towards the end of the 20th century, activities included computers and developing technology skills for young women. And now in the 21st century, new badges such as Global Awareness and Environmental Health reflect the challenges women, and all of us, will face in the coming decades.

Did the Girl Scouts Play a Role in Your Family?

For many families, the Girl Scouts were a big part of “growing up” in the United States. More and more family historians are discovering that memories of being a Girl Scout and participating in activities make for great family stories.

Here are some interview questions, writing/journaling prompts and project ideas:

  • Which of your ancestors were members of the Girl Scouts? What is the earliest instance you can find of a family member participating in Girl Scouts?
  • Do you have a current family member who was or is involved in the Girl Scouts? Consider interviewing your older relatives (using Saving Memories Forever, of course) and ask them what it was like to be a Girl Scout as they grew up. Discuss the skills they developed.
  • Have you inherited a box of Girl Scout items such as sashes, uniforms, handbooks and more? Contact your local troop and ask if they would be interested in the items for their archives. If not, create a video or slide show describing the items and who in your family owned them.
  • Were you a Girl Scout? Record your own memories in a variety of formats including audio, digital images and in writing.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEntee

Thomas 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. He is a frequent guest blogger for SavingMemoriesForever.com. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

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!

Passover Memories

[Editor’s Note: The holidays aren’t upon us right now, so why would we ask a guest to blog about a holiday? Because many of you are going to be seeing family over the summer. This is a great time to ask relatives about your holiday traditions and those of your ancestors. Thanks to genealogist and author Jennifer Alford of Jenealogy and The In-Depth Genealogist for sharing about her family’s Passover traditions.] 

 

How do you mark the holidays that are important in your family?  Growing up I found that we did things a little different than most.  My mom is Jewish and my dad’s side is Catholic.  I grew up with both sets of holidays and connected to them in a way that was more historical than religious.  Sitting at the dinner table celebrating Passover has become one of those enduring memories that I want to pass on to my own future children.

Over the years, the Passover Seder has had an increasing meaning for me.  Part of that is due to the fact that I do not get home to spend time with my family as much as I would like.  Since starting my genealogy research I have an increased appreciation for how the Jewish people have survived and held onto their beliefs.  I have a lot of respect for those with strong beliefs- whatever they may be.  I always marked the time of year by the television showing of “The Ten Commandments” and the story of the Jews escaping Egypt.  There is nothing like Charlton Heston, as Moses, declaring, “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: Let my people go.”  My friends celebrated Easter while many Jews were planning their Passover Seder.

2011Passover-labels

 

Anyway, for those not familiar with Passover (or Pesach) I thought I’d share some of the things that my family and I do when we celebrate.  I can’t speak for all Jews (and wouldn’t want to!), but I really love the time we have together as a family.  A few years ago I found some hilarious finger puppets to use in the telling of the story of Passover.  Check them out in the pictures below.

Mom always makes a great spread with all the representative foods used during the night.  She has spent a lot of time putting together a special series of readings from several different Haggadahs.  We all take turns reading from the books and say the blessings for the wine with Mom’s guidance.  She grew up attending the synagogue regularly and was active in the youth activities there.  Though I started off going to a Hebrew Day School; I did not stick with it and lost a lot of what I had learned then.

 

During the dinner we talk about the 2011Passover01symbolism of the various foods on the Seder plate.  Greens (Karpas) represent the initial flourishing of the Jews in Egypt.  The salt water represents the tears shed by the Jews.  Haroset is a mix of fruit, nuts, and wine and represents the mortar used to build the pyramid.  Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish is used) allow us to taste the bitterness of slavery.  The lamb shank bone represents the sacrifice of a lamb made at the Temple for a special Passover offering.  The egg shows the circle of life.

2011Passover04The youngest child in our family, Kait, asks the four questions and notes what is different about the night’s celebration.

  1. On all other nights we eat bread or matzo, while on this night we eat only matzo.
  2. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs, but on this night we have to eat bitter herbs.
  3. On all other nights we don’t dip our vegetables in salt water, but on this night we dip them twice.
  4. On all other nights we eat while sitting upright, but on this night we eat reclining.

 

There is always an extra place setting for Elijah and the door is kept open in case he should appear.  (Yes, that’s right, the Jews are still waiting for their Messiah.)

As we tell the story of the Exodus we talk about the ten plagues that occurred.  The ten plagues brought on Egypt were:jennysad

  1. Water to Blood;
  2. Frogs;
  3. Gnats or Lice;
  4. Livestock Diseased/ Cattle Plague;
  5. Flies;
  6. Boils;
  7. Thunder and Hail;
  8. Locusts;
  9. Darkness;
  10. and Death of the Firstborn.

 

By the time we’ve made it through all the stories, reflections, and blessings we are usually so full that we hardly make a dent on the delicious meal that Mom has made.  On the bright side, the leftovers are great!  When I think back to the generations before me I wonder what their Passover Seder’s were like?  I guess I know what I’ll have to ask Mom about next time I’m home!

 

Author Bio:

Jennifer Alford is a freelance writer, artist, and professional genealogist specializing in research in Jewish genealogy and the Midwest states.  As the owner of Jenealogy she creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations.  The love of photography, storytelling, and history combine in her blog and unique products.  Jennifer Alford is Publisher of Going In-Depth, The In-Depth Genealogist’s monthly digital magazine.  She is also author of IDG’s Monthly column, Jewish Genealogy.

 

 

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!

family-beach-photocorners

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.

are-we-there-yet

 

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.