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


Honk, Honk, Rattle, Rattle, Crash, Beep, Beep

Henry Ford Looking at V-8 engineDid you realize that cars were only invented about 100 years ago? Isn’t it strange how history can surprise you? Can you even imagine your daily life without a family car?

Yet, just over 100 years ago cars were largely viewed as being rich men’s toys. That all changed with Henry Ford.

In December 1913 Henry Ford introduced the first car assembly line. Two months later he further improved upon his process by adding the first mechanized belt. This conveyor belt moved cars down an assembly line at a pace of 6 feet per minute. (Snail pace by modern times.) Yet that improvement had a huge impact: it made it possible to assemble a Model T in far less time (only 93 minutes) and for far less cost. All this resulted in a car that was affordable to many people—not just the elite.  By 1924 you could buy a Model T for $260.00 (equivalent of about $3500 today).

Ford’s innovations also had a significant social impact. Because of the lower manufacturing costs, Ford could afford to pay his workers higher wages. In addition, the increased efficiency of the manufacturing process meant that employees could work shorter days.  From a consumer science point of view, the Model T may be the first example of brand loyalty: for the first time there was a group of people who would only buy Fords.

Ford continually looked for more efficient ways to produce his vehicles.  He realized the value of mass production and knew that the fewer variations in the product, the easier it was to produce a quality item. So he standardized the Model T even down to the color: they were all black. In addition, he was open to putting his ideas into practice even if it meant moving his operation from St. Louis, Missouri to Highland Park, Michigan. This new building was specifically designed to accommodate the changes he had initiated in production methods and assembly line manufacturing.

Everyone Contributes

Watching the early cars move down the assembly line must have been amazing. At each stage a person added parts, and those parts became a car. Everyone and every job was critical. If a part was not there or a person installed a component incorrectly, the assembly had to stop. Specialization of labor made the concept possible. Ford’s implementation was both elegant and innovative.

The workers trained on Ford’s system were indeed on the forefront of an industrial revolution.. Imagine the stories told around the dinner table when those workers got home each night and described their day. It must have been fascinating to relatives to hear how a complete car could be built in less than 2 hours.

Most of these stories are lost to time now, but that does not excuse us from documenting our own  work days and daily life.  We live in a time when innovations happen every day, and we have witnessed the development of various industries, including railroads, airplanes, space and telecommunications, communications and computers. Take advantage of this window in history in which we live and record some of your technology memories on Saving Memories Forever today. Ask older relatives for their “work” stories as well. Find out what their daily tasks included.  Discover how they coped with changes in the workplace. Their perseverance (and ours) is a good lesson for both current and future generations.

What’s Ahead?

Manufacturing in America will continue to be innovative.  It will continue to improve the efficiency and quality on mass production assembly lines; it also promises innovation in the area of building custom products. Just think about it: 3-D printers can now make small plastic items from a photograph!

Pay attention to the innovations that you notice in your life: the car that parks itself, the GPS and wearable technology that allow you to feel safe while exploring, the new advances in medicine, the latest pictures from remote spacecraft. Take in their wonder. Even better: create an “In the Day Of” recording. Sit down with family members and have each member talk about their day. Then share these stories. Make it possible for future generations to have this insight.  They’ll want to know. Your ordinary day will be fascinating to them.

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.