Just Ask


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.


Lights on Broadway

time square at night in manhattanSix years ago, I stood in line on a cold January afternoon in Manhattan. I was waiting for the doors of the theater to open and I was full of anticipation. It was my first visit to Broadway! And I wasn’t disappointed: the show (Hairspray) was vibrant, energetic, and so much more than what I had anticipated. It was truly something you can only experience in New York.

Needless to say, I’m not the first to see a Broadway production. Nor is Hairspray the first show to make it to the Big Time. In fact, one of the longest-running shows of all time, Hello, Dolly! opened its doors 50 years ago this week.

Written by David Merrick, the original Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway on January 16, 1964 with Carol Channing starring as Dolly Levi. Over the years, the play has been honored with ten Tony Awards, including “Best Musical,” a record that the play held for 35 years. Hit songs from the musical include “Hello, Dolly”, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes, and “Before the Parade Passes By” and I’d be willing to bet that a number of you reading this blog can hum those tunes.

Truly a valuable and beloved part of American culture, the original production ran more than 2,800 performances over six years. Hello, Dolly! played internationally as well with runs in England, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and tours in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Every Song Brings a Memory

The main appeal of Broadway musicals is that they offer a strong story line that is embellished with a wide variety of songs. Attending one of these musical productions provides both the fun of the occasion, but also the lifetime memory of a particular song. Recalling that favorite song brings back the emotional connection to the whole experience.

The tradition of portraying a story line through song exists in every culture. Some of history’s greatest works of literature, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, began as oral chants. And ballads and epics told by song are nothing more than lyrical oral history.

Last year at RootsTech, there was a lot of attention paid to the importance of preserving oral tradition through storytelling. I agree and I’ve begun recording my parents’ stories. But I didn’t consider my daughter. Recently, when I was recording some of my parents’ stories on Saving Memories Forever, my daughter surprised me by grabbing my smartphone and then recording the story of her day. You can be sure that her story (along with my parents’ stories) has been uploaded and shared on the Saving Memories Forever system. While their stories may not be ballads or hit songs from a famous Broadway musical, they are all music to my ears.

Music for Everyone

Of course, not every musical has the endurance or success of Hello! Dolly. It does seem however, that musical shows depict every facet of our culture, from the wild decadence of the 20s seen in Chicago and Cabaret to the slang and mood of the 50s and 60s portrayed in Hairspray and Grease. Some productions such as Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King create new worlds of eerie beautiful night music and the beat of African drums. No matter your preference, you can almost certainly find a musical show that will deliver a particular message, sing a memorable tune, and delight you for a lifetime.

That memorable day for me was back in 2008 when my husband and I had the pleasure of seeing Hairspray on Broadway. I have to admit it; my husband was not quite as excited as I was. I had grown up seeing small town productions and music of this nature had always been a part of my life (I can still sing along to almost the entire length of Oklahoma!) My husband agreed to attend.

Hours later, when we walked out of the theater, a grin covered his face. To this day, we still love to talk about the show. We have promised each other to make that return trip, only this time, we will have the pleasure of sharing the tradition with our daughter. I cannot wait to see the sparkle in her eyes as it reflects the lights of Broadway.

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.

Christmas Memories

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

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

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

The Dreaded Holiday Letter? I LOVE Them!

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

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

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

Something Old, Something New

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

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

Ho Ho Ho

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

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

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