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


Hit The Road Jack

around the worldIf mass tourism is defined as “affordable travel without purpose”, then it’s only a teenager.

To some extent, it all started back in the 18th century. But at this time, only the wealthy traveled for pleasure. And they loved it! In a letter to a friend, one lord complained that there were too many princes and princesses staying at the Baltic Sea resort that he was visiting.

While the aristocracy enjoyed the seaside, the rest of us could hardly imagine it. That sentiment continued for a long time.

Early Travel

Well into the 19th century, travel in America was slow and difficult. Most of the time people walked.  Even when the stagecoach lines made travel faster and less expensive, it was still a long and cumbersome journey. Maybe you’ve come across old journals in which your relatives described the difficult journey.

Then came the railroad, steamboat, and the building of canals. Railroads were especially intriguing as they were twice as fast as anything Americans had previously experienced.

In the last half of the 19th century, the cost of railroad travel went down steeply. An inventive Englishman (Thomas Cook) capitalized on this trend and developed package tourism. Using railroads, Cook sent hoards of tourist off on adventures.  Some of us might even have memorabilia handed down from ancestors who took those early tours.

Move Over

Little noted at the time, the refinement of the bicycle triggered the next leap in transportation. Bicycles were affordable. Moreover, bicycle mechanics were clever. In 1893, bicycle mechanics built the first gasoline-powered “motor wagon”.

AAAA1912-ford-model-tExciting though it was, the car was not an overnight success. It was commonly referred to as a “stink chariot” and perceived by most as a rich man’s toy. Many people at the time traveled around using a horse and buggy.

In 1908, Henry Ford changed all that with the introduction of his low-priced, highly efficient Model T. In 1915 there were 2 million cars in the United States. By 1927, there were 14 million Model Ts alone.  This is where I connect: my grandmother’s first car was a Model T. (I’m willing to bet that a number of you have pictures of your relatives posed in their Model Ts.)

Route 66The widespread popularity of the car put pressure on the federal government to get directly involved in road development. Route 66, which ran from Chicago, Illinois to California is a prime example of this road construction. Maybe some of your adventurous relatives traveled along Route 66 in its heyday.

Anticipating a huge boost in travel, one enterprising man (Arthur Heineman) built America’s first overnight motel, the Milestone Mo-tel in San Luis Obispo, California. It opened on December 12, 1925. His plan to build a chain of Mo-tels spaced approximately one day’s drive apart was derailed by the Great Depression.

VT 22After WW2, car prices decreased even more. To accommodate the cars and the demand for easy travel, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that began construction of the 42,800-mile Interstate System across the country. (I didn’t realize until writing this blog that I was born just at the cusp of all of this. But I do remember riding up to Vermont with my family along Route 22 for years and then switching to the interstate when it opened up. In retrospect, I missed some of the character that Route 22 offered, and, nowadays many people make a point to travel along the old routes for scenery and local history.)

In the 1970s, passenger planes became mass transportation. Rising incomes and low travel costs made international travel possible for many.

While many still travel to far flung tourist destinations (Australia is on my bucket list), things have changed over the last decade. Largely due to the economy, many families are now choosing “staycations” or just day trips to a nearby beach, mountain range, or park. For those of us who take these shorter trips, the focus of vacation travel places equal priority on both “getting there” and “being there”.

blog_KidsInCar_Small_Dec2010Growing up, Jen Baldwin’s family took turns picking the destination. Jen’s favorite destination activity was riding on an old steam engine railroad. She fondly remembers the drive there with her four siblings stuffed into the minivan, the excitement of city lights, and the magical warm embrace of a relative.

When it comes to car travel, I fondly remember my grandmother’s 1954 Ford. While it lacked a back seat and featured vacuum-pressured windshield wipers that would stop when going uphill, this car was one of the few that started during the cold winters in upstate New York. Traveling in that car was always adventure; in part because I was never sure that I would actually make it to my destination.

Lessons Learned

  • No matter where you go, take the time to record some of your vacation stories.
  • Tune into the reactions of your children. If you notice your child staring in amazement at the long string of car lights, talk about this marvel and record that conversation.
  • Take a few pictures to document what your child is witnessing. The Saving Memories Forever system is flexible. It can be used both to document your child’s growing up and as a tool for recording times gone by.
  • Resolve to go through those boxes of vacation photos and start grouping them. Pick your favorites and write down a few points you remember. Then call your brother or sister and patch together a family vacation memory.
  • This holiday season, ask your relatives about favorite holiday trips they’ve taken. Record their stories.  Pay close attention to the details of how they actually got there.

Just as modes and routes of transportation have drastically changed over my lifetime, who knows what changes are in store for us in the future.  Maybe we’ll all be saying “Beam me up, Scotty!”

 SMF-Jane1Jane Baker, co-owner of Saving Memories Forever, likes to blog about little things in everyday life that strike her fancy.