11 December 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Grandma's Boxes

The summer of 1993 marked a dramatic ending to a work of love for my Grandma Christensen. (Read that story here.) My sister Beth and I had embarked upon a project to organize our Christensen/Johnson family history. Grandma, aging fast, was so invested in what we were doing that she asked us to make a hundred copies of the book to give to her posterity for the coming Christmas season. But as we prepared to travel through a late July night to her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, we knew we couldn't wait until the heat of the summer had turned into December. Our grandma passed away within days after we delivered "the book." It was distributed at the family luncheon that followed her funeral.

One of the "boxes" in the boxes
But that was only the beginning. More inspiration came on the 15th of November in 2003, over ten years after Grandma's death. In her family, our branch (our mother Anne had died years earlier) was known for our interest in family lore. Our uncles, aunts and cousins who lived in Las Vegas cleaned out Grandma's home and divided her possessions. But when the eight boxes of memorabilia went unclaimed after her death, they ended up in my sister Adele's storeroom in Orem, Utah.

Sister Annalee and I reading and sorting
Now, ten years later, Adele had called several of us sisters who lived nearby to a family meeting to discuss "Grandma's boxes." The plan was to sort through them and organize or discard the old news clippings, letters, photos of distant relatives, funeral programs for our great-aunts and uncles, etc. We opened the first box and the smell of Grandma's house wafted out. I closed my eyes and I was back in her home, hearing her voice giving us instruction and caution. I felt the call to publish another book, better, more complete, hardbound, about the life of our grandparents, their children, their ancestors and their family history. Did I say one more book? Maybe there would be more than one.

Grandma had lived through important world events, two World Wars, the Great Depression, life on a farm in Idaho and then the growth of the Las Vegas metropolis where her family was a force to be reckoned with. But the numerous photos and newspaper clippings dealt with those events only as they touched the people she loved. Candy boxes and stationery boxes were filled with letters and cards from these folks. We spread the treasures out in piles on Adele's ping pong table and still there was more. What a fun day that was! And nearly overwhelming.

Sister Melanie working
These ten boxes grew into three 800 page books about Grandma and Grandpa's loved ones and their ancestry. The project took nearly six years to complete with several of my sisters and cousins adding their work. Old papers, photos, letters and clippings had been stuffed into boxes marked for recycling unless "Anne's girls" wanted to go through them. Indeed a treasure and a blessing, for us and for posterity.

08 December 2014

Obituaries: Newspaper Gold Mines

Today is the birthday of my niece Jeni. Since I'm thinking of her today, I'm posting a copy of her obituary. In a few words it captures her life story, gives her birth and death dates and places, and her family members. It is definitely worth searching out obituaries to write a family history story. 

1976 ~ 2014
Jennifer Whitney Goodman
Jennifer Whitney Goodman passed away peacefully in her home January 23, 2014, at the age of 37. She finally succumbed to breast cancer that attacked her the third time.  She was born December 8, 1976 in Las Vegas, NV. to Clark and Susan Whitney of Henderson, Nevada, the second oldest of six children, Jennifer spent her life serving those around her and finding joy in the simple things in life.

She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1998, where she met her beloved husband Rex Goodman whom she married in the Oakland California LDS Temple on August 18, 1998. Jeni loved spending time with her family and friends. Some of her fondest memories were of Whitney family reunions with her extended family. Jennifer battled breast cancer on three separate occasions and also overcame a serious back injury as a teenager. She had great empathy for people.

She grew up in Henderson, Nevada, and later lived in Provo, Utah (BYU), Sacramento, California, Carson City and Dayton, Nevada, and finally in Bountiful. She was a devoted mother to her three children and was a faithful member of the LDS church in which she served in many callings in the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations.She loved the children and the young women that she served and could normally be found preparing a lesson or making plans for an upcoming activity. 

She is survived by her husband Rex Goodman; three children, Lucy, Cole and Cecelia Goodman; parents Clark and Susan Whitney; siblings Eddie Whitney (Barbara), Angela Davis (Anthony), Nick Whitney, Holly Schilling (John), Luke Whitney (Jenniphfer); in-laws Grant and Judy Goodman; as well as numerous brother- and sister-in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Services will be held at 10:00 am Monday Jan. 27, 2014, at the LDS Val Verda 9th Ward Chapel, 3317 South 800 West, Bountiful, Utah. Viewings will be held on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 at Russon Brothers Mortuary, 295 N. Main Street, Bountiful, Utah from 6:00-8:00 pm, and on Monday from 9:00 to 9:45 am at the church prior to the funeral. Interment to follow at Bountiful City Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in her name to the Camp Kesem BYU (http://campkesem.org/byu).

On a personal note, Jeni shared a thought in the LDS Church Primary program she headed up in November 2014: "Every time we give and receive love, we reaffirm our identity as children of God, since He is love." During her birthday week, I will serve others by indexing obituaries. Following are some obituary projects currently underway at FamilySearch.org. To begin a project, go to https://familysearch.org/indexing/ 

US, Arkansas—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, AZ, NM, NV—Obituaries, 1980–2014
US, California, Alameda County, Oakland—Obituaries, 1986–2011
US, California—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]US, CT, DE, NH, VT—Obituaries, 1980–2014
US, Georgia—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Idaho—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Indiana—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part B]US, Iowa—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Kansas—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Kentucky—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part B]
US, Louisiana—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part B]
US, Maine—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Massachusetts—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Michigan—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Minnesota—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Mississippi—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Missouri—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Nebraska—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, New Jersey—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part B]
US, North Dakota—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part B]
US, Oklahoma—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Oregon—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part E]
US, Tennessee—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Texas—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, Texas—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Utah—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]
US, West Virginia—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part D]
US, Wisconsin—Obituaries, 1980–2014 [Part C]

07 December 2014

Great finds: Newspaper research

I attended a class finding family information in the many online newpaper sites now available. These are becoming more and more common and accessible. I knew the Syphus family had spent time in Australia so I popped in to Elephind.com which I understood to be strong in that country. I was clearly fishing for information, just adding the surname to see what would happen. Whoa! Did I catch a big one.

Imagine my surprise when this headline came up, "FATHER STABS DAUGHTER WHILE SHE NURSES BABY: Boy Saves His Sister from Probable Death by Hurling Parent Aside." Could this be my Syphus family? I wondered. Further research revealed that yes, indeed, the errant father whose newsworthy act was reported in the Los Angeles Herald (though it occurred in Salt Lake City) was indeed a cousin of mine.

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California Digital Newspaper collection, Los Angeles Herald, 2 February 1909



25 September 2014

On-line Personal Storytelling Helps

There are several websites that facilitate family history writing when it comes to writing your own story. These sites each encourage us to take the sting out of writing our histories by doing it just one story at a time.

Legacy Stories has been around for awhile. Tom Cormier, the president and CEO, has long been a proponent of preserving personal history.  He works with an expert advisory team with the aim to “educate, motivate and activate people to rescue their highest priority recorded and living memories before they are lost.” The website and the mobile app both provide what they call “rescue tools” and a place to both store and share priceless personal and family history. They also provide training for workers to help senior citizens use these tools.

The basic Legacy plan is free, with one gigabyte of storage. An additional $5.95 a month gives the user unlimited storage and other upgrades.  Besides regular story prompts, the site gives the user a place to store their journal entries and stories, their photos and the oral recordings made about the photos. They even provide a “Legacy Shop” connected with Amazon.com to sell products associated with sharing personal and family history. 

Art by Julia Stubbs
In contrast, the year-old StoryWorth, is the essence of simplicity. It is geared to make storytelling easy and accessible to anyone with an email account. They email the person with a question about his or her life and the person replies with a story by email or by telephone. Then the company saves the story and shares it with other family members. The costs are nominal. Up to 6 family members can write their stories to be shared with an unlimited number of recipients. Photos and audio files may also be uploaded. Stories can be edited and saved on the site and downloaded at any time. Even printed books are available at an additional cost. The price is $25 for 6 months or $49 for a year.  More story tellers can be added for an additional cost. This company has been featured in a New York Times article.

Still another site also mentioned in the Times article is memloom.com. This site, run by two Michigan women, offers limited “showcase” templates which gives a story a professional look and feel. They do not support export or printing options at this time and the amount of storage for stories, images, video or audio is also limited. A free basic account gives the user 3 gigabytes of storage and when you switch to a standard or premium account, the storage increases. The prices for these upgrades are not apparent on their website.

In addition, there are other worthy programs geared to helping us write our life stories. The Story Circle Network is especially for women with stories to tell, and it encourages the formation of local groups of storytellers.  Women’s Memoirs is another site for women.  Nina Amir writes a great blog about writing non-fiction, as does Lynn Palermo who writes The Armchair Genealogist.

Hopefully one of these helps will inspire you or your loved one to make progress in preserving your stories. Maybe all you need is a good friend who is also a good listener and willing to encourage you. Maybe you just need a pen and a cheap notebook or an app that does audio recording on your cellphone. Your local church or library may sponsor a writing group or series of classes. But probably the most important ingredient in actually writing your memoirs or autobiography is the simple willingness to just sit down and begin. Begin with one memory or one story. But just do it. Yes, we can.

04 February 2014

Tips for Researching Your Family History

Uncovering details about your family is a rewarding experience; for several reasons.  The pure curiosity satisfied by accurate genealogy research is one thing, but assembling a snapshot of your lineage also provides information about genetics, health and illness trends within your family, as well as definitive answers about your nationality and ethnic heritage.

Fortunately, it's easier than ever for dedicated researchers to get started digging up family dirt.  The paper trail genealogists have relied on for decades still exists, but today's research landscape also includes online resources, which continue to expand in size and scope. Compiling information about your family's past is a multi-faceted pursuit, using whatever avenues are at your disposal.  Try these tips for tracing your family history.

Start With a Game Plan

Jumping in without a goal in mind can be fun, but you'll quickly exhaust research avenues without a master plan.  Are you interested in a single family member, attempting to flesh out his or her history, in great detail?  Or are you more inclined to fill lots of the branches of your family tree with summary sketches of many relatives?

Answering a few questions up-front sets you on the best path for success, as you leave the gate on a defined mission.  Genealogy, in its simplest sense, is data collection, so set yourself up to efficiently compile information as it comes in.  Start with a family tree; either pre-printed or of your own crafting.  It can be accomplished digitally, online, but starting with a paper copy gives you a working document to expand-on and share with other family members as you fill branches.

Whenever possible, standardize your recordkeeping, so it's easy to compare entries as you accumulate them.  A personal profile sheet, for example, lets you plug information about each ancestor into a uniform format, adding consistency to the flow of information.  Do the same thing for online research, creating organized databases for your research.

The Three C's

As you begin to uncover family data, use the three C's to fill-in vital information about your ancestors.  Churches, Cemeteries, and Census records provide longstanding resources to draw from, on your quest for family history. 

Churches, for example, stood as the centers of many burgeoning communities in the past, acting as meeting places for those sharing religious beliefs; but also as civic centers, where citizens gathered to address all kinds of issues.  Schools were often extensions of churches too, creating scholastic paper trails helpful during genealogy research.  Also connected to local settlements, sometimes near churches; cemeteries contain lasting references to your family history.  Etched in grave markers and headstones, researchers find dates to corroborate research, and even uncover unknown relatives in family plots.

Census records provide snapshots of family life; outlining vocations, numbers of individuals living under the same roof, as well as skills of those polled - like the ability to read.  Tracing movement of family members is facilitated by census data too, showing where ancestors lived at various points in history.  For the most accurate information, use Federal Census records, supplemented by state census polls compiled in-between federal census years.

While each researcher's approach to family history is unique, starting with a well-organized game plan, and solid resources are two tips for genealogy success.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from Freepeoplesearch.org. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @ gmail.com




11 September 2013

Grandma's Book of Remembrance


In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man's skin,--seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is. -Ralph Waldo Emerson 

My sister Beth is noted for her ability to get things done, tackling big jobs and accomplishing them in a short time. When she called me and offered to help organize our family history records, I was excited at the prospect. The sheer volume of the work that had been done by our Mormon pioneer ancestors and family members was overwhelming to me. My mother was an avid family historian, and she had taught me about careful record-keeping as she checked and rechecked the earlier work. But her untimely death from cancer had left us with much of the organizational work undone. Now Beth's vision of a more usable family history book included the gathering of our family stories into one book. My desire was to make it as accurate and complete as possible. Her drive to complete a hard task complemented my training in slow and careful research. Because of our mother’s love for the work of family history that she had passed to us, we agreed that the appropriate place to start was with a book about her parents.

Mom’s influence was obvious as we worked. It seemed that the book should be dedicated to her. As we recognized the enormity of the job we had undertaken, Beth and I enlisted the help of our other sisters. There are eight of us altogether. Each sister contributed what she could. We met on a regular basis and each of us assigned ourselves to the next task on our organizational chart. We transcribed handwritten histories and journals, sent for death certificates and patriarchal blessings, researched the facts of our ancestor’s lives, and tracked down family photographs and stories. We felt that we were making slow but steady progress.

But we had not reckoned with the iron will of our maternal grandmother, still living at age 93. Grandma had always been a record-keeper. In her old age, instead of counting sheep at night, she named her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren by birthdate. She never forgot a birthday of one of her numerous posterity. When any of her 33 grandchildren had a baby, Grandma was sure to call to get the vital statistics firsthand. As a young married woman, she had even served briefly as a ward clerk in a small LDS ward when no man (the usual choice) was available for the job. Although she was now nearly blind, she wasn't sure she wanted any of her pictures or historical memorabilia to leave her possession while we copied them.

Beth’s tenacity prevailed, however, and eventually we organized some of the stories that we had collected into a book that could be read to her. At that point, her vision of our project exceeded ours. She told us that she wanted finished copies of the book made for all of her children and grandchildren. She would pay for the copying. They were to be a Christmas present from her to her descendants, both present and future. Grandma's age never limited her ability to look forward rather than backward.

Beth and I in 2002. Since the events recounted in this story,
 which took place in 1993, we have continued to collaborate
on many different family history projects.
Throughout the whole project, we received many spiritual blessings, even miracles. Now, however, as Grandma's challenge encouraged us to quicken our pace, our spiritual experiences were also increased. We met each week to report our progress and receive further assignments, and we also shared some of these experiences. Our faith and determination were strengthened. One sister, who was transcribing some of our great-grandmother's letters, told us she could hear the writer's voice as she typed. Towards the end of her task, she had merely to turn on her computer, and she felt Great-grandma there. Another marveled at the marked increase she suddenly noticed in her typing skills. We felt the presence of angels with us and with our children as they played happily together, enabling us to accomplish the work we had committed to do. We bonded with these great men and women of the past. We pondered their lives and contemplated our own. We became more accepting of ourselves as we recognized the value of our ancestors' daily struggles and resulting strengths. We felt it an honor to be a part of this sacred endeavor.

Towards the end of the summer, Beth and I felt an increasing urgency to finish the work. Though.Grandma's plan was to give them as Christmas gifts, she feared she would not be around when December came. Her health was deteriorating day by day, and she called us often to check our progress. Finally we set a date to take them to her. Though it seemed we could not possibly finish in time, we knew that we could not fail her. We dropped everything else and worked continuously for three days and nights to finish. The last night, we slept in shifts to prepare for the eight-hour drive to her home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When we arrived, she was being cared for by her family members, and we were greeted by our sister Brenda, who is a nurse that specializes in hospice care. Our car was loaded with boxes of photocopied pages of family history, but we were saddened to find that Grandma had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She faded in and out of consciousness and was very weak. We felt a strong desire to be close to her, and we started laying out our papers on her bedroom floor to collate. Round and round her bed we went to pick up each story in order. Soon, though, her steady stream of family visitors necessitated moving our operations to the dining room table where we wrapped each copy of the thick book of loose leaf pages in plastic wrap, ready for distribution to Grandma’s family members. We knew that she could not wait until Christmas to give her gifts, but as always, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were a high priority. She was determined to follow through on this project. She had made it hers as well as ours.

We tiptoed in to tell Grandma that the books were ready. She smiled and thanked us in a weak voice. She was aware of what we were doing, though her usual supervisory tendencies had been curtailed. A few days later, as we drove back to our homes in Utah, we grieved at the knowledge that we had said our earthly goodbyes to our beloved grandmother. It seemed that we had facilitated her passing in finishing the task she was so intent on completing. She was waiting for us, we told each other. In less than a week, she was gone. At her funeral family members received their Christmas presents from Grandma early, and our sadness was tempered by the knowledge that our offering to the Lord and to her posterity in her behalf, her family Book of Remembrance, had been "worthy of all acceptation" (D&C 128:25).

March 21, 1998, revised September 11, 2013


13 August 2013

Surfing the Web

Here are some wonderful links to good stuff. Check out these treasures.





Lynn Palermo’s always valuable Armchair Genealogist. Sign up for her newsletter. August edition features how to creating a writing notebook.
http://www.thearmchairgenealogist.com/