19 January 2015

The Supply Closet: An example of sensory writing

My sister Beth and I went to the same elementary school. I was delighted to read her description of the supply closet at the Boulder City Elementary School. Beth uses sensory details to take the reader right into her scene. Her detailed description and obvious love for this small place in her personal history allows us to experience it with her. Read on for a treat:

The halls of my elementary school still come to me in my dreams.  I remember the two story building and its shiny linoleum covered switchback stairs, the centers depressed slightly from years of hundreds of hurrying children heading out for recess or else home.
Boulder City Elementary School, 1932 (photo before our time
there) located at 401 California Avenue, now City Hall.
Bureau of Reclamation Collection from University of Nevada,
Las Vegas, University Libraries
Going down the last set of stairs could take me right out the door once I crossed the hall on the first floor, but there was a major attraction on the left and it always caught my attention—the Supply Closet.
This small fragrant room doubled as a janitor’s cubby, and there upon the shelves above a long and large wooden-handled mop and folded up dust rags, sat reams of paper, creamy ivory paper with turquoise dashed lines printed across the landscape to guide my childish and earnest attempts in make letters properly. Long narrow boxes held yellow pencils, lined up perfectly as soldiers, pink erasers unspoiled atop each pencil, waiting individually to be chosen, stacked on top of each other.  Next to them were the heavy round tubs of paste, white, sticky and solid. Unscrewing the lid gave off a smell like peppermint and I admit I furtively sampled it at my desk occasionally when I thought no one would see. Chalk, cylindrical, yellow and smooth with sharply flattened ends gave themselves away as brand new and unused.  Long erasers with a sponge on one side and some kind of chamois fabric on the other lined up next to the chalk, the feel of which gave me a shudder across my shoulders.
But my favorite of the supplies was the construction paper.  It was heavy! The brown paper wrapped bundles were stacked and lined up on wood shelving, waiting.  The color hidden inside was identified by small black printing at the end of each perfectly rectangular package—red, orange, yellow--all the rainbow hues plus black and brown, and then there was white, the color of endless prospects.  The world was at my fingertips when I held a sheet of this paper.  Colors were vibrant and true applied to white construction paper, and the weight of the paper made it so erasers erased properly when a sketch began to go awry.  Cutting the paper was another treat—no flimsy spineless sheet of anything else could compete. The small silver scissors were allowed broad strokes along the high contrast lines of creation as the paper stood erect and at attention while it was being worked and shaped.  The white paper had a cousin, manila, that was close in competition.  It, too, was a little more rigid and easier to work with than “plain” paper, but the off white color paled the intensity of crayon and tempera paint soaked the fibers more quickly than pure white.
In the classroom, inevitably the call came from the teacher, “Who would be willing to go to the supply closet?”  I raised my flapping hand high enough I had to support my arm with the other hand, hoping to be chosen for a trip downstairs. My quick pace inevitably turned to super slow motion as I reached the closet door, propped open with a wooden triangle block jammed underneath it, and the single light bulb suspended from the ceiling lit up possibilities. The warmth of the room made the contents seem even friendlier, and I caressed the art and learning supplies, curiously touching each item up and down the shelf as I carried out the errand.
Even today, opening a package of construction paper, although not made like the stuff I had as a child, fills me with anticipation and something about the smell of the paper speaks of possibilities and within, the creative juices begin to flow.

27 December 2014

Remember a "great day"

Try writing just a glimpse into your life like Rachel did.
When you are as old as I am, it seems rather overwhelming to write about your whole life. However, I believe the best life histories are written just a snippet at a time. The story approach is a good way to write. Here are some helps for writing personal stories.

Another way to give readers (including yourself) a glimpse into your life is to describe a day in detail. I was recently reading through a scrapbook that my daughter Rachel had made about her high school days. Rachel was a keeper, and she put much of what she kept into books: big, stuffed full, not really organized, and certainly not fancy, loose leaf books. What a gift for her family, since she died at a young age, nearly ten years ago! I started a blog to remember her four years ago, but my posts have gotten more infrequent as time passes. A certain essay that she wrote in high school about a wonderful day she had at a swim meet inspired me to write about her once again.(http://rememberingrachel.blogspot.com/)

I offer the essay here, too, in hopes it will inspire all of us to write about our lives, beginning with just one day, or something memorable in one day. Happy writing!

Rachel at an Orem High School swim meet. She graduated
in May of 1994.
Rachel Stubbs
On October 14, 1992 it was the inner-squad swim meet, blue against gold. I was on the blue team and Bethany and Jared were our captains. I was in the first race, the 200 yard relay medley. I swam fifty fly and I did pretty good too. The next race for me was the 100 yard butterfly, after the diving competition. I was so scared. I had never swam a 100 fly before. And not only that, I had to swim the 500 free right after the 100 fly race. The diving just ended and Dan [my coach] called “first call for 100 fly.” 
I was really nervous. “Swimmers on the blocks,” Arlene [assistant coach] called. Then, “Swimmers on your marks.”  BUZZ, the buzzer went off. I took a flying leap. Splash into the water automatically. My hips start going up and down, starting the dolphin kick. I surface on the top of the water. I take my first stroke. My hands came out and over my head. I take my first breath. I started a pace that I could keep for the whole hundred. Slam! I got to the first wall with only a 75 [yard distance] left; “remember to hit the wall fast,” I thought. 
I got to the other side. “Pretty good so far.” I reach out to hit the pad and I slammed it off the wall. “Great,” I thought, and the push off the wall was no good. I am only half-way through. “I can do it,” is what I assure myself. I reach the other side again. Only a 25 left. “Pick up your speed, Rachel!” I told myself. My hands were in place. Only one more kick and I would be done. Wham! I surfaced. 
Everyone was screaming. Dan was yelling and jumping up and down. I had swam the 100 yards in 1:18! I was so happy. I got out and cooled down, then went and gave my coach Dan a hug. I was happy, but the meet wasn’t over. I still had the 500 and the relay left. The 500 was the next race. All I wanted to do was finish that race. I was so dead from the 100 fly that I really didn’t expect to get my best time. But I did! 
My parents were in the stands so I went up there and was talking to them. Bethany yelled at me to come down. I was supposed to swim in the 200 free relay. They had redone the relay line-up and forgot to tell me. I ran down the stairs and ran to lane six and jumped in and swam my fastest 50 free time. 
It was a great day.

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