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.

12 August 2013

Vacation Writing

To write, go on vacation. You can either stay home or travel, but I've found it most important to take some time out. Set a time and place for relaxing, thinking and letting the thoughts come to the surface. Often I throw away the first thoughts and words that serve to prime the pump of memory. But I keep coming back to the writing spot and make a time to meet myself there.

Deer friend from Cub River Canyon, Idaho
It's like the deer I keep meeting this week in the cabin in Idaho where I'm staying. Every day when I go out for a walk, she's there. Sometimes she runs away through the trees as soon as she hears my footsteps on the gravel. Sometimes she stays there for a short look. One day she looked for a long long time while I stayed as still as I could. She lowered her head a little and looked at me for awhile longer. She was mostly hidden by the leaves and the shade, but I could still see her. Then she lowered her head even more and looked again from a different perspective. Finally she moved off a little ways into the underbrush, then turned and gave me another long stare. I didn't have my camera with me that day.

When my camera is out, she seems to back off more quickly. So do the butterflies I attempt to capture in a photo. But like my memories, even though they are not exactly replicated in a photograph, the deer and the butterflies and the grasshoppers and the wild turkeys are stored in my mind and may peek shyly out of my writing when the time is right.
Driving along the road I spotted this piece of machinery
that spoke to me of my Johnson roots in Preston, Idaho

It's summertime and the living is easy. Schedule a vacation from the everyday and let the memories come out of the scrub oak to meet you.

21 July 2013

My Sister Gets Born!

Here is a piece of my autobiography. I was only two at this time, but these feelings are recorded in my heart as "meditative memory." 
My sister and I 

Today my mother and my baby sister are coming home! I can hardly wait to see my little sister. She is too little to play so I am going to help my mama take care of her. Her name is Jill. Daddy and I get in the car and he drives us to the hospital to get Mama and the new baby. Mama comes out of the hospital and she is riding in a chair with wheels on it. The nurse is pushing her. Mama is holding my little sister. She is little.

Daddy takes the baby and Mama gets into the car. I really want to hold the baby, but Mama and Daddy say I have to wait until we get home. At home I sit on the couch and Mama puts her pillow on my lap and then she puts my baby sister on top of the pillow. When I look at her, I love her. I love her so much. The love is so big that I know I loved her from before we came here. I’m so glad to see her again. I missed her. I’m sad too. There are hard things here and I don’t want her to get any hurts. I’m her big sister and I will take care of her. 

19 June 2013

Who Am I?

I sat waiting for the family prayer to mark the end of the viewing and visiting shortly before my Aunt Doris’s funeral. I reflected on the renewal of my acquaintance with my deceased mother’s family members. I thought about my mother’s brothers, my four Christensen uncles. Their old age was becoming more obvious.  I had enjoyed the visit with my cousins. My cousins from this family are mostly in the grandparent part of their lives nowadays. Our lives are busy and our interaction comes rarely, except on the superficial level of social media. Today I met some new cousins—twice removed—since they are my cousins’ grandchildren. Until now I only knew those cute little twin babies and the toddler with the wild hair from my Facebook encounters.

Marcus Joy Christensen
An older couple from my aunt’s LDS ward approached me. Although I have never lived in that Las Vegas neighborhood, my grandparents and many of their descendants are long-time residents. This couple wasn't family, however, and they were curious about who I was. “You look like you could be Doris’s sister,” the woman said. I quickly explained that I was her niece, since she had married my mother’s brother. In doing so, I mentioned that my grandfather was Marcus Joy Christensen, patriarch to the clan. Before his death in 1987, he was also their stake patriarch.* They nodded; they knew my grandfather.

We talked for a moment and then the man, Brother Brown, lingered. “I want to tell you something about your grandfather,” he said. “I had a son who was very quiet. I felt I didn't even know him and certainly didn't understand him. That is, until the day we went to Brother Christensen’s home to receive my son's patriarchal blessing. The blessing was very beautiful,” he continued, “but what I remember most was your grandfather’s tears after he finished. He put his hand on my boy’s shoulder and told me, ‘This young man is just full of love.’”

“The Spirit bore witness to me that it was so,” Brother Brown said. “Your grandfather knew my son better than I did myself, and it was through the Spirit. I’ll never forget that experience.”

Who am I? Who are you? There are times when glimpses of our identity come forth—a blessing, a funeral, or some other deeply revelatory moment. However, it may also be possible and certainly beneficial for us to have that opportunity on a more frequent basis.

Autobiographical writing enables me to both see myself and allow others the same privilege. The process of looking within is not always comfortable, but it is generally rewarding. My thinking becomes more organized and less scattered. Insights come to me from the same source as the insights my grandfather received in his calling as patriarch. I see the turning points in my life. I understand why I believe and think the way I do. I am closer to knowing just who I am.

*A stake patriarch is an ordained priesthood office in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This person, assigned to an LDS stake, is called upon to give once-in-a-lifetime spiritual blessings with prophetic insights to members of that ecclesiastical organization.