22 February 2015

RootsTech – Saving the World

This is the fifth year I have attended RootsTech, a family history spectacular held in Salt Lake City, Utah and sponsored by FamilySearch and others. This year, like every other, was amazing. There is something so affirming in being with several thousand other people who are as interested and engaged in family history as I am. The opportunities for learning seem boundless. This year the Federation of Genealogical Societies held their convention in conjunction with RootsTech. Though I knew I could never assimilate everything that was offered during that wonderful week, I could not resist signing up for both events simultaneously.
Me, Sister Beth and Cousin Elizabeth. I love sharing
RootsTech with people I care about.

But when a friend asked me what I learned this year at RootsTech, I was at a loss to tell her anything specific. I’ve been pondering her question. For me, such a conference is more than information about a fascinating hobby. It’s of earth-shattering or rather earth-saving importance. To see why I feel that way, we have to back up from the specifics to a wider perspective. But specifics are important too. I’ll try to start there. The first day for me (Genealogical Society day) was about nurturing those of us who make genealogy our vocation, whether we are paid with money or with service blessings. I was impressed that it is important to build unity and camaraderie among the staff at a family history center or the members of a genealogical society. We do this by listening with respect to one another, by having fun together, and by keeping in mind the mission of our facility or society.

Also on Wednesday were some classes about how to reach out to others who may be interested in joining our ranks—those who take their family history seriously. The tools for doing so are numerous. I feel overwhelmed with the complexity and the numbers of internet helps that are available to us. On Wednesday and throughout the conference, several classes just demonstrated one or many of these helps. I am hoping that when a certain need arises, I can remember something I learned that may meet that need. Just cataloging the syllabi of good ideas and instructions in my computer files or harder still, in my mind, seems daunting to me. (RootsTech syllabus here.)

Me with cousin Abe on his birthday
A memorable class considered the principles of ethical genealogy. These were more firmly embedded in my personal philosophy as I listened to Judy Russell. I think I have a better idea of what ethical genealogy means and a stronger resolve to live those principles. That was the first day.

On Thursday, the pace quickened and the opportunities multiplied, and that was the pattern for Friday and then Saturday too. Much has been written about each day. I am still gathering information and impressions from the written accounts of those of us who ponder our world on “paper.” Here is one good summary of a few of these accounts by Randy Seaver. Whole presentations and also pieces of them are available on the internet here and here and here and just keep looking. The conference is over but it has not ended.

Each day began with a large general session and some of these are also available online. I always love the keynote addresses and this year was no exception. The feelings those general sessions inspire in me are what makes me love to be a family historian and a genealogist.  The most powerful insight strengthened for me this year is the importance of each person’s life and how all of our lives are interwoven. Tan Le demonstrated that importance as she talked about her grandmother and her mother. Donny Osmond got choked up about his dad.

A.J. Jacobs showed us that we are all connected, cousins, if you will. I had four of the more traditional type of cousins and a sister at RootsTech with me, which really intensified my interconnected experience.

Cousin Joan and Beth; All photos
courtesy of Beth Breinholt.
I also met up with members of the staff of the Family History Center where I work. There were specific sessions for us directed at how to help our patrons. I received inspiration to work harder to increase the numbers of those who come to the center and to help them have a good experience with us.
Cousins Elizabeth, Don, Nadine, me and sister Beth

A good experience is exactly what was available for those who came to RootsTech 2015. But I believe that experience has profoundly influenced the world we live in and will continue to do so. Janet Hovorka wrote in her little book, Zap the Grandma Gap, that “family history can save the world.” She goes on to explain that when people are grounded in their past, they are empowered with the perspective to go forward with faith and compassion. The decisions of the past have shaped our lives and we have the capacity to shape the future of this world in a like manner. The type of knowledge, perspective, and inspiration we gain at a conference like the huge and spectacular RootsTech is likewise a huge and spectacular step forward in saving our world and the people who live here.

08 February 2015

Moms and Tots at the Family History Center

Family History Centers are branches of FamilySearch and
the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their
goal is to provide resources to assist in the research and
study of your genealogy and family history.
The LDS Family History Centers scattered throughout the world vary in size and staff, but we are all encouraged to make our patrons feel warmly welcomed. One fairly new way of accomplishing this goal is to welcome family members of all ages, even mothers with small children. Some centers have established a time and a day for these mothers to bring their preschoolers in to have their own family history experience while the moms do research.

Are we serious about the word "family" in our Family History Centers? Hopefully, yes. Our center has invited moms and "tots" to the center for an hour every Monday morning. It's been exciting to develop curriculum for these preschool children that will keep them happy and busy while their mothers work in the next room. It's not enough just to babysit. We want to give the children a taste of family history for themselves. As we try these ideas, I would like to share them with others who may want to try something similar in their own centers.

Family Trees
Principle: People are stronger when they are united in families.
Scriptures: Romans 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
2 Nephi 1:21 . . . be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;

Show the children one craft stick (popsicle stick). Ask them if they could break it. Let a child break the stick. Show them two sticks. Can anyone break two sticks together? How about three, etc. Explain that each stick could represent someone in their family. When the family members stick together, they cannot be broken.

Talking time
An important part of any preschool curriculum is time to talk with the children. They talk together and individually with the instructors. Talking increases vocabulary and prepares a child for reading. In this lesson, we talk about trees and how they are symbols of strength and growth. Family trees can look like real trees with names or pictures of the people in the family. We show them examples of different family trees. The children sing about their families. We read stories about families. We talk about grandmas and grandpas and aunts, uncles and cousins.

1. Give each child several craft sticks to represent family members. Let them draw eyes and mouth on the sticks or color them. Or you may help them write the names of each family member on the sticks. Tape them together for strength.
Through games, activities, songs, and talking time, 
there is much that preschool children can learn about 
Family History. 
2. Draw pictures of family members or help the children write their family members' names on a paper family tree with framed spaces. There are several online.
3. Play games like Ring around the Roses or London Bridge to illustrate unity and strength. Talk about how these games were played by their grandparents or parents.
4. Walk outdoors and observe and talk about trees.
5. Sing "I Have a Family Tree."
6. Visit your local library for picture books about families. Choose books with large pictures and not too much text.

Culminating Activity
There is a large tree on the wall where the children meet. (It is a bulletin board tree from Carson-Dellosa.) When the mothers come to pick up their child, he or she has the opportunity to put a leaf on our tree with the person's name on it that their mom has been working on. When the person's information is complete enough for temple ordinances, an apple is prepared with his or her name and the child hangs the apple on our tree. This is our Tree of Life. The fruit represents the love of God - our relationship with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Our relationship and our ancestors' relationship with our Eternal Family also brings us strength in unity and oneness. This tree will remain on the wall and gradually increase its number of leaves and fruit as time passes.

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