The Blog

Family History Day…Coming Up!

Learn genealogy from the experts at the upcoming Pennsylvania Family History Day! While you’re there, stop by the Reel Tributes exhibit and say hi to Caleb.
More details in the flyer below. To register and see the full schedule, visit
Hope to see you there!

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Tracing My Treasures: The Adventures of the Oil Lamp

One of my very favorite family heirlooms is the glass oil lamp my maternal grandmother gave me.  Her German-born mother had originally owned the lamp. The story passed on to me was that my great grandmother, Amelia Meyer, purchased the lamp from the Montgomery Ward Catalog in 1907. Not long afterwards, the family of five left their ranch in South Dakota for the milder climate of the Willamette River Valley in Oregon. The family evidently had enough of the hard, cruel winters of South Dakota. The lamp was hand carried on board the locomotive train as it headed west, to their new life.

As I hold this lamp in my hands, I can’t help but think back about the life this old oil lamp has lived.  And how it has been connected to my family for over one hundred years.

I imagine this lamp sitting on a primitive, hand cut, wooden table in that ranch house near Sturgis, South Dakota.  I imagine my ancestors sitting around its glowing light poring over maps of the ranch, eating simple but filling meals together, or using its light to carefully tend to a sick child in the middle of a cold winter’s night.

I’ve seen many oil lamps sitting on shelves in antique shops near my home.  I wonder who their owners were. But all I know is what that little white price tag tells me.  It’s cold, and empty, and leaves me wanting to know more.

Luckily, my family’s oil lamp sits on a wooden dresser in my bedroom. It connects me to those that came before me and contributed to the woman I am today.  My oil lamp may not create light anymore, but it serves as an everlasting beacon to the family history I cherish.

What family heirlooms have been entrusted into your care?

What stories were you told about them?

We’d love to hear from you!

Innovative Healing for Alzheimer’s Patients


Not long ago, frequent recollection of past experiences by older adults worried healthcare professionals, who saw this as a sign that the patient was “living in the past.” Recently, however, the professional and popular opinion of reminiscence has undergone a drastic reversal. Dementia researchers now understand that reminiscence therapy is “one of the most popular psychosocial interventions in dementia care, and is highly rated by staff and participants.”

Unfortunately, many of us have encountered dementia’s most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.4 million Americans of various ages currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s causes memory, thinking, and behavioral problems. However, not all memories fade at the same pace. In the early stage of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients retain their long-term memories and are able to recall events from earlier in their lives, even though they may have difficulty remembering incidents that occurred recently, such as what they did earlier that day. As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms become more severe, interfere with daily tasks, and take a giant toll on both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, various medications, therapies, and supplements are being researched as tools to fight the disease and decrease its heavy burden.

Among these exciting interventions is reminiscence therapy, which involves talking about experiences and events from the past through open-ended questions and the use of tangible prompts. Reminiscence therapy:

  • can be conducted in either a group or individual setting
  • typically involves prompts including home videos, music, photographs, or audio recordings
  • increasingly includes family caregivers in the process

Reminiscence work has been studied as a way to improve mood, cognition, comfort, and general well-being in those with dementia. While research on the effects of reminiscence work has greatly increased, it is still difficult to draw definitive conclusions about its efficacy because many of the studies conducted were small, and the reminiscence protocol used varies from one study to the next.

While the precise benefits of reminiscence therapy are still being confirmed, one fact remains indisputable: it’s critical to capture the memories of your loved ones before it is too late. The Reel Tributes team attended the recent Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Philadelphia. Time and again, we heard the same story: “I wish I had done something sooner. My father recently passed away, and hardly a day goes by without feeling regret for not recording his story before his condition deteriorated.” We had at least 30 conversations of a similar tone.

Don’t let your family fall victim to the same mistake. If your family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, time is of the essence. Record his or her story as soon as possible. This will not only be an enjoyable experience for you and your family, but it will also provide important medical benefits for the Alzheimer’s patient.

Dolores Hope, my grandmother, and the golf skirt

Image source: AP

A special lady passed away yesterday at the age of 102. Dolores DeFina Hope was born in 1909 in New York City. In the 1930’s she began to sing professionally. After appearing one night at a Manhattan nightclub she was introduced to Bob Hope. They married the next year. She traveled and performed with Bob while he entertained troops overseas. She was a great philanthropist, giving her time and money to charities throughout her long life.

Bob Hope died in 2003 at the age of 100. When Dolores passed away she had been “Mrs. Bob Hope” for 69 years.

I never met Dolores or Bob. But you never know what stories will surface.

When I started to interview my grandmother, I thought that I pretty much knew most of her stories. But I was wrong.  It wasn’t until I actually dropped the cassette tape into the recorder, and pushed RECORD that I found out at least some of what I had been missing.

“What is your earliest memory?”

“Can you tell me some memories from your childhood?”

“Who was your best friend in high school?”

The questions continued on through childhood days and into the early years of being a young, married woman and a mother of four.

Then, all of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard my grandmother speak about the day she met Dolores Hope.

“What?” I exclaimed. “You met Dolores Hope?”

“Yes, I lent her my golf skirt!”

Confused, I replied, “You what?”

And then a new story emerged – one that I had never heard before.  The story was about how Dolores Hope came to San Francisco with a group of women golfers from Los Angeles.  These women came to play golf with the Olympic Club Women’s Golf Section. On this particular day, it rained cats and dogs.  Dolores Hope got caught in a rainstorm outside of the clubhouse and was drenched. My grandmother noticed that Dolores Hope wore the same size skirt.  Without missing a beat, my grandmother darted off to her locker, grabbed her spare golf skirt and gave it to Dolores.  Dolores was much appreciative, and thanked her profusely.  She never got the skirt back. But she was more than happy to donate her skirt to such a fine lady.

I would never have known about this chance encounter if I hadn’t bothered to ask the matriarch of my family to tell me the stories of her life.

Thanks for the memories, Grandma! I miss you. And Dolores, you will be missed by many grateful Americans.

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: Social Security and Delayed Birth Certificates

So, you’ve been searching for Grandpa’s birth certificate but just can’t find it?  Let’s pretend Grandpa was born in 1900, but the county clerk informed you that their county’s birth records do not start until after 1910.  What do you do?  Answer: If Grandpa was a working adult after 1937, try requesting a form SS-5 and go back and ask that county clerk about delayed birth records! 

Some states began early birth registration (such as New Jersey in 1848 and New York in 1881), but most did not, and even when they had state-wide registration, compliance was not strictly adhered to across the country until after approximately 1915.  Check individual states for their birth registration dates, each state is different.  Consequently, some people born as late as 1910 may not have an official birth record.  With the announcement of the Social Security Act in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, our ancestors quickly realized the benefits of this program and were anxious to sign up.  The first payments began in 1937 (  But there was a problem –participants needed a birth certificate to qualify.  To satisfy the requirement, people went back to their birth counties for a “Delayed” Birth Certificate.  This was, in effect, an affidavit signed by someone who was present at the birth (a parent, midwife, or older sibling).  More often than not, these are filed separately from the other birth certificates, so you need to ask or search for the delayed certificates specifically.

If you know or suspect that an ancestor was issued a Social Security number (it may be listed on the death certificate, or you may find them on the Social Security Death index at, you can order a copy of your ancestor’s SS-5.
The SS-5 is the application for a social security number, and it usually lists the ancestor’s birth date, place, parents’ names, and current residence.  For a copy of the order form, go to; costs range from $27 to $29.  Hint: Not everyone who applied for a social security number is on the Social Security Death index.  They may have died before receiving a benefit, but you may still find an application for them.

Never think your genealogical journey is over just because you’ve had a bump in the road.  There are so many types of records to open our understandings about our ancestors’ lives.  We at Reel Tributes enjoy hearing how you have been able to use some of our blog articles to help you in your ancestral quest.  Write your comments and let us share in your adventures in family history.  Keep checking back for more hints and inspiration from our staff.