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11 Attributes of the Perfect Gift for the 2011 Holiday Season

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
– Winston Churchill

Scratching your head to come up with a great present for your loved ones? Every year we give presents, yet somehow picking out gifts only seems to get harder as time goes on.

To make your life a little easier, we’ve done the research for you. Our team of expert gift-givers has come up with the 11 attributes that make for the perfect holiday gift.

For the 2011 season, your gift should…

1. Be fun to receive. Gifts should bring a smile to the face of the recipient. They should create an immediate impact. Think of the sight of a kid riding his brand new bike for the first time. The perfect gift brings that level of excitement to adults and children alike.

2. Be fun to give. The best gifts are the ones that you’re proud to give. When was the last time you were excited to give dad a new tie? In the words of Leonard Nemoy, “The more we share, the more we have.”

3. Provide long-term enjoyment. A gift’s instant gratification doesn’t mean the joy should be short-lived. On the contrary, a gift should create a lasting impact. The ideal gift is so meaningful that 5 years later, the recipient remembers not only what the gift is, but who gave it and the emotions they felt when it arrived. Think of the moment you received your first pet, and how it changed your life forever.

4. Bring people together. The holiday spirit is all about bringing family and friends together. Studies have shown that strength of relationships and amount of time spent with family are the keys to happiness. The best gifts create quality time with loved ones.

5. Be meaningful to the giver and recipient. Gifts that have a deeper meaning are the ones that create the biggest impact. Experiences are often more meaningful, and provide longer-lasting happiness, than material gifts.

6. Provide a great value. As gift givers, we want to know that we’re getting a good value for the item we’re buying, especially in today’s economic environment. Ask yourself, “How much is this gift actually worth?” The answer should make the price tag seem irrelevant, or, in the case of the MasterCard commercials, “Priceless”. Another question to consider: will the value of the gift appreciate or depreciate over time? The best investments are those that increase in value as the years go by.

7. Be high quality. It’s often tempting to save money by buying a cheaper item. But less expensive doesn’t mean better value. High quality gifts will last longer, perform better, and look nicer. Luxury daily deal websites offer high-quality gifts at a lower price—the perfect combination!

8. Involve some creative effort. Finding a great gift should be a labor of love.  A perfect gift is meaningful in its creation, not just in delivery.

9. Be original. We’ve all asked the question, “What do I give the person who has it all?” The perfect gift allows the giver and recipient to realize that there’s plenty more to experience and appreciate in this world.

10. Be personalized. The ideal gift could only come from you, and could only be given to that special someone. It’s an extension of your relationship and strengthens the bond between giver and recipient.

11. Speak to the character of this holiday. What’s unique about the 2011 holiday season? Every family will answer that question differently. Think about how you want this year to be remembered, and give a gift that is special for this particular holiday.

Hopefully this has sparked some ideas of the gifts that meet these attributes.

Looking for inspiration? One gift that meets all 11 attributes is a professionally produced documentary of your loved one. This holiday season, celebrate the lives of your parents or grandparents with a broadcast-quality film from Reel Tributes. Capture the stories, the laughs, and the memories that have defined your family. It’s an investment that will only appreciate over time. And one that will be appreciated by the entire family today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

Reel Tributes: the official sponsor of family spirit this holiday season. Contact us to start your customized film today.

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Happiness: The Family Experience

Ask anyone what they want most of out of life, and chances are he or she will reply: “to be happy.” But what exactly makes people happy, and how can you get the most happiness out of life? If you abide by the age-old adage, “money can’t buy happiness,” you may be missing a fine distinction: spending your money in different ways may bring you varying degrees of happiness.

Imagine that you have an extra hundred dollars to spend and want to treat yourself to something special. Scientific research offers you the following advice on how to spend it: choose an experiential purchase rather than a material one. In a 2003 paper on this topic, experiential purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through.” Meanwhile, material purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession.” Examples of experiential purchases include family vacations, massages, or tickets to a baseball game. Material purchases, on the other hand, include clothing, an iPad, or a sleek new car.

Another recent study demonstrated that compared with material purchases, experiential purchases make people happier both in the immediate term as well as after the experience has passed, leading to longer-term happiness. Though evidence is mounting that experiences are more satisfying than material possessions, scientists are still investigating why this is the case. One possible reason, suggested by the work of Travis Carter and Thomas Gilovich,  is that experiences cannot be compared like material possessions, and because of that, the satisfaction you get from an experience is more robust. Think of it this way: it’s easy to compare two expensive watches, but it’s far more difficult to compare vacations in two exotic locations. In addition, the scientists found that people have more difficulty making material versus experiential purchase decisions, and that people also tend to second-guess and ruminate over material purchases more than experiential ones.

Happiness research can be applied to everything from public policy to psychotherapy to the choices we make in everyday life. The next time you are faced with the option of splurging on an experience or a possession, consider that an experience may not only make you happier, but can also bring happiness to the people you share it with.

That is why we at Reel Tributes believe so strongly in what we do. A family history documentary is a genuine life experience and an investment for the whole family. It is a purchase that allows you to preserve lasting memories, strengthen family bonds, and create long-term joy that a new toy simply can’t provide.  In the words of one client:

We staged a “premiere” of Nana’s tribute movie at her 90th birthday party to over 100 friends and family.  At the conclusion of the movie there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  It has been over 2 months since the big unveiling and the family is still raving about how much they learned about Nana from the video that they never would have otherwise….The overall consensus is that Nana’s Reel Tributes Video was an invaluable gift to our family. 

If you’re looking for long-term happiness, think about what’s most important in your life. Most likely, it’s not the material possessions you own. Experiences and family bonding: the two sources of happiness that will stick with you and your loved ones.

The Value of a Personal Historian, by Dan Curtis

If you’re thinking of hiring a personal historian, keep reading.  If you’re a practicing personal historian, remember that potential clients don’t really care what you do. What they care about are the benefits they’ll get from hiring you.  I must admit that I sometimes forget this fact.  So as a reminder to myself and to anyone else who needs a prompt about the benefits –  here are five important ones. Can you think of more? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

1. Your story will get told. This is the most important benefit of all. Countless times  people have told me that they started working on their life story or that of a family member but never seemed to be able to get it finished. Hiring a personal historian means the work will get done on time and in a professional manner.

2. It’s more fun.
Let’s face it, sitting alone with a blank computer screen or piece of paper and waiting for inspiration to strike can be daunting. We are by nature conversationalists. Sitting with a personal historian who is a skilled interviewer and empathetic listener makes telling your story an enjoyable experience.

3. Your story will be richer in detail. Because of the familiarity with your own story, you can easily miss details that others would find fascinating. You need a personal historian who is fresh to your story and has the skill to bring out the richness of your life’s journey.

4. A personal historian relieves you of the burden of  producing your film. Putting together a life story is an overwhelming undertaking for most people. From start to finish it requires a set of skills  that include – interviewing, editing, research, photo enhancement, design and layout, and printing.  A personal historian takes on these production tasks  and ensures that all are handled professionally.

5. A personal historian has the time. Are you someone who simply can’t find enough hours in a day to devote to working on your own story or that of a family member? Hiring a personal historian relieves you of the guilt of not putting in the time you need to get your life story or that of a family member told.

Thank you to personal historian Dan Curtis for this article, which was previously published on his blog. You can learn more about Dan and his work at

Cemetery Special: Rebecca’s Reel Hints

Arthur Brisbane sagely pronounced, “The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can’t come out, and those outside don’t want in.”

What is it, really, that fascinates us about cemeteries? Because, to be honest, if you are reading this you have to admit you are one of us – the Cemephiles. I think what we genealogists love is the continued remembrance…. We love the idea of commemorating those who have gone on, and seeing their names literally “etched in stone” as some small indicator of a life lived. One of my favorite things about cemeteries is the symbolic art. We see small lambs or stone shoes for children’s deaths; broken columns for a ‘life cut short.’ Doors indicate passage into the next life and hope in an afterlife. We marvel at how many different kinds of flowers, carved into the rock, can mean so many different things. Cemeteries are hopeful and forlorn, paradoxically romantic and miserable at the same time.

To genealogists, a cemetery is a treasure trove! While hunting in the cemetery for your ancestors, remember these hints:

1.Whether a cemetery is big or small, it will take a long time to find your ancestor if you do not have the section and plot numbers and a map to go with it! Some are online, some are at local historical societies, and some are at the cemetery office.

2.Where did the records go? All cemeteries make records, but not all of them survive. Most are housed at the sexton’s office on the cemetery grounds; some have been moved to the historical society or town clerk. Often these records can tell you so much more, such as multiple burials in the same plot (such as a child and an adult), but only one may have a stone. There may be copies of the obituary or legal papers included.

3.Don’t clean the stone without asking. If you and the sextant decide that the stone is not so fragile that it can be cleaned, use only water and a very soft brush (no wire brushes!) No shaving cream, no ammonia, no chemicals. What you do today may increase the disintegration of the stone ten years from now. The stones are much, much more fragile than they appear.

4.Photograph the stone while squatting in front of it. It sounds obvious, but we cemephiles get a little excited sometimes and take the picture while standing, and we lose half the inscription.

5.Need more light? Make a reflector. Take some cardboard, about a yard square, and cover one side with aluminum foil. Or you may have one of those reflective windshield covers already in your car. Use it to catch the light to shine on the headstone for your photograph.

6.Check all sides of the monument. You never know what you may see: other names, monument maker marks, or personal messages from the family. Check around for other family buried nearby.

7.Ask the sextant about the funeral homes that serve that particular cemetery. Ask if funeral homes that have gone out of business have been bought out or left their records to a newer funeral home. Often you can make an appointment to ask about your ancestor’s records.

8.Be extra nice! Cemeteries and Funeral Homes are private businesses. They do not owe you anything, even access to your ancestors’ records. Ask politely and respect their wishes.

9.Post your photo online. Register the photos of your ancestors’ monuments for free at either or, or both! This gives the opportunity for others to contact you because you share an ancestor.

Cemeteries are one of the most fragile genealogical record types we have. Through neglect, vandalism, and the passage of time, many stones become worn, illegible, or broken. Let us respect and preserve them. A life not forgotten is a life that still lives on.

Personal Historians Take Vegas by Storm

Most people don’t know there’s an association for personal historians. Not only does such an organization exist; it’s actually a thriving group.  And this weekend, the members of the Association of Personal Historians (APH) will convene in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada for their 17th annual conference.

As a personal historian, I can honestly say I love my job. I’ve seen first-hand the power of a personal legacy.  By preserving memories for future generations, we provide insight into the nuts and bolts of a life.  The stories teach future generations what worked, or what didn’t quite work, in our lives. They help us record what makes us tick, what our greatest passions are, and how we want the world to remember us. In addition, personal history preservation connects the generations.  My ancestors’ stories connect me to the past, just as I hope my stories build a bridge to generations yet to come.

Every year, when I’m surrounded by my colleagues at the conference, I am reminded of why I am so passionate about this job. And it brings a smile to my face to see hundreds of colleagues from around the world who share my passion for storytelling and personal history.

I encourage you to visit to learn more about the APH and the wonderful world of personal historians.

Update 10/23/11:

As a recent attendee of the 17th Annual Conference of the Association of Personal Historians, I think I am correct in saying that what happened at the recent APH Conference will not be staying in Vegas.

We had five wonderful days to listen to top-notch keynote speakers and knowledgeable workshop leaders.  These were rich opportunities for the 180 plus who were present. At the conference, the APH also introduced their new logo and updated website.  It is a valuable resource for everything relating to preserving personal history.

I will be using the knowledge I gained and the extensive networking opportunities with other personal historians to be even better at what I do – namely, helping individuals to effectively tell their life stories.

Save a life, tell your story!

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