The Blog

Seasons Greetings from the Reel Tributes Team!

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, we wish you all the best this season has to offer. And we wish you an incredible year in 2012; a year full of love, laughter, and family memories.

May we suggest you make this season not only one of sharing gifts, but also one of sharing family stories. Think about preserving a story or two for those who will want to know: ‘What were the most joyous holiday moments of the 2011 holidays?’

You’ll be glad that you did. After all, it’s hard not to love a great story!

Still looking for gifts? Check out our 11 Attributes to the Perfect Gift for the 2011 Holiday Season.

Best wishes for a great 2012,
The Reel Tributes Team
David, Caleb, Rebecca, Alison and Lin

Surviving My Syrian Winter Holiday

The recent turmoil in the Middle East brings back memories for me. Memories of a family vacation that could have gone terribly wrong.

In November 1981, I was living in Amman, Jordan with my family.  Within the next couple of months my husband’s job with the American Embassy would be completed and we would return to the United States. So we decided to take one last vacation, to Damascus, Syria.  We were excited, knowing that Damascus was the oldest inhabited city on the planet.  Syria also had wonderful food, endless shopping and fabulous history. We made reservations at the Old Damascene Hotel in the inner city.  Staying at this particular hotel would make sightseeing easy since everything was within walking distance.

Arriving in Damascus after four border crossings was an eye-opening experience.  A socialist nation and allied to Russia at the time, the poverty was evident. The city was drab, dirty, and depressing.  We were surprised to see so many military installations – tanks, young men and women dressed in military uniforms holding large and intimidating rifles.  The narrow streets were packed with dust-covered cars and the wide boulevards were heavily congested. Cars jostled for position, honking loudly and repeatedly. I saw factory towers spewing black smoke out into the air.  It was not quite the city I had envisioned.

The first morning after our arrival we planned to see the Shrine of Saladin, the Umayyad Mosque and to shop at the Al-Hamidiyeh Souk.  It should have been an easy ten-minute walk.  So with our baby tucked into her stroller, we began our walk.  But within minutes we realized something was happening around us.  Everyone was walking down the wide boulevard toward the Al-Hamidiyeh Souk.  Twenty people became fifty, fifty became hundreds – all spilling over from the sidewalk on to the paved street.  Before we knew it we were part of a large and growing procession.  People held large hand-made signs with words written in Arabic. Words that we could not understand. But we did understand that we needed to quickly detach ourselves from this crowd – feeling more and more uncomfortable as the numbers grew.  Carefully, we edged ourselves over to one side of the mass of people and stealthily made our way down an adjacent side street.

What was that all about? What was written on those signs? Why were all those people marching together?

We had no answers to our questions.

Before long we felt safer about being tourists again and decided to enter in to the famous Damascus souk and do some shopping.   Content and safe, we did not give another thought to the mass of people we had seen earlier in the day.

Until a few days later, when we returned to our home in Amman.  You can imagine our horror and surprise when we learned that during our vacation, a massive anti-American demonstration had occurred on the streets of Damascus. And unknowingly, we had been part of it!

How lucky we were to have walked away before the crowd boiled into an angry mob.

All these years later, as I think back to that day in Damascus, I am amazed that this event happened to my family.  The story could have ended very differently. My infant daughter is now thirty years old, and when I talk about this story she is awe struck.

Do you have an unforgettable vacation memory to share? We’d love to hear about it.

Photo credit:

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: A Time to Give

After hearing amazing stories on the news the other night about people who gave their time and money to local charities, I felt guilty for not doing more – especially in this season. No matter what you celebrate this month, many of our traditional celebrations focus on giving. I have active children and a busy schedule, and wondered how I could give more.

As I was pondering this, I realized how much I was already giving and how many opportunities there are for someone with my genealogical skills and interests. I thought back to the time I served at the local LDS family history center, the lectures I had given pro-bono for local groups, the cemetery indexing and photographing project I had been involved in, time spent talking to new genealogists about their projects and offering advice, and the regular meetings of an online genealogical educational group I help with ( While I don’t have the ability right now to work in a soup kitchen or help build homes, I still lend my time and expertise voluntarily.

Are you interested in giving back to the genealogical community? Let me tell you about some of my favorite places, and maybe you will find a project that fits your schedule and interests:

  • This is literally genealogical treasure hunting. When people find old photos or even family bibles that are thrown away or sold at swap meets and antique shops, they “rescue” them and put them up on this site, looking for a home. You can go there to look for your own long-lost relatives or put up some photos you have found.
  • This is a hub for state, county, and town sites created and maintained all by volunteers. Contact the site manager of a town or county you are interested in to see if there are projects you can help with. When I did it, I was sent a few pages from an old index to re-type. I re-transcribed them into a word document, sent it back to the site manager, and it became a new online resource for out-of-town researchers.
  • A great project for your family, church group, scout troop, or genealogical society. Volunteers photograph headstones and monuments from a cemetery and put them up on this site. You can submit one photo that you already have or hundreds taken by yourself and friends on a sunny afternoon. Check with the local sextant or cemetery manager if you plan to do a whole cemetery to make sure you would not be interfering with any funerals.
  • FamilySearch Indexing. The LDS Church is famous for their microfilm collection and they are organizing an ambitious project to digitize and index these valuable resources. Check out There is an online tutorial to teach you how to index, and lots of help along the way.
  • and the Holocaust Memorial Museum have partnered to create the world’s largest online resource for information about victims of the Holocaust. Thousands of volunteers worldwide have added 873,000 records that are now searchable. Contributing is free and easy to do for anyone with a computer and a few hours to help.

There are so many more ways to use the talents you have as a genealogist to give back to others and encourage a love of family history, I wish I could name them all here. If you know of a special group or project, or just want to tell about a giving experience that you have had, write us and let us know.

This holiday season, celebrate random acts of genealogical kindness. After all, not every gift can be wrapped with a bow.

A Tribute to Pearl Harbor Day

Seventy years ago today, the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a surprise military strike on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  This attack came as a profound shock to Americans, and led to America’s entry into World War II.

An astounding 2,402 Americans died at Pearl Harbor, and 1,282 were wounded.

On this day, we at Reel Tributes honor and remember those who have served in all branches of the United States military, and thank them for their service to our country.

The perfect day to write a real letter

This Wednesday, December 7th, 2011, is a special day for me. It’s not a birthday or an anniversary. It’s a holiday that many people don’t know about: National Letter Writing Day.

When was the last time you sat down to write a letter to someone? No, not an email. A real letter. With a pen and paper.

I’m a big fan of letter writing and thankfully so was my maternal grandmother. In fact, between 1971 and the year 2000, we wrote 491 letters to each other.  I have every letter that my grandmother wrote to me. In 2002, my grandmother returned all of the letters that I had written to her.

Some letters were typed but many were handwritten.  They were written on onion skin paper of various sizes, on prepaid U.S. Postal Service areograms (now non-existent), and some on hotel stationery.

Last month, I opened the box that contained all the letters, and started reading. What a powerful experience.  The letters reminded me of many events in my life that had been long forgotten.  Special friendships, travel experiences, joys and heartaches — they were all there.  Through the thoughts and words written in those letters, I could actually see myself maturing as a young adult, married woman, and mother of two.  I’ve even shown some to my daughter, who’s learned things about her mother she never knew before reading the letters. These letters have become a priceless possession for our family.

In this age of instant communication– whether it be texting or emailing– I’d like to recommend the value of putting pen to paper and writing to loved ones and friends. Dedicate a quiet, reflective moment and write about your life experiences and the lessons you have learned.  You never know your written words may one day be deemed a precious gift for the recipient, and for future generations of eager readers.