Category Archives: Video

Touch Tomorrow (Guest Post)

Imagine

Close your eyes and imagine. You open a dusty photo album to a faded photograph of your great-grandfather. You gaze long and hard at his face. It is an interesting face. It is a face that reveals character, humor, tenacity. It is a face that resembles your face.

You’ve heard his existence led directly to your existence; the conditions of his life led directly to the circumstances of your life; his ingenuity and hard work created your destiny.

But who was he, really? What events shaped his life? What were his dreams and hopes?  Why did he work so hard? What were his choices and challenges? Why did he believe in the family business? What were his thoughts and feelings?

Unfortunately, no one bothered to ask.

You close the album, slowly, and ponder: just what was my great-grandfather’s story?

Intangible Asset

Families understand the importance of trusts and estate plans. Multigenerational transfer of tangible assets such as stocks, bonds, cash, real estate, art, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, and country club memberships is commonplace.

Although tangible assets are important, there is an even greater, often unrecognized, intangible asset: the family’s story—the story that tells what the family has been, who it is today, and what it can be.

Obligation

Mrs. Lavern Norris Gaynor, heiress to the Texaco fortune, suggests that is the family’s obligation to tell its story. She closes her memoir, Lal: A Legacy of Gracious Giving, by saying:

“This brings me to the end of my story—but not really. My story didn’t begin on my birthday. And, now, it won’t end with my death. Through the experience of telling my story, I’ve come to understand it was my obligation.

I close with love, blessings, and a peaceful heart. Finally, the Norris family legacy of generosity, caring, and gracious giving will reach out and touch tomorrow.” 

Touch Tomorrow

Family stories can touch tomorrow in a range of ways. I’ve touched on a few of them below:

  • Recording and celebrating the family’s history
  • Passing on values, traditions, goals, and culture
  • Affirming the family’s mission, core purpose, and original dreams
  • Bestowing knowledge and wisdom
  • Sharing hard-learned life lessons
  • Sustaining and building family relationships
  • Creating a sense of belonging and loyalty
  • Offering advice and guidance
  • Documenting and preserving philanthropic traditions
  • Giving meaning to the human experience
  • Building a lasting legacy 
  • Promoting the continuity of a family business

Story Forms

Many people tell me they understand why it’s important, but don’t know where to start. Luckily, we have a variety of forms to choose from when telling a family’s story:

  • A Family History is a comprehensive approach to recounting the people and the events that span generations. Family histories include genealogical research and are rich with social context events.
  • A Memoir is usually told from the perspective of a single narrator.
  • An Oral History preserves stories in a question/answer format. Transcribed verbatim and lightly edited, it records the exact nuance, flavor, tenor, and tempo of the narrator’s voice.
  • A Chapters of Life Memoir preserves life’s defining moments—life’s steppingstones. It is an anthology of short stories usually built around a collection of photographs.
  • A Business History records the stories, mission, values, and aspirations of a company’s founder(s).
  • A Culinary Memoir preserves favorite recipes, stories, and photographs. Recipes are scanned in the cook’s handwriting and, complete with spill marks, they memorialize life’s favorite meals and events.
  • A Tribute to Life Memoir honors the life of a deceased loved one. The story is told from the perspective of a family member or cherished friend.

Ultimate Memoir

Then there is the Ultimate Memoir. The Ultimate Memoir is, well, ultimate. It is a beautifully designed, heirloom-quality book and companion video. Any of the above story forms are appropriate. Narrative, combined with custom design, complemented with a professionally orchestrated video, creates a vanguard presentation of the family’s story.

Someday List Syndrome

Whichever form your family selects, the operative word is “selects.” Way too often a family scribbles “tell our story” on the Someday List. But when the Someday calendar page turns, it’s too late.

Please don’t allow your family to become a victim of the someday list syndrome. Start today. You won’t regret touching tomorrow. And your family will thank you– for generations to come.

About the author:
Dr. Judith Kolva is a personal historian, with a Ph.D. in the psychology and practice of preserving life stories. Her seminal doctoral research investigated the relationship between telling life stories and identifying meaning in life. She is the founder and CEO of Memoir Shoppe, an international organization that preserves and protects the stories of exceptional families.  Please contact Judith at judith@memoirshoppe.com or www.memoirshoppe.com

What the Holocaust Tried to Take from Me (Guest Post)

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) – April 19, 2012

Which parts of the story are true and which parts of the story are false?

This much I know: My grandfather, Zaidie, was a spry happy man with a wondrous smile that lit up the room. His brilliant blue eyes dazzled with every smile.

My mother told me that my grandfather never smiled until we, his grandchildren, were born. Grandchildren transformed Zadie from the stern, serious man my mother knew, into the fun loving, energetic grandfather I knew and loved. Zaidie played catch with me and watched me dance and sing – all with encouraging smiles and joyous laughter. He took me, and his four grandsons (I was the only granddaughter) to parks, beaches, on car trips and for ice cream. He couldn’t get enough of us and, likewise, we couldn’t get enough of him.

I thought I knew Zaide, but I realize I know very little about Zaidie. I know nothing about his childhood, nothing about where he lived, nor how he grew up. I know nothing about his parents, his siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins. I don’t even know how he met my grandmother.

I know that Zaidie was born in Poland, in a small town (shtetl) called Boger. From there, the story gets fuzzy.

Was it that…

In 1920 (give or take a year) my grandfather confiscated his dead brother’s visa and escaped to America, the land of freedom and opportunity. Since his brother was killed in the coalmines of Poland, either due to a job-related accident or at the hands of malicious mine workers, my grandfather grabbed that visa and turned his brother’s death into the opportunity of a lifetime.

Or was it the following…

Zaidie went to Canada, using his (older or younger) brother Myer’s visa. Myer,  somehow, was already living in America. From Canada, my grandfather smuggled across the border and entered the U.S.

Or maybe it happened this way…

In or about 1920, my grandfather joined the Polish (or Russian) Army, but instead of serving, he ran away (AWOL). Zaidie said he could not fight for a country that was killing Jews in the Pogroms, and escaped to the United States.

Which is true? I don’t know. I’m sure some variation is true. I have bits and pieces of stories handed down to me, but none of them are documented.

I do know that Zaidie eventually stowed away on a ship sailing to Canada. From there, he walked across the border into the U.S. telling the border guards: “Of course I’ll return to Canada, I’m just going to visit my brother, Myer.  My grandfather never returned to Canada. Instead, he sent money back to Poland, to my grandmother (Bubby), so she could join him and start a new life together in Chicago. But that’s all I have; it’s all I know about how my grandfather came to the United States. There is no one left to ask. My grandparents and the few relatives who survived the Holocaust are no longer alive.

I have tried to do the research and to put the pieces of the puzzle together. However, because of the Holocaust, all documentation, even the name of the town (Boger) in which my grandfather was born and grew-up, have all been expunged, purged from history. My family is left only to speculate about what actually happened.

I would dearly love to see a video of my grandfather and to hear him talk about his life and to hear his stories. But sadly, I cannot.

I have made it my job to tell my children what I do know about our ancestors.   I can tell them that their great-grandfather grew up in Poland, made his way to America around 1920, when he was about 18 years old, and because of Zaidie’s efforts; I was born in Chicago sixty-three years ago. My children will know that their grandfather had a large family, but sadly, they were all killed during Pogroms and in the Holocaust. My children and grandchildren will know of all the wonderful memories I have of my grandfather. They will hear about all the holidays we spent together, of the joy, love and a sense of family I received from Zaidie and Bubby. My children and my grandchildren will know because I am telling them and will continue to tell them.

Will your children and grandchildren know about your family? What are you doing to ensure that future generations don’t have to puzzle over mysteries they may never be able to solve?

As we commemorate Yom HaShoah today, let’s remember our ancestors and their struggles. But let’s not forget what we can do for the future. We owe it to Zaidie and Bubby to make sure our family’s stories are never forgotten.


Susan Harrison is an author who resides in San Diego, CA, where she works as an educator and a facilitator for GAB (Guided Autobiographer) and The Braille Institute. She has been published in various e-zines.  Susan is a modern grandmother and her favorite ‘job’ is reading books to her granddaughter via Skype.

Eisensteins in the Attic: Rediscovering Your Own Film Treasures (Guest Blogger)

Clack…..clack…..clack…clack..clack clack/clack/clack….

We all know the sound of an old 8mm or 16mm projector throwing Kodachrome home movies up on a wall. For all too brief a moment we look into a coruscating window on a lost or fast disappearing past. Images roll in: jump cuts, lens flares, shaky camera work. We squint maybe, trying to improve the focus. Real, but also somehow surreal, those old film images; transporting and magical.

That time machine costs how much?

I think of old home movies as a kind of time machine – but a time machine that really exists. What would we pay for just such a machine if we didn’t have one?

What wouldn’t we spend to peer through a time tunnel at our old grandpa digging in his “victory garden”, or to see mother on her wedding day? Old home movies are exactly that time machine, and yet we don’t always know – or value – what we have.

Dan Streible knows a thing or two about old movies. He is a professor of film at New York University and the founder of the Orphan Film Symposium – the biennial gathering of scholars, archivists, curators, and media artists devoted to saving, screening, and studying neglected moving images.

Dan says people underestimate the value and power of home movies – “these millions of feet of rediscovered family films, the millions of feet of film shot by mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles and friends throughout the 20th century (that) now make up the best record we have of daily life as it was lived during the past two or three generations.”

Of course, he is talking about other people’s home movies. And if you are lucky enough to have some of your own? Well, chances are they would be like Eisensteins in the Attic – dusty masterpieces of their kind left unwatched and slowly disintegrating*.

Priceless images in dusty boxes

Priceless images are stowed away in shoe boxes all across America, locked up in now unplayable film formats like Super 8, 16mm and 8mm; or in early cassette formats like Video8, Hi8 and Digital 8.

And if you did take the trouble 10 years back to convert to VHS, S-VHS or VHS-C? Then you did a great thing. But VHS is now obsolete; and sadly, the quality of VHS was poor from the start. You’ll get a much better result today retransferring from the original films or video cassettes.

The good news of course is that every old film and video cassette format can now be converted to digital video. Most people get their old home movies transferred to DVD. But here’s a tip: When you go to the expense of transferring, why not create an uncompressed video master file and get that put on a hard drive. (Uncompressed video is the best quality you can achieve.) Then, use those home movie master files to create your DVD, your YouTube or iPhone video (or whatever else becomes the device de jour).

Turn home movies into a personal documentary

And best of all, you can use that home movie master file to help create your own personal or family history documentary – your “Reel Tribute”. The only thing then remaining is to dim the lights, toss in the DVD, and become transported into “a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas”. You may miss the old “clack clack clack” of the projector, but the experience will be every bit as magical.

*Sergei Eisenstein: Pioneering Soviet Russian film director and film theorist famous for his silent film Battleship Potemkin (1925). The sole copy of his unfinished Bezhin Meadow was destroyed in a WWII bombing raid (“Shoulda had it transferred...”).

Thank you to video biographer and Association of Personal Historians board member Jane Shafron for this article. In recognition of the importance of preserving our home movies, Jane has recently added video transfer services in Orange County CA to her suite of family history services. Jane was recently named one of the Top 10 Personal History Bloggers of 2011 by Dan Curtis.