The Blog

Your Genealogical Wish List for the Holidays

As much as we like to give during the holiday season – admit it – we like to receive too.  And as it is possible that the ones you love don’t quite understand how much you love working on your family history, you may just have to give yourself a genealogical gift this year.

What is your wish-list?  I will share mine, and perhaps it will give you some ideas for what you may need or gift ideas for our significant others.  Please know that the following are not endorsements for these products, just a few of my personal preferences.

  1. Subscriptions.  So many business are feeding our need for records.  I have a lot (don’t tell my husband!) of subscriptions to companies online including Ancestry, GenealogyBank, NewspaperArchive, and various genealogical societies whose websites offer more digitized records.  This year I’m planning to give myself a subscription to a new society, one I have been meaning to join.  Maybe it will be the Federation of Genealogical Societies or the Genealogical Speaker’s Guild.
  2. Conferences.  I could attend every genealogical conference in the country this year and still not be satisfied.  I love the feel of conferences, the commraderie, the vendors!  If I had to pick this year (and I really can’t), I think that I would enjoy the National Genealogical Society’s conference in May 2013.  On a personal note, it is located near some family and I could make the most of my visit by seeing them as well.  But let’s face it – its in VEGAS!  I am not a gambler at all, but I love the shows and the buffets.
  3. Books.  I think I would have to dedicate an entire website to the books I love on genealogy. I did an inventory once of all the books I have at Library Thing, but I had to stop once I reached 100 genealogy books, out of sheer exhaustion. Among my long list of published resources, one has been on my list for too long, and I think I just have to get it.  Its Joan L. Sevra’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 – 1900, available at many stores.
  4. Stories.  It is crucial to keep stories alive.  Names and dates are well and good, but where’s the personality?  Where’s the voice?  My gift to myself will be a way to pass the story along to my siblings, my children, and all my relatives.  I can start small right now by deciding which family I want to highlight, collecting their information, and then choosing a media that best suits my story.  Of course, a Reel Tributes documentary is my first choice!  Talk about giving my ancestors their voices back. For something quicker and less expensive, ReelGenie promises to be an amazing tool. If only it were ready for this holiday season!
  5. Time.  My family thinks I am crazy (for many reasons).   This is mostly because I think a valuable family vacation should be spent in a state and local archives in New York where my ancestors came from.  What’s wrong with having family time in the cemetery, or the court house?  So I think one thing I would really like is my own “vacation” to work on my family history.   I have taken some serious time this year writing about my ancestors.  Now I want to walk where they walked.  This year: New York.  Next year: Scotland!
  6. Answers.  I would like to ask a favor of the universe.  Please send me the names of my fifth great-grandfather’s parents.  I am stuck!  Have you felt this way?  I often say that I am the only person to prove my ancestors were actually dropped by aliens, because there is no other evidence to refute it.  In all seriousness, I have taken to keeping an 8×10 framed photo of great grandpa James Wescott Whitman (1794 – 1878) in my office to inspire me.  So, if the universe is listening, that’s what I want most of all.  More family.

What genealogical treats would you like in you holiday celebrations this year?  I’d love to hear your ideas.  Inspire us with what genealogical gifts you are giving to yourself.  The trick is that when you continue to search out and celebrate your family, it becomes a gift to everyone in your family.  Happy Holidays!

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 (http://progenstudy.org/). 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:

  • www.DeadFred.com. 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.
  • www.USGenWeb.org. 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.
  • www.FindAGrave.com. 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 https://www.familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing. There is an online tutorial to teach you how to index, and lots of help along the way.
  • www.worldmemoryproject.org. Ancestry.com 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.

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.

A Veterans Day Tribute

On this Veteran’s Day, whether you are on active duty, discharged, retired or in the reserves, we honor, salute and thank you for your service to America and to the cause of freedom. We hope that you record the stories of your experiences in the military, so future generations can appreciate the sacrifices that went into making our nation so great.

– The Reel Tributes Team

Photo: Amy Mortensen / Connecticut Post Freelance