The Blog

Tracing My Treasures: A Measure of Love

How do you measure love? Is it felt by the intensity of a hug, the passion of a kiss, the size of a box of chocolates or the number of rose stems in a bouquet?

Today, I measure love with a tin-measuring cup.

For years upon years my Tennessee grandmother whipped up homemade biscuits served with red eye gravy, eggs, bacon for her family.  I was fortunate enough to be part of many of those special family breakfasts.

I would watch my petite Southern grandmother measure out the flour, salt, baking powder, milk, and shortening using the very same old measuring cup and measuring spoons that she had used for decades.   Once everything was in the mixing bowl, she would give a little stir, and then pour out the ingredients on to a breadboard. After kneading it a little, the dough was placed into an black and worn cast iron skillet.  Into the oven it would go until the biscuits were baked light brown and to perfection.

The butter and cloverleaf honey were already out when those hot-out-of-the-oven biscuits were placed in the center of the kitchen table for the family to enjoy.

So much love and attention went into this early morning ritual.

After grandmother died, her sons asked me what of her possessions I would like to have.  Without hesitation, I asked, ‘Could I possibly have her set of kitchen measuring spoons and her measuring cup?’  I’m sure they thought ‘what a crazy woman to be asking for such mundane things!’

But the deeper truth is that by holding in my hands these simple objects, I remember a woman who was a special part of my life for so many years.

A tin measuring cup and a set of measuring spoons.  Symbols of love.

What treasured family heirlooms do you possess? What memories do these items stir up inside of you? We’d love to hear from you!

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

Tracing My Treasures: Perky, the 107-year old Bear

In the fall of 1999, my grandmother Frances Mackin came to visit us. She was 97 years old. In her suitcase was a special treat: her cherished childhood toy, Perky.  Her desire had always been to give Perky to her first great granddaughter. She was about to turn this desire into a reality.

On the day Perky was bestowed to Frances’ Great Granddaughter, Annie, she told our family the story of how she had originally acquired Perky. Annie listened in awe.

In 1904, Frances’ parents, Fred Henry and Amelia Meyer, traveled from Sturgis, SD to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair.  While at the fair they saw Richard Steiff and his aunt selling stuffed bears. They decided to purchase one of the little mohair bears as a gift for their two-year-old little daughter. They had no idea that Steiff would go on to become a world-famous toymaker.

As she continued to speak, Frances reflected back that she must have dearly loved Perky because she hardly ever played with him.  And when she did, she handled him with extreme care.  It is obvious that this is true because over one hundred years later, Perky shows very few signs of damage that might otherwise have been seen in a child’s stuffed animal.

Perky is about one foot high with soft, light brown mohair fur, black shoe button eyes and is filled from the top of his ears to the bottom of his feet with something similar to straw called excelsior.  He has beige felt paws and a hand-sewn brown thread nose.  He also has a small squeaker that allows him to make little chirps when the middle of his tummy is gently pressed. That was quite the technological breakthrough back in 1904!

But in my opinion, the sweetest thing about Perky is his indomitable smile! That smile has stayed firm for 107 years now.

Chapter Two: 2011 

In fact, Perky’s smile seems to be even bigger these days. A new chapter in Perky’s long life has begun. Annie is now all grown up and has become a mommy herself.  Annie decided that her one and only daughter, Emily, age three and a half, should now take possession of Perky. Who else could love a stuffed bear with such a history?

I have no doubt that Perky will continue to get the love and attention that he’s gotten for so many years. Together, Emily and Perky will create their own stories and make their own memories.

There are many things that bond children, their parents, and their grandparents. If Fred and Amelia could only see how their small purchase in 1904 continues to connect our family 107 years later. Perky isn’t just a little bear. He’s a symbol of love, continuity, and stability for four generations. What a treat.

What is your family heirloom story? Who are the people through the years in your family who have cherished a particular family keepsake?

Tell us all about how you came to possess your family heirloom. We’d love to hear from you.

History Brings Families Together: The McNulty’s

On September 1, we wrote about the healing power of telling stories. As Reel Tributes’ Chief Videographer and Editor, I’d like to supplement that blog post with a personal anecdote.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Cresence McNulty and her family on a tribute video (you can view an excerpt of her video on our sample page). The experience was a delight and privilege, due in large part to Cresence’s family. The process of making a personal history video always draws a family together – to share photos or suggest stories. But the McNulty clan took this to a whole new level.

Family members traveled from far and wide to watch the taping and support Cresence. Adam (Cresence’s grandson) and his wife Sarah had prepared a magnificent feast, and children and adults alike conversed, laughed, ate, and played. Cresence’s children asked her to share stories during lunch, and I watched as her eyes light up when she recounted how she met her husband at a dance.

When it came time for the interview, Cresence was admittedly nervous. Talking about herself for two hours wasn’t something she was used to! But with her family gathered around her, eager to hear the experiences of her life, it wasn’t long before stories came pouring out of her. By the interview’s conclusion, she had done a 180 degree turn – from nervousness to infectious enthusiasm.

The shooting completed, her family celebrated with more food, swapping photos for the next hour. Children and grandchildren playfully named all the relatives in the black and white photos, and many of them learned unknown facts about great-uncles and aunts. All too often I heard someone exclaim, “I didn’t know you had that picture! Can I get a copy of that?”

Personal history is a vital, vibrant celebration. We are each unique, with our own private memories and novel experiences. Shakespeare once wrote “Who is it that says most, which can say more, / Than this rich praise, that you alone, are you?” Life is not common – and Cresence’s life proves that. She saw things, heard music, loved people, and lived through events that are worth capturing and certainly worth celebrating.

Photos and videos are important because they preserve these cherished memories, but equally as important are the new memories made when a family revisits the past. Cresence’s great-grandchildren will grow up remembering the day she told them about how a single, tentative kiss on a bridge led to four incredible generations.