Archive for July, 2012

The Digital Divide: Technology bridge still under construction

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Recently, I posted about using Google Plus, Skype and other modern technologies as effective ways to bring family reunions to the whole family – even when many can’t make it in person.

Following that post, I went with my family to a wonderful reunion in Bear Lake Utah and Idaho where we had a great time reminiscing, water skiing – and enjoying quality time as a family.  Sure enough, not everyone could be there.

I grabbed my smartphone – no signal.  I grabbed my laptop – no signal.  I was up a technological creek.

Sunset over Bear Lake

One family member experienced a work emergency and was forced to drive around trying to find a strong-enough signal to get him on the Internet to solve the problem.

However, I was able to receive emails – on a boat in the middle of Bear Lake.  I also connected with the world while riding our rented ATVs – but not from the comfort of the cabin.

Yesterday, Google announced the availability of Google Fiber.  An ultra-high speed Internet based on wired fiber optics, it is 200 times faster than my already-fast connection at my Provo (Utah) office.  Right now, it is only available in Kansas City and is a test of what the future might look like. Read more about Google Fiber.

There are still many US locations – such as Bear Lake (Utah and Idaho) – where it’s difficult to get a connection. Fiber is a wonderful idea, but it doesn’t help to span the digital divide – it only makes it greater. Although Google Fiber offers free broadband connections for the masses – and ultra-high speed for those willing to pay for it – what about rural areas? (more…)

What Happened on the Way

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

No matter where you find your ancestors, they probably came from somewhere else. Maybe your ancestors were indentured servants who came to the New World, or Jews who fled Nazi Germany. Perhaps they left on a voyage but never turned up at the expected destination, or arrived there with a new or dramatically changed family. Such migrations can make it hard to trace genealogy.

covered wagonKnowing where an ancestor’s journey started and ended may not be enough to resolve these conundrums. Many major migration routes had important stops along the way, where people stayed for a month or a year or more. If you check these waypoints, too, you may find “missing” records of important life events.

Among my own ancestors, I have found many who were born in the British Isles but died in Utah. They came to the United States in the nineteenth century because of their faith: they were Mormons. There are records of these ancestors in Nauvoo, Illinois, but after that point there seem to be gaping holes. Some of them left Illinois but never turned up in Utah. Others arrived in Utah but with drastic changes in their families.

The Mormon pioneer trail had several significant stops. By studying the route, I was able to find records of events along the way, mostly in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Some of the earliest Mormon pioneers settled there (they named it Kanesville) and set up farms, so they could supply pioneers coming later. The settlement became an important rest stop for pioneers, especially during the winter months, when Winter Quarters was set up just across the river.

Because of the crowded and unhealthy living conditions there, diseases spread quickly. Scurvy, malaria, and tuberculosis claimed many of the pioneers, who were already weak from the arduous journey. This may be what took the lives of some of my ancestors.

On my paternal side, my great, great aunt Sophronia never reached Utah. Her records say she died in Council Bluffs on August 26, 1847. Records for two infants born that day indicate that she died in connection with giving birth to twins.

My maternal ancestors suffered losses in Council Bluffs, too. For example, five generations back, a Jonathan Hale died there in 1846. In the next two weeks, his wife and three of his children also died.pioneers in charcoal

I already knew there were Mormon pioneers among my ancestors, so it was easy to trace my lineage back using what I learned about the trail. Similarly, clues like where and when your ancestors lived can direct you to other migration routes. For instance, if your ancestors are connected with the Spanish War, you may learn something by researching El Camino Real de los Tejas, a significant trail leading from the Rio Grande River in Mexico through San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Laredo, and other cities on the way to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

If you’ve heard stories about your ancestors heading out west for the gold rush, you may find answers along the California Trail, which ran through many cities on its way across the United States, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Kansas City, Independence, Star Valley, Carson City, and Salt Lake City.

If you find Irish ancestors living outside of Ireland, they could point you to the Irish Diaspora, which moved significant Irish populations to Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, and other countries.

There are many other migration routes; a simple internet search can find a trail that might be relevant to you. Maybe you’ll be able to discover something groundbreaking, or maybe you’ll learn more details to a story you already knew, like I did. Either way, you’ll have something new to share when you pass along the stories of your ancestors.

Ice Cream Rules

Monday, July 16th, 2012

There’s a 1922 Wallace Stevens poem called “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” In it an old woman has died, and there is to be a wake. Death itself gives occasion for the survivors to party, with the help of “concupiscent curds” of freshly made ice cream. Both stanzas end with the same line: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” Whatever else it means, the poem suggests that life goes on, that ice cream really helps the process, and that families and homemade ice cream are natural allies.making ice cream

It’s National Ice Cream Month in the United States. In Utah, where MyHeritage (USA) is headquartered, we’ve had a bout of hot days, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). We’re also caught up in family reunions and summer holiday gatherings. Many of these celebrations involve ice cream, and it’s often homemade. I’ve been asking around; I’m not the only one for whom homemade ice cream conjures happy family memories.

At home we’ve been using a hand-cranked ice cream machine. It’s on long-term loan from my father, who hasn’t used it himself since my mother died several years ago. I remember her making strawberry ice cream with it, using home-grown strawberries. We’ve tried a few other flavors at my house, but we keep coming back to a simple recipe for lemon ice cream. We first experienced it at my brother-in-law’s home in California a few years ago, at a memorable family reunion. He got the recipe from a distinguished family friend in Massachusetts, so it has a worthy pedigree. We threatened to hold a niece or nephew hostage, or something like that, until my brother-in-law shared the recipe.

The formula is still closely guarded, rather like the secret recipes of major cola drinks and fried chicken franchises. My mentioning it in connection with this article caused my teenage daughter to threaten my life, if I published the recipe. So if you want to try it, I guess you’ll have to get yourself invited to one of my family’s celebrations. My unscientific homemade ice cream poll of Facebook friends yielded the following results:

  1. Vanilla is very popular, in part because of all the fun things you can put in it or on top of it.
  2. Fresh peach, fresh raspberry, and fresh strawberry ice creams get high marks.
  3. Hand-cranked wins by a nose over electric, but electric is better for — swoon! — “keeping the freezer full,” which is a cherished and enviable tradition in the family of a young lady to whom I used to pass notes in my tenth-grade English class.
  4. I hesitate to report that, apparently, the right combination of bananas and strawberries, blended and put in the freezer for a couple of hours, has the texture of ice cream “without the calories or the lactose.”

Ice cream purists, please don’t judge the source of that last item harshly. She’s a very good person.

ice cream makerLook up the history of ice cream at Wikipedia, and you’ll see that they trace it to a grape snow cone that was popular in the ancient Persian Empire. Many centuries later, it may have been the Arabs who pioneered the use of milk and made ice cream a commercial product in the 10th Century. In my hemisphere, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are known to have served and eaten ice cream regularly.

My other favorite summer flavors are travel and a good book, not necessarily in that order. So here’s a concluding scoop of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, a rather jaded account of visiting Odessa:

We were only to stay here a day and a night and take in coal; we consulted the guide-books and were rejoiced to know that there were no sights in Odessa to see; and so we had one good, untrammeled holyday on our hands, with nothing to do but idle about the city and enjoy ourselves. We sauntered through the markets and criticised the fearful and wonderful costumes from the back country; examined the populace as far as eyes could do it; and closed the entertainment with an ice-cream debauch. We do not get ice-cream every where, and so, when we do, we are apt to dissipate to excess. We never cared any thing about ice-cream at home, but we look upon it with a sort of idolatry now that it is so scarce in these red-hot climates of the East. (Chapter 36)

An “ice cream debauch” would definitely win points with my family. I may have to pick up some cream and a bag of ice on my way home tonight.

In Case of Fire: Back up!

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

I recently attended a Boy Scout camp at Scofield Reservoir in Utah. My car was “tagged” for not backing into my spot high in the mountains of the Spanish Fork Canyon. In pink chalk, the directions said – “turn around” – this due to the wildfire dangers of the camp.

When I called my wife from the camp, I was surprised to learn about a massive fire near our home in Lehi. It burned for four days, destroyed more than 6,000 acres and forced thousands – including some of our friends – to evacuate for two days.

The following week 300 Scouts from the merit badge camp at Scofield were evacuated because of a new wildfire that is consuming more than 23,000 acres. Backing our cars into the parking spots was the least we could do to follow the Scout motto, “be prepared.”

Photo of the Seely fire near Scofield Utah - courtesy Inciweb.org

Photo of the Seely fire near Scofield Utah - courtesy Inciweb.org

Today, the skies over Provo are again filled with smoke and ash.

Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs, tragic wildfire has displaced tens of thousands, has consumed hundreds of homes and continues to rage.

Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this disaster. I feel blessed to have camped last week instead of this week.  Just a few weeks ago, we were in beautiful Colorado Springs for the Family History Expo.

Natural disasters prove the point that we must always be prepared for such events. Today, Dick Eastman posted yet another post about backing up our files. Amazon was brought down over the weekend from storms. In another post from Dick an online backup company went down due to an illegal operation of sorts. (Read more here) What to do – have multiple copies of your files in multiple locations.  As Dick said today – “By the way, all hard drives WILL crash someday. The only question is “when?” Make your backups today.”

Are you prepared?  Just as the Scout camp asked us to prepare in small ways – such as backing cars into the spots to save time if we had to run for it – we can all do some things to prepare.

Have you taken the few minutes needed to walk around the house, with video camera in hand – and record your possessions for insurance purposes? Do you have thousands of photos, documents and more sitting in your house or office? What’s your plan in case of evacuation? What will you grab first?

The safest place to back up your files is in the “cloud” via online backup. Make sure you’re using a reputable company.  At MyHeritage, all our members have the option to back up their tree data and photos. Our servers are solid – but we have a backup just in case. Remember that if you choose to use the backup, you can always return to an earlier file version just in case something goes wrong.

Here are a few ideas to prepare for a disaster.

  • Sign up for an online backup service – for your entire computer.
  • Walk your house and garage with a video camera. Open all doors and turn on the lights. Record everything in the house so you have proof of what you own for your insurance company.
  • Scan, scan, scan your photos, documents and more. Save them to your computer and then in the “cloud.”
    • Although some researchers don’t like this idea – you can make quick copy of many images even if they aren’t at high resolution. A low resolution copy is better than no copy at all. Save more time-consuming high resolution scans for another day; at least you’ve duplicated them already – just in case.
    • Don’t let all those years of hard work go up in smoke, if disaster strikes!
Seely Fire Utah - image from Inciweb.org

Seely Fire Utah - image from Inciweb.org

We send our heartfelt best wishes to all of those affected by recent and current wildfires. Be Prepared and have backups as you never know when disaster will strike.


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