Archive for the ‘This is Us’ Category

Death, Halloween, and Family Traditions (It’s Almost October!)

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Halloween celebrations have increased through the years, and have become more fun and less morbid. But, like family history, Halloween is still very much about the dead.

Throughout October we’ll bring you several blog posts about death and the dead, some serious and some not. We’ll talk about finding and using death records (such as the SSDI), wills, obituaries, etc., in our family history work, as well as some of the things we ourselves should not leave undone as we contemplate our own eventual deaths. In preparation, we’ve been collecting Halloween memories and traditions from colleagues, families, and friends; playfully inviting coworkers to design their own tombstones (there’s a web app for that) and write their own epitaphs; and even interviewing morticians.

All that’s coming, but first, here’s some background.

A Bit of History

The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve — the eve of All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 by much of Western Christianity, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Traditionally, it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, before moving on to the next world, making Halloween their last chance to take vengeance on the living. The living, in turn, wore masks and costumes to avoid being recognized, and used fire (which turned over time into Jack-o-Lanterns) to ward off the spirits of the dead. There are also some pagan influences.

Learn more of the history of Halloween from this video at

The spooky side survives, now more secular than religious in feeling, but for most people Halloween is great fun, with costumes, trick-or-treating for youngsters, and parties for youth and adults. The day of the dead is alive with fun and family traditions. (more…)

Remembering 9/11

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

As I type, the names of nearly 3,000 victims of the attack of September 11, 2001 are being read from the Ground Zero site in New York City.

I found out early on 9/11 that a plane had been flown into the World Trade Center.  Soon after I was shocked to watch as another plane hit the second tower.  My parents and family across the US watched and called each other as we discussed the tragic events.  As I watched the coverage a reporter felt a huge boom and shake as he reported from the Pentagon which was also hit by a plane.

The most shocking for me as I watched from Dallas was to see one of the busiest airports in the world fall silent for several days.  Usually clogged with air traffic, the skies over Dallas fell into an eerie silence as our nation tried to determine the safety of our travel and take precautions to avoid another such tragedy. The silence was deafening as I realized we were indeed under attack.

Now 11 years later many of our children do not remember the events of that day.  If you have not yet recorded your memories and reactions to this national tragedy – now is a good time to do so.   As the years pass our memories of that day will fade, we need to record them now before that happens.

It is wonderful to see pictures of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.  As time moves on we replace the hole left at Ground Zero and in our hearts with new hope and new buildings but never forget and honor the many heroes of that day.

Click to see more images of the Freedom Tower and Ground Zero at


FGS 2012: Looking forward to seeing you!

Monday, August 27th, 2012

We love genealogy conferences. We meet old friends, make new ones and learn about all the newest developments in the field.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) annual conference begins Wednesday, August 28, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thousands of attendees will be able to extend their personal research with what they learn at the hundreds of sessions presented by some of the best speakers in the genealogy world.

MyHeritage will be at Booth 715

We invite everyone to stop by and say hello, to ask questions, to learn about new features, new technology and our new family history content. (more…)

Five Living Generations

Thursday, August 16th, 2012
Five Generations

Five Generations

My personal family tree sprouted a new branch.

I became a great-uncle.

My nephew Tyler and his wife Nicole were blessed with a little guy who – at his birth – made grandparents of my brother Brad and his wife Shanna.

The baby – not yet named – may meet his great-great-grandmother Shirley in a few weeks as the family passes through Utah. Nearing 90 years of age, and with her health failing she may not have that much time to connect with family.

I am fortunate to have very clear memories of one great-grandparent who lived until I was 25 or so.  The new baby’s great-grandparents – my parents – are healthy. Still under the age of 70 my parents will certainly be a big part of this little boy’s childhood, teenage life and later years.

What a great photo it will make to have one of the baby with his great-great-grandmother! I’m looking forward to that and hope that, in several decades – when the baby is a man, he will appreciate that first meeting with her. Not very many of us have enjoyed that experience which connects the past with the future of a family.

Cayden – who will soon meet his Great Great Grandmother

We genealogists often dream of meeting the people we now research, although we’ll have to wait until the time machine is invented to achieve that goal.

Do you find yourself researching your ancestors and hoping to someday talk to the people you now include in your family tree?  What questions would you ask them?

I’m also wondering how many readers have met a great-great-grandparent or great-grandparent. Who was the oldest relative you have known? Let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE – Baby Name – Cayden Bradley

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…)

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

Photo of the Seely fire near Scofield Utah - courtesy

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

Seely Fire Utah - image from

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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Not Your Average Family Reunion

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

by Tara McIntosh

Planning a one-size fits all reunion can be challenging. Here are some tips to organize a stress-free event and have a wonderful reunion that will be remembered for years to come:

Start with practical expectations. Whether it is a weekend event or a month at the cabin, have a realistic vision from the beginning. There will be boring moments and maybe a few melt-downs. There will also be moments to remember for years or generations to come. Document the best moments and forget those that don’t measure up to expectations.

Make a plan. Come up with a list of simple achievable objectives. Decide to be happy with that list when it is met. The amount of structure planned into the event can facilitate your overall objectives and communicate to attendees what is expected throughout the event. Giving purpose and communicating it, when democratically applied, allows everyone to relax as they know the rules of engagement so-to-speak. Examples include: get to know one another better, strengthen relationships, laugh, learn something new about your heritage, share recipes, etc.

The purpose of having simple achievable objectives is not to have low expectations of the event. The purpose is to understand the outcomes that can be planned into the event. If coming up with a list of achievable goals is less than satisfying, develop a list of personal goals as well. Or develop a second list as an objectives wish list.

Something for everyone. Simple things that include each person at their comfort level can help maintain a harmonious atmosphere. Distribute responsibilities, vary activities to cater to the different strengths within the family, utilize technology to include family who are too far to be there in person.  You can find some great ideas about this in Family Reunion Hangouts by Mark Olsen.

Incorporate value-added experiences. Getting together is a wonderful time to learn more about your heritage. Check with the local historical society to invite a historian or genealogist for a lecture. Talk about stories from reunions past. Schedule a time to relive a historical event or lifestyle from the perspective of an ancestor. Encourage sharing between generations and extended family about the joys and trials of life.

Families offer a refuge when life is good and during tough times. Reunions are the ideal setting for strengthening relationships that offer the best support. By incorporating practical planning and valuable experience the outcome of any get together will be top notch.

Family Reunion Hangouts

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Hot summer days signal the time for families to gather for the annual ritual of family reunions.

Family reunions often bring together many generations to mingle, play, create new memories and relive those memories of the past.

The intent of a family reunion is to bring together the family in one place at the same time.  Some family members may be overextended on their PTO, over-strained on the financing or busy with other summer activities such as boy scout camp, a business trip or other commitments.

Until only recently if you were not able to make the reunion you were out of luck and would likely miss out on all the fun.  Today we have many options of keeping up to speed on all the events and with the advent of modern social media you can even join in on the fun with the use of video collaboration.

Skype and Facetime

Example of a hangout (with David Beckham and Google)

Example of a hangout (with David Beckham and Google)

Using Skype video you can call in to or from the family reunion and have the person on the other line share in the special moments of the gathering.  Skype is free over the internet, there are some costs when call phone number. Facetime is a social app for the iPhone which can be used for face to face video interactions between phones.

Facebook:  Using Facebook Video Calling

I have not yet used Facebook video calling but understand that it is built on the backbone of Skype and can help you meet face to face with Facebook friends and family who are online.

Google Plus – Google Hangouts

Holding the unofficial world record for the longest lasting Google Hangout, 77 days,  I am biased to hangouts as the hands down winner of video collaboration.  From early July 2011 to August I and over 12,000 others used hangouts to test this new technology and join in on a video conversation which we held.  Now I use hangouts to connect with friends, family, business partners and virtual conference attendees. (more…)

Live Feeds from Colorado now available

Friday, June 1st, 2012

WorldVitalRecords and MyHeritage are at the Family History Expo in Colorado Springs Colorado. #FHexpo
Schelly Talalay Dardashti and Mark Olsen will be presenting various classes live online. Those presentations can be viewed here:

Click on the top feed – live feed to view live – or look for our recorded broadcasts.

The complete schedule of our session are as follows:

Friday June 1, 2012 – Times are Mountain Time

4.50 pm: Sephardic Research Comes of Age – Schelly
This session will provide many recent and relatively unknown resources for Sephardic genealogy (for those whose Jewish ancestors came from Spain), covering global country resources, searchable databases, books, libraries/archives, online sites, conferences, personalities, music and many additional aspects of the “other” side of Jewish genealogy.

6.30 pm: Online Ancestral Communities – Schelly
For many of today’s genealogists, their ancestral communities – regardless of origin – live only in half-remembered memories of parents and grandparents. Today’s technology and social media provide methods to easily recreate these communities and preserve those memories for future generations. In this session, learn about types of communities, why we should care, how to find others who share these memories, what a project might include, how to put it together and view projects that others have already created. Help preserve your roots for the future, while collaborating with other descendants around the world.

7.50 pm: Google Hangouts – Connecting Genealogists with History Worldwide – Mark
Google Plus is quickly becoming a go to place for genealogy. Never before has it been easier to connect, share, and record family history – gather for a genealogy society meeting – attend a genealogy conference – meet with a client – connect for the first time with a distant cousin – interview an elderly relative and much more. Mark, the creator of the longest Google Hangout, which lasted 77 days, will teach how to quickly connect with people from around the world to accomplish shared genealogy goals. Mark will demonstrate how you can quickly join a hangout in process or create your own. He will also teach how you can use this technology to gather your family or society together to teach, record and share experiences. This presentation will be broadcast live to the Google Plus community and – assuming a good internet connection – will involve genealogists from around the globe.

Saturday June 2, 2012 –

11.20 am: Social Media for 21st Century Genealogists – Schelly
Do you want to learn how to use today’s social media to advance your family history research? Has your society scheduled the best program in the country, but don’t know how to get the message out? Learn how to use social media to your advantage. Learn the basics of publicity along with information on the essentials of organizing an event.

1:10 pm: The 1940 Census – Mark
Having trouble finding people in the 1940 US census? Need some practical tips to make the most of available information? Mark will take you step-by-step through researching the census and will demonstrate how to find the people you’re looking for and understand the records you find. He’ll also demonstrate how to use other methods to help reveal records such as using city directories or converting previous census EDs, how to decipher the information and follow clues for further research. MyHeritage was the first commercial vendor to have all the 1940 US Census images available following its release on April 2.

Those presentations can be viewed here:

Click on Feed at the top of page and watch the live feed or recently recorded session.

We hope you can join in.