Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures

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In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”

The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.

This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.

ONE

I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.

Bertha Babcock History 2nd EdI wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.

Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.

My plan was to give a copy to each of my mother’s six surviving siblings, and also to a couple of relatives who helped a lot with the reunion. (My sister and I were in charge this year.) I couldn’t afford to give it to the next two generations, even if my mother’s generation insisting on paying me for what I intended to be a gift.

Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.

TWO

As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.

A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.

THREE AND FOUR

That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at Amazon.com for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at BarnesAndNoble.com for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.

I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.

The old, the new, the Kindle app on my iPod

It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.

If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.

In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.

FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)

My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.

At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.

Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.

As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.

FGS 2012: Looking forward to seeing you!

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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. Read more »

The Cemetery Comes to Life

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American Fork Cemetery with mountains

American Fork Cemetery. Photo by David Rodeback.

My small city, American Fork, Utah, has almost enough parks, and some of them have good jogging paths. But walkers’ and joggers’ favorite venue is, of all places, the local cemetery. I live nearby, and I see them there almost anytime between dawn and dusk, except during rare bouts of nasty weather. The cemetery itself is picturesque, and its lake and mountain views are captivating, especially — for me — in the evening.

It doesn’t seem odd or inappropriate to me that a cemetery should be a popular recreation spot, at least in the sense I’ve described. But I confess I first thought it strange that a city would have an annual “History and Heritage Pageant” among the gravestones. I’ve long since changed my mind; now it seems quite appropriate.

Mark Steele as sea captain

Mark Steele plays a sea captain in the 2011 pageant. Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

For three evenings every summer, near the end of July, our local cemetery comes alive. Hundreds of people gather to enjoy food, including a very popular 25-cent ice cream cone; various crafts; carriage rides (see the horse-drawn carriage just entering the photo above); and live music. Top billing goes to my favorite part of the event, half a dozen amateur theatrical presentations about the lives of people buried in the cemetery. These vary in length from 10 to 25 minutes, and each of them runs several times during the evening. There’s more to see and do than a single evening permits, but the modestly-priced tickets are good for all three evenings.

This year, my own participation began months before. Local resident Cindy Holindrake, who has run the pageant for several years, came to me and asked if I’d like to write another script — my fourth in the last six years, but who’s counting? She gave me a stack of personal histories and other materials she had found about three people who are interred in the cemetery. This might have been enough material for two or three scripts, but she was worried that one of the tales might be too dark, including, as it does, the story of an English sailor nearly being eaten by his shipwrecked comrades.

Writing for the stage is always challenging, I suppose. But when the stage is the cemetery lawn, the actors (almost always) amateurs, the costumes simple, and the props minimal, it’s more so. Add to that the need for historical accuracy and the common challenge of portraying numerous significant events of a lifetime in the space of 10-25 minutes, and the playwright’s role seems almost daring, or possibly foolhardy. Writing for this pageant, I don’t have to face my subjects in person, but I’ll almost always meet several of their descendants, who either live nearby or come from afar to see the production. I want them to feel that I’ve portrayed their ancestor accurately and sympathetically, and — perhaps more importantly — that I haven’t abused a good life by using it to bore audiences.

The first time I participated in one of these dramas, I played a small role in the most lavish such production I’ve seen. A friend and neighbor who has studied the Mormon pioneers extensively wrote the script and assembled a cast of about 20, including some children. He even recruited a team of horses, a driver, and a covered wagon. The vignette was about two famous handcart companies who started late and met disaster in Wyoming, when winter came early. I was cast as Levi Savage, one of the pioneers and a personal hero of mine.

My own first script was about another pioneer, Thomas Featherstone. The production had a cast of about 10 — including a few to play the hero at different ages — and some live music. The narrative continuity came from an older Thomas reading from his journal to connect scenes and place them in context.

David Rodeback and Brent Miller

Yours truly (left) and Brent Miller, 2011. Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

The next year, a friend and I took an idea from a past pageant and wrote a new script, which became (we were told) the first outright comedy ever presented in the pageant. It’s about a Mormon polygamist fleeing a US Deputy Marshal. The polygamist dons a dress and bonnet and hides himself in a church meeting (the audience), just as the marshal arrives. We told people that our production was “twelve minutes of silliness sprinkled with a few bits of history,” but the situation was authentic enough, and one of the historical figures is buried in the cemetery. That first year, I wore the badge, and my friend wore the dress. Three years later (last year) they asked us to do it again, and we decided it would be fair to switch roles.

Apparently, in a dress I am not only hideous, but also memorable. I often volunteer as an usher and a ticket-taker at concerts of a local symphony orchestra, two towns to the north of my own. I wear a suit and tie for that gig, not a dress, but people I don’t know still say, as they hand me their tickets, “We know you. We saw you wearing a dress at the cemetery!”

Two years ago, I wrote a script about Hap Holmstead, a prominent local athletic coach who lived when some popular American sports were played locally in a cow pasture — making good footwork even more important, I suppose.

Tammie Foote, John Heeder, David Rodeback

Tammie Foote, John Heeder (center), and the author in "Swapping Stories on the Porch" (2012). Bret Dalton photo, used by permission.

For this year’s new script, I decided to combine those three autobiographies Cindy gave me into a single 25-minute bout of after-dinner storytelling. Two of the three, Jonathan and Mary Steggell, came from England to American Fork, lived rather adventurous lives, and are buried not far from our grassy “stage.” (The first photo in this post is taken from our “stage,” looking toward three American flags which mark the Steggells’ and my own character’s graves.) An old neighbor and a new neighbor played those roles.

I played a Scotsman, John Duncan, with a wooden leg, one blind eye, and a prickly relationship with religious authority. I spent a few weeks listening to Scottish accents, so I could sound almost authentic. After a bit of experimenting in rehearsals, I also figured out how to hit myself over the head with my cane loudly enough to tease the audience, but without giving myself a headache. This violence wasn’t completely gratuitous; I was telling a story about some Indian trouble in Wyoming, which involved my character being hit over the head with a rifle barrel.

We performed five times each evening, for audiences ranging in size from half a dozen to forty. (Two dozen filled our folding chairs; then it was Standing Room Only.) We met descendants of John Duncan and the Steggells. They were complimentary and full of questions. We told them what we knew from the histories.

John Dalton gravestone

John Duncan's gravestone in American Fork. Photo by David Rodeback.

Only now do I realize that I missed an opportunity. I learned, as I was just beginning to write, that an elderly gentleman who lives about two stones’ throw from me is a direct descendant of the Steggells. He sat me down one morning and showed me two volumes of their history and journals, which he had edited years before and published for the family. (This was after another family member had learned to read the old version of shorthand in which the original text was written!) He doesn’t get out much, so we should have taken our production on the road, to his living room. It’s too late now, but I suppose I can at least take him the script.

Things slow down after sunset. The last theatrical performances end, and we load the props into a cast member’s van. It’s not a big job: three rocking chairs, my cane, a small table to hold our pie, some plates and forks, what’s left of the pie, and — until a gust of wind toppled it and broke it — a wooden coat rack. Meanwhile, much of the crowd gathers for live music that is just beginning. I would stop and enjoy it, too, if I hadn’t spent the last two hours on stage. Instead, I take my bow tie, my hat, and my fake Scottish accent and walk off into the sunset. Literally.

Sunset at the American Fork Cemetery

Sunset at the American Fork Cemetery. Photo by David Rodeback.

I have other commitments next year, but I’m already looking forward to reviving “Brother Will and the Deputy Marshal” in 2014. And I don’t care who wears the dress.

Five Living Generations

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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
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

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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? Read more »

What Happened on the Way

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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

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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!

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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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Not Your Average Family Reunion

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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

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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. Read more »