Posts Tagged ‘family history’

Check Out the New Digs

Friday, May 17th, 2013

The MyHeritage Utah office, which houses the WorldVitalRecords team, moved last week from Provo to Lehi. We’re growing, as is the whole company, but the change is less about space than about moving to a location that will help us recruit top talent from a larger area; the Salt Lake Valley is literally a few minutes away. This, in turn, will help us to provide more and more valuable family history data and an even better experience to our growing subscriber base.

We thought you might like to see the new office and its environs and learn a bit about the area, too.

(To see a higher-resolution version of any photo in this post, click on it.)

The company name and logo on the front door, backed by art on the receptionist's wall

Our Habitat: The Wasatch Front

Utah’s Wasatch Front consists of the Salt Lake City metro area, Utah Valley (the Provo-Orem area) to the south, and the Ogden area to the north. Over two million people — roughly 80 percent of Utah’s population — live along the Wasatch Front.

On a normal day you can drive from one end of this concentration of people to the other in less than an hour and a half. In light traffic, and at the prevailing speed on Interstate 15 — at least 10 mph above the legal speed limit — you can do it in an hour, assuming you’re not pulled over.

The Wasatch Mountains, renowned for their skiing, run north and south just east of the cities and valleys; hence the term Wasatch Front. To the west are the smaller Oquirrh Mountains and the Great Salt Lake.

Local leaders like to call the Wasatch Front “Silicon Slopes,” and it’s not just hype. This is now one of the top ten concentrations of the high tech industry in the United States. High tech and financial companies whose names you would recognize just keep moving in, and new start-ups you will someday recognize just keep, well, starting up.

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Making Memories into Quilts.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I love family history activities that culminate in something tangible, especially quilting. You can turn just about anything you can wear into a memory quilt.

I first encountered a memory quilt at my friend Katie’s house, when I was eight years old. Her guestroom had a bedspread like none I had ever seen. It looked like someone had sewn a blue satin dress right onto the bed. It was covered in sequins and beads, with streams of blue and purple radiating out from the waist. I was enchanted. I remarked that it looked like something a queen would wear. Katie answered, “Yes, my mom used to be a queen, and this is what she wore.” Katie proved it by showing me a large picture of her mom, in the dress, on the wall downstairs. I was a amazed. A real, live queen lived just across the street from me, and she had the bedspread to prove it!

Persona Quilt

Persona Quilt

A year or so later, I learned that Katie’s mom had been a beauty queen. The dress on the bedspread was the one she wore in the evening gown portion of the Miss Texas pageant. Later, she had made it into a quilt to commemorate the event. Since then I have seen many other memory quilts. They tend to fall into three categories.

Persona Quilt

This type of quilt is usually made as a gift or a means of self expression. It is meant to reflect who a person is. The photo here is one my mom made for my dad. Like this one, persona quilts often include a lot of novelty fabrics, each chosen because it has some special significance for that person. Here some of the squares represent his Eagle Scout award, the universities he attended (Brigham Young University and the University of Utah), and some of his favorite foods (suckers, BBQ, and hot sauce).

Event Quilt

Event Quilt

Event Quilts

These are made to commemorate an event or a series of events. My neighbor’s pageant dress bedspread is in this category. Such a quilt might be made from a wedding dress or race t-shirts. Annette, the wife of one of our engineers at MyHeritage, made this one to commemorate her daughter’s accomplishments in high school band. It includes a lot of embroidery and appliqué.

Classic Memory Quilt

These are the most popular memory quilts. They are made from the fabrics that we most associate with a person, usually their clothing. I have seen them made from baby clothes, old jeans, and even neckties. They are usually made in memory of a period of life that is already past (like baby clothes) or, as in this example, in memory of a person who has passed away.

Classic Memory Quilt

Classic Memory Quilt

My friend Heather Lott was commissioned to make a set of three quilts for a woman whose mother had passed away. The daughter went through her mother’s clothes and pulled out anything that reminded her of her mom. These were mostly things that she wore often, but also things she wore for special events. Heather transformed them into three lovely quilts, one for each of the deceased woman’s children. Now, whenever the children and grandchildren see the fabrics in that quilt, they remember Grandma.

Quilt 1, Quilt 2, Quilt 3

These quilts may be cozy and even beautiful. But what makes them a piece of family history is the story. Who wore this dress? When did that happen? How is this person related to me? I love the idea of putting together a little bit of my family history that is tangible and functional. I imagine myself wrapping up my kids in the blanket someday, pointing to each square and telling them where it came from and why I love it — thus turning a warm, comfy quilt into a bit of history.

I have a little stack of baby clothes, and I plan to make a blanket with them. I sat down the other day to get started so I could share it in this post. My kids are still young, and I cherish those little onesies and jackets. I sat there with my scissors in hand, before a pile of my sons’ old clothes, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut them up. What if I want the baby to wear this? (That’s not likely, since she is a girl and these are boy clothes.) What if my kids want their children to wear this? (I know this possibility is even more remote.) I actually got misty-eyed, sitting there. I know that the whole point of making the quilt is to preserve those memories, but I was unprepared for the emotions. So my step-by-step instructions don’t yet lead to my own finished product.

Select and prepare clothesStep 1: Select and Prepare

Be sure to select items that are meaningful. Remember that, depending on the size of the squares, you may be able to get multiple square from one garment. Cut the clothes along enough seams to make the fabric lie down flat.

InterfacingStep 2: Interfacing

This is the crucial step. When we sew a quilt, we want even squares, but many of the fabrics you use may be stretchy, like a t-shirt. This can make the squares uneven after they are cut. Buy some lightweight fusible interfacing. Cut that into squares a little larger than your final square size.Then iron it onto the back of the clothing.

 Cut Your SquaresStep 3: Cut Your Squares

Make sure you cut all your squares the same size. The easiest way to do this is with a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and ruler. If you don’t have these, you can get good results with a square cardboard template and sharp scissors.

Arrange and SewStep 4: Arrange and Sew.

Once all your squares are cut, lay them out on the floor and arrange them any way you like. If you are short a few squares, add in some generic fabric squares where needed. Then sew them together as you would any other quilt. Sew one row at a time, then sew each row to the next.

FinishStep 5: Finish

Finish the quilt in the usual ways. Add a layer of quilt batting and a fabric backing. Then either tie the quilt or have it quilted professionally.

Enjoy the memories.

Stuck Happens! 13 Things to Do When It Happens to You

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Dead endWhether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned veteran at family history, you can’t pursue this historical detective adventure very long before you get stuck. Some name or record will elude you. You’ll run out of ideas for finding it, and you’ll start to wonder if the promised rewards of your chosen hobby are worth the trouble or, on a bad day, even possible. Rest assured: You’re not the first, and there is hope.

A Common Challenge

About 20 years ago I started looking for a marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Benjamin James Morgan and Mary Fischer, who are believed to have married circa 1794 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I didn’t choose this at random. I was looking for something Uncle Shirl, Aunt Gwen, and the other family genealogists had left undone.

I used computerized resources, which were rather sparse then, and paged through microfilmed Chester County records ordered through my local LDS Family History Library. I struck out.

I’m fortunate that I had to go back five generations to find a hole other researchers had left unfilled. But I was living in graduate student poverty at the time, so I could hardly hire a professional genealogist or mount a week-long expedition to the Philadelphia area in search of the record. I needed affordable alternatives. Come to think of it, two decades later, I still do.

It helps see apparent dead ends as something else entirely: forks in the road. When stuck happens, you have at least three options:

  • Pursue the elusive record or relative with laser-like focus. This may lead to success, or it may lead to therapy.
  • Slide this one to the back burner and turn your attention to some other aspect of your family history.
  • Abandon family history in favor of another pastime, such as knitting, lacrosse, or watching reality television.

You’re on your own with the third option, but let’s look at the other two.

Dogged Pursuit

When the person or record you’re stuck on is especially important to you or your tree, you may prefer dogged pursuit. Pardon my changing metaphors, but, if a door you need won’t open, sometimes you can break it down, find another door, or even crawl in a window. Here are some ideas. (more…)

Discovering Family Tree Records

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

NEW: MYHERITAGE FAMILY TREES COLLECTION

We’ve just added a powerful new resource to World Vital Records – the MyHeritage Family Trees Collection, an exclusive database with more than 400 million tree profiles and tens of millions of associated photos.

Using this data collection, researchers can find trees which connect with their own or lead to new information about ancestors.  Now you can quickly find information and learn from other researchers and discover family members and yet unknown distant cousins as you search this large, dynamically updated collection.

SEARCHING THE COLLECTION

To search the trees, simply log on to your World Vital Records account and click “Search>Card Catalog” to go to a new page showing the MyHeritage Family Trees Collection.

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Combining Social Media with Family History

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

As Facebook enters its eighth year and many other social networking sites become publicly-traded companies (LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, Zynga, Twitter), it seems that social media is here to stay.

As genealogists, how can we embrace today’s online social media tools to further our research? I’ve spoken to people who – through social networking – find both long lost cousins and other family members. Some find family they did not know they had.

One society I know of uses the free online meet-up technology available through GooglePlus – they are called Hangouts – to hold weekly meetings without leaving home.

There is so much knowledge and shared experience in the blogosphere. Whether it is a wiki website with user-submitted articles or a professional genealogist sharing his or her experience, blogs offer relevant hints and tricks. If you are not already familiar with blogs, follow a few presenters from a recent conference, company page or visit Geneabloggers.com for a comprehensive list of genealogy blogs. Once you find writers who resonate with you on your favorite social networking site, it’s like checking the daily news. You’ll receive valuable insights and entertaining snippets.

Microblogging, blogging but on a smaller scale, allows people to share quick bits of content. Whether you want to share a link to a great video or just your thoughts at the moment, Twitter is the most common forum for microbloggers. If you aren’t into sharing right away, following others is a fascinating way to learn about current trends. It feels as if you are listening simultaneously to 100 conversations. It is easy to see what topics are most commonly discussed. Are you are a visual person? There are sites to pin images of products, fun ideas or content as well like Pinterest. Whatever your style, share the best of what you find online within your network and learn new ideas from others — that’s what it’s all about. (more…)

Recap of the St. George Family History Expo

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
St. George Family History Expo MyHeritage Booth

St. George Family History Expo MyHeritage Booth

The MyHeritage booth at the St. George (Utah) Family History Expo was a huge success. We heard many fascinating stories and met many amazing people during the two-day event. Some people were just starting out, although others had been researching for more than 20 years and just needed a little help.

Many attendees were eager to sign up to family-friendly MyHeritage because of its ability to help them share information with their relatives near and far – that’s what MyHeritage is all about! We are thankful to the people we met and helped.

At the event, Mark Olsen presented to classrooms of genealogists who were eager to learn more about MyHeritage and other social tools. He spoke about ways to use new technology to connect with relatives around the world and preserve family history.

Social technology is a hot topic in genealogy with many books written about these cutting-edge tools. The presentation on Hangouts attracted a full room of conference goers.

Relaying family moments captured and shared across the globe brought tears to the eyes of several attendees. There was a tangible excitement as Mark showed how online free social technology can be used to strengthen family bonds and further research. (more…)

DNA: History revealed via technology

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

By Schelly Talalay Dardashti

MyHeritage.com – US Genealogy Advisor

Genetic genealogy is perhaps the most exciting new tool for family history research.  It can prove or disprove family relationships, determine a time frame when two people shared a common ancestor, provide genetic matches and clues to ancestral origins.

While paper records may be inaccurate through accident or purpose – throughout history – blood doesn’t lie. If two men match genetically, they are related, and what needs to then be determined is when their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) lived.

Genetic genealogy technology can:

  • Provide information when there is no paper trail.
  • Confirm or disprove a relationship or story.
  • Cut across history/geography lines.
  • Results may point to better traditional methodology/resources by pinpointing geography or other details

What is important, however, is to understand how this new industry came about, and what it can and cannot do.

FamilyTreeDNA.com was founded by CEO/founder Bennett Greenspan in Houston, Texas in April 2000. He had discovered two branches of his mother’s family, one known in the US, the other a possible relation in Argentina. While he suspected the connection – because of the rare name – there was no paper trail of documents for the Argentine family. He convinced Dr. Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona to conduct a pilot project,

Bennett’s group included sets of identical twins; his own father, brother and sons, Bennett’s son, and other individuals, as well as males from those two branches of his mother’s family. As he suspected, the Y-DNA tests of the two branches matched, as did those of the identical twins with each other, and those of his father, brother and the next generation (albeit with small natural mutations). (more…)

In praise of baby-steppers

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I work at MyHeritage, so you might think I’d be a dedicated, relentless genealogist who spends many hours each month on my own family’s roots. My long-standing commitment is more than casual, and I expect to enjoy RootsTech this week as much as last year. However, my life and my chosen pursuits never seem to allow much time or energy for my own research. I know many people, even in my own neighborhood, who work much harder and accomplish far more.

I still like to think there’s room for me and others like me in the vast, welcoming community of genealogists. More importantly, I think I’m justified in feeling I’ve accomplished something worthwhile, even when it’s not very much.

So, as a tribute to those who enjoy genealogy but advance only in occasional baby steps, let me share what I’ve accomplished in January 2012. For some researchers it might be only an afternoon’s work, but by my standards it was a productive and satisfying month.

First, I found a photo of my maternal grandmother, c. 1918. It hadn’t been missing for generations, only for 18 months, since my family moved across town. But I had missed it. It was in the last box to be unpacked. I scanned it for later use and posted a low-resolution version on Facebook. (more…)

The Dark Side of Family History, and Its Uses

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Recently, I was testing our newspaper collection at WorldVitalRecords.com, looking for search results in the mid-twentieth century. I have an aunt who was killed in 1956 at age 17; I thought she might make a good test case. When I was a child making my first family group sheets, I asked my parents why she died so young. Their answer, as I remember it, was that she was killed in an auto accident on her way home from work at a local drugstore. Such tragedies usually make the newspaper, so I thought I might turn up at least one article about the accident, and possibly also an obituary.

There’s a dark side to family history research. All those ancestors lived, as we do, in a world filled with good and evil, with triumph and tragedy and random chance. I’m not thinking just of the rumors that my mother’s great-great-great uncle what’s-his-name was hung as a horse thief, sad as that must have been for the whole family (if it really happened). What my test search found in our newspaper collection was a few shades darker than that.

There were articles about my aunt’s death in newspapers from Utah to Idaho to California — but they weren’t about an auto accident. For example, on June 27, 1956, a front-page story in the Idaho State Journal (of Pocatello, Idaho) reported that detectives from Salt Lake City and Provo had joined the investigation of “the sex murder” of my 17-year-old aunt. The story explained, “The pretty teenage girl was sexually molested and murdered while on her way home from working at a drugstore June 13. Her body was found in a canal near Vernal [Utah] June 16.”

There was more.

Papers as far away as the Long Beach [California] Press-Telegram picked another UP story a few weeks later. “A 23-year-old service station attendant left a note Wednesday confessing to the murder of a pretty teenage girl and then killed himself on a lonely hillside.” That’s bad enough, but it got worse as I read further. “Her battered, partially nude body was found four days later floating in an irrigation ditch. She had been sexually molested.”

(You’ve noticed by now that I’ve omitted the names of both killer and victim, though the news stories gave them. The names don’t matter to my story, and I don’t want to intrude on her family’s — or his family’s — privacy any more than I have to, in telling the story at all.)

In December of that year the Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner ran an article which added a sad detail or two. It was their list of Utah’s top ten news stories of the year. The first was “the miraculous recovery of a girl who lay trapped under a wrecked car for nine days.” The second was “the flaming blast which turned a restaurant in the Utah community of Monticello into a help of rubble, killing 15.” (In case you’re curious, the culprit was a gas valve inadvertently left open in the basement. Don’t do that.) Number ten was the disappearance of my 17-year-old aunt, “the finding of her body in a stream,” and “the subsequent suicide” of her murderer, a local father of two, who killed himself as the police closed in.

I told my siblings of this discovery. They said they had known for years, and they were surprised I hadn’t. They had learned of it from another document of genealogical interest, her death certificate. So I looked that up online, too. The first thing I noticed was an instruction printed in bold type in the certificate’s margin: “Physicians Should State Cause of Death in Plain Terms.” Duly warned, I read through the document.

Birthplace: Vernal, Utah
Usual Occupation: Student
Place of Injury: Street in Vernal City
Injury Occurred: Not While at Work
Was Autopsy Performed? Yes
Immediate Cause (in longhand, which seems more poignant): Death By Strangulation

The response in Part 20b, “DESCRIBE HOW INJURY OCCURRED,” is also in longhand: “This girl was sexually assaulted. Choked about the neck. Struck on the chin. Was found 4 days after disappearance submerged in a canal. Attacker’s suicide note left later states he killed her quickly about 10:30 p.m.” Signed, Ray E. Spendlove, MD.

I don’t tell this dark story to celebrate the darkness, and I would understand if some people avoid family history because they expect or fear they’ll find such things. For my part, I justify this glimpse into the abyss — among others — with these three thoughts:

First, the darkness is real, and it shaped my ancestors and their time, which in turn shape me and my time — in which darkness is also real.

Second, if I want to know my own heritage, I want to know the real, unvarnished history, not some carefully sanitized version that won’t distress a child and that, oh, by the way, isn’t quite true.

The third thought is more complex.

Her parents, my grandparents, were the kindest, gentlest people on the planet. I can only imagine how dark those days — and many days thereafter — must have been for them. Somehow, they overcame it, because when I knew them, not too many years after this tragedy, they were quite cheerful, and they hadn’t moved away to escape the memories. Knowing what they overcame, I admire them now even more than before.

This aunt was a decade younger than my parents, and I was born less than a decade after that gruesome summer. In my childhood, I thought my parents were much too worried about such things as villains lurking in the bushes, waiting to prey upon school children who abandoned the sidewalks and walked through the local park on their way home from school. I absorbed and obeyed that fear for a while, but soon I was disobediently walking home through the park every afternoon, if the weather was good — and if my older sister wasn’t looking. I never saw a villain lurking.

Now a parent myself, I still think my parents were a bit too worried. But now I know why. Their worries came from a source far more personal than the six o’clock news. So I understand my parents more than before, too.

. . . All of which is awfully close to the point of doing family history research in the first place.

Cooper’s grave a reminder of the special nature of burial sites

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

I work with genealogy data every day at WorldVitalRecords.com, but lately, as a genealogist, I’ve wanted to get out of the office and help record the important facts left behind on tombstones. One of the many content partners whose data we index at WorldVitalRecords is Find A Grave, so that’s where I started.

I signed up as a contributor at Find A Grave and found some photo requests for a local cemetery I had never visited before. It was nice to discover that this cemetery was only a mile or so away from my office in Provo.

During lunch I jumped in my car to locate the cemetery and take a look around. I planned on going back again later with the printed photo requests to gather the requested information.

In no time I was winding up the side of a mountain on an old paved road, just high enough to be above most of the homes. East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery was quite the surprise. I thought back to the recent burial of my grandfather in Lindon and wished this picturesque location could have been chosen for his final resting place. I meandered through the cemetery roads a bit and then pulled over and began to walk the rows of in-the-ground, flat tombstones.

The cemetery is nestled in the foothills above Provo, near the mouth of Provo Canyon. Mountains soar behind it. Paths wind among the trees, hills, flower gardens and graves. Utah Lake dominates the

Halloween Memorial

Halloween Memorial

vista to the west, with more mountains beyond it. Truly this is the most beautiful of all burial grounds I’d ever imagined.

There are more gravesites here than first appear; the flat headstones hide in the grass until you come close to them. I was alone with the residents, at peace, a few hundred feet above the hustle and bustle of the suburbs.
I ventured toward a couple of young trees, which appeared to have a sign strung between them.

I could see that great care had been taken in stringing the sign, and the tree trunks had become columns of pictures, tied with orange ribbons and bows. There were pumpkins at the bases of the trees.

The pictures were of all of the same family, dressed for several Halloweens. The little boy in the pictures was Cooper; his name was spelled out on the sign. I had not yet seen his grave.

Cooper's Headstone

Cooper's Headstone

A few steps from the trees, I found it. Little Cooper’s windswept hair, mischievous eyes and big, happy smile were now embossed forever in bronze, with a lake in the background. Cooper’s parents have since told me that the lake is Navajo Lake, near Cedar City, where Cooper loved to wade and skip rocks. It was the most beautiful tombstone I had ever seen.

Suddenly, the graves all around me felt alive. A gravestone is not just a rock in the ground with some lettering on it. It marks the final resting place of someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, parent or neighbor or friend. To someone like me, who is involved in the never-ending work of family history, perhaps this should be obvious. But on that day in that place, I felt it as I hadn’t felt it before. A grave is a place to keep memories alive.

I went back a couple of days later with Cooper’s name on my list of photo requests, because the Internet is a place to keep memories alive, too. I met a brother and sister who are also Find A Grave contributors. They were busy walking the rows, looking for graves of which photos had been requested. They hadn’t seen Cooper’s grave yet. I told them they were in for a special moment. I imagine them lingering, as I had, amid the Halloween decorations, at the beautiful resting place of a beloved little boy.

Take the time to work on your genealogy. Learn more of the stories of your own ancestors, and sooner or later you’ll find some special places like Cooper’s.

Discover Your Family Stories

Note: Cooper’s family has a blog where you can learn more about Cooper, the annual run established in his memory and the family’s memories of their son and brother.

View From the cemetery

View from the cemetery

Cooper's grave and Halloween Memorial

Cooper's grave and Halloween Memorial