Easter and Passover Memories: You can have both, right?

seder plateEach year when Spring arrives and pokes its head through the snow here in Chicago (not always successfully), I think back to the Spring holidays I spent as a child in New York. While I grew up celebrating Easter, I lived in a Jewish community in the Borscht Belt of upstate New York. This meant I usually had the first days of Passover off from school. I also learned about Passover in school and from friends and I often was a guest at several Seder meals.
Even then as a teenager, I was a sponge: I wanted to learn everything there was about Passover, how the holiday came about, why certain foods were served, and all the other traditions. For me, and for many, this is what makes a holiday meaningful: knowing the traditions, telling stories of how our ancestors kept the traditions, and passing it on to the next generation.

My Passover Traditions
Currently, I don’t celebrate Passover on my own nor does my family here in Chicago, but if I were to receive an invite to a Seder meal (hint, hint), I’d be there in a New York minute. I’ve always enjoyed the foods and the traditions of Passover.
Also, perhaps because I was not subjected to the prohibition of leavened goods, I can appreciate a good matzo. Whenever Spring arrives, and I see the boxes of matzo stacked up at the grocery store, I’ve been known to pick up a box or two. With a little butter or cream cheese in the morning and a cup of tea, I’m in heaven!

My Easter Traditions – Old and New
As a child, Easter meant three things: a new Spring outfit, going to church, and an Easter basket filled with candy! As I got older, I developed a better appreciation for the concept of Easter – the message of renewal and resurrection – and attended Easter Vigil each year. This meant a three or four hour church service which started outdoors in the dark and ended with the lighting of candles in the church sanctuary at midnight.
Currently, I celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter which for 2014 is the same date as Western Christian Easter: April 20, 2014. Every four years or so, the Easter dates are the same, but they can be separated by as much as five weeks since the Orthodox church (this is partially because the Greek Orthodox Church remained on the Julian Calendar while others moved to the Gregorian Calendar).
Now Easter for me means a large meal of Greek food with my family and the dishes include roast lamb, Greek potatoes as well as those fabulous Greek pastries. But the meal can’t start without the Greek tradition of tsougrisma – a game played with hard boiled eggs that are dyed red.

Sharing and Preserving Multi-Cultural Memories
It isn’t always easy for most of us to preserve memories of different religious and cultural holidays. Why? Well it all has to do with what we celebrated while we were growing up. If you celebrated Passover each year, I’m sure you’re not as familiar with some of the Easter traditions and vice versa. With today’s blended families that often mix different cultures, races and religions, it can be a challenge to make sure that all memories are properly preserved.

Here are some ideas that you can put to use for any holidays during the year:
· Designate a “holiday keeper” in the family. If your family celebrates several different holidays, some which can overlap such as Easter and Passover, appoint someone to be the “keeper” of that holiday. This means they know the traditions and can explain them to others in the family. If possible, have them write down each tradition – perhaps one per page – and add photos too.
· Learn more about a holiday. If you feel there is a “blind spot” when it comes to knowledge about a holiday, then crack open a book or take to the Internet to find out more. Consider adding new traditions to an existing holiday that your family celebrates.
· Interview family members. Often, our sense of holiday traditions are in our memories and not written down. Either before a specific holiday or perhaps before or after the holiday meal, interview family members using Saving Memories Forever. Find out how they celebrated the holiday as a child and how the traditions have changed over time.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

The US Civil War Begins–April 1861

US Civil War - ChickamaugaOn April 12, 1861, General Pierre G.T. Beauregard fired shots on Fort Sumter, at Charleston, South Carolina, marking the beginning of the US Civil War. Ending four years later, the war left behind over 600,000 dead who fought in the war. For many families, the Civil War would have a lasting impact for generations to come.

Handling Sensitive Topics Related to the Civil War
The events leading up to the War are well document in history, but what about your own ancestors and their involvement? Many researchers shy away from Civil War research since many of the topics such as slavery and its history still have an impact on today’s society.
Genealogists and family historians should not embellish the facts that they find nor distort or change such facts. Accept the facts for what they are and document them as best as possible. Here are areas to explore in your search:
Slavery: What were your ancestors’ beliefs about slavery? Were they abolitionists? Were they slave owners? Also, think about sharing original documentation of enslaved ancestors, especially since it could help other researchers break down brick walls.
• Economic impact: How did your family fare during the War? Did they prosper through their own businesses which supplied the war effort? Or did they lose land and property during the War?
• Military service: Which ancestors served in the War? Can you determine why they served? Due to beliefs about slavery or did they serve simply for economic purposes?
• Border states: Pay special attention to border states since family loyalties to the Union or the Confederacy were not always clear cut. It is likely some family members favored or even fought for one side, while others took the opposite side.

Capturing Civil War Memories
While there are no living veterans of the US Civil War (although there are still two pensions being paid to children of Civil War veterans), there are many ways that you can capture and catalogue your family’s Civil War memories. If you are willing to do the research, you may find that even information involving these sensitive topics help present a more accurate picture of the lives of your ancestors.

• Determine Civil War Ancestors: Research family members alive during the Civil War and note those who served on either side of the war. Find out as much as possible about their lives and the impact of the War.
• Highlight Civil War Veterans: Once you’ve located the make ancestors who served, locate pension files, photos, newspaper article and anything you can. Consider creating a memorial page at fold 3 (free).
• Create a Virtual Relative: A great feature of Saving Memories Forever, is the ability to create a Virtual Relative and preserve their stories. If you are sitting on a collection of Civil War letters or a diary, consider narrating stories and excerpts from these items with the free app at Saving Memories Forever.
• Trace Post-War Activities: The War was a monumental event that impacted families for many years. Did your family migrate to a new location after the War? Did your family lose land or property during the War? Research the aftermath of the Civil War and document your family’s activities.
© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a frequent guest blogger for Saving Memories Forever. He is also a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

Hank Aaron and the Home Run Record

hank aaron-1Whenever April arrives each year, it isn’t difficult for my mind to turn to baseball. After enduring another winter in Chicago, especially this past one, visions of a field of green tend to come easy. I used to live a mere 1/2 mile from Wrigley Field here in Chicago (which incidentally turns 100 years old this year) and Opening Day was, and continues to be, a big deal.

Childhood Memories of Baseball

I never played baseball as a child; I was more the academic non-sport kind of kid who could be found at the library rather than on or near the playing field. But I have fond memories of trips down to Yankee Stadium each summer for the Old Timers’ Double-Header game.

My Aunt Joan and Uncle Bill organized the trip and it was also at their home in New Jersey where I witnessed Hank Aaron’s historic breaking of Babe Ruth’s home run record. That happened in April 1974. My family had driven down to visit my aunt and uncle and, as we usually did, we stayed over. I remember the broadcast of the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers was on a Monday night, April 8th. So after dinner we settled in to watch and see when Aaron would break the home run record. There seemed to be no doubt that he could and most of the American public were certain that it would be that evening.

And in the fourth inning, the pitch was hit off into left field, flying 400 feet into the bull pen. A record was broken and memories were made for me and my family. While these event doesn’t rank up there with the proverbial “where were you when . . .” events that most of us recall, for me it is cemented in my memory. Years later I would visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and see the Hank Aaron induction plaque and the special exhibit highlighting that special day. And those same memories came back in an instant, just as they do every Spring when baseball season starts up again.

What Are Your Baseball Memories?
With Major League Baseball launching its new season this month, have you ever thought about baseball and your own memories or the memories of family members? Remember, every family story deserves to be cherished and preserved.

Here are some baseball-related ideas for your next project including recording interviews using Saving Memories Forever:

· Did you play Little League baseball as a child? What about others in your family?
· Have you ever watched a professional baseball game in person? (either as a child or an adult) Were there any special games you remember?
· What about your own children and grandchildren: Have you told them stories about your childhood and baseball?

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a frequent guest blogger for Saving Memories Forever. He is also a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

Plan Ahead: Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Anna_jarvisAnna Jarvis worked long and hard to have Mother’s Day declared a national United States Holiday. But It didn’t work out as she had planned. Yes, she got the date recognized, but her intent was lost in rampant commercialization. Shortly after the holiday gained national stature, Jarvis scornfully labeled it a “Hallmark Holiday.”

There’s no denying that Jarvis was deeply disappointed. She reportedly found the practice of purchasing greeting cards especially irksome, seeing it as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was, in fact, arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against this commercialization.

Today, many mothers receive and love cards and the flowers. You’ll even find a few of those funny talking Hallmark cards on our kitchen table. That said, we also see Anna Jarvis’s point. The real intent of Mother’s Day is to acknowledge mothers of all ages and that’s best said over a phone call, a visit, or a gift with personal meaning.

So here’s a short list of gifts that we think do a good job of underscoring her value. Since these ideas involve some planning and preparation, you should start soon.

Record some stories: Stories have universal appeal, especially when it’s a story about your family. There are several angles to this idea. If you are looking for an idea for your mother or mother-in-law, start rallying the troops and record stories that involve you, your siblings, your children and her. Stories could be about how you always love how she’s “there” when each year she sings Christmas carols loudly and enthusiastically. Or how your children giggle when she goes after them with tickles and kisses. If you are looking for an idea for your daughter or daughter-in-law, record some stories about your daughter’s childhood (or your son’s for a daughter-in-law). Then share those stories and listen to your family laugh. If you’ve got a smartphone you can easily do this by using the Saving Memories Forever system. On Mother’s Day listen to the recorded stories with her!

Make a digital photo album: Collect family pictures.Use your computer’s or digital camera’s photo-editing program to put together a slide show and burn it onto a disc. You’ll create a wonderful keepsake for the price of a blank CD. She can display the photos on her computer, and even use them as a screen saver. On Mother’s Day, enjoy watching the show with her.

Make a meal. Make a memory: Whether she’s your grandmother, your daughter, or your third step-cousin’s next-door neighbor, every mom deserves a little bit of pampering this Mother’s Day. So, why not serve her a fancied-up breakfast or a dinner made by you and the grandkids? Start planning now. Take a gander through the The Big Book of Breakfast with a roundup of 300 morning meals. Or plan something bigger: something that involves cooking time and a cookbook to share at the end of it.
There’s nothing that says “family” as well as the act of cooking. Cooking keeps traditions alive. Start by planning a family cooking date. Focus on making a recipe that is both meaningful to your family but also relatively easy, like making Greek cookies. As you make the recipe, record the instructions as “the cook” gives them. Take pictures as the recipe evolves. When you’re done, you can transcribe the words and produce a digital cookbook recipe. Or upload the cook’s recorded voice instructions (along with the background laughter) to a service like Saving Memories Forever and you can listen to those spoken words again and again. You can give her the cookbook or share the recording with her on Mother’s Day.


Photo Party!

photo album on iPadAhhhh…spring has sprung and everyone is itching for a party…a get together…a soiree. Now that the winter blues have passed, a family story party is a perfect way to bring everyone together and celebrate!

Here is how it works. Call up the members of your family and ask them to bring two photos to the party. One picture should be of the extended family and one should be of their immediate family.

photo albumGather everyone in a comfy sunlit room (or better yet, your patio) with some simple snacks and then get your Saving Memories Forever App ready. Use the new Celebrations Category on the App. The Celebrations Category lets you record for a special occasion like a wedding anniversary, birthday or, in this case, a mini family reunion.

If you’re a little uncertain about how to do this, listen to the recorded Advanced Webinar. It’s available on the Saving Memories Forever website. You have to be a member to have access to this (and other webinars).  So sign up for Free. Then log in and click on the text “Get Our Free Resources”. You’ll see that text on the My Memories screen that comes up automatically when you log in.


Fun Twists

Back to the photo party! Have each person take a turn telling the story about the people in the picture and record the stories. And, if you want to do more, here are some other fun twists to this activity.

1. Number each picture and have the family member say their name and the picture number to start the recording. Scan all of the pictures and store them on your computer with the number as the file name. Use the Saving Memories Forever website to attach the pictures to the family reunion story. There is no reason why the same picture can’t be attached to different stories providing different perspectives.

2. After you have recorded the stories, have everyone lay out the pictures on the dining table. Play each story and have the kids go pick the picture they think matches the story.

3. If there is a picture that involves several people in the story…pass it around and ask each person to tell their version of the story.

4. After all of the stories are collected, use the download capability of Saving Memories Forever to burn a CD of the stories for each person that attended and give them a copy. If you’re really feeling creative, make a little book of all the pictures to go along with it.

Remember, if you’re not quite sure where the story best fits, you can always use the “Other” question down at the bottom of each list of story prompts.  Just remember to tag that story with lots of key tag words when you’re managing it later on the Saving Memories Forever website,.

Pictures are a fabulous way to get the stories flowing! Enjoy the creativity of Spring!

kim-weitkampKim Weitkamp has been featured on NPR (National Public radio), SiriusXM, and other radio stations throughout the states. Kim is passionate about the power of story and story coupled with genealogy/family history. She regularly keynotes on those topics and can be reached through her website, www.kimweitkamp.com.


It Takes a Village: Go Find One

Jane and HarveyAccording to an AARP study, 90% of people over 50 years old want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Connecting with the Village Movement is one way to fulfill that goal.

The idea is simple: instead of leaving their homes for years of living in a seniors-only community, Boomers are forming nonprofit membership organizations. These organizations provide access to services like transportation, technology training and support, wellness programs, minor house repairs and yard maintenance, and social activities. Villages range from a few blocks in an urban or suburban neighborhood to a rural area with a 20-mile radius. Most participate in the Village to Village network.

While we like to consider ourselves fairly “with it”, a year ago we didn’t know what a Village was. Now we’re in one.

STLVillage_Logo_V1_CMYKWe’re “in” in several respects. First, we’re going to be members. Having just moved to the Central West End in St. Louis, the STL Village already provides a social network that would otherwise have been difficult to find. When its doors open in June, we fully expect to join walking, golf, gardening, and excursion groups. We will also be volunteers to support others who may need a light bulb changed, a bathroom caulked, or a pet cared for as they recover from an operation.

We’re also “in” because we have offered our  Saving Memories Forever service as a free benefit to STL Village members. Let’s face it: this is the prime age group with a lot of stories and sharing their stories is a priority.

Collecting life stories will be offered both as an independent activity and a volunteer supported service. Most STL Village members will first hear about the service as they learn about the Village program and explore the membership benefits.  We expect that many will just sign up and start using it on their own. For STL Village members who own smartphones but want some initial support, we will hold our Beginner and Advanced “How To” classes.

The service will also be offered to STL Village members who do not have smartphones. Volunteers will be trained and then sent out into the community to record members’ life stories. STL Village members will be able to share their life stories with their families through our website, SavingMemoriesForever.com.

Last but not least, STL Village will use the Saving Memories Forever service to keep a collective record of organization-sponsored events and activities. Arthur Culbert, STL Village Acting Executive Director, notes, “It’ll be great! Just think of the members’ stories that we can collect on the van ride home from a morning at the Soulard Market! The service will certainly allow us to build our case. It will help us with both attracting new members and gaining sponsors. Both are important to our goal of having a vibrant and diverse membership.”

Speaking of membership: it’s been a remarkable adventure. The first Village opened in Boston in 2002. Today, the number of villages registered with the national Village to Village network has increased from 50 in 2010 to 124 this year, with more in development.The media has caught on too.  The Village movement has recently been featured on NBC Nightly News and touted in articles in both The Washington Post and Forbes Magazine’s online news service, Next Avenue.

So if you’re beginning to think about life beyond 50 for yourself or your parents, look into the Village movement. It turns out that “staying put” with a Village’s support is a good way to age for both mind and body.



Wash Day and Our Ancestors

happy day washing(1)On March 28, 1797, Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire, was granted a patent by the United States Patent Office for a device listed as “improvement in washing cloathes.” While Briggs is often considered the first inventor to have patented a washing machine, exact proof is difficult to establish: a Patent Office fire in 1836 destroyed many of the early patents and drawings, including that of Briggs.

To get an idea of what the Briggs machine may have looked like, there is speculation that such a machine may have been the basis for William Johnson Folsom and John Hayden’s 1805 patent: a machine with “parallel grids” used to press and squeeze clothing in a water solution. Over the subsequent decades there would be many more innovations in terms of laundry and washing machines.

So while we have no concrete documentation as to what the Briggs machine looked like, or how it may have improved the washing of “cloathes,” we do know that during the 19th century, many improvements were made to the process of laundry. Yes even in the 20th and 21st centuries, doing the “wash” is still a dreaded task, often put off until certain items are needed in order to be considered well-dressed and presentable.

How Did Your Great-Grandmother Do Laundry?
I remember hearing stories from my great-grandmother, who grew up in New York City, about how she and her sisters had to do the laundry for the family. Living in the city did not necessarily mean an easier process and it was much the same as those in the rural areas of America: you used a large wash tub with a scrub board and caustic lye soap. Add hot water, stir, wring out the clothes, rinse out the soap, repeat, etc. And drying clothes was a challenge, especially in the Lower East Side: hang them out the window (and risk dirt and pollution) or use clothes lines rigged up in the one room tenement apartment? And once dry, guess what? They had to be ironed since the days of “wash and wear” had not yet arrived!

Sounds like a lot of work, no? That’s why all the women in the household were involved because it helped speed up the process with more hands involved. As machines were added to the process, including washing machines and clothes wringers, wash day actually became more dangerous. Yes there had always been the danger of being scalded with hot water or burned by lye and other detergents, but now there were gears and levers that could trap a finger or a hand.

When it comes to doing laundry, to say that “we’ve come a long way baby” is not an exaggeration. Consider that most of us have access to modern machines that can agitate clothes at different levels, better detergents for cleaning, and dryers that can have clothes finished and ready to wear in no time. We can all thank Nathanial Briggs and subsequent inventors of washing machines and related laundry machinery for making a necessary chore so much easier to perform!

To get an idea of the evolution of Wash Day and how, in fact, ensuring clean clothes for the family was a day-long process prior to washing machines, look at Save Womens Lives: History of Washing Machines by Lee M. Maxwell. The author, an electrical engineer with a fascination for washing machines, not only gives a detailed account of the development of improvements in the mechanical process of cleaning clothes, but recounts the history of how women performed the laundry chores. Maxwell also runs the on-line Washing Machine Museum which offers images of early machines and patent information.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a frequent guest blogger for Saving Memories Forever. He is also a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.