Toss the “stuff” – NOT the stories!

Save your family stories!Crash! “Now it’s garbage!”

Remember that scene in the “Odd Couple” movie, the one where Oscar smashes Felix’s plate of pasta against the kitchen wall? (Okay, the film WAS released in 1967, so you younger folks may need to Google it. Look for the spaghetti scene.)

Well, the same kind of thing is happening now with the possessions of our parents and grandparents. What do I mean?

Family keepsakes – and stories – are at risk.
I treasure my grandparents’ Atwater Kent radio and my great-grandfather’s meerschaum pipe. But I’m not sure who in my family will want these physical links to our past once I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. And, as pointed out in two recent articles by Richard Eisenberg (Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff & What You Said About ‘Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff’) this is a challenge facing many families today. With Baby Boomers downsizing and younger generations shunning lots of possessions, the things that used to be family keepsakes are being donated to Goodwill, placed in consignment shops, sold to antique stores, or just tossed in the garbage. That’s troubling, but there’s an even bigger issue here.

Losing connections to our family history.
What concerns me as a professional personal historian and video biographer is the continuing loss of something even more valuable than mementos and keepsakes: family stories. That’s because so many of the items being sent to landfills today have great family stories and associations attached to them. For instance, I treasure with my grandfather’s pocket watch. It’ll never cause an “Antiques Roadshow” appraiser’s eyes to light up with excitement, but every day when I see the old silver timepiece hanging in its display stand, I’m reminded of a man who I still love deeply, decades after his passing. It’s amazing how a simple item like this serves as a powerful touchstone to feelings and memories.

But I get it: Some families just have too many items that nobody wants to display or store. So how can you let go of this stuff without trashing your family history?

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
My apologies to “The Godfather” for this analogy. But before tossing your parents’ keepsakes (the gun), save the stories and memories associated with them (the cannoli). How can you do this? Here are a few ideas:

• Video Inventory. Break out your video camera (or hire a professional) and gather your family and the possessions you’re planning to “eighty-six.” Shoot each item, describe what it is and share the memories and stories it evokes. With a little editing, the result will be a cool visual record to pass along to future generations.

• Slide Show. A variation on the video inventory theme. Shoot stills of each item and record your remembrances on audio, using a digital MP3 recorder. Combine the two to create a slide show video.

• Illustrated Photo Book. Transcribe the audio recording mentioned above. Produce a book featuring the photos and the transcribed text. The final product can range from simple (loose leaf pages in a binder) to elaborate (hard cover book with glossy pages) – it’ll all depend on your budget, wants, and needs.

Make sure your family stories survive.
You may not treasure the possessions your parents and grandparents accumulated, but don’t forget that the memories associated with these items speak directly to your family’s identity and values. Your grandkids and great-grandkids may one day feel disappointed that you consigned all this family stuff to a dumpster. But they will be grateful that you made sure the stories connected to these items survived.

Legacy Video Lounge Podcast – LVL 15: Transcripts & Legacy Videos

The Legacy Video Lounge Podcast, Episode 15
In this episode, personal historian and video biographer Steve Pender urges you to properly label and organize your family history assets and storyteller recordings so you can find them when you need them. Steve also talks about how he uses interview transcripts to create the editing scripts he uses for the longer documentary-style video biographies Family Legacy Video, Inc. creates for clients. Transcripts, which are text versions of interviews, allow you to scan interviews more efficiently and highlight the portions you’d like to use. Steve also cuts and pastes from transcript files to build the scripts he uses to guide the final video editing. You can create transcripts yourself, hire transcribers to create them, or use an online service like transcribeme.com.

Legacy Video Lounge Podcast – LVL 8: Audio Biographies

The Legacy Video Lounge, Episode 8
In Episode 8 of The Legacy Video Lounge, personal historian and video biographer Steve Pender of Family Legacy Video, Inc. in Tucson, Arizona, talks about capturing the voices of your loved ones for posterity, in the form of audio-only oral legacies known as audio biographies. If you’re not crazy about appearing on-camera in a video biography, if you’d prefer a less-costly alternative to video, or if you prefer the spoken word, an audio biography could be right for you and your family. Steve shares his approach to creating an audio biography, as well as an audio biography excerpt. You’ll also learn about the audio gear Steve uses. In addition, Steve shares some sources for audio transfers – King Tet Productions, free audio editing software – Audacity, new and used equipment – B&H Photo/Video, and equipment rentals – BorrowLenses.com.

Preserving evergreen Christmas memories.

It never ceases to amaze me; every year, no matter how Halina and I arrange the ornaments on our Christmas tree, the results are always beautiful!

Christmas ornaments kindle life story memories.Our collection of ornaments (like most, I suspect) is pretty eclectic. They range from childhood craft projects, like a faded glass ball featuring my name in glue and sparkles, to handmade and store-bought decorations acquired throughout our lives. Halina and I add one new ornament each year, usually one we find on vacation, like the wooden carving we bought years ago in a temple in Japan.

As we decorate our tree each year, I feel like I’m visiting with old friends. Each bauble rekindles memories – of times, places, people, events, sights, sensations, and feelings. More than just mere decorations bathed in the glow from the Christmas tree lights, they’re touchstones illuminating life stories from the past.

Wouldn’t this be a great subject for a legacy video? If your tree is still standing, you can set up a video camera and record yourself, or other family members, describing the stories attached to your ornaments. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you remember! If the tree is down and the trimmings are already packed away, plan on recording remembrances next year. When you eventually hand down some of your ornaments to your children and grandchildren, I’ll bet they’ll appreciate understanding the history behind your Christmas decorations – and appreciate them all the more for knowing.

Flying into family history.

The era of coast-to-coast passenger air service in the U.S. dawned on October 25, 1930, when the pilot of a Transcontinental & Western Air Ford Tri-Motor throttled up the plane’s three engines and lifted off from the runway in Newark, New Jersey. During the 36-hour trip, the plane stopped at Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. After overnighting in Kansas City, the plane continued on to Wichita, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Winslow, Arizona and then to its final destination, Los Angeles, California. Talk about layovers!

On the Columbus to Indianapolis leg of that inaugural journey, the passenger list included a forty-three-year-old salesman for the Holcombe & Hoke Manufacturing Company named William Morrissey.

Family Legacy Video provides custom personal video biography and legacy video production services.Exactly forty-five years later, on October 25, 1975, TWA (the successor to Transcontinental & Western Air) marked the anniversary of that flight with a celebration at Newark International Airport. On hand for the party were TWA officials, a vintage Ford Tri-Motor, former flight attendants sporting vintage uniforms, and my great-grandfather, William Morrissey, who was then living in Colonia, New Jersey.

My great-grandfather spoke about his experiences flying in the “Tin Goose” to the assembled media, which included the local New York television stations and a reporter from the Star-Ledger newspaper.

I knew about my great-grandfather’s travels during the early days of commercial air flight and always wondered what that experience had been like. So, when I opened my local Tucson paper one morning to see an ad for flights in a restored Ford Tri-Motor, I knew my wife and I would be taking part.

I purchased tickets, and on Valentine’s Day of this year, Halina and I headed for the airport. The flights were conducted as a part of the “Fly the Ford” tour, sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Against a backdrop of modern passenger jets, we climbed aboard the triple-engine, corrugated metal bird, and buckled ourselves in. One by one, the engines roared to life, sending their noise and vibrations through the cabin. With a practiced hand, the pilot guided the ten-passenger plane to the runway and then into the air for a fifteen-minute cruise over Tucson. It was an absolute thrill, and a chance to connect, in a small way, with what my great-grandfather experienced so many years ago.

If you’d like to see a short video documenting our flight, you’ll find it in the March 2015 e-Newsletter.