Connecting the Generations

by Memoir Mentor on May 24, 2014

Over the years, many of my students have complained about children who show little interest in their family history. “I don’t know why I’m working so hard on my family history,” they tell me. “No one in my family will read it.” Sound familiar?

Sometimes it’s difficult to get young people interested in their forebears–older people, too–because their attention is focused on the here and now: what’s going on at school or on their iPads, or (later), what’s going on at work or with their own children, and more. “It’s best to catch them when they’re young,” says my friend Janet Hovorka. She suggests talking to our children or grandchildren when they’re in the eight- to-twelve-range, before adolescence makes them hard to reach. Janet knows what she’s talking about. She has immersed her children and their home in the traditions of their ancestors. (Her fourteen-year-old son spoke at RootsTech this year, the youngest speaker ever to speak at that conference.)

Recently, Janet published a book–actually several books–that feature her ideas and suggestions for spreading a little family history in our homes, too. Her book, Zap the Grandma Gap, is a treasure–informative, inspiring, and fun to read. She writes, “Family history is one of the most important tools you can use to empower your children and help them become well-adjusted adults.” Her book is chock-fimageull of clever ideas to help families become more informed about their ancestors–ideas for games, gifts, recipes, photo displays, wall decor, maps, dioramas, family newsletters and blogs, time capsules, and more. You get the idea–and many more will come to you when you read her book.

In addition to Zap the Grandma Gap (which is primarily written for people like us who care about such things), Janet has created four activity books (so far) for young people on specific heritage topics. If you have ancestors who came from Sweden, Germany, or England, you’re in luck, because she has a workbook for your kids or grandkids. She also wrote one for young people who have Civil War ancestors. These workbooks offer heritage-specific games and puzzles, crafts, paper dolls, and simple, interesting articles about holidays, education, and other things pertaining to foreign lands. You have to see them to appreciate how fun and useful they are.

Trying out Janet’s ideas…

I heard Janet speak at a recent genealogy conference, and she inspired me so much, I decided to take my grandkids–who are in that critical eight-to-twelve-range–on a “field trip” to the town where I grew up, which is fortunately only about ten minutes from where I now live. So one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I piled them in my car and we took a tour of my former homes and schools. Dawn & Kids FullertonWe even made an extended stop at a favorite park I played at. They were troupers and seemed to be interested–especially when I told them there was a surprise at the end of the tour. The surprise? Lunch at Watson’s Drug in Old Towne Orange, a charming little oasisBrooke & Quade Watson's  that has maintained its fifties/sixties atmosphere. Tom Hanks filmed his movie “That Thing You Do” in this location. Walk into Watson’s Drug and you take a step back in time–decades back. The “drug” part of the establishment is long gone. Today it’s an old-fashioned soda fountain, complete with jukebox, Formica-topped tables, and malts served in tall, frosty silver tumblers. I hope my grandkids came away thinking family history can be a lot of fun!

One more thing about Janet…. She and her husband, Kim, own Chartmasters, a company that designs gorgeous family tree charts of various kinds–custom ones, too–the type you might hang on your wall to get your family interested in their heritage–and that family history you’re going to write!


I’m Ba-a-ck…

by Memoir Mentor on May 13, 2014

It has been over a year since I wrote my last post and I figure everyone has given up on me by now. If you ever see this, know that I don’t blame you. The truth is, I put aside many things early last year when my mother became ill and was hospitalized for three months. I spent much of that time at her bedside, believing that she wasn’t going to make it. Blogs and other fun things seemed less important. Frankly, my life and head were in such a turmoil, I couldn’t concentrate enough to write anyway. As you can see by the recent Mothers Day picture, Mom is doing well…very well. She apparently has remarkable recuperative powers. Most people can’t believe she will be 90 in September.

So Mom got well, but I had gotten out of the habit of thinking about my blog. Besides I had a lot of catching up to do in other areas of my life. Last fall I decided I had to simply buckle down and focus all of my energies on finishing that family history I’ve been blathering on about for the last couple of decades. If I didn’t do it now, when was I? Probably never, I realized. So I did buckle down, even retired from teaching my weekly classes at Santiago Canyon College…and finished! Yes, I can hardly believe it myself.

I’ll tell you more about the book, which I titled The Parrett Migration, and the publishing route I took, in a later blog. I mainly wanted to check in, dip my toe in the water, so to speak, in the remote chance someone out there might hear me.


Genealogy Theme Returns to TV in Hilarious New Show

by Memoir Mentor on January 13, 2013

I’m excited about a new family history-themed show that will be broadcast on HBO in May. The show is the brainchild of Christopher Guest, the creator of such clever and hilarious films as Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.

Family Tree, as the new eight-part series is called, follows Guest’s trademark improv-documentary style and tells the story of a guy who gets jilted by his girlfriend at the same time he loses his job. With nothing better to do, he starts sorting through his family photos and memorabilia and encounters all kinds of nuts and oddballs that populate his family tree. Sound fun?

Chris O’Dowd plays the lead. He came to Guest’s attention from his role as the charming Irish cop in 2011’s hit show Bridesmaids. Apparently, O’Dowd is good at improv, too, for he and his supporting cast work from an eight-page outline for each show, but improvise most of the story. Guest says he’s written a huge backstory for each character and created a family tree for O’Dowd that extends back to the 1700s. If you’re a Christopher Guest fan, you’ll recognize some of the family members who show up as O’Dowd’s relatives, hilarious character actors like Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, and Ed Begley Jr.

Guest got the idea for his show after his father died. He inherited all his dad’s boxes and started going through them. He says he was originally going to use actors to serve as the voices of his family members telling their own stories. Then he came up with the concept that became Family Tree. I’m glad he did, and I can’t wait until May!