Connect To The Youth In Your Family By Connecting Them To Their Family History

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Jewish Ancestor

We're so excited to show off some details about our new books.  Today we are going to focus on the "My Jewish Ancestor" Activity Book. 

First I have to give a big thank you to Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Daniel Horowitz, and Tammy Hepps for their feedback.  All three were so generous with their time and help and the book is much better because of their contributions.  I am indebted and in awe of their genealogy expertise. 

You can take a look at the entire Table of Contents in our preview on the Zap The Grandma Gap website. 

With the “My Jewish Ancestor Activity Book” you can:
· Learn about Jewish history, traditions and culture
· Make and braid Challah bread with your family
· Solve a Jewish calendar crossword puzzle
· Record your family’s recipe for Charoset
· Find your family’s place in the Diaspora
· Learn the Hebrew alphabet
· Complete a genealogy word search
· Enjoy a Yiddish folktale and Nasrudin stories
· Color, cut out and tell stories with Jewish ancestor paper dolls
· Explore many other activities about your family’s history

Look at some of these pages:

This book will arrive in time for Chanukah gift giving if you order now. Take advantage of the pre-release sale, 20% off all books at, until November 30, 2014. Excerpts from all of the books can be viewed on the website at Other great online and print resources can be found at
to help families connect to each other by connecting to their past. 

This post crossposted to

Friday, November 14, 2014

Three New "My Ancestor Activity Books"

Just in time for the holiday season, I've got some new Zap the Grandma Gap Activity Books coming your way! I am so excited to announce three new books for you to share and give to the children in your lives. I have created workbooks for the following heritages:
  • With the “My Jewish Ancestor Activity Book” you can:
    · Learn about Jewish history, traditions and culture
    · Make and braid Challah bread with your family
    · Solve a Jewish calendar crossword puzzle
    · Record your family’s recipe for Charosets
    · Find your family’s place in the Diaspora
    · Learn the Hebrew Alphabet
    · Complete a genealogy word search
    · Enjoy a Yiddish folktale and a Nasrudin stories
    · Color, cut out and tell stories with Jewish Ancestor paper dolls
  • With the “My Mormon Ancestor Activity Book” you can:
    · Plan an Ancestor Family Home Evening
    · Learn about Priesthood Line of Authority and how to trace it
    · Find the Patriarchal Blessings of your ancestors
    · Complete a temple dot-to-dot
    · Document the church service and callings of your ancestors
    · Gather information on your family’s missionaries
    · Record information about the first LDS members of your family
    · Make a handkerchief doll for church
  • With the “My Pioneer Ancestor Activity Book” you can:
    · Map out the pioneer route of your ancestors
    · Decide what you would pack for a journey across the plains
    · Learn how to find direction by the sun
    · Compare your day to the day in the life of your ancestor
    · Try classic pioneer recipes
    · Write a Pony Express letter to a pioneer ancestor
    · Play a game about the risks along the trail
    · Contrast pioneer schools and modern schools
 These workbooks books offer a variety of fun and engaging activities to introduce your children and grandchildren to different aspects of their personal heritage.  We've included activities like mazes, recipes, dot-to-dot, and our always popular paper dolls.  Science has shown us how valuable it is for our children to have a sense of self (academically and emotionally) and these books are a fantastic to way to introduce your children to family history in an easy, interactive, and fun way.
As a bonus for you, we are having a pre-order sale.   
This sale includes all of my previous Zap the Grandma Gap books and workbooks, as well.  The books will be shipping in December--perfect for gift giving.  These books make wonderful gifts for children and adults.  Order by the deadline to take advantage of this fantastic sale.

Watch the blog next week for in-depth previews of each new workbook.  And take a look at my previous books here.  I'd love to help you bring some genealogy into the lives of your young ones this holiday season.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Traditions of Gratitude

It's that time of year.  The chill has finally settled in my part of the country and I think it might actually stay this time.  The vibrant colors of the foliage on the mountains and in the valley has been replaced with a dusting of snow and a crunching of crackly leaves under my feet.  Frost settles each morning over the landscape and my heart warms up just a hitch.  Not because of the cold but because of the season.  November has arrived, and with it, a resolve to not get lost in the glitzy and gaudy displays of commercial Christmas that has already invaded every inch of every store I walk into these past few days.  I love Christmas, don't get me wrong.  But I can't help but feel we're doing ourselves a great disservice if we rush right into it without pausing to embrace Thanksgiving first.  And so, I am making it a sticking point around here for the next few weeks to really focus on thinking and talking about Thanksgiving.  And the first point I'd like to discuss has to do with traditions.

What are your traditions when this time of year comes?  We all have some, even if we don't realize they are traditions.  Sometimes we just think, "Well, that's just what you do this time of year."  But have you paused to ask your family what "traditions" they remember from growing up, or that they look forward to each year, when it comes to Thanksgiving?  It's easy to pin point Christmas or Hanukkah traditions, but what (besides turkey and football) do you and your family do for Thanksgiving?

In doing some preparation for one of my upcoming Rootstech presentations, I have been doing a lot of reading about the science behind family history and family narratives.  There is a great deal of power behind both.  One of the sources I am studying is The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.  It's a really fascinating read but one section really caught my eye recently as I reread a section and it talked about the author's experience with Emory Psychology professor, Marshall Duke.  The author had a chance to gather with Duke's family for a Shabbat dinner, one Friday evening, to discuss the power of family narratives.  Duke discussed the work that he and colleague Robyn Fivush have spent a great portion of their careers in studying children's resilience.  They have pioneered the field and determined that those children, and later adults, who are the most balanced and resilient in their lives are those who have a strong "intergenerational self."  In other words, they know they belong to something bigger than themselves (their families).  They know this because of involvement in family narratives and personal family history.  Narratives are huge and it turns out that Grandma's are key in the passing on of narratives.  Go figure, right?

Back to the Shabbat dinner Feiler spent with Duke's family, though.  Dinner time is key in the Duke home to the sharing of narratives but Duke insisted that traditions and narratives can be shared any time, not just at dinner.  But seeing as how it was a meal time, Feiler decided to ask Duke's children about their favorite traditions and narratives.  The Thanksgiving tradition stuck out the most to Feiler --it's hilarious!  It appears, in the Duke family, that Thanksgiving is a four day extravaganza of obscure and downright odd traditions.  It all kicks off the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when the family eats turkey sandwiches for dinner.  Then on Wednesday, they all eat spaghetti for dinner and paint mustaches on each other.  On Thursday they hide cans of pumpkin sauce, bags of green beans, and a frozen Turkey so the family can all "hunt" for their food like the Pilgrims.  Finally on Friday, they eat their Thanksgiving meal as a family.  And if all of that isn't quirky enough, the family has color coded teams and they compete all weekend long for points.  The winning team claims a plastic duck.  The Dukes have been doing this for over thirty years and no one really had a specific reason for why any of those traditions started or carried through.  They just did it that way one time and it all stuck.  And not just the traditions, as odd as they may seem to some (okay, me), but the memories attached to them.  The traditions just "become part of your family," Duke said.  And it's what the Duke children loved telling Feiler about.  It's what made their family theirs.  

And so it is.  Something silly or obscure happens and it's what sticks.  And before you know it, you don't know why or how, but it is your family's and this time of year just wouldn't be the same without it.  We've all got something right?  Specific recipes that have to be on the Thanksgiving table.  Watching the parade in the morning.  Special china and crystal used for the meal.  In my family it is open faced turkey sandwiches with cheese melted all over them the day after.  Sharing our thoughts of gratitude while gathered around the table or a prayer of thanksgiving while we hold hands.  Or painting on mustaches and competing for a plastic duck.  Each family has something unique that makes their Thanksgiving only theirs.  What can you pin down as something you do each year that makes Thanksgiving yours?  And how do your children and grandchildren play into that?  Do they even know that it is a tradition for your family?  If not, can you find a way this year to instill in them that what you do as a family, you do for a reason?  Can this be the year that you make a point of being the bridge from your family's past to your family's future by sharing, teaching, and encouraging the continuation of traditions?

It's easier than we think because it all starts with a conversation.  A few questions like "Do you know why I make the cranberry sauce from scratch each year?" or "Do you know why we use the china each year for our Thanksgiving meal?"  You may be surprised to know that your children and grandchildren already know.  But you may also find an amazing opportunity to share a story or experience that will have lasting impact.  The more our children and grandchildren know about their family and their history, the stronger they will be and the more likely they will be to pass along the narrative.  If you show that it matters to you, it will matter to your posterity.  So as we approach the weekend of feasting and frenetic sale shopping, I'd like to challenge you to take a moment and think of ways that you can single out and record (in a journal or in pictures) traditions for future recollection.  And I'd also like to challenge you to include the youth in your family in the execution of these traditions.  (If they feel like they own a part of it, they will be more likely to continue it in the future.)  And then sit back and watch them fly.  They may have a twist on a given tradition that you never thought of that actually makes it better.  Share the opportunities in your family and watch something amazing happen--the linking of generations and the strengthening of familial bonds.  You'll be grateful for that much more this year if you do.

Source: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler (pgs 40-43),  HarperCollins copyright 2013

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Joy of Rediscovering Everyday Memories

Over on The Chart Chick, I have been dissecting The Ancestor Effect research study done in 2010.  It's been a powerful experience to see documented, scientific proof that backs up what we in the genealogy community have always known: Family History Benefits Us and Our Youth.  I'd love for you to look over the articles if you haven't had a chance to yet.

I found an interesting article called "The Unexpected Joy of Rediscovering the Ordinary" back in September, when I was in the depths of studying and deciphering the impact of this study, that I realized inadvertently coincides with the research done on The Ancestor Effect.  Particularly the final portion of the study that looked at whether or not negative familial memories had adverse effects on the test subjects, as opposed to positive familial memories.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that the academic and personal benefit of thinking of our ancestors is the same whether we have good memories/associations or bad memories/associations.  It seems counter-intuitive but the science has spoken.

So the article I mentioned was from the Boston Globe and the story originated from a study published in the Harvard journal Psychological Science (the link in the article is broken, so this is the best reference I can give you... sorry!) about how everyday memories are surprisingly just as powerful as the "big moments" of life, in retrospect.  The study came about when Harvard graduate student Ting Zhang was scrolling through pictures on her phone and realized that most of the things she had captured were birthdays, holidays, big events, and so forth.  Then, occasionally, she'd stumble on an inconspicuous, everyday moment and she realized she felt a sudden rush of joy from being reminded of how she felt in that moment that she had decided to take the picture.  An idea was born and she and her colleagues devised a series of experiments that would allow her to see if her feelings were unique or if others might have the same experiences in the same situation.  (In fact, her dissertation is on the psychology of rediscovery.  How cool is that?)

In one study, the researchers had asked undergraduates to create a "time capsule," to be reviewed after a summer, of seemingly ordinary events that they were asked to write about (i.e. three songs they just listened to, the last party they just attended, the most recent conversation they had, etc.) and then to rate how interested they thought they would be to be reminded of these things later.  Three months later, when the "time capsules" were reviewed, it turns out that the undergraduates were actually more interested and excited to review the responses they had given than they had previously estimated.

In a second study, the researchers decided to compare an everyday memory and its personal effect with a holiday memory and it's effect.  A week before Valentine's Day, the test subjects were asked to write down a recent experience with their romantic partner.  Then, the day after Valentin's Day, the test subjects were asked to write down their Valentine's experience with their romantic partner.  They were asked to rate how they perceived each event.  Upon review later, even though test subjects consistently rated their Valentine's Day as more "extraordinary," it was revealed that reviewing the "ordinary" event brought just as much joy as the originally perceived "special" memory.  Take that overpriced roses and waxy chocolates!

Finally, another experiment was based on giving the test subjects the option of writing down a  few notes about a recent conversation they had had with someone or watching a short, funny video clip.  Most people voted to watch the video clip.  Regardless of what they chose though, the researchers then asked all the test subjects to do both items and then rated how interested they think they would be to remember the events a few months down the road.  Sure enough, nobody thought they'd care all that much about either event, but particularly about rereading what they wrote and, sure enough, the test subjects all discovered that they undervalued their interest greatly.  Pretty interesting, right?

So ultimately, it turns out that the researchers discovered that people ended up valuing their ordinary experiences much more than they originally expected they would.  In fact, as a result, many test subjects then went out and bought journals and reported recording their daily events more often.  Hmmm, I think I have talked about journals before, haven't I?  But in relation to The Ancestor Effect study, I think this has crossover merit there as well.  We, as a population, are intuitively led to believe that to have an interest in our families and their histories, the memories have to be positive or unique and grand.  We seem to believe that to receive a benefit from knowing about past events, the events have to be something amazing or profound.  But it turns out that every day and ordinary is just as powerful to us as big and grand.

The same thing happens when I look at pictures of my childhood with my family.  We all say, "I remember that wallpaper."  Or "That was such a funky clock we had in the kitchen."  rather than focusing on the birthday picture, or whatever else the subject actually was.  I watch that when Kim's family shows their old slides too.  I remember cropping pictures when I first did some scrapbooking years ago and starting to realize that I was losing some fantastic memories by cropping out the background.  Often the little details bring back so much.

Does that change your perspective any on how you approach your own family history and what you are preserving now?  You never know what someone might value in the future.

Does it make you want to take a different track when introducing family history to your children and grandchildren?  I will admit, I really think it's something to give a person pause.

It would seem that the garden doesn't have to be blooming prize roses for us to gain a happy perspective.  In fact, it turns out a few daisies are just as effective.  The crossover of the actual science behind family history and record keeping and how those things effect us, in the short and long term, is so fascinating.  The more studies I come across in my researching the more I realize how everyone is coming to the same conclusion scientifically: Family History Benefits Us and Our Youth.  Knowing small and simple facts about our family, good or bad, and recording small and simple events, good or bad, help us and make us happy down the road.  In the short term and the long term.  How awesome is that?  Very much so, I think!

Monday, October 6, 2014

#MeetMyGrandma and Why It Matters

Recently, FamilySearch launched a campaign titled #MeetMyGrandma.  The goal was for youth to gather stories from or about their grandparents and then enter those stories in their family tree on FamilySearch.  The campaign officially ran from September 20th to September 30th.  Family Search set the goal of gathering 10,000 stories in 10 days.  As of October 5th, the counter on the website states "15,075 Stories and still counting..."  That is impressive.

This was more than just a slick campaign to encourage young people to gather stories and use the FamilySearch website.  FamilySearch launched an app to help with the process and offered up 20 questions to help get the conversation rolling.  Apparently one young person discovered that Grandma loved skydiving.  Say what?!  But how would that ever come up in conversation, if you think about it, without a pointed conversation were a young person specifically asks a grandparent to express his or her interests?  I'm not sure about you but I don't think my grandma would be the type to sit around the dinner table and randomly say, "That reminds me of the time I went skydiving."  Maybe if I had a grandma who was the type to go skydiving she would say that?  Hard to imagine in my family..

The ultimate goal of the campaign was to involve youth in gathering precious family stories and facts "before it's too late," either from their grandparents directly or from someone else with first hand knowledge of their grandparents.  And then, of course, to document those facts and stories.  Besides the fact that we're all family historians here, why does this matter?  Well, as it so happens, I've been sharing research over on The Chart Chick that is scientifically proving how effective ancestor salience (the act of being immersed in an ancestor's life) is in benefitting a person's life.  The study I am discussing right now, The Ancestor Effect, specifically tested the impact of just thinking about an ancestor.  Part III of the series actually looks at how it isn't thinking about people in general (even people you love and care for deeply) that affects a person's sense of personal control and ability, but rather thinking about ancestors specifically that does that.  It turns out that knowing something (anything) about an ancestor, near or far, has a profound effect on personal expectations and intellectual ability.  Please be sure to also look at Part I and Part II of the study in order to see the benefits of focusing on our ancestors.  It makes a profound impact on our youth, intellectually and emotionally.

So, in the end, there are many more positives to the #MeetMyGrandma campaign than simply recording family stories.  It has the power to give our children and grandchildren a better sense of personal control (internal locus of control), self-esteem, and intellectual capabilities.  Knowing and sharing family stories is a way to arm our youth with positive and effective tools that allow them to succeed in their personal, academic, and eventually, professional endeavors.  I keep calling it a "genetic superpower" because there is no better way to think of it.  Sharing family stories and family history with our youth empowers them and strengthens them in a way that insures their personal success.  And now, we have the science to back us up when we tell them how important it is for them to engage with us in our family history! :)

*Original story on the #MeetMyGrandma campaign:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Arrival!

Look at this cutie!  My sister Amy, who helped me to write my Zap the Grandma Gap Workbooks, just had her first baby.  Harrison Brent Slade was born this week and we are all smitten.  Congratulations to my sister and her husband!  As a cute side note, my brother-in-law Colin, is a huge Star Wars fan.  So, can anyone guess where my sweet nephew's name originated from?  The proud parents have decided his nickname will most likely be either Han or Indy.  I think that is pretty cool.  And of course, my teenage boys are over the moon.

Amy was my right-hand person on my first set of workbooks.  I'm working on new workbooks this Fall, hoping to have them hot off the presses for the holiday season; but, something tells me Amy is going to be a little preoccupied this go around.  Well, I certainly can't blame her.  Just look at that face!

Welcome to the world, Harrison!  We're so excited to meet you.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What Would 365 Days Say?

Everyone has a "bucket list," right?  Some of us have them written down, some of us have an entire Pinterest board devoted to it, and some of us just carry the ideas or dreams around in our hearts hoping to check them off one day.  It's always interesting to hear the types of things people place on their bucket lists.  Just sticking to family related items, I have heard everything from "I want to travel to Norway and stand amongst the fjords where my ancestors stood" to "I am going to compile a complete Book of Remembrance of my life to pass on to my children" to "I want to find my birth parents someday."  All very different but all very personal and intense.  Those are all things that would probably better someone's life experience a bit more than "I want to go sky-diving."  Not that I am knocking extreme sports or anything.  But in the grand scheme of life, the more permanent stuff just feels worth pursuing, doesn't it?

So, before I wax too philosophical about our life journey to-do lists, I came across a task not too long ago that really got me thinking.  It doesn't hurt the thought process to mention that I feel like the goal in and of itself would match up pretty well with some scientific studies I am currently researching about ancestor connections and the effect that has on our intelligence level (seriously, it's exciting stuff).  The "bucket list item" that has me pondering lately is this one.  Taking one picture everyday for a year.  Look, we live in a digital age.  We think nothing of snapping away with our cameras and phones these days.  We document everything from our shoes, to our post workout hair, to our breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to our children or pets, to our most recent manicure.  The age of the selfie, in every incarnation, is upon us.  So, how hard would this task actually be?  In fact, some of us may be doing it already without even realizing it.  Many of us are probably Tweeting and Instagramming away this challenge as I type this post up.  But then I wondered, if we took on this challenge in terms of detailing one year of our life and our actual, personal experiences... what would you take pictures of?  After 365 days, what could a future ancestor deduce about you?

I suppose I should explain how this connects to the scientific research I am studying right now to make this question carry a little more weight.  A particular study (that I am talking about here) asked young people to think about ancestors before performing in some cognitive testing.  But it wasn't just "Think about an ancestor."  The direction was to really envision the day to day life of an ancestor.  What kind of work did he or she do, were they married, did they have children, where did they live, etc.  So, in my recent musings, I tied that into this seemingly fun challenge.  If you had 365 chances to express who you are to someone who does not exist yet but who has a very vested interest in the outcome of your life, what snapshots would you document for him or her?  What would those screen caps of your life say about you?  Who are you?  And how can you help your future posterity with that specific knowledge?

Do you know what would make this exercise even better, though?  What if you challenged a child or a grandchild to do this with you?  You could even do it with a brother, sister, or a spouse.  The possibilities are endless.  My sister even did this with her husband when he was deployed in Qatar. You could swap pictures daily on various social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, rather than waiting until the end of a year to swap pictures.  Would that alter the kinds of pictures you would take?  What about your grandchild?  Would that change how you perceive each other or what you learn about one another?  Wouldn't it bring you closer to each other?  In fact, I'd like to challenge you to try this with your own family and see what happens (and tell me about it!) over the course of the year.  What a great way to interact and grow closer to each other and if you utilize the technology your children and grandchildren use I know it will alter your relationship in the most fun and wonderful way.

So, leave it to me to take something like taking pictures and turn it into a moment to possibly change the entire course of a future child, grandchild, or great-great-great-granchild's life, but I believe the idea has huge merit.  I guess the real point is this: every day of our lives is a snapshot.  It's a still frame of who you are and what you are experiencing.  That has the power to change someone else's perspective and life.  So when we're all "in the trenches" and thinking what we wouldn't give for life to give us a brief cease fire from all the stress and chaos and perpetual motion, just remember this--you are shaping someone else's destiny by your everyday acts.  Consider them closely, document them, share them, and rejoice in them.  People will be feeling your ripple in the water for a very long time.