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Last year, I told my husband that I wanted to expand my dream of inspiring and educating others about genealogy and family history by cre...

26 September 2014

Remember When Mom Wore a Swimsuit to Buy a House

Personal history matters
How many people buy houses in their
Buying a house can be quite a hair-raising experience. The purchase of our new home in Texas was going along smoothly until we hit a bump in the road.

A little back story, my family moved with a relocation company which included a moving company. We scheduled our items to arrive in our new home the day after closing. We took a leisurely journey from Iowa to Houston, Texas by way of southwest Missouri and the north Dallas area. We arrived in Houston a few hours before we were scheduled to close. Our agent scheduled a walk through and most everything was as we expected. Nothing we couldn't handle or should halting closing.

Thankfully, our move brought us back to Texas where friends from college lived. They agreed to watch our five monkeys while we handled the paper work. We had dropped the kids off prior to the walk through. Then we headed over to the bank to get the cashiers check for closing. (Aside: Why are we still doing cashier's checks these days? Why can't we do electronic transfer? Just wondering.)

We were running early for closing and our kids were being well cared for. We had some free time so we headed over to a home improvement store. We thought we'd get a head start on all the things we'd planned to do to make our transition smooth. Then, we got a call. The closing was delayed. It might be pushed off until the next day.

HUGE alarm bells went off for us, all because of some rather odd problem. Out the door went the schedule after closing. Now, would we be able to have access to our house when the movers arrived bright and early the next day? Where would we sleep? A series of other questions ran through our minds, but there was nothing we really could do. Without the signed closing papers and keys to the new house, we were stuck.

Remember the time Personal history matters
My agent, the amazing Dana Olejniczak
thought this was the best closing outfit!
Rather than fret, we did what anyone would do on a hot day in Texas. We went swimming with our friends and kids! After a hour spent in the pool, we received a call that the closing was scheduled in 20-30 minutes. There was no time to get our clothes and change, so we went to the closing in our swim clothes. My realtor was laughing about the situation.

Want to know what ruffles my feathers? Well, I had gotten up early that morning to fix my hair and makeup so I could look nice in the photos that would certainly happen after closing. Now, my hair was crazy and my makeup gone.The effort was wasted! Erg.

Regardless, this story just goes to prove my point about family and personal history... if you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong. As soon as I realized the humor of the moment, my husband used the camera to capture our memory. I recorded it in my blog book that I create electronically and print off at year's end. I know this will certainly be a story we'll tell again and again.

That's the point of Reimagine Family History. This book reminds you that the stories are the heart of family history. And when you capture and preserve the memories, you'll help others create a deeper connection to their heritage. Whenever hear yourself or someone else say, "Remember the time when..." you should record that story, preserve it, and share it. Order your copy of my book to learn more ways to capture your family's treasured stories.

24 September 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: The Book of Me

After completing scrapbooks featuring my mother, father, grandpa and grandma, I thought it would be time to turn my attention to myself. This project is broken up and taking a long time, so I do apologize if my release schedule is slow. I still have kiddos to raise!

My first scrapbook features myself when I was born in the 70s. The photos I have have the standard weird color photo processing of the time, which makes scrapbooking a challenge. As such, I wanted to pick a feminine yet photo complimentary color palette. Unfortunately, a recent computer crash lost the actual color palette inspiration I used. I did find something very similar, though not exact.

Katherine Weaver's color palette at ScrapGirls
These colors are fairly typical of the 1970s but won't necessarily clash with my photos. There's enough wiggle room to cover the variety of photo topics I'll encounter. I look forward to sharing with you this new phase of my heritage scrapbooking journey... the book about me.

19 September 2014

21st Century Family Historian... now available in print or eBook

Do you think genealogy is boring? Is it something only done by old people in dusty libraries? If you answered "Yes" then this book is for you. The technology of the 21st Century has changed how Family History can be done.

Too many people are stuck in an 20th Century mindset where genealogy is filling out pedigree charts and family group sheets. This book contains no pedigree charts to fill out. Nor is there a single family group sheet to add information to. Learn how you can take the focus away from boring paperwork and do the things you like whether it is taking photographs, interviewing, or writing the stories of your ancestors.

On September 1st, my newest book 21st Century Family Historian became available on in eBook form. This book just might change the way you do family history.

21st Century Family Historian
To order a printed version of
21st Century Family Historian click here.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that the print version of the book is also available! You can purchase the book through or

You can choose the format that suits you best. Here's the link once again for the eBook.

To order the Kindle version of
21st Century Family Historian click here.

After you've read the book, feel free to purchase more copies for those you love who either love family history or hate it. This book is meant to inspire both camps.

And if you're looking for some light-hearted reading, check out my husband's book: How to Fail English with Style, available for the Kindle app only.

 How to Fail English with Style by Andrew Lee


18 September 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Two More School Medals

School should be in full swing around the United States, regardless of whether your method is public, private, charter, or home schooled. Since the last post School Medals, I found a few more school medals belonging to my husband.

School Memories
Reflections Medal
f/4, exp 1/2, bias +0.7, ISO 80
Center Weighted Average Metering
Preserving School Memories
Remember to photograph the back

These photos were again draped over a white close and photographed using natural light from the window on the left side of the object. Instead of photographing the neck ribbon, I filled the frame with the medal's emblem. I could have done more to blur out the white background (or iron it), but a little cropping and surrounding the photograph with a great story will keep the focus off the wrinkles and on what matters most. If you're an armature photographer, cut yourself some slack when it comes to memory preservation. It's more important to capture the memory than to stress about the lack of perfection of an image.

Preserving Back to School Memories
Geography Medal
f/5, exp 1/3, bias +0.7, ISO 100
Center Weighted Average Metering

Preserving Back to School Memories
The inscription was hard to read even to the naked eye.

For this set up, I used a material that I had ironed more, but creases still worked their way into the camera. Ah well, that wasn't the most important thing. I photographed this piece at night, so I used a desk lamp for my light source. I used a do-it-yourself light box and aimed the light through the tissue paper filter.

Photographing memorabilia and artifacts is an important part of family history. To learn more about this topic and others, buy my new book 21st Century Family Historian.

16 September 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: No Stone for Cora

What happens when a woman who has been married multiple survives her last husband? That's the question I was hoping to have answered when I requested Cora Peak's stone through

William Talbot Peak gravestone
William Talbot Peak gravestone
Photo by Devon Lee
Cora (Rogers) Peak was the second wife of William T. Peak, She was previously married to a Benjamin Feather, of New York, and they had two children Austin Morris Feather and Bertha M Feather. Cora remarried in 1922 a man named Isaac Heindel in Logan County, Ohio but that marriage ended in divorce with no children. Cora remarried again, this time to William in 1924. So not only was she a second wife to William, she was on her third marriage. She wasn't mentioned by descendants of William's first wife, and that's no wonder.

When I visited Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, I found a stone for him and his first wife. But I didn't think to check for Cora's stone. Also, I've had mixed experiences with the office stay and their willingness to help. I decided to utilized the power of the crowd and sought out help from a gravestone volunteer.

The volunteer did not find a stone for Cora or the addition of her name to the large vertical monument to William. Seems like her name could have easily been added. However, Cora was the second wife and her kin were in Texas or New York. So, it's quite likely that this little detail was overlooked. Or could it have been banned? I guess I'll never know. What I do know, is that Cora has no stone.

Gravestone research and photography is fun. Collaboration makes it easy to access information that is far from you (think from Iowa to Ohio in this case). All of these topics are covered in my book 21st Century Family Historian available at

14 September 2014

Sunday's Obituary: Helen Wood

Earlier this week, I shared a post of why you don't want to wait until it's too late to start your family history. I mentioned the passing of Helen Wood who provided me with photos, documents, and a GEDCOM database to enrich my Zumstein family history. I was shocked to hear of her passing shortly after making contact with her. With her husband's permission, I'm sharing her obituary. I'm truly thankful that I was able to connect with Helen before it was too late.

Mary Helen Wood passed away peacefully on June 1, 2014, after a three-year battle with lung cancer. She is survived by her loving family: husband John, son and daughter Glen and Janet, her brother Alan and his wife Deborah, and her grandchildren David and Gillian.

Mary Helen was born in Welland and brought up in Arvida. She lived and worked in England for several years before returning to Canada, where she worked for many years for Greening Donald in Hamilton. She later became an artisan working in stained glass,
and was also a realtor. In retirement she was an avid gardener, whose lovely flower gardens were often commented on and gave pleasure to many people. She was an amateur genealogist who contributed much to the Niagara branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

Cremation has taken place. An informal gathering of family and friends to remember her will be held at her home on Sunday, June 8, from 1-4pm. If desired, contributions to the Juravinski Cancer Centre would be appreciated by the family.
Thank you Helen for your contribution to the Genealogical Society and to my family's research.

09 September 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: Lillian Ranck

I love when volunteers will take a family plot photo, even if no stone was placed for a relative. Such is the case for Lillian Ranck.

Spencer and Maria Ranck tombstones
Find A Grave Memorial# 46154778
photo by anonymous volunteer

Little Lillian died just shy of two months after her birth in 1905. As such, it's not likely that she had a tombstone. The volunteer, photographed the plot where her parents Spencer Columbus Ranck and Marie Schimpf  were buried. Rest in peace little Lillian.

If you'd like some tips on how you can be a volunteer gravestone photography, check out Chapter 20 in my new book 21st Century Family Historian.

08 September 2014

Motivation Monday: Before It Is Too Late

If you think you have time to wait to do family history when you're older, think again. 

My fraternal grandmother is Helen (Zumstein) Geiszler. I owe a lot of research resources for the Zumstein lines to Helen's sister Dorothy. Dorothy (Zumstein) Merritt had started doing genealogy some 30-40 years ago. When my mother became interested in genealogy, she met Aunt Dorothy on my father's side. They began exchanging letters and family trees. Dorothy even wrote the treasured story of the Zumsteins who immigrated to Canada from Germany, and the reasons why. Her work helped me connect with Phebe Zumstein and her reactions to her new home in Canada.

The Zumstein migration story written in Dorothy Merritt's own hand.
The Zumstein migration story written in Dorothy Merritt's own hand.

Thanks to Dorothy's contributions I have counted myself lucky with the Zumstein line. For the most part, I just find records to back up the work Dorothy did. However, I would not have had this information had my mother not started asking questions while she had two young children underfoot. Had she waited until the 'time was right', Aunt Dorothy would have been deceased.

Last year, I was poking around doing some research on on the Zumstein line. I kept running into work submitted by Helen Wood. Thanks to's internal email system, I contacted Helen and asked her what information she had to share about the Zumstein line. It turns out, she just loved genealogy. She wasn't a relative at all but had worked on the line for her Zumstein descendant friend. She said she had photos and documents to share. I was super happy. Even though we weren't cousins, she had a wealth for resources for me.

Copy of Zumstein Family Bible, provided by Helen Wood
Copy of Zumstein Family Bible, provided by Helen Wood
There was a Zumstein family Bible and a Zumstein binder full of documents and photos. Helen had placed all of this information online in a private drive for me to access. I'm so glad I didn't wait to download that information. Helen passed away a few short months later.

The stories of our ancestors will be locked away forever if we do not get a jump on this work. Whether you do it yourself or help the genealogy fanatic, do something to capture and preserve the stories of your family.

If you need some help knowing what to do, order the book 21st Century Family Historian for yourself or for those who need a little inspiration.

07 September 2014

Feedback from 21st Century Family Historian

21st Century Family Historian by Devon Lee
21st Century Family Historian has been available for a week and the reception has been wonderful. I've enjoyed receiving the wonderful feedback from readers. Here are just a few:

"I must say, it does make family history seem more do-able and interesting."- Angela, a professed non-doer of family history. "Also, I just labeled some photos and thought of you."

" I found the chapter on storytelling (Chapter 25) to be very moving. It reminded me that I have a copy of my grandmother's journal that she kept during a particular trip. In the late 50s, my grandparents loaded their 4 kids and my grandpa's mother into a trailer and moved their family and all their worldly possessions from Wisconsin to Alaska. This was before Alaska was a state. They were some of the settlers during the period when Alaska was applying for statehood. The road through northern Canada was a dirt road at times. Sometimes there were high hills that their car couldn't pull the trailer up, so they would have to stop and wait for hours for a big truck to come and push them up. There were few gas stations, no hotels, few restaurants or grocery stores. It took them weeks to make it to Alaska, where they settled in Anchorage and my grandfather worked for the FAA. My grandma kept a journal of this adventure. Their story as settlers is important not only to our family, but as part of the history of the statehood of Alaska. It's only a few pages long, but with your research tips I could probably expand it." - Kara

"I love the opening chapters which say to stay with the story between the numbers. Love the idea that maybe Family History begins with stuff! The stuff as a clue is an excellent." - Linda

Thank you to all who have purchased this book. If you haven't purchased your own copy to learn how to discover, organize, record, and share your family history, visit and order your copy of  21st Century Family Historian. If you want to leave feedback about this book, you can leave it here, on, or use the email included in the book specifically for my readers.

04 September 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: School Medals

The time of year when kids all across America have or will soon start back in school. With each new school year, the kids seem to bring home more and more awards. What are you going to do with all of this stuff? The answer is simple, photograph it! Then save the memories behind the hardware. Whenever possible, reduce the amount of stuff your darlings collect and keep only the ones with the most meaning.

Reflections Medal
f/3.5, exp 1/6, bias +1, ISO 80
Center Weighted Average Metering

The above medal was draped over white fabric and stationed next to an open window. No additional lights were used. I also didn't use a flash. Get close, switch on your macro focus feature and snap a few photos.

03 September 2014

Tree All Done? Then Help Someone Else

Family history is a very broad subject. There is so much someone could do to capture and preserve family stories as well as link generations together, and then share these discoveries in ways that will endear them to future generations. Unfortunately, there will still be folks who tell me their work is all done.

Fine. Then please help someone else get to that point. One of the BEST ways you can do this is to become a volunteer. Remember how I asked if Little Gay Gean matters? Well, for your research purposes, she may not. And that's okay. However, she does matter to someone else. One way you can help that other person find the information they need on this distant relation (not really related) person, is to serve them. Serve them by taking photographs in your local cemetery and sharing those photos online.

My favorite resource is However, if you don't have a digital camera or would just prefer to use an app, is a great alternative. With FindAGrave, you can take the photo and update the profile information for Little Gay Gean and then others can work to link her to her parents using the link feature.

Gay Gean Curlis Find A Grave Memorial
Gay Gean Curlis' Memorial Page at Find A Grave
Some ways you could help: add a photo, add birth/death information, connect relatives

In 21st Century Family Historian, an entire chapter is devoted to taking better Gravestone Photographs. Another mentions the power of collaboration using such resources as You can get my new book at and then go help someone else so they can say, "My work is all done."

02 September 2014

Does Little Gay Gean Matter?

Does the little granddaughter of your step-aunt matter?

Gay Gean Curlis Tombstone
Gay Gean Curlis, buried in Green Lawn Cemetery
Memorial number 83768112, Photo by Anonymous

Little Gay Gean Curlis is the daughter of Betty Bullock1  and Billy Walter Curlis2 of Ohio. Betty Bullock is the daughter of Gaynelle Henson3 and Ferman Bullock4.

Gaynelle was the second wife of my great uncle Eugene Curtis Brown5. What's more interesting is that Gaynelle is the older sister of Eugene's first wife Emily Henson6. After Emily's death and Ferman's death, Gay and Gene married. Gay's daughter Betty was 18 at the time.

So, does uncle Gene's step-family and essentially step-granddaughter matter? Well, Betty Curlis was about the same age of Gene's younger brother Harry Brown. Harry and Betty Bullock Curliss both had children about the same time. Harry's daughter Betty remembers the death of little Gay Gean, even though she was not her blood-relative. She was basically Uncle Gene's granddaughter and that  mattered enough for Gene's niece Betty Brown.

So, does little Gay Gean matter to me? Yes she does. I wonder if she was named after her grandparents Gaynelle and Gene?

Would this non-blood relative matter to you, even though it was the death of such a little girl? As my book 21st Century Family Historian shares, it depends upon your goals.

I have many goals given that I love genealogy and family history. One of those goals is to learn about the names and stories of the people my family remembers. So, since my mother's cousin Betty Brown remembers little Gay and told me about her, I wanted to learn more about the little girl.

If you answered that Little Gay Gean doesn't matter to your goals, rest assured that it is perfectly okay to say you don't care. It's time genealogist are honest with folks who have very narrow goals when it comes to creating family trees and working in capturing and preserving memories. Not everyone would bother finding out about the step-granddaughter of a grand uncle.

Someone somewhere will want to remember Gay Gean. My new book wants you to no longer feel guilty if you would not go after this person's information. Figure out your own interests and goals. You'll be glad you did.

Check out my book 21st Century Family Historian to learn more about creating family history goals that fit your needs and interests. Available at on September 1st.

1: Betty Bullock (1917-1985)
2:  Billy Curliss (1916-1994)
3:  Gaynelle Henson (1897-1971)
4: Ferman Bullock (1893-1929)
5: Eugene Brown  (1898-1975)
6: Emily Henson  (1901-1934)

01 September 2014

Are you ready to be a 21st Century Family Historian?

21st Century Family Historian by Devon Lee
Link to the Kindle version of
21st Century Family Historian
Today is the day that 21st Century Family Historian is available at

To be a family historian in these modern times, we need to shift our focus and remember what is family history. In my 20 years of researching my family lines, the invitation to do the work has only been accepted by a small few. I believe the reason is that family history was never taught has fun. Family history was presented as a lot of work and the focus was always completing pedigree charts and group sheets.

My mother had a wall full of ancestors in our home growing up. She also had a Book of Remembrance where she kept our genealogical charts. When the Personal Ancestral File program came into existence, I was the one who transferred her records into the computer. I knew the importance of doing genealogy, but honestly it wasn't fun. Until she told me the stories.

She told me of Papa Brown, who was in the served in the Army in World War II and how he was a great social dancer. Papa also liked Ohio State University football and was a home delivery milkman for Borden's. She told me of her Grandpa Long who owned a pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio and had a soda fountain. She told me of her evenings spent with Uncle Dan Long and Aunt Harriet on Sundays after going to church. On and on, the stories would flow. These folks, all of whom died before I was 5, became important to me. I recognized the faces in photos and I felt a connection.

Technology began to improve and eventually I could do genealogy without going to a genealogical library. Unfortunately, family history classes still failed to recognize the importance of stories. They taught the importance of charts and documents.

Family History is not pedigree charts and group sheets. When someone says, “I'm going to do my family history or genealogy,” they usually mean building these charts. These charts are tools that assist in the big picture of the family history. Charts focus on establishing names, dates, and relationships. When you understand Family History, you’ll understand that facts are a support to the story but not the entirety of it.

My new book 21st Century Family Historian discusses many of the tools that make genealogy and family history more efficient. These tools have reignited the fire that has died out in many people I've met over the last 20 years who have stopped their family history work because it was more work than they could handle. With all the available resources of our time, much can be achieved with less time and money which re-energizes those who like family history.

My book also invites us to redefine what family history is. When we do, we'll open the door that stand in the way of you and folks who hate genealogy. When we share simple, everyday was to participate in this enjoyable and rewarding endeavor, we will see even more people preserving and capturing the stories of their lives. They will turn their attention to the photos, stuff, and people associated with their various relatives. The stories will grip them. They will do one of the many things discussed in 21st Century Family Historian and take the burden off those who have painstakingly done the family's work alone for so long.

Purchase a copy of 21st Century Family Historian for yourself. Then purchase a copy for those you want to invite to assist you in your family's preservation goals.