Free Printable for Ancestor Thanksgiving Placemats Craft

A few years ago, I was in charge of the craft for our family reunion, and my ancestral dinner placemats were such a hit that I’m sharing them with you now as a fab idea for Thanksgiving!

I used a free printable from the Internet. The one I used has since been taken down, but here is an even better one:

I printed it off and had all the kids glue it to wide colored cardstock, then I handed out paper copies of ancestral photos for them to glue to the trees. An aunt who is a teacher with a laminator ran quickly ran these through a laminator after they were finished and they were ready in time for dinner!

Note the captions and life span dates at the bottom of each photo, to help relatives who were assisting children to more easily identify each ancestor. I also made pedigree charts with photos available at the craft tables, so that adults helping me with the activity could help children put photos in their proper place–we didn’t want anybody going home with an incorrect pedigree!

I took these pictures after my own kids’ placemats sustained a few years of use, but this craft makes a great Thanksgiving activity for the kids–and adults, too!–because it gives everyone something to do while other relatives are busy making dinner!

These homemade visuals of the family tree also provided excellent dinner conversation (steering everyone away from politics–yay!), giving us a chance to teach the younger generations about their ancestors while they waited for someone to pass the rolls at dinner! 🙂

Other ideas for including your ancestors in family gatherings like Thanksgiving :

  • Skip that “everyone list what you’re thankful for” go-’round-the-table game and introduce the “unseen guests” at your dinner table instead. Hand each family member a card that introduces that unseen “ancestor guests” (ie-“We’d like to welcome Mary Johanssen, from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mary was born in 1859 and married at fifteen to Paul Onstadt. They had twenty children, but seven of them died as babies. Mary is your great-great grandmother. As we eat our dinner, let us be mindful of all that Mary suffered during the great famine of . . . ) then go around the table, having each family member read their card aloud.
  • Family Bingo: Distribute blank bingo cards. Players must fill in the blanks with the names of all the ancestors/relatives that come to mind.  The bingo-caller then draws family names from a jar; five names in a row wins a small gift.
  • Story Circle Game: Frame a topic, where the participants will relate a life story or memory of dearly departed relatives. One question might be, “What things were rationed in World War II and how did you deal with it?” You might ask the question, “What is your favorite memory of growing up in Grandma’s hometown?” Before commencing the actual storytelling, you should let the people in story circle know that you want to gather their stories for posterity. Be prepared to capture the stories manually in the event that anyone objects to audio- or videotaping. Remember that the information you collect should be documented with the name of the person who tells the story, the date and location of the story circle, and any dates and places the person relates. You never can tell what research leads you will pick up in the process.
  • Table Teams: While waiting for dinner to be ready, cover each dining table with a disposable white plastic tablecloth (this plastic comes in a roll especially for such occasions). Put a few markers on each table top, then invite family members to draw their family’s family tree on the plastic cloth with the magic marker. Full names, birth dates (and death dates in some instances), marriage dates, spouses’ names, and children can be brainstormed while everyone is waiting for the dinner to start (beats watching television!
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire” trivia about family members and ancestors.   The fastest finger ones also deal with the family. For example, “Put the following family members in the order of their birth.” “Which person was not a nurse?”  Be sure to include persons who have married into the family, too.
  • Create a centerpiece with family mementos. Using photos, heirlooms, or handed-down ornaments, you can create a visually stimulating centerpiece that may spark up the conversation you have been waiting for.
  • Heirloom Show & Tell: Have everyone bring in a family object (clothing, a book, a work tool, a knickknack) with a history. Display the items and, later, make time for a storytelling session.

For the techies in the family, you can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):

I wish you–and your families and ancestor-guests!–the happiest Thanksgiving this week! 🙂

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© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The Intentional Genealogist

~ Good Vibrations

Any experienced genealogist will tell you how often our ancestral discoveries are helped by incredibly serendipitous occurrences–how often we miraculously stumble across random scraps of paper embedded in ledgers that we opened by mistake (when we meant to open the one beside it), or chance encounters with a person who holds the answers we’ve been seeking for years, but whom we met only as the result of some bizarre incident.

Ancestral kismet happens so often to genealogy researchers, in fact, that Geoff Rasumussen–the host of Legacy Family Tree webinars–recently published a book about such experiences, though the stories I have heard from my fellow researchers and genealogy students could fill several volumes more:

In my daily work as a professional genealogist, I have noticed that this special genealogical mojo ebbs and flows. When I have it, my projects unfold smoothly and all goes well, but when I don’t have it, I hit the proverbial “brick wall” and can’t find the information I’m looking for.

~ Tips for Good Genealogy Mojo

When I feel my progress on a family history project begin to lag, I’ve found that it is usually because my life is out of balance. When I restore that balance, the mojo returns and I usually find what I am looking for. I call this living the spiritual life, or what some might call, in secular terms, being “an intentional genealogist.” This might sound silly, but let me give an example of what it looks like:

When unable to find information on an ancestor, I will typically stop and take a look at my day or my week. Is my life out of balance? For example, am I so focused on genealogy that I am neglecting my family or other people who need me? If the answer is yes, then I stop what I am doing and put living people first. I feel very deeply that those who have passed on care about the living (we genealogists have a sixth sense for these kinds of things) and that they don’t like it when I focus on the dearly departed while neglecting those who are still with me. That neglect brings a sort of bad karma, bad mojo to my workspace, and blocks my ability to progress professionally.

~ How I Discovered This Phenomenon

One night, in the throes of a busy evening of research, I almost told my kids to eat “whatever was in the fridge,” because I was so excited about my client’s research project that I didn’t want to stop. My kids typically just ate cold cereal on nights like that. I was researching the life of an Italian American woman who gave birth fifteen times, but lost the majority of her children in infancy to various illnesses or stillbirth. But as was about to send my children to fend for themselves in the kitchen, I suddenly felt this strong impression that the Italian mother I’d been focusing on all night would NOT approve of my children eating cold cereal for dinner while I traced her family tree, because Italian mammas love to make sure that their families are well fed! So I stopped what I was doing and made sure that my kids had a hot meal and were tucked into bed with songs and stories. Once I had done so, my research project went more smoothly than ever, and I made a few bonus discoveries that night once the kids were asleep. I felt very strongly afterwards that this mamma was intentionally NOT letting me find her famiglia earlier, while I had been neglecting my children. Call me crazy if you will, but the impression overwhelmed me to the point of tears as the records practically fell into my lap only after I had lavished that love and attention on my children.

I now try to make a phone call, sit and talk with a child about their day, send someone an email of appreciation, or send out a thank you note–take care of any good deed FOR THE LIVING left undone–before I sit down to do my research work.

The result of these efforts has been pretty consistent over the years: the more good deeds I do for the living, the more good mojo I have for uncovering the secrets of the dead. I now aspire to be a consistently intentional genealogist.

~ Intentional Genealogists

I believe that when we work hard to do more good deeds for the living, we will see more good come back to us in the form of questions answered, discoveries made, and mysteries solved in our genealogy research. It is just a theory, but I invite everyone to put it to the test and tell me what they discover! 🙂

Here is an infographic I made for some of my students about intentional genealogy and how it might fit into a research strategy. It is just one idea; you will find your own as you learn how to work an live intentionally:

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© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only press “allow” on comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

My Genealogy Time Management Technique

Actually, I have several genealogy time management techniques, but this particular technique is the overarching, macro-level time management strategy governing my other activities (for which I utilize other time management techniques that I’ll discuss later).

~ The Technique & Background

I call my macro time management technique my “Hat Days.”

Have you ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Bugs’ Bonnets” where the characters keep acting in accordance to the hat that falls atop their head? If not, you will need to watch it for context (I grew up watching that episode over and over on Saturday mornings; it inspired me to create this technique!).

Genealogists can probably all relate to my need for the technique, I am sure: it arose from a need to stay more focused while researching.

Sometimes, while working on one project, I’d discover a cool hack that helped me uncover a record, or I’d find a new resource online that hadn’t been digitized before, and next thing I knew, I’d be entering names from several projects (clients, my family, etc) into that database, or applying the hack to several projects. This behavior became a big time-waster and cause for inefficiency as I found myself with several open files, dozens of open windows on my desktop. That sort of chaos can only result in lost information or rookie mistakes like going back to fetch data for citations.

(Can any of you out there relate to such feverish activity when the thrill of the hunt takes hold?)

~ How The Technique Works

My “hat days” solved this dilemma by forcing me to wear only specified “hats” on their assigned days. I now only perform client work on certain days (and only for certain clients on their allotted day); I can only work on my own ancestors on Sunday. Each day (or some activities get a half-day) I wear a certain hat ONLY, and I am not allowed to engage in any other activity until I officially switch hats. All hats have their time slot, and their scheduled times must be honored each week. I only swap for emergencies (like cancelled trips to archives due to weather, construction, etc).

Genealogical studies also have their own “hat” that I can only “wear” on a specified half-day, because such studies have a HUGE tendency to send me fishing around on the laptop;  genealogy journals always show me new techniques I hadn’t considered, record groups I haven’t thought of in ages or heard of before, etc, which makes me want to hit the laptop or a few courthouses and do some helter-skelter digging for every name on my list. Instead, I take good notes (and my to-do lists handy!) as I study, keeping my study hat on and my client work hat far away, or more chaos and inefficiency can result.

In my early years as a budding genealogist, my hat days were also used to separate my studies–I was learning about California genealogy, European genealogy, and more subjects. To keep myself from working myself into a dither with a document-laden desk (and desktop!), I wore my “California Genealogist-in-training” hat on one day, my “Italian genealogist-in-training hat on another,” and forced myself to stick to those topics on those days.

~ What This Looks Like

Whenever I am wearing my client research hat, because it is one of the days assigned to client research, for example, my “hat days” rule requires me to quickly jot down any other ideas/urges pertaining to other hats in to-do lists (I use the Getting Things Done time management system for my to-do lists, FYI). Then I go back to focusing exclusively on the duties associated with whatever hat I am wearing that day.

If I am supposed to be focusing on my clients, I keep my focus on them. If it is family time and I am supposed to be baking, cleaning, tending to church duties, or serving in the community, or working on  my own ancestors, then I keep my sights on them–whatever hat I am wearing (mother, community servant, baker, chef, family genealogist of professional genealogist), it stays firmly in place. Gone are the days when I let myself get so carried away that I emerged all frazzled from a sea of papers and twenty open windows on my desktop.

(Confession: I still walk the line on busy days when I am hot on the trail of a great find and I am pumping out entries, analyses, citations, and paragraphs left and right, I will admit. Especially when I am on the road and time at a repository is limited. Let’s face it, genealogy is passion so great that self discipline takes constant WORK).

~ How I Keep Track

Clients come and go, and projects start and finish. PLus, many half-day and quarter-day hats means that I wear a LOT of hats!

I keep track of them in the heart of my planner, via Franklin Covey’s planner bookmarks, which can be filled with bookmark cards. These inserts come as perforated planner pages (two to a page) so I keep extras in the back of my planner that I can easily punch out and re-write when it is time to jot down a new list of hats with their assigned days (or half days/quarter days) whenever new clients need to be listed:

planner bookmarks

This technique might not work for or be necessary for others with different working styles, but it has really helped me. If it happens to help anybody who reads this, I hope that you will let me know! 🙂

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© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

My Big (un)Scholarly Historical Discovery

I made an exciting discovery about everybody’s ancestors that appears to *almost* debunk (or, I hope, enhance) a noted scholar’s theory. The circumstances are almost comical, but my case is quite compelling–I hope readers will weigh in and tell me what they think!

In the genealogy world, an article went viral in social media circles a year or so ago, citing the book of Roger Ekirch, an historian at Virginia Tech who discovered evidence of that our ancestors slept in different patterns than we do today, for example by awakening and spending a few hours engaged in activities before then engaging in a “second sleep” period each night.

You can read more about these sleep cycles of the past in the following articles and blog posts:

https://www.sassyjanegenealogy.com/sleep-like-your-ancestors/

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16964783

http://blog.myheritage.com/2014/10/our-ancestors-sleep-patterns/

Now, the *reason* for the ancestors sleeping so differently than we do today isn’t spelled out in the articles. I confess that I have not had time to pick up Dr. Ekirch’s book yet, as much as I want to (I am a bibliophile who really *should* be on the road to recovery, but alas will still not admit that she has a problem! My to-read pile almost takes up more space in this house than my children!), but from the articles, it appears that Dr. Ekirch believes that the invention of the electric light had something to do with the change from the “many sleeps” cycle of the past to the more steady, uninterrupted sleep of today.

However, over the past few months, I made a little discovery that almost debunks (or, I hope, better informs) this theory about the electric lights, so I will share it here–

In December, my husband’s employer unexpectedly closed their doors.

Unfortunately, they did so just as we were about to purchase a new boiler furnace (on credit!) to replace our old one, which had cracked and died. Needless to say, we could not get financing for the new one, now that my husband was out of a job!

So what did we do? Well, we started living like the ancestors here in our nearly one-hundred year old home, and I stumbled upon an interesting discovery relating to Dr. Ekirch’s theory–

Our house was freezing cold everywhere but the family room, which is where we have a fireplace, so we moved the children into the family room at night to sleep. My husband and I slept in our room, which is down the hall from the family room. And every night, no matter how high or hot we stoked that fire, we awoke at 3 a.m. sharp, because the fire had ALWAYS died out!

Always, by 3 a.m. on the dot, my husband and I awoke, like clockwork, because the house was so ice cold that our bodies awakened out of sheer shock (we felt the cold) and paternal/maternal instinct that feared for our children’s safety. As soon as we sensed that the fire had died, my husband would get up, gather wood, and stoke up the fire again, while I would go around covering up the kids, who had always kicked off their covers, which made the poor things’ skin practically turn blue!

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 11.11.58 AM

Cots, sleeping bags, pillows, and teddy bears, all lived around our fireplace this winter!

And then we would return, all shivering and freezing, to our own beds. By then, from all the cold and exertion, we were usually all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so like the ancestors in the articles, I did usually find myself reading, writing, on social media, or doing some genealogy, yes. We also talked, watched movies, or whatever.

All winter long, my husband and I engaged in the “two sleeps” described in this article, because we had no choice–the fire *always* went out by 3 a.m., and the house was always stone-cold by that hour, so we were always up and about tending to the fireplace and the sleeping kids at that hour, which awoke us both fully. It was so fascinating!

Even now now that the weather has warmed and we are no longer stoking fires at 3 a.m. and we have “sprung forward” for the time change, I find myself automatically awakening at four a.m.! I try to use that time to work on genealogy projects or writing, to make good use of the time, rather than wasting it. But I get a good chuckle as I ponder the fact that I may have accidentally stumbled upon the answer, in real life, to what a scholar has been looking for on paper–the reason why the ancestors were always up halfway through the night. Because they were COLD and worried about their children! 🙂

Indeed, I believe that fires, more than electric lights, are the reason behind the “two sleeps” our ancestors experienced back in the day! Something much more parental, Darwinian, more “survival of the fittest”–er, warmest–was at work here, I believe! 🙂
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PLEASE NOTE: any videos or images appearing after my signature were placed there by WordPress. These ads are not visible to me, so I cannot endorse them.

© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

How I Organize My Genealogy Desk

Today, I’m posting pictures of what I call my “genealogy nook.”

(**Again, my usual disclaimer: our home is a hundred years old and not yet restored, so please excuse its rough shape!)

  • Why a genealogy nook?

Because we have five children, there is no room in our home for an actual office, so I took this little hallway and turned it into my workspace:

genealogy nook

Today, I will be discussing THE DESK.

I especially LOVE this desk because it has built-in shelves on top:

genealogy desk

Here’s a breakdown of what I keep on those shelves:

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(in case you are wondering, I keep a power strip behind the GTD inbox, and all my cords are tucked back in there, too. There’s a hole drilled into the bottom shelf that lets the power strip’s one cord out to an outlet behind the desk. Keeps everything clean and tidy! When I need a cord for my laptop or phone, I just reach behind the inbox and grab it!)

**Note: the “GTD” I refer to in the above image is the “Getting Things Done” system for desk organization, which you can read about in this book:

51ZyWmWR5mL._SL250_

Click to view actual book

I use this desk not only as my genealogy desk, but as “command central” of our home, where I keep track of papers for the entire family (bills, school papers, invitations, etc).

You can learn how to maintain a GTD-worthy work desk that is also a family command center in these videos by Power of Moms:

Here is how the GTD Tickler File works. As you can see in the above photos, my tickler file is just a binder. Inside it, I have tabs for each month of the year–that was the format that worked best for me. I LOVE it!
  • Other fun items in my genealogy nook:

The mysterious “unknown baby” picture. We don’t know the identity of this sweet baby, whose picture we inherited. I hang it here to remind me of the many unsolved family mysteries I need to keep working on each day!

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The tiny writing desk. I got this at a yard sale for a quarter, but it really helps save my wrists and neck from injury, since typing on this 11-inch MacBook air would otherwise leave me hunched over and typing at unhealthy angles all day:

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This little stand elevates my laptop to the perfect height, and the little gully on the side holds my cell phone (I have NO idea what it was originally for???)

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Speaking of bargains, I got my desk for a mere sixty dollars on Craigslist!

The reason: it was homemade and not store-bought!

I don’t think the college student who was selling it had any idea that “homemade many generations ago” is actually worth so much more than that, but his hurry to sell sure was a blessing to me! 🙂

**Update: I’ve gotten a lot of response regarding the little computer stand. A few very sharp readers have informed me that it is actually a telephone stand, which you can buy at Staples, at this link: http://www.staples.com/Wood-Tones-Mahogany-Finish-Phone-Stand/product_478419

The reason I even bought the stand in the first place is because my husband uses something similar at work for his larger laptop, though his is much nicer:

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 10.46.37 AM

You can find this larger computer stand at the following link: http://amzn.to/1KgJkfp

Now that I’ve shown everyone inside my office, future posts will invite everyone inside my head, including my personal strategies for overcoming distraction and actually getting my genealogy projects DONE! 🙂

Have a great week, everyone, and happy hunting!
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My Review: The Best Organizers for The New Year

I have five children, I work two part-time jobs while taking freelance gigs on the side, I have no “help,” and my husband is a doctoral candidate with a FULL-TIME job in addition to his university studies and writing. Still, we find the time for weekly Family Home Evenings, monthly home teaching and visiting teaching, and our children are active in weekly Young Women’s, the “Faith in God” program, and Cub Scouts.

How do we fit so many activities into our already busy lives?

I credit our planners. They are what keep us organized!

I should also credit our time-management strategies, but I’ll have to share those in another post.

Why Buy a Planner When Planning Apps are Free?

I don’t use an app or anything digital–I use a physical planner that goes with me everywhere.

  • When I am at my desk, it lies open, showing me my daily tasks lists.
  • When I am at church, it is open in my lap, so I can jot down upcoming activities or events.
  • When I am in the kitchen cooking, it is on the counter with me, reminding me what is on the menu tonight.
  • While I am cleaning, it goes from room to room with me, reminding me what needs cleaned first and foremost, with shopping lists inside that I can add to as I run out of furniture polish or paper towels.
  • When I am on business calls, it is open to the “notes” section so that none of my work tasks or assignments are ever forgotten.

I cannot survive without my planner!

I tried the apps, but because I could never see them in front of me, they were quickly forgotten. Reminder alarms only got snoozed until I forgot them altogether.

Here is the planner I use:

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(This is just my planner–click on image to view actual product)

Note how the photo above shows that I also buy calendar pages, shopping list pages, etc, to keep me organized.
This year, I am using an even better system of pages, called “Seven Habits,” because it is based on the time-management strategies from the famous book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
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These are my FAVORITE planner pages! Click on image to view actual product

Back when I was a young mother (translation: too busy nursing babies and chasing toddlers to make many appointments), I used this family planner instead, and I LOVED it:

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Amy Knapp’s planners were my *favorite* for keeping track of meals and groceries; if ever my business slows down and lets me return to a more serene life, I plan to go right back to these! 🙂 **click on the image to see other sizes/styles

Amy Knapp’s planners are larger than the purse-friendly compact planner I buy from Franklin Covey, so I used this purse/planner combo back then, which I really loved and could easily slip inside my diaper bag before outings to church or to the store:
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BEST feature of this planner case: both Amy Knapp’s planner pages AND my “Seven Habits” pages (above) fit into it, so I don’t have to change binders even as I change page styles. PERFECT! 🙂

Here is another homemaker’s planner that is similar to Amy Knapp’s, but much prettier (though less practical, because it has no pockets or spaces for me to store stuff). It is just so pretty that I want to buy one and keep it on my counter, even though I don’t need it! 🙂

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My kids also use planners, as part of our family’s chores-for-privileges rule (something I’ll explain in a future post). Here are the planners they use:

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These come in a variety of styles, sizes, and formats, click the image to view them all.

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I recommend these planners to my university students, to help them stay organized and not miss any assignments, because I do not accept late work:

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Back when I was teaching my children at home, this was also my favorite homeschool planner:

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For those who instead prefer to support cottage industries and local artisans with their purchases, here is a homemade planner for LDS moms, that is made and sold out of the homes of some very creative LDS moms:

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As you can see, I am a massive planner enthusiast, so please let me know of any other planning products I should try! 🙂

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