The Timeline of Your Life

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

I just found a site where you can generate your own personal historical timeline.

If you have a few minutes and want to see how your personal history intersects with world events, head on over to Enter in your name, the date of your birth and the current year, and the site generates a timeline of historical events – and tells you what your age was when these events occurred.


Ethical Wills on Video

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

We’ve seen the scene in movies countless times. Bereaved relatives gather in a lawyer’s office. An attorney picks up a sheet of paper and begins to read, “I (insert name here) being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath my estate to…” And so on and so forth. A last will and testament, the document that details how a person disposes of his or her physical property after death, is a pretty common concept. But there’s another kind of will gaining popularity, one that focuses on spiritual and moral values as opposed to physical assets. And this will is often passed along before the will’s writer passes on.

It’s called an ethical will. Ethical wills have actually been around for three thousand years, but they’ve gained newfound popularity since 9/11. They can take the form of personal letters written to a child, grandchild, niece or nephew, an audio recording or a video. Ethical wills can incorporate anything a person believes is meaningful enough to pass on. The Web site lists some common themes:

Important personal values and beliefs
Important spiritual values
Hopes and blessings for future generations
Life’s lessons
Expressions of love
Forgiving others and asking for forgiveness

Why create an ethical will? According to, some reasons are:

We all want to be remembered, and we all will leave something behind
If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will and they will be lost forever
It helps you identify what you value most and what you stand for
By articulating what we value now, we can take steps to insure the continuation of those values for future generations
You learn a lot about yourself in the process of writing an ethical will
It helps us come to terms with our mortality by creating something of meaning that will live on after we are gone
It provides a sense of completion in our lives

Video can be a powerful medium for passing along your values to a loved one. The conviction in your words and the passion in your eyes will leave a profound impression on the person for whom you create your video ethical will, as well as the generations that follow. You don’t have to do anything fancy from a video standpoint. To ensure a good quality video, either hire a professional or do-it-yoursef employing some of the basic organization, lighting and sound techniques described in the Family Legacy Video™ Producer’s Guide.

An ethical will can be a wonderful gift and a long lasting legacy, made all the more powerful by the use of video.

Video biography project leads to a high-flying experience

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

In 2006 I interviewed Charlie Wilson. Charlie is a former B-17 pilot and a large part of his interview focused on his exploits during WWII. Little did I realize that Charlie’s video biography would lead to my own flight in a reconditioned B-17 – and a chance to experience, in a very small way, the aircraft that Charlie and his crews flew under very perilous conditions.

Charlie’s video biography featured a large amount of archival footage showing B-17 crews in action during the war. The more footage I watched, the more I marveled at the daring, bravery and resilience of both the crews and the machines they flew. I’m sure I remarked to my wife, more than a few times I’m sure, how exciting it would be to fly in a B-17. Then, as a 50th birthday gift, Halina gave me a ticket to what turned out to be the ride of my life.

The Collings Foundation, an organization that preserves vintage aircraft, brought three WWII bombers, all in working order, to Tucson: a B-25 Mitchell; a B-24 Liberator; and a B-17 Flying Fortress. Halina, myself, my mom and brother arrived to find all three planes sitting on the airstrip and open for inspection. We spent some time climbing in and out of each plane – and then it was flight time.

As the flight crew slowly rotated the props to get the oil circulating, my group of ten passengers climbed into the plane. I was lucky to get a seat behind the co-pilot (not a seat, really, just a patch of deck with a seat belt). Across from me, behind the pilot, was a fellow, now retired, who was only six years old when his brother died while piloting a B-17 over Germany. He was flying as a way to honor and remember his brother. His story reminded me how many men sacrificed their lives in planes just like the one we were about to fly.

Then, one by one, the engines kicked in. The plane began to vibrate, the roar from the engines grew and the scents of fuel and oil wafted through the air. Then we were aloft and got the signal to unbuckle and move about the aircraft. My seat mate and I made a beeline for the nose. There, in the area once occupied by a bombardier and gunners, we gazed through the Plexiglas covering at a panoramic view of mountains and homes.

Moving back towards the aft end of the plane, I popped my head through an open hatch and was treated to a breathtaking view of the B-17’s tail and the mountains and desert landscape beyond. It was a challenge squeezing my 6’2″ frame through the tight confines of the Flying Fortress – but I managed to look out every window and sit or stand in every crew position available (except for pilot and co-pilot, of course).

And then, all too quickly, we were given the signal to buckle up and prepare to land. After a gentle touch down I swung myself out of the hatch and, adrenalin still pumping, rejoined my family.

The ride brought me a much deeper and visceral understanding of the B-17 and also a greater appreciation for the tight and uncomfortable conditions endured by the plane’s crews. It was, truly, the ride of a lifetime – one for which I have to thank my wife, the Collings Foundation, Charlie Wilson and all the B-17 crews that risked and sacrificed so much to preserve our freedom.

Advice from a former hospice nurse: Capture your loved one on video now

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

I was on the phone with a sales rep not too long ago. We got to talking about my business and as soon as she heard what Family Legacy Video was all about, she said, “I think what you’re doing is wonderful!” Turns out that, prior to her sales career, she was a nurse at a hospice.

She went on to say that she always tried to get families of hospice patients to tape remembrances with their loved ones and that so few families did. She hated to see so many memories and family stories lost. She was very passionate about the subject; I could certainly hear the emotion in her voice.

I can only imagine how emotionally trying having a family member in hospice care can be. But I encourage you, as does the former hospice nurse with whom I spoke, to spend some of those final days or hours capturing your loved ones family stories on video. They’ll be a lasting legacy you’ll treasure for years to come.

Bridge the generation gap with a family history video

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

Most elder family members are great sources of family stories and family history, but have little interest or experience with video technology. Many younger family members know little family history but are aces when it comes to computers and video. What can bring them together? Try a family history video project.

There I was, at a local Rotary Club, in the middle of a talk about creating family history videos, when one of the older members, a fellow in his mid-seventies, piped up. “This digital stuff seems like a lot of bother to me,” he said. “There’s tape, there’s discs – I really don’t know what’s what. Technology keeps changing and I can’t be bothered transferring from one format to another. I’ve locked all my family films in a cabinet, along with a projector, and when a family historian wants to watch them, that’s where they’ll be.”

I congratulated him for safely storing his family films and I had to admit he had a point when it came to technology. Rapid advances in computer and video hardware and software have been dizzying and sometimes confusing. BUT, when the choice is between preserving a precious video record of your family stories and history or losing them for all time, I don’t think the fear of a little technology should be allowed to get in the way.

So what do you do if you view technology as a hindrance rather than a help?

Look for the nearest teenager or preteen. Grandkids, grandnieces and grandnephews grew up with this computer stuff. To them it’s second nature. Why not enlist their help in creating a family history video they’ll treasure in years to come (kids being kids, they might not see the value in it now – but when they get older, they will). So butter them up a bit. Play to their pride in their computer and video expertise. And if that doesn’t work, have their parents make them help you. Once you get some momentum going, a family history video project is sure to spark their interest and creativity. You may find them getting just as excited about it as you.

Of course, collaborating with a younger family member on a family history video is much more than just a means to an end. It provides a great bonding experience, a chance to share quality time, to laugh and learn together and to create something of which you’ll both be proud. You’ll end up with a living legacy your family will love and with wonderful new memories that will last a lifetime.

Maps can chart your way to video biography success

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

Whether you’re setting out on a cross country driving tour or wondering how to visually “navigate” through your next video biography, a good map can be a real asset. You can use maps to establish the locations important to your subject’s story and also use them to impart a sense of movement to illustrate someone’s travels.

For example, I recently used maps to help tell the story of a married couple. The wife was born in the Philippines prior to World War II. I used a map of the Philippines to establish the length and breadth of the island chain and also to show the location of her home island and the areas on that island that figured prominently in her story.

Her husband, a bomber pilot during WWII, hitched rides from Texas to Canada in order to volunteer for the Canadian Royal Air Force. I combined two moving maps, one of Texas and one showing the border of the U.S. and Canada, to help visualize his journey.

Where can you get good maps? I recently found a great resource, a company called, which offers a variety of digital maps available for download. They’re already digital, which offers convenience (no scanning) and great image quality. I recommend downloading the PDF versions. First, they’re inexpensive (many starting around $6.95). Second, if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can open the maps there and scale and crop them to whatever size you need. You can also add effects to give the maps an aged or period look, add locations, etc. Then, import the map into your editing software, give it some motion, and you’ve got a great-looking, low cost visual.

Bring new life to those old family films

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

At my Rotary meeting the other day, a fellow member turned to me and said, “Steve, I’ve got lots of home movies from the 40s and 50s. What I can do with them?” The answer: Lots!

If all you want to do is free your old 16mm, 8mm and Super 8mm films from the back closet and make it possible for you to view them again (without having to set up a screen and projector), have them transferred to DVD. You probably have a local company that’ll do this for you (check with photo developers or with companies advertising video production services). The great thing about this is you’ll be able to pop a DVD into your player and watch your long-ago relatives once again. The downside is that your movies might be transferred in no particular order. You may find yourself jumping decades forward and backward as the reels change. But if all you want to do is preserve your films, this option may be the one for you.

Another option: Use your films to tell stories. Instead of having your footage transferred directly to DVD, get it put on miniDV or Digital 8. These are formats that you’ll be able to use in conjunction with a computer that has digital video editing software. Once your films are on tape, review them. Think about the events they chronicle, the stories they bring to mind and the people they feature. Then transfer your films-on-video into your computer. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to use your films to tell some stories.

There are a number of techniques you can use. You and/or other family members can narrate the films, describing the events and the people as you see them on screen. You can interview family members on videotape and ask them questions about the events and people in the films. Then you can combine the interviews with the films, and with family photos, to create a family documentary. You can also incorporate titles, sound effects and music. Once you’re done, you can output the finished program to tape or burn your own DVD.

Be as creative as time and your ambition allow. Whatever you do, please realize that there’s no reason to let those old family films continue to collect dust. And if you’re not technically or creatively inclined, remember that Family Legacy Video is here to help.

Unexpected benefits of video biographies

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

Video biographies are certainly wonderful ways to capture and preserve your precious personal stories and family history. They also tend to generate surprise benefits as well. Here are a few examples from Family Legacy Video’s files:

Uncovering an Olympic moment.
Mary-Lou and Dick are a wonderful couple here in Tucson, Arizona. Mary-Lou’s dad was a track star for Cornell around 1910. He also ran in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. During the course of producing their video biography, the couple asked me if I thought there might be film of the 1912 race. I checked with the International Olympic Committee – and sure enough, they uncovered a film clip from that long-ago event. Long story short: A copy of that race, on DVD, now occupies a place of honor in Mary-Lou and Dick’s family archives. By the way, when Mary-Lou, who is in her eighties, watched the clip of the race, it was the first time she saw her dad run. Her reaction: “You can’t imagine what a thrill it was to see Dad running. That was an amazing thing you did for us but it meant the most to me. Thank you again and again.”

Reconnecting with family.
Doug hired Family Legacy Video to create a video bio featuring his mom, Marion. She detailed events that her kid sister never knew occurred. After watching the video, her sister and other relatives rekindled their relationships with Marion. Here’s how Doug described what happened: “Mother’s only surviving sister, who is seventeen years younger, was not aware of the Washington adventures and many other items that the three older children had experienced. Mother and her sister are now much closer because of the video. Many nieces and nephews with whom she’d had little contact are now in touch with her again. Thank you for providing us with a Family Legacy Video that will be passed down and enjoyed by our family throughout the coming generations.”

Inspiring a new interest in family history.
Family Legacy Video recently taped a conversation between two brothers, Will and Pren. They had a great time recounting their family history and adventures. The project inspired Pren to do even more to preserve his family history. According to his daughter: “One of the hidden benefits of this project was the search for family photos to include in the video. I really enjoyed looking through them all with my parents, and labeling them for future generations. What a treasure! I am so glad we did this now. My father has been so inspired that he has taken on a new project – he found boxes and boxes of slides in the basement of his Illinois home and has been scanning them. He’s really enjoying it and it’s been great to see those old photos too.”

Finally telling the full story.
Len made his fortune in Peru, arriving there early in 1940. He had many fascinating adventures, both business and personal, to relate. He was most interested in detailing his business success. At the end of his interview (which stretched over three days) he had this to say: “I am very appreciative. I look forward to giving my children my background. I’ve always told them a little bit here and a little bit there, but never the complete story.”

Every video biography project Family Legacy Video undertakes results in benefits like those above. So don’t wait – get started on your family video biography project today. The benefits, both apparent and unexpected, will thrill you.

By the way, you’re invited to view sample legacy video clips at Family Legacy Video’s Web site.

Personal History: Work of the Soul

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

“The work that personal historians do is sacred. It’s the work of the soul. It’s blissful and heartfelt work.”

So said James Walsh as he began his presentation at an annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians. Walsh teaches history at the University of Colorado in Denver. He focuses on the oral tradition. This tradition – passing along history through the stories of the participants – is near and dear to the hearts of all of us creating video biographies, whether we do it as a profession or as a hobby.

Walsh continued by recounting an African proverb that says there are two stages of death. The first stage is sasha. Sasha are people who have passed away physically – but the living still remember them and tell their stories. So the sasha are not yet dead. The second stage is zamani. Zamani are people who have also passed away physically. However, the living no longer remember them, nor do they tell their stories. Zamani are truly dead.

What a powerful proverb – and it connects perfectly with the quote at the beginning of this article. Speaking for myself, the work I do as a personal historian, as a video biographer working through Family Legacy Video, does make me feel blissful and is certainly heartfelt. It is indeed sacred and the work of the soul. And it is dedicated to making sure my clients and my family remain sasha, not zamani, after they depart this physical world.

And yet there are many who feel they have nothing to say, that their life stories don’t merit telling and preserving. To this I offer another story related by James Walsh. He was a young man from a Pennyslvania steel town, blue collar through and through, plopped down in the middle of Duke University thanks to a wrestling scholarship. He had little in common with his classmates and felt quite insecure in class. As a result he sat in the back, saying little.

One day, his professor pulled him out of class. “Walsh,” asked the professor. “Why aren’t you talking in class?” “Well professor,” the young man answered, “I guess I don’t think my ideas are very good.” With that, the professor slammed down his fist. “Let me ask you this,” he exclaimed. “How many people in the history of the planet will ever see the world from your perspective?” Walsh thought for a moment and then answered, “No one.” “So,” said the professor. “If you won’t tell us what the view is like, who will?”

Exactly – who will describe the unique views and perspectives of your life, or those of your parents, grandparents or other relatives if you or they do not?

The answer is obvious. By capturing and preserving our stories through video biographies we celebrate our unique views of the world and of our places in it. We share and relish our video bios while we’re alive. And then, after we depart this earthly coil, our stories, as told by us, remain to be enjoyed by future generations of our families, keeping our memories alive, connecting our family past with its present and future – and keeping us sasha.

If this isn’t sacred, the work of the soul, I don’t know what is.

If you’ve already started preserving your family storytellers on video, bravo! If you haven’t begun yet – start. Now.

And remember that Family Legacy Video is here to help.

On quilts and life stories.

spender-110x161by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.

My wife, Halina, visited a quilting expo recently. She came back with vivid descriptions of the many beautiful, handmade quilts on display. As she spoke, some of the patchwork quilts I’ve seen in the past came to mind. You probably know the kind, the ones composed of fabric swatches of all shapes and colors. And I realized these quilts had parallels to family history.

How? As I see it, our families certainly are “crazy quilts,” composed of people of all shapes, sizes and colors; sporting a wide range of political leanings, philosophies and religions. In our family quilts, life stories are the swatches; memories are the threads that bind those swatches one to another. Stitched together, each life story becomes an integral part of the whole. And just like the quilts created at quilting bees, each of our “family quilts” has its own personality and character.

But fail to record those life stories and memories will begin to fade; the ties that bind, that tell us who we are and where we come from will loosen. Our family quilt will lose one swatch, then two, then more. Pretty soon our quilt will start looking like Swiss cheese. Eventually we may have no quilt at all.

That’s why I think recording family history, particularly through video biographies, also known as legacy videos, is so important. Video serves to keep our stories and storytellers alive. The greater the number of life stories we collect and pass on, the more complete our family quilts will be. And as the years pass, our quilts will grow larger, keeping each of us warm in the knowledge of where we came from and where we fit into the fabric our own family history.

Like to see some video biography samples? You’ll find clips from a variety of legacy videos at Family Legacy Video.