Posts Tagged ‘life stories’

Beautifully Imperfect

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

At the end of the day, what it is you’ll remember about your loved ones? Great accomplishments? Public acclaim? Perhaps. More than likely, though, it’ll be their endearing and “imperfect” qualities – like in this commercial commissioned by the government of Singapore. Enjoy!

An Olympic Family History Moment

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

Imagine finally seeing your father run in the Olympics – the 1912 Olympics, that is.

Creating video biographies is always fulfilling for me. But occasionally I can provide a special service that really gives me the warm fuzzies. Here’s an example:

Just before Christmas of 2004 I completed a Family Legacy Video for a wonderful couple, Mary-Lou and Dick, in Tucson, Arizona. It turns out that Mary-Lou’s dad was a college track star in the 1910s, held the record for the mile for a number of years and placed fourth in the 1500m run in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

After I finished the video, Dick asked me if I thought film footage of the race might exist. I told him I’d check around. I contacted a few film archives with no success, then managed to find my way to the Web site of the International Olympic Committee. I submitted a query through the site, and then went on to other things.

After about a month, I received an e-mail from an archivist at the IOC. Believe it or not there was a film clip, thirty seconds long, of the race I was looking for!

Long story short, the IOC sent me the clip. The quality of the film was surprisingly good and gave views of the starting line, the mid point of the race and the finish. I added a title screen and created two versions of the clip, one running at normal speed and one in slow motion, adding a freeze frame of Mary-Lou’s father crossing the finish line. Then I put it all on DVD.

After watching the footage, Mary-Lou wrote me, saying, “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.”

I feel great knowing I helped make a very special and unique addition to a family’s archive.

A Legacy of Tulips

by Steve Pender, video biographer & personal historian, Family Legacy Video, Inc.
Did you ever play Wiffle Ball? Growing up, it was the summer pastime of choice in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood. Every day, kids would congregate on the side street by my house, choose sides and have at it. Games were noisy affairs, punctuated by lots of arguments over close calls, and could last for hours. It wasn’t unusual for us to suspend a game for dinner and then reconvene afterwards. In fact, I remember finishing one game under the glare of a neighbor’s headlights.

It was a pretty safe game, too, thanks to the hollow plastic Wiffle Ball. It would glance harmlessly off just about anything it hit.

The exception was Mr. Daly’s tulips.

Mr. and Mrs. Daly lived on the other side of the street. They were a very pleasant, elderly couple and they tolerated us kids pretty well. Unfortunately, Mr. Daly insisted on planting tulips outside the chain link fence bordering his backyard. He was quite proud of those tulips and the bright red and yellow blooms they provided each spring – and he became quite upset whenever a sharply hit foul ball lopped the top off one of them. Or two. Or three. Not that we wanted to damage the flowers; they were just innocent bystanders that occasionally got caught in our Wiffle Ball crossfire.

The 1960s, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Daly, are long gone. But a recent experience brought all those memories back to me. In early July, my wife Halina and I traveled back to New Jersey to visit family. One day, we drove through my old neighborhood. I couldn’t resist stopping to look at my old house, now vastly enlarged from the little bungalow in which I grew up. I walked around the house and took a few pictures – and it wasn’t long before I caught the attention of one of the neighbors, who probably figured I was casing the place for a robbery.

He strolled over, a glass of beer in hand, and asked if I needed some help. I introduced myself and told him I grew up in the neighborhood. We started chatting, and soon I found myself in the middle of a small crowd of neighbors, answering questions about what things were like in the old days, and who used to live where. During the course of our chat, I mentioned our Wiffle Ball games and the many tulips we beheaded.

Finally, the time came to say goodbye. As I was about to leave, the neighbor currently living in the Daly’s old house said, “You know, I’m glad you mentioned about the tulips. They keep sprouting up and I had no idea where they came from.”

As Halina and I drove away, the thought of those tulips – Mr. Daly’s legacy to the neighborhood – filled me with a warm glow. The experience reminded me that legacies can take many forms, be they video biographies or tulips – and that they enrich and inform the lives of the generations that follow.

Nice job, Mr. Daly.

Family Legacy in Poetry

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

Several years ago, my local paper, the Arizona Daily Star, published a wonderful poem by a poet named Andrei Guruianu that relates to family history in a very personal way. The poem really resonates with me; I hope you enjoy it.

by Andrei Guruianu

Dead before I came into this world, grandfather,
I carry your name, yet I’ve never met you.
I hear my name, and know
that somehow they refer to you.
When I scribble those six letters
fast, to sign some document
or print them neatly in a box,
I feel your presence flow with the ink
stain and burn through the paper,
forever imprinted in my mind.
Late summer nights
gathered around the dinner table,
leftovers being cleared away,
faces clouded in cigarette smoke,
I hear voices pass the word
back and forth in reverence.
Somehow I know it’s not me
the little one grabbing for attention.
They speak of you, Andrei,
the one I’ve never met,
whose name I carry.

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.