Archive for July, 2009

Sunnygram: A delightful way to keep in touch with your grandparents

Sunday, July 26th, 2009


My wife Cynthia has become a fan of a new service called Sunnygram. It basically lets you send email to your non-computer-using grandparents.

How it Works

You, your brothers and sisters, and your kids compose electronic messages that you want to send to a grandparent (or other friend or relative.) The messages can include text, photos — whatever you’d like. You submit them via the Sunnygram site or simply email them to a special address you select.

Sunnygram compiles your submissions weekly and prints them out in a large font on high-quality paper. They then send your messages and photos to in a bright, attractive envelope to the recipient you designate.

Our Experiences Thus Far

My wife’s been using the service for a little over three weeks now. Cynthia, her sister, and our daughter have all contributed messages and photos. Cynthia’s grandmother in upstate New York has gotten three Sunnygrams, and she seems thoroughly delighted to receive them.

The website is nicely laid out and straightforward to navigate. It has lots of convenient touches that show some real thought went in to the design.

The company has been featured in Seventeen, AARP Bulletin Today, and Time.

The service costs $9.95 per month, and offers a one-month free trial.

To me that sounds like a very reasonable fee for the utility and impact Sunnygram provides. I encourage you to check it out and let us know what you think of it.

How to Run a Great Genealogical Society Meeting

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

My lovely co-founder and I headed to Elgin this last Thursday to attend a meeting of the Elgin Genealogical Society. EGS President Larry Pepper had invited me almost a year ago to come  speak to his members about Genlighten and I’ve spent the last several months getting my slides ready.

The presentation went surprisingly well, despite a few minor projector resolution issues. The highlight for me was when my wife and I managed to pull off our first-ever live demo of the site. Attendees got to watch as I ordered a lookup and Cyndy fulfilled it, in slightly-faster-than-real time. That could have easily been a disaster, but fortunately it worked just fine. There were also a gratifying number of extremely helpful questions and suggestions from the audience for features we should consider adding to Genlighten.

The main thing that prompts this post, however, is the chance to share the way the EGS runs their meetings. I’m sure many top-notch societies manage to hold great meetings, but here are some of the things I found particularly impressive about Elgin’s approach:

A great meeting venue

EGS meets at the Gail Borden Public Library alongside the Fox River in Elgin. The meeting room was well-equipped with a projector, screen, plentiful outlets, a movable lectern, and free wireless. Very speaker-friendly.

Efficiently-run society business time

Larry headed up this section, started right on time, and in right around 15 minutes had managed to:

  • Share health updates on current and past members
  • Highlight upcoming events
  • Solicit donations to enable the genealogy section of the library to acquire some new books recommended by EGS members
  • Receive a brief treasurer’s report
  • Welcome guests and get them to introduce themselves and the surnames they’re researching

Refreshments and social time

For about 15 minutes prior to the speaker’s presentation, members had a chance to chat, get to know guests and new members, and enjoy some great refreshments in the back of the meeting room. As guests, we were received warmly and made to feel welcome.

A surprise guest

The meeting took a spontaneous turn when a member of a quilting group that happened to be meeting in the library the same evening was given a few minutes to display and discuss a pieced quilt displaying a fairly detailed genealogy of his family back to “the 1300s” (hmmm…) The quilt was quite impressive and generated a lot of interest from attendees.

The main event

My Genlighten presentation ran about 45-50 minutes plus questions, including the live demo. I can’t vouch for whether the audience went away satisified, but I sensed a good connection with those in attendance. Judging by the list of past presentations and upcoming ones listed on the EGS website, they seem to cover a wide range of topics and draw on a number of outside participants in addition to society members.

Generating Attendance from the Community

EGS arranged to publicize my talk on their own website and passed info along to websites for other neighboring societies as well. They also placed a meeting notice in the Fox Valley Daily Herald. From what I saw, it looked like as many as eight guests may have attended, in addition to the 50 or so existing members who were there.

Frequent Meetings

I was surprised to note that EGS meets twice monthly: once during the day, and once in the evening. That seems like a great way to attract a wide spectrum of potential members and to keep them actively engaged.


EGS prides itself on being “one of the most active genealogy societies around.”  It’s easy to see why. Judging from the quality of the meeting we attended, I expect their membership to continue to prosper and grow. On behalf of Genlighten, I’d like to thank Larry and EGS for a highly enjoyable evening.

Teach Them Well…

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way”

– Linda Creed, The Greatest Love of All, made popular by Whitney Houston

OK, I know the eighties are over, but these lyrics echo well a sentiment I’ve often heard genealogists express: “We’ve got to find a way to get the younger generation interested in genealogy/family history! But how?”

I discussed this topic briefly with Randy Seaver during the Geneablogger Dinner at the recent SCGS Jamboree. Randy suggested that I consider the example of Elyse Doerflinger, seated at the table across from us. Twenty years young and currently a student at El Camino College, Elyse first became interested in genealogy about eight years ago:

“It all started with my aunt when I was 12 or 13.  She had discovered and … I thought the facts she told me were so interesting. … Then, during a trip to Tennessee to visit my grandpa for the summer, I discovered so much about my family that I became permanently hooked.  Everyone was telling me stories and giving me information.”                                  (via Larry Lehmer’s blog, Passing It On)

So there’s one answer to the “How do we get kids interested” question — we simply nurture loving and positive relationships with our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and introduce them in a natural way to the pleasures of family history research. Many will listen politely and go no further, but a few, like Elyse, will become “hooked.”

I sensed another possible answer as the geneabloggers left the dinner later that night. I overheard Elyse remark that her mother had early on labeled her lovingly as “an old soul”. That struck me as an important insight. The same qualities of curiosity, selflessness and “wisdom beyond her years” that led her to feel so comfortable around her aunt and her grandfather might well have helped her feel excited to learn the stories of her deceased ancestors as well. So perhaps as genealogists (or as geneabloggers, society volunteers, conference organizers… whatever) we can foster and encourage activities that will specifically attract “old souls” like Elyse — the better to nurture them and welcome them into a supportive community.


At the same time, I think it’s important that young people interested in genealogy have the chance to socialize with others their own age who share their interests. Elyse notes that she met someone at Jamboree who was actually younger than her — Michael Melendez — when they both worked together at the “Kids Family History Camp” held the first morning of the Jamboree. The Youth Genealogists Association, of which Michael is the webmaster, strikes me as a tremendously promising organization in this regard. I would love to get behind it with some kind of modest corporate sponsorship. (Of course, we’ll need some revenue first!)

So where to go with all this? How about a session at next year’s Jamboree specifically aimed at genealogy enthusiasts in their teens and twenties? Or perhaps a panel discussion aimed at genealogy societies in which young people make up the panel and explain what attracted them to the field? Or at the very least, as several have already suggested, how about having Elyse be on the panel at next year’s Geneablogger Summit!