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Dad – What question would you ask your great-grandfather?

20 Feb

My Dad shared, “I would ask Oren Stone why he started the Flint Woolen Mills and what brought him to Flint, Michigan?”

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

The following are answers I have recreated in the voice of Oren Stone (my great-great grandfather)…

“I was born in Sennett, in Cayuga County, New York in 1833. My father and his ancestors going back many generations had grown up in Massachusetts. New England was becoming crowded and many New Englanders moved either directly to Michigan or, like my family, to upstate New York and then on to Michigan. As a boy we lived near the Erie Canal.  It was easy for us to use the Erie Canal to move west to Oakland County Michigan when I was eleven years old, this was in 1844. As you may know, Michigan had just become a state in 1837.

“Later I moved around a bit, at about age 18 or so my parents helped me purchase a stock of goods and I set up a general store. I was also a local postmaster for a while. Eventually I settled in Flint in 1857 and set up a general store there. So that is how I got to Flint.

“Now about your other question about why I started the Flint Woolen Mill. Well, I was doing pretty well with my general store in Flint. Then the Civil War years created a strong demand of wool products. A lot of local farmers, including my uncle D. Hulbert Stone, started raising sheep, my uncle produced Merino wool. Well uncle Hulbert and other local farmers came to me and convinced me that they really needed a local woolen mill, since they were paying way to much to ship wool to the mills in New England.  So I found a few local partners and we started the Flint Woolen Mill in 1867.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“It started out as a small but very profitable business both for me and for our local farmers. In a few years I bought out my partners and became the sole proprietor. Later, I formed a life-long partnership with William Atwood.  We changed the name to Stone, Atwood & Company, but we were still known locally and later nationally as Flint Woolen Mills. We picked up and bought out other partners over time.

“The mill continued to grow and was known for quality wool products, cashmere, Neptunus, and suit making wool. I even added a specific Pantaloons wool product line.  Lots of local women worked in the mills and men worked as laborers.  We had a nationwide distribution system. For a while we experimented with trying a cotton mill, but that did not really work out.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“My son Dwight Stone, your grandfather, worked at Flint Mills for a while, but he seemed even more interested in our real estate and insurance business. So I am not sure whether the Flint Woolen Mills will stay in the family after I pass on.

“A couple of my other interests: I was active in a number of civic interests, it is important to give back to the community, and Flint has been good to our family. In 1888 I even served as the Mayor of Flint. I am very proud of restoring the Stone Opera House in Flint.  It has deservedly had a good reputation throughout Michigan.

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Photo credit – From Headlight Flashes along the Grand Trunk Railway System – Flint Michigan

“You may not know that I lost my first wife, your great-grandmother Susan C. Thompson. She died in 1870 when your grandfather Dwight was only 7. I remarried a wonderful woman Harriet Hayes Stewart. Her family members were very early settlers. Her parents arrived in Flint in 1833 and it is said that Harriet was one of the first white girls born in Flint.

“I hope this was helpful. Flint has been a great town for our family, I am proud to have played a key role in it development.


Author: Bruce SummersSummoose Tales, Personal Historian, also

Board Member, Regions and Chapters Chair, the Association of Personal Historians.

Additional Credits:

Annie Payne – my Association of Personal Historians colleague who inspired the question by her Blog on what she would ask her Great Grandfather.

Also:

Extract: From, Stone Flint Woolen Mills, Flint, MI (Stone, Atwood & Co.) https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15a590279d7d6e53?projector=1

As strange as the name sounds, “Stone Flint Woolen Mills”, the enterprise was started by a man named Oren Stone who was talked into creating a local woolen mill to help local sheep farmers sell their wool at profitable prices. Shipping the wool to the large mills on the east coast was not a simple matter in the late 1800’s which made it costly for the farmers. Stone opened the mill and before long, teamed up with William Atwood to rename the concern Stone, Atwood & Co. Stone’s products included blankets, flannel, a product they called “cassimeres” which might mean cashmere, mittens, hosiery and towards the end of the run of the operation a high-end “water-proof” fabric for ladies tailored suits named “Neptunus”.

And:

Extract: From Flint Woolen Mill Records https://www.umflint.edu/archives/flint-woolen-mills-records-0:

Sheep raising was one of the earliest agricultural specializations in Genesee County. Due to the heightened demand for wool during the Civil War, prices increased dramatically. Farmers in the county complained of the unfair prices they were receiving for the commodity and induced Oren Stone (born July 24, 1833 in Auburn, N. Y., died April 20, 1897 in Flint), owner of a general store, to establish a woolen mill. In 1867 he began the Flint Woolen Mills, with stock in the company being held by a number of owners. By 1870 he was sole owner.

In 1876, having survived the economic troubles of the period, Stone added William A. Atwood (born April 11, 1835 in Newfane, N. Y., died April 11, 1908 in Flint) and, at least by 1879, Charles H. Bowker as minority partners. The company then was known as Stone, Atwood, and Company, although the physical operation continued to be called the Flint Woolen Mills. Atwood’s share ranged from 1/4 in 1879 to 5/13 in 1896. Bowker left the company in 1882 or 1883; J. N. Blake joined as a minority partner in 1885 to 1890 and Edwin W. Atwood, William’s son, from 1895.

Atwood was part owner at least until 1901. By 1905 David D. Aitken and John E. Shortle had become owners. The Flint Woolen Mills folded between 1910 and 1913.

SCOPE AND CONTENT

This collection complements the larger Flint Woolen Mills collection at the Michigan Historical Collection at the Bentley Historical Library. It consists of records documenting the financial and manufacturing aspects of the firm’s history. There is little or no material reflecting the personal lives or interests of the mill’s owners.

 

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Thanks Dad – Happy Veteran’s Day

11 Nov

My dad, Tom Summers, served in the U.S. Army in Korea as an Infantry Officer on Heart Break Ridge during the Korean War.

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He shared with me and my brothers that he never had to fire his rifle at the enemy during his time on the front lines.

However, one night he could hear the enemy attacking one of the positions, an outpost ridge on the US/South Korean line a few hundred yards away. US/South Korean forces counter-attacked with artillery and more.

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He and others waited to see if their point in the line, if their part of the ridge would also be attacked.

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The enemy was turned back and never approached his section of the line.

The next day revealed that it had been a significant enemy attack in force. It also, revealed that one of my dad’s close friends, they had gone to YMCA Summer Camp together as youth, had been killed during the attack along with a squad filled with men that my dad had previously led on patrols.

It was their outpost at a point of the ridge that had been attacked.

I offer my thanks to my dad, to my brother, to my brother-in-law and to all of our Veterans on Veterans Day for your service to our country.

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Why I go to the Association for Personal Historians (APH) Conference

29 Aug

I love my work as a Personal Historian.  Every Friday I drive out to Carl’s house.  We work all day on a current or emerging chapter of his autobiography.  I read through and organize his reference files of letters, trip reports, and work checklists.  We talk through the outline for the next section of the chapter, I record his thoughts and listen to related stories. We discuss and relive particular incidents and anecdotes.  We chat about minor characters and major characters in his life story.

For online chapters I add links to places he has lived, visited or trekked to.  We review photo slides that may be included to bring his personal history to life.  I work at home on scanning and archiving his materials so they can be referenced in the autobiography as threaded links, also so that his descendants can explore his rich trove of family history.

I go to the Annual Association for Personal Historians Conference as part of my ongoing professional development. This year’s conference will be held in Fort Worth, TX from Oct. 23-27, 2016, (Program Highlights). Members from around the globe attend each year, like me they come…

To Learn – There are amazing workshops, plenary sessions, and fascinating keynote speakers each year.

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To Ask Questions – Some of these are specific to my current personal history projects. Some are a follow-up to a workshop that I just attended. Some are spontaneous topics that emerge as we talk.  APH members are extremely generous with their time and with sharing their expertise.

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To Network – Sometimes over coffee or during a group meal with new friends.

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To Be Inspired – We often go on a tour of the city we are visiting. We also have an interesting Public Facing Event and several thought provoking keynote speakers.

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To Kibitz – I have met and had meaningful conversations with well over 200 of my peers.  Sometimes I meet them in the hall, or talk with them before or after a workshop. I had great conversations during bus tours and during morning runs or walks.  APH members are very collaborative. We love sharing and discussing what works, what doesn’t and helping each other problem solve. I like meeting new members and talking with experienced members.

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I am looking forward to this year annual conference. It is my best opportunity to learn a new target set of tips and tricks of the trade that I can incorporate into my personal history work with clients like Carl.  The early bird deadline for Conference Registration is August 31, 2016.

Related:

Skills to “Actively Listen” and Record Family Stories during the Holidays?

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Waking up to the invasion

18 Jun

“All Grenadians come to arms, we are being invaded by hostile forces,” blared the radio in my tiny house in Barbados.  I was jarred awake, I looked around, it was early morning, the sun was not up yet.

I listened carefully. I always left the radio on overnight in my tiny house where I lived during my three years serving in the Peace Corps.  The Barbados radio station signed off about 11 PM each night.  I awakened when the station came back on the air each morning. This was how I started each day.  Listening to the radio, I would then open my double doors and sit out on a metal chair on my porch.  I would look out on the row of cabbage palms across the lawn of the great house of my landlord. My tiny house was one of four rental units on his property in Belleville, St. Michael, near Bridgetown, the capital.

As I looked at the tall stately cabbage palms watching the neighborhood come alive, I often saw a small flock of parrots up on the tops of the trees.  If I sat very still, sometimes a small green lizard would crawl across my foot.  I would listen to the radio, catch up on the news, hear some music, perhaps drink some bay leaf tea and ease into my day.

But today I listened carefully as the Barbados radio station piped in a live feed from Grenada’s national radio station urging all citizens to come out and defend the island from unknown hostile forces. I was listening to history being made, a more than mild change of pace for a Peace Corps volunteer on a quiet, peaceful, beautiful Caribbean island. What’s going on, I pondered.

Grenada is about 150 miles from Barbados.  By air on a BWIA island hopping airplane it was about 23 minutes and most of this time was taxiing. In October of 1983, things were coming apart. A revolutionary (communist leaning) government had taken over Grenada in a coup in 1979. During October of 1983, Maurice Bishop, the leader of the revolution government was placed under house arrest and later murdered.  Many Barbadians had close friends or family in Grenada, so these events were much discussed in our local news.  A military wing of the revolutionary government had arrested Bishop, he escaped, but then he and other cabinet members were killed while they were marching in protest.  Some in Barbados conjectured that Bishop had been allowed to escape so the military faction could kill him and get him out-of-the-way.

Compounding what the Barbadians viewed as the “chaos” going on in Grenada was the presence of Cuban military and workers building a long airport runway, that could accommodate the largest Cuban military planes.  Surrounding Grenada, the other Eastern Caribbean islands were all democracies.  So the increasing influence of Cuba in Grenada, combined with the military takeover of the government  was a threat to peace and stability of the other islands.

The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States along with the nations of Barbados and Jamaica appealed to the U.S. Government for assistance.  Secretly the Governor General of Grenada, the titular head of Grenada which was still part of the British Commonwealth, had also appealed to the U.S. for assistance.  The U.S. was also concerned about the safety of a large contingent of American medical students who were studying in Grenada.

At 5 am on October 25, 1983 a combined force from the US, Jamaica and the Regional Security System based in Barbados commenced the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of hostile forces that awakened me via the radio that morning.

The invasion lasted just two or three days, my Barbadian friends and I learned that many of the aircraft being used were flying out of our local Grantley Adams International Airport.  We learned that US, Barbados, and other Caribbean troops were involved, the Grenada radio station was captured, the Cuban military advisors were captured, the medical students and the Governor General were evacuated and Grenada was now secure.  Our Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps office invited us in for a briefing.  We were asked if any of us would volunteer to help deliver humanitarian aid supplies in Grenada.  I was working for the Barbados Boy Scouts Association, so I immediately volunteered.

Fortunately, a few hours later, we got the word that it probably was not a good idea to have U.S. Peace Corps volunteers immediately follow U.S. troops into a country we had just invaded. I was sorry to have missed this opportunity to help, but certainly understood the rationale.

So the invasion was over.  Barbadians and most Grenadians were very happy that the revolution and the communist experiment was over.  There still was a presence of US military planes at the airport for another month or so. I wrote an article about the invasion for my hometown newspaper, a former employer of mine from my days as a newspaper correspondent. Life went on, I spent another year in the Peace Corps.

Thirty three years passed and then a few weeks ago one of my personal history clients, a former Ambassador, talked about how the Invasion of Grenada threatened to disrupt his wife’s work with the State Department. Over lunch I mentioned that I remembered waking up to the invasion.

Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, summersbw@gmail.com is a Personal Historian, a board member of the global Association of Personal Historians and also serves as their Regions and Chapters Director.  He also is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).

Merry ChristMoose

30 Dec

Some clients and colleagues have asked me why I call my Personal History business “Summoose Tales”.

Well way back… one of my brothers decided that Bruce was a good rhyme with Moose. Then one by one, my family and friends decided that a really appropriate gift for me for my birthday and especially at Christmas would be a Moose especially a ChristMoose. And so, the family stories and tales about the various Moose gifts began…

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I woke up this Christmas morning and what did I see. A wide scattering of ChristMooses looking down the stairs at me.

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I entered our family room to see if Santa had come. Again more ChristMooses were guarding the stockings with care, and yes St. Nicholas had been there.

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I headed into the living room to look at our tree and found more ChristMooses had been on watch through the night, there were at least three.

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I looked over at our Manger on the near table and yes even there a ChristMoose had been on vigil through Christmas Eve night.

I smiled to myself and took a few photos to share with friends and family around the globe – I hope you had very happy holidays and I wish you all the very best in 2016.

PS. My daughter gave me a copy of, “If you Give a Moose a Muffin” for Christmas:)

Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

See also Best Wishes for an intriguing 2015

Skills to “Actively Listen” and Record Family Stories during the Holidays?

5 Dec

I am currently reading and enjoying “Skills for Personal Historians 102 Savvy Ideas to Boost Your Expertise” by my all-time favorite, though now retired blogger Dan Curtis.

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Full disclosure, part of the reason I bought the book was to see how he referenced my story about “Joe and Helen“, page 186. I emailed this story to Dan in response to one of his blogs.

I have been browsing through the book, and yes there are “102 Savvy Ideas”. I recently re-read Dan’s first chapter on “Interviewing Basics”. Well, I am a pretty good interviewer.  I have been recording family stories, life stories, human interest, news stories, good practices and even lessons learned stories for over 30 years. But, Dan Curtis had a lot to share. Some of his savvy ideas I already knew.  Others, especially mistakes we learn along the way, brought out an inward smile… yep, been there, done that. Hopefully I have learned from these.  But, there were also some great new ideas that he had codified through experience and extensive study of his craft – both from interviewing and what I would term as “active listening”. These great new ideas, provoked reflection. In my mind’s eye, I kept visualizing on how I could better hone my craft.

The following are a few of Dan’s ideas from his book. These are followed by my reflections. For Dan’s specific content you should buy the book.

  1. The Secret to a Successful Life Story Interview
  2. Good Reasons to Ditch the Laptop and Handwritten Notes
  3. Are you Creating a Supportive Milieu for your Personal History Interviews?
  4. Action Steps to a Good Life Story Interview
  5. Have You Ever Found Yourself in This Embarrassing Situation?
  6. How to Get the Stories in a Life Story Interview
  7. Secrets to a Great Interview
  8. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills
  9. What I’ve Learned about Getting “Truthful” Interviews
  10. Do You Make these Interviewing Mistakes?

This chapter has a ton of great content for those of us who serve as Professional Personal Historians. I think it also has great value for friends and family members who hopefully will make and a resolution to actively listen and record loved one’s stories during the holidays.

A few thoughts…

  1. Find where the voice recording app is on your Smart Phone, remember that you usually have this in your pocket when you see a friend, or loved one.  Schedule an hour to – actively listen, to this friend or loved one. Think about 2 or 3 key questions or stories you always wanted to ask, or a great story you have heard but no-one has recorded it. If practical, you may want to invest in a digital voice recorder that you can carry in your pocket or your pocket-book.  Test the voice recorder or the voice recording app ahead of time so you know how it starts, pauses, stops, save, etc. Find a quiet, comfortable place, sit down, start chatting, and then gradually shift to some of the questions you really want to ask and turn on the recorder.

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2. The nicest thing about a voice recorder or app is that you can put all your focus on actively listening to the story, making eye contact, nodding quietly, and smiling.  My eyebrows go up and my eyes smile when I am hearing a personal story.  By actively listening, smiling, and nodding I get to hear fascinating stories from my clients, friend and family members. You can do this too.

3. I love Dan’s word – Milieu. Make your narrator comfortable, put them at ease. I often interview my parents after breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I bring some treat from the Swiss Bakery to others.  A personal historian colleague told me the story of how she unplugs the noisy refrigerator or freezer and then puts her car keys in the freezer before the interview. Ok, I bit, why? So that she will always remember to turn the fridge back on before she leaves.  She turned it off so it wouldn’t rattle or gurgle during the interview.  It is harder to drive away, and leave the fridge turned off, if your car keys are still in the freezer. The down side is your keys are really cold when you get ready to leave.

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4. Prepare ahead of time, perhaps chat about potential questions for mom, with dad or Uncle Julio ahead of time. Text your daughter or your siblings to ask them what stories they really want to have recorded. Send an email to Great Aunt Sue to gather a bit of insider research before your interview. I usually write out a few outline notes ahead of time. I take a quick glance at these before I go out the door.  I think about the stories, or the chapter that we will work on today as I drive over the river and through the woods to my mom’s house, to Joe’s condo. and especially during that long drive early in the morning out to that remote county where my client lives.

5. It is a good idea also to have a checklist of what equipment needs to be charged ahead of time and what you need to carry with you in the car. Yes, I have left the house without my voice recorder and once found that my voice recorder was full when I was ready to start recording.

6. This is a great section in Dan’s narrative… “Is the story intriguing? Am I drawn in? Am I delighted…? If the answer is no, then gently redirect the interview”. Everybody has stories to share, actively listening, with periodic nods and an occasional redirection can make it an even better story.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

7. Two lessons I have learned. If you are interviewing a couple, then chat with them for a while to determine whether you should interview them together or whether you should first interview them separately.  With my parents, it depends on the topic. Sometimes one will listen and nod while the other is talking, and then sometimes they can’t help themselves they have to jump in. This interrupts the flow of the story. I often find it helpful to interview one by themselves and then the other. However, if it is the right topic… “did he really propose?” Then it is  fascinating to hear and record each side of the story together.  I have also learned through doing family “Show and Tell” sessions that you can coordinate a great series of recorded interviews by designating one family member at a time to show a treasured object or photo while sharing their story with the group. These group sharing experiences can be powerful.

8. I love Dan’s examples here about staying on topic and not dwelling on trivial details. Encourage your narrator to build upon the flow of the story.  Sometimes surprisingly rich details will just flow out.  Also, you build up trust the more times you have interviewed someone.  You understand more of the context of the stories.  The narrator know you are eager to listen and to understand and out will come the story of an incident that they have not thought of for 70 years.

20141003_153503 - Tom Summers with three other Lieutenants in Korea about 1952

9. Their story is their story. I have been pleasantly surprised when a fact I thought I knew to be true about one family member, actually belonged to a different family member’s story.  I remembered clearly that my grandmother told me about the lights dimming in the gym when she was playing basketball. This meant they were electrocuting a prisoner on death row at Sing Sing Prison.  My mom corrected me, no… no, that was me when I was in college near Sing Sing. Another time, my client was sure that it was Susie… who got last at the World’s Fair, but a group of three over her children shared, oh, no… it was…!

10. Have I made the interview mistakes that Dan references… yes, these really caused me to reflect.  At one time or another I have made each of these mistakes.  The good news is that we learn from these. The other good news is that we get better and better at interviewing over time.  We learn when to let the interview flow, how to use nonverbal queues to encourage the narrator to continue, and how to actively listen so the story-teller can see we are engaged. They can see that we really want to hear the whole story.  We learn how and when to gently nudge or steer the conversation into a slightly different direction.  They see we are fighting not to laugh out loud, and sometime we just have to laugh with them. Sometimes I just have to saw Wow!

So wish me luck as I prepare to actively listen through the holiday season. I hope each of you will take time to share and record stories with family and friends during the holidays and during many other days throughout the year.

I wish each of you very Happy holidays filled with fun, fellowship and lots of good stories.

—————————–

Bruce Summers is a  Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He also serves as a Board Member and as Director – Chapters and Regions for the Association of Personal Historians

What does Thanksgiving mean?

24 Nov

Travelling

  • Over the river and through the woods
  • Or staying home
  • A time to record a new chapter of family stories

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Recording a new chapter for Thanksgiving? Hmm…

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Being there…

  • Wake up early
  • Help in the kitchen
  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Record a new chapter of stories – interview a loved one or a friend
  • The annual family chore
  • Polishing… the wood, the silver, and the plates
  • Favorite dishes
  • Setting the table
  • Share what you are thankful for… more stories

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Active Listening…

  • Share a story… what’s new, what do you remember…
  • Listen to a story…
  • Ask a question… what was Thanksgiving like…; did you ever attend the Macy’s parade in New York…?
  • Be prepared to…Turn on the voice recorder
  • Record a new chapter…
  • Follow-up during quiet time after the meal or the next day… Ask another question… take a photo…
  • Explore what’s in the basement… Where did you get that…?

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Traditions

  • Family
  • Something new
  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade… did you watch it when you were little…?
  • Hospitality… say thank you… take a picture or a video…
  • Record a new chapter?

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Whether you are celebrating old traditions, doing something new and different, far from home, or with friends and family, I hope you will take the time to record a new chapter, a few new stories, or a few old stories. You will be glad you did.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Bruce Summers, Personal History, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

Board Member Association of Personal Historians, Director of Regions and Chapters

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