Family History Archives - Heirloom Films and Storybooks

Category Archives for "Family History"

October 6, 2021

Scrapbook To Modern Family History Storybook

From Scrapbook To Modern Family History Storybook

How to convert an old scrapbook into an inspiring family history storybook!


The problem with those old photo albums is that they are not shareable. Sure, you can show it to people in the same room as you. But to really share an old photo album it needs to be digitized and then put somewhere family members can access it.

Personal historian Cory Bretz talks about how he digitizes old paper photo albums and scrapbooks, develops the images, and then designs a modern family history storybook. The point is to make the images easy to see, group them into spreads that are great for stories, and more importantly to add in text stories about the people, places, dates, and perhaps even a family tree and some recipes!

This project he's talking about in this video involves an old 1950s back paper album that had all the photos glued in at a 45 degree angle. The album pages seemed to be out of order because the sequence of images didn't make any sense. So Cory digitized the whole thing and reconstructed a 10 x 13 photo book that is print-ready and also sharable and readable online. 

September 20, 2021

Countdown To Christmas & Chanukah

Books & Films for Christmas and Chanukah

Giving Family History Films and Books   

If you wonder what you can give loved ones for Christmas or Chanukah this year that will wow them and be cherished...you've still got time!

With the start of Autumn you've got just enough time to put together a life story family history film or book. If you contact us soon we can still do the interviews, digitize the old photo collection, and put it all together into a keepsake that your family members will love. Wow them this holiday season.

Family History Storybooks
If you're thinking of a family history storybook perfectly suited for bedtime stories for your family's youngsters there is just enough time to get the book designed, proofed, and printed. Wrap the books up, put a bow on them and give them as gifts.

Family History Films
If you're thinking you'd rather give a family history film because you want to include the sound of people's voices, see the twinkle in their eye, moving imagery, and dramatic music in your movie, there is just enough time to schedule some video interviews, create the visuals, and design a movie that will fill their hearts. Imagine hosting your screening party on Zoom or in the livingroom so the whole family gets to be introduced to your ancestors!

Contact Cory Bretz to get your custom quote and get started today.

September 20, 2021

Walking Through Qualicum Beach Cemetery

Cory Bretz visiting ancestors at Qualicum Beach Cemetery

Recently personal historian Cory Brrtz was found walking through the rows of headstones at Qualicum Beach Cemetery. What Cory loves about cemeteries is that there are so many interesting people buried there who have had amazing lives. Our culture for many folks has taboos about speaking of the dead. Grief itself is often a difficult conversation for many to have. And we don't actually have an annual holiday to remember and honour our ancestors, unlike in other countries or cultures. The closest we come in Canada is Remembrance Day when we remember those who have fallen serving in Canada's military.

But the fact is we have countless cemeteries with people in them who in many ways have been forgotten. Yet they are the heroes of our families. These ancestors are the ones who lived through difficult times, overcame huge challenges, and managed to have positive, creative, and purposeful lives. Cory believes that as the next generation inherits all of the problems that we are leaving behind, they are going to need as much creativity, strength, and a sense of personal power that they can get. Connecting them with the knowledge of who their ancestors were can provide a sense of inspiration that lets grandchildren and great grandchildren know they come from a long line of amazing people who survived all sorts of complex, crazy and difficult situations.

If you're thinking about creating a book or a film about your family history that will inspire the Next Generation, starting with a walk in the cemetery might be a great place to start to pick out who the characters will be. Check back here to join in on the next Visiting Ancestors events with Cory Bretz at a cemetery near you. 

August 17, 2021

Vancouver Island Interviews & Photo Digitizing

Family HIstory Video Interview Comox Valley

Hello Qualicum Beach! Hello Parksville! Hello Comox! Hello Campbell River! Hello Nanaimo and Victoria! It's so exciting when I get to come visit. When I am in your neighbourhood I am there to do life story family history video interviews and old photo digitizing sessions. What that means is from the moment I walk through your front door until the time I leave we're going to be working on your family history film or book. The goal is to get it done so you can immediately begin educating and inspiring the next generation of your family.

The phase of gathering the interviews, figuring out the stories about your ancestors, looking through your genealogy, and trying to piece together the interesting and unique story of your family and your ancestors ... is so much fun. Every family and person has a story! To get ready, what I recommend you do is use our Life Story Questionnaire to scribble down what you know about the main characters of your book or film. You might have dozens or even hundreds of ancestors mapped out on your family tree but there's no way to adequately represent all of them in your family history keepsake so pick 5 to 10 ancestors who have interesting stories or who lived in interesting times. You can always add more later. 

The next thing that we're going to spend some time on while I'm with you is digitizing the imagery that's going to be on the pages of your book or layered into your film. It might be that you've got photo albums that have been carefully created by you or your parents or grandparents. Those we can digitize and even use some of the labels or annotations that have been lovingly applied naming the names of people and the places and the events. You might have a stack of old paper print photographs that are still in the original pouches from when they were developed. We can rapidly digitize those so that they can be also used. And you may even have enlarged photos that are framed and hung on the walls that we’ll digitize to be included in your film or book. No matter what kind of imagery you have we will be focussed on digitizing all of that and getting it into one virtual location so it's easy to work with when we're designing in your book or editing your film.

It's tempting to wait until you are “more organized”, until you’ve found every single last photo or genealogical fact. But here's some advice: don't wait. The reason is that there is a countless number of family history books and films that people intended to make but never got around to because they were still searching out details and photos. Those books and films never got made. Instead it's better to create something even if it's slightly incomplete and get it handed over to the next generation so they can start to be inspired by it, they can start to read the storybook to their kids at bedtime, they can be wowed by your family history film on their phones and tablets and computers right away.

My schedule fills up pretty quickly so if you'd like to arrange a life story video interview session or a photo digitization session or both just click Contact on my website and reach out so we can schedule your session. 

Number Five: Design

Five: Design

Design is partly about sequencing your story

Whether you are making a family history film or a book, there are a lot of design decisions that need to get made. Everything from colours to typeface, style, spacing, sequencing, and in the case of films there are other considerations like music and on-screen titling. Because your life story family history film or book is entirely unique you get to decide what it looks like, how it feels, and what the reader or viewer experiences. So you get to be creative. We highly discourage plagiarism or copyright infringement but it's okay to be inspired by someone else's design, other films you might have seen, other books that you might have read. Yours is going to be entirely different. Contents and many aspects of your book or film will be entirely unique.

In the case of a life story family history film or book the project is divided up into sections. In a film they're called parts. In a book they're called chapters. One of the dilemmas often facing folks with these kinds of projects is to decide the sequence that stories and characters are rolled out. For some, a purely chronological approach starting at the beginning of time and ending with the latest makes a lot of sense. For others following themes, ideas, philosophies, groupings of like people or objects or events is another way to go. And it gets more complex with lives because for most people when a child becomes an adult there are many forks in the road, many things happening all at once. For example, the young person finishes high school and then perhaps goes on to post-secondary education or maybe they start a job or they fall in love and get married. There's just three forks in the road right there. Some people do all three and so which do you cover first in the book or film? These are things for which there's no right answer for but you get to decide. Either way your viewers or readers are going to absolutely love the fact that they are experiencing your life story family history film or book. They’ll be grateful and inspired.

Metal-of-the-Earth-Cassidy-Family-History-Heirloom-Films

So those are the five things to consider when getting ready to get started on a life story life story family history film or book: Number One Characters & Genealogy, Number Two Stories, Number Three Interviews, Number Four Imagery, and Number Five Design. It's important to realize that these projects take time. If you include a considerable number of characters your project can take approximately a year, sometimes more to be completed. It's not full time work but it will take up some of your time and your focus and so you need to be prepared to follow it through.

But when your grandchildren and the great-grandchildren who haven’t even been born yet read your book as a bedtime story or watch your film and take it to school for Show-And-Tell their hearts filled with pride and joy and their minds energized with useful concepts about living a meaningful life. That makes all your efforts worth it!

Schedule a free Family History Zoom Consult with personal historian Cory Bretz.

Number Four: Imagery

Imagery for Family History Films and Books

All about the imagery that you might use in your life story family history film or book.

Photos, films and slides are the main imagery that will make your life story family history film or book visually captivating. See in your mind’s eye a beautiful montage of images of your grandmother at the same time your grandmother’s life story is being told, maybe with her voice or yours. Your family will love watching that at the next family gathering or on their own phones. Imagine flipping open your family history book and seeing all your grandfather’s photos displayed in one place, right beside the narrative about his life. Now that’s bedtime story material!

The most at-risk and most precious form of these visuals are the old photographs that are down in the basement, up in the attic, or in a box somewhere. Likely there may be only a few people living who remember the names of the family members in those old photos. So the clock is ticking on showing those old photos to the family’s elders and identifying them. Do it now. Once those living relatives are gone, the people in the old photos become lost, unknown faces and there really is no way to identify them. Facial recognition technology has come a long way but it only recognizes similar faces. Somebody still needs to do the identifying. 

Photo albums are very useful for video interviews. The Fingertip Tour is a method whereby the album is placed on a table and the Storyteller uses their finger to point out people in those old photos and tell their stories. The camera films over that person's shoulder down at the photo album. This is an excellent method for cataloging who the characters are in the photos. Old 8 mm films and slides and even analog video footage like camcorder tapes are perfect fodder for family history films and also books. They just need to be digitized correctly. Your personal historian from Heirloom Films can advise you on how best to handle this.

Don't overlook the hutch in the dining room behind those glass doors. Often there are medals and trophies and ribbons and certificates and cherished family keepsakes stored there. The visuals that illustrate the stories can trigger new stories and they might even lead to related publicly available newspaper articles, newsletters, and historical documents and books. Even old love letters can make beautiful visuals either scanned and directly applied to the pages of a book or shown in a family history film with a voiceover and some heartfelt music.

If you’ve got old paper print photos or slides that you’d like to digitize we can give you a quote and then help you make something out of them.

Schedule a free Family History Zoom Consult with personal historian Cory Bretz.


Number Three: Interviews

Family History Interviews

Good family history interviewing creates a recording, video and sound that can be used in your life story family history film or book.

In the making of any life story family history film or book inevitably there will have to be some interviews. Those who are still around know those old stories and are in a better position to guess. But somebody is going to have to ask them. That’s where interviews come in. With today's modern technology interviews can be conducted in a lot of simple ways. Still the best way is in-person, face-to-face with two COVID-19 vaccinated people in the room: Interviewer and the Storyteller. And you might have a techy friend handling gadgets like cameras, audio recorders, lights, batteries, etc so you can focus on the stories.

Interviewing isn’t hard if you do two things: Listen deeply and ask good questions. Typically an interview session is somewhere between two to four hours with breaks. A professional interviewer is skilled at being methodical in helping the Storyteller cover their stories in a way that makes sense, is interesting, and efficiently gathers the facts and the complete story. Sometimes using props like photos, mementos, trophies and memory zingers like newspaper headlines, letters, scrapbooks and documents can trigger stories that aren't actually forgotten but are just buried deep inside one's memory. Emotion is a key element of a Storyteller’s delivery and the Interviewer is key to creating a safe and non-judgemental space for deep sharing to happen.

Other methods of interviewing use online digital platforms like Zoom, Google Meetings, FaceTime, and Skype. The video quality might not be as good as being in the room with somebody with a great video camera but the fact that we can include people in films and books who are on the other side of the country or planet without having to get in an airplane is a huge advantage. It also adds powerful, credible content in a first hand kind of way. The trick is setting up a date and time with your interview subjects and making sure that they have a working internet connection and a webcam-equipped computer, tablet or phone. These virtual interviews turn out quite well actually.

The product of a good interview is a recording. The best approach is to record with video and sound and that way you can then later make either a film, book or both. The audio recording is most useful if transcribed into readable text so it can be searched and later used for reference when editing video or edited into a readable narrative for your book. Even the old-fashioned telephone works good enough for story-gathering and smart phones have great apps that can record an interview phone call and automatically transcribe the audio into editable text!

Personal historian Cory Bretz can coach you on how best to use these technologies so you can record the stories of your family members. Or you can schedule Cory to do the interviews for you in-person in British Columbia or online almost anywhere.

Schedule a free Family History Zoom Consult with personal historian Cory Bretz.

And to get you started, download free 110 Interview Questions that you might ask your Storyteller during an interview. 

Number Two: Stories

“Once upon a time there was … “ Life story family history films and books are basically just stories combined with images. Having genealogical information like dates of birth and dates of death and places is nice, perhaps even important but the main ingredient of any interesting and inspiring family keepsake is stories. Each of the characters in your book or film has a story and it's based on the challenges and triumphs of their life. They grew up somewhere and perhaps moved somewhere else. There were certain things going on in their town or city. Their lives and choices were influenced by world events. They had interactions, partnerships, conflicts and love affairs with other people. And everybody has accomplishments, big and small. Stories don't have to be earth-shattering or epic, but there does need to be a story.

The nice thing in storytelling about people who have passed on already like your ancestors is that there's very few people around who can dispute the stories that you tell about them. So the invitation is to gather what you can about each person and then make some assumptions, draw some conclusions, maybe even give yourself a little artistic license to add a touch of fiction to round out the story. You see this all the time: “Based on a true story”. The point is to honour and celebrate that ancestor. A good story is a great way to do it.

When I was growing up, my uncle told me many amazing, inspiring big fish stories. As I look back (and after doing some some research) I would say about a third of those stories were actually true and the other two-thirds were brilliant make-believe! As a kid I loved those tales and learned lots about life. Allow yourself to nurture your family’s kids with nourishing, entertaining stories.

To help you with your storytelling we created the Life Story Questionnaire. Just by filling out this document for each of your characters you’ll be able to hone in on things like schools, careers, military service, places, historical events, achievements, and relationships so that you can surmise their story. It’s not a difficult process. And you’ll be surprised about how much you actually know about your ancestors.

Stories have a typical formula. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The most versatile storytelling metaphor is “The Hero’s Journey”. You can use it to sequence the happenings of an ancestor’s life into a compelling and meaningful adventure that makes your readers and viewers look forward to the next bit of the story and they’ll think you’re a master writer. Writing and editing is easy for some and more difficult for others. If you get stuck personal historian Cory Bretz can help you with this creative process so it becomes fun and rewarding. Or he can ghost-write it for you so you can take the credit without any of the frustrations!

To get started, download the Life Story Questionnaire for free. You can also schedule a free Family History Consult on Zoom with personal historian Cory Bretz to strategize your best storytelling approach.

Read Number Three: Interviews [COMING SOON]

In the meantime, check out some samples of life story family history films and books to get some ideas for your project. 

Number One: Characters & Genealogy

Number One: Characters & Genealogy

You already know that you are getting involved in a family history project that is both very inspiring and valuable to your descendants. You can see the smiling faces of your future great grandchildren reading your book or watching your film. And you’re also probably figuring out that this labour of love requires an investment of your time, money, and perhaps your creativity too. You can definitely do it yourself but you’ll increase your chances of success if you get some help. Personal historian Cory Bretz talks about the Five Things For Getting Started that will need your attention, time, energy, and decision-making ability. 

Number One: Characters & Genealogy


All films and books are finite — you can only cram in so many people’s stories. Decide who the main characters are going to be in your life story family history film or book. Yup, pick out which relatives are going to be the stars. Be certain to include yourself and perhaps your spouse(s). Make a list of your parents, step parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, maybe even your children and grandchildren who you think need to be reflected in your film or book. Having that list of names helps you focus in on what information and imagery will be needed to put this project together. Understanding the breadth of characters and the stories that they represent determines the amount of time, effort and very likely the money that you'll need to make available to create this amazing family keepsake … and to do justice in honouring those ancestors.

To help you with this step we developed the Family Tree Chart that makes it simple to map out who your relatives are so you can start making casting decisions. This is also the time to go crazy with DNA and genealogy because you will be needing the basics about your characters. WARNING: Genealogy can be highly addictive and will definitely prevent you from getting to the next next steps if you get stuck there. Resist the temptation to add another 100 ancestors to your tree. While that might be fun and even valuable, those ancestors won’t be featured in your film or book and you could be wasting precious time for the next crucial step.

Building a basic family tree is a useful step because it can be reflected as an illustrative graphic in your life story family history film or book to explain how your weird uncle is actually related.

At Heirloom Films and Storybooks we can help you coach you on genealogy, research it for you, and we’ll put together that family tree. You can schedule a free Family History Consult on Zoom.

Download our free Family Tree Chart  to get started casting your characters.

Click to read Number Two: Stories

Five Things To Get Ready

Five Things To Get Ready

So you think you're ready to make your life story family history film or book, right? Maybe you’ve already started or you’re stuck somewhere in the process. Or maybe you just lay awake at night thinking about it! You just want to get it done! Let's talk about what's involved in being ready to move forward.

You already know that you are getting involved in a project that is both very inspiring and valuable to your descendants. You can see the smiling faces of your future great grandchildren reading your book or watching your film. And you’re also probably figuring out that this labour of love requires an investment of your time, money, and perhaps your creativity too. You can definitely do it yourself but you’ll increase your chances of success if you get some help. Personal historian Cory Bretz talks about the Five Things For Getting Started that will need your attention, time, energy, and decision-making ability.

Why does all this matter? If you don’t get done your life story family history film or book your descendants are very likely to have absolutely no comprehension of who your parents really were. They certainly will not understand anything about your grandparents. Your grandkids and future great grandchildren won’t see any inspiring examples of related family members who lived meaningful lives, with beauty, genius, determination, and vision. All of that will vanish in an instant if you don't get done your book or film. Sorry to be melodramatic but it’s true.

On the plus side, getting done your project and being able to give the next generation a beautiful and educational life story family history film or book will make them proud to be members of your family. You’ll be inspiring them to greater things, giving them values and concepts that embolden them, encourage them, and help them through tough times...forever. You’ll be helping the next generation understand that they come from a long line of amazing people. Just imagine how good it’s going to feel to be part of creating that positive legacy in this world.

Being efficient and effective is the name of the game in getting done your life story family history film or book.

Here's five things that you’ve got to look at as you get started. You don’t have to do them alone but you or somebody else has to do them. Maybe your kids or your siblings will come up with something...or not. But these five things have to be done to inspire the next generation. And who’s the perfect person to do it? The perspective that they need to survive and thrive in the future? Yours. You can do it. And our personal historian Cory Bretz can help.

Here goes. Click to Read Number One: Characters & Genealogy

Also, check out some samples of life story family history films and books to get some ideas for your project. 

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