THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2013 Photo by Randi Donahue
James Wood and Kate Thomas conduct an interview for a family’s book and documentary.
TRUE TALES by Randi Donahue Managing Editor
James Wood and Kate Thomas help Sarasota families preserve their genealogy through books and documentaries. Four-year-old Parker Menough and his 6-year-old sister, Savannah, don’t know that a relative on their mother’s side volunteered to fight in the American Revolution four times. Or that their heritage on their father’s side is traceable back to the 1500s. But, their parents, Aaron and Amanda, are about to change that. Enter James Wood and his wife, Kate Thomas. After the couple moved in October 2012 to Palmer Ranch from London, with their daughter, Penelope, they established The Tale of You — a U.S. version of a business with which they’d already found success overseas. Now, people contact Wood and Thomas to have their family histories brought to life. Through a set of interviews and researched genealogy, the couple handcrafts clients’ biographies in both print and multimedia formats. According to Wood, Thomas turns to the obituaries first in the newspaper. Thomas’ love of everyday people’s stories sparked the business idea. The couple wanted a way for people to tell their own tale and to feel the benefit of it while they were still alive. “Life rattles along at such a fast pace, but when we see people reflect and feel their existence, it
always surprises us how emotional they can get,” says Wood. Thomas says most clients aren’t used to having people listen to their story. “I love it when you ask a question that they hadn’t thought of before and that allows them to appreciate their own life,” she says. Wood, whose background is in technology, films and edits the interviews while Thomas, who has a master’s in creative writing, conducts the interviews and then transcribes them. She combines the interview with her researched genealogy to turn the words into stories. The finished products include a documentary-style video and a hand-bound book, both of which can be passed down from generation to generation. The Tale of You’s multimedia component offers a way for children in today’s fast-paced and technology-driven society to learn about their origins. Wood sees it as a way to bridge the generation gap. “There is so much value in having someone’s story documented for their own cathartic benefit, but also for lessons that can be learned and to pass down to future generations,” says Wood. As The Tale of You’s first Sarasota clients, the Menoughs chose to do a video and
a book. “I wanted (them to see) my parents on video and hear first-hand stories of how their grandparents told those stories,” says Amanda Menough. For Thomas, piecing together the genealogy is a lot like being a detective. To find clients’ true lines of lineage, she goes through source documents, such as censuses, that date back to the early 1800s. Through her research, the thing that’s been most surprising to Thomas is the number of people who have been in America for hundreds of years. The Tale of You clarifies family stories that have been told for years, many of which have become muddled due to a long game of genealogical telephone. “I’ve heard my parents tell stories of how my family was related, but it started to become mythology to me,” says Aaron Menough. But, he says working with Wood and Thomas has given him a sense of organization and certainty about where he comes from. “Holding the end result in my hand and seeing 500 years of history makes it come alive and very tangible.” For more information on The Tale of You, visit taleofyou.com.
Kate Thomas, who was born in Texas, assumed her family was a more recent addition to the America. But she discovered through her research that her great uncle was Peter Gideon, a horticulturist and farmer in Minnesota in the 1800s, who after years of trying to grow things in the harsh Minnesota climate eventually prevailed and was attributed with breeding and growing the “wealthy” apple. By the early 20th century the wealthy apple was one of the top-five apples
grown in the U.S. Although Thomas has had success discovering her own story, it was not the case for her husband, James Wood. Records are harder to find in England, where he was born. “My grandfather was very important to me, and he died when I was young,” says Wood. “He used to tell me all sorts of wild stories, mostly about how he lost his finger in World War II. There is not a week that goes by when I don’t wish that I knew more about his life in Liverpool and his memories of driving tanks in Africa, being married, having kids … etc.”
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