Review: ObitKit™


Does the idea of writing an obituary for a loved one who is still living, or perhaps even your own obituary, make you uncomfortable? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way according to Susan Soper, author of ObitKit™  A Guide to Celebrating Your Life.

The key word in the paragraph above is celebrating. Very often an obituary is hastily written, even at times when death is expected and imminent. With ObitKit™, an easy-to-use workbook, the process is one in which you can have full input and control. Soper provides a wide-array of prompts and even touching quotes to write not only your own obituary, but even funeral programs and other items to memorialize your time here on Earth.

After a brief introduction on why Soper developed ObitKit™ and a review of the history of obituaries and death notices, it is time to sharpen your pencils (as Soper puts it) and get to work documenting a “life well-lived.” In this day of wedding planners and the ability to plan almost every aspect of life’s celebrations, why wouldn’t you want to also have control over that final celebration?

Writing a Multi-Faceted Obituary

Over the course of many pages Soper prompts you with questions about every aspect of your life, from the basic vital information all the way to your mentors and heroes. Interspersed among the prompts are examples of actual obituaries of ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.

While I worked through the prompts, at no time did I feel uncomfortable in the writing process.  It felt like an interview in every way, shape and form. As a genealogist, I was also happy to see that Soper included prompts on family stories and traditions.

The Practical Side of Death

Also included in ObitKit™ are some common-sense and practical steps for leaving a legacy. In the chapter On a Practical Note, Soper helps you document information such as whether or not you are an organ donor, the location of your will, etc. Entering this information will make it easier for your loved ones to not only take care of details, but also let them spend more time celebrating your life rather than on a scavenger hunt for documents and details.

Be Practical and Celebrate Your Life

My favorite chapters in ObitKit™ are Planning a Service and Programs for Funerals and Memorial Services since they are not just filled with practical advice, but a variety of poems and quotes to be used in funeral programs and memorial books.


At first, I was not sure that I could write my own obituary – even after having written my mother’s obituary (she has not yet passed). But as I worked through the pages of ObitKit™, the process made sense and at no time was I ever “uncomfortable.” I think that the combination of prompts and Soper’s comforting and practical advice made the process actually enjoyable. As genealogists we love telling the stories of our ancestors, so why shouldn’t we also enjoy telling our own story?

The ObitKit™ is a practical way to not only take control over how your own story is written, but it can help and comfort someone who needs to write the obituary for a loved one or a friend. At the very least, it should be part of a family’s estate planning materials and the planning process. Thanks to Soper’s approach with this delicate subject, the task of writing an obituary becomes “normal” and the end product will be a memorial that can comfort friends and family in the future.

Visit the ObitKit™ website at to learn more and to order your copy today.

Disclosure:  Upon request, I received a complimentary copy of ObitKit™ from the author for review purposes. Please see Disclosure Statements ( for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Review – Vintage Aerial

Vintage Aerial

Over the past few months, I’ve worked with the folks at Vintage Aerial to learn more about their archive of over 25 million aerial photos and their product line. In addition, I’ve gotten to know a few of the Vintage Aerial staff as we’ve discussed the genealogy industry and how companies are using social media to sell their products and services.

During our interactions I was asked to review the “Vintage Aerial experience” as I call it: this includes the start to finish process of locating and selecting an image from their archives as well as receiving the framed print.

Locating and Selecting Images

When you visit the Vintage Aerial website, you first select a state and a county from a drop-down list. Then you provide contact information for yourself and details about the property including cross-roads. Click submit and a Vintage Aerial librarian will contact you via phone or email, depending upon what information you’ve provided.

Why aren’t the images available online? Realize that out of the 25 million images, only about 2 million have actually been digitized. Images are located by a librarian and digitized on-demand for the potential Vintage Aerial customer.

I received hyperlinks to several rolls of film that had been digitized for me. I was able to proceed up and down the backroads in the area where I grew up. I was thrilled to see some farms and home that I remember from my youth. While they didn’t belong to my family, I did recognize them and the memories came flooding back.

Eventually, I was able to locate an image that I liked and that had significance for me:

Vanderbilt Mansion

No, this is not the Macentee homestead. It is an aerial view of the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, Dutchess County, New York. I grew up in this area and the mansion is situated on the Hudson River, about 2 miles north of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site.

Why did I select this image? While Vintage Aerial has a vast archive of images covering rural areas of 41 states, in my little neck of the woods where I grew up, there were no images pertinent to my own family history – or at least none that I could readily identify and locate with the help of the Vintage Aerial librarians. I did not have the exact current address for some of the old Austin and Putman farms from the early or even late 1800s.

So I opted for an image that brought back memories of exploring the history of New York’s Hudson River Valley as a child through various trips with my family.


I’m assuming that many visitors to the Vintage Aerial website will balk at purchasing a framed print starting at $349. I actually did a double-take when I first saw the pricing structure. In gathering more information from the Vintage Aerial website and talking with the Vintage Aerial staff, I have a better understanding of the current price point:

  • The finished product is a framed print of the highest quality. It is not a quickly produced photo slapped into the cheapest frame available. Vintage Aerial uses quality finishes on both its frames and the print.
  • With only 2 million of the 25 million archived aerial photos actually digitized, the vast majority of images must be pulled and digitized on demand for the customer.
  • The finished product is unique – no other vendor has access to these images nor can they produce a print of this quality. The framed print is meant to be an heirloom and bring back memories as well as create conversation for those who view it.

I understand the situation Vintage Aerial is in with regards to digitization: it is not cost effective to digitize the entire collection without bringing in a partner vendor to do so. Most partners would want rights to the collection and the ability to provide the images to their users (think FamilySearch or So for now, the cost of a personal consultation with a potential customer, pulling images and digitizing on demand have to be covered by the price point of the end product.

I also have an appreciation for Vintage Aerial wanting to maintain the rights to the images and control their usage. I would hate to see tacky, schlocky products created using an image of my family’s homestead (I’m thinking Cafe Press Boxer Shorts or worse). Personally, I’d love to be able to create a t-shirt for family reunions with an image or a calendar with a series of images from Vintage Aerial (hint, hint).

The Framed Vintage Aerial Print

Once my order was placed with Vintage Aerial, I anxiously waited for the product to arrive.  And once I did, I was impressed with several aspects:

  • The product was well-packaged. Personally, having ordered many items online, I know how important this is especially when dealing with art work.
  • Overall, the quality of the frame, the frame finish and color, and the print finish are excellent. It is what I would expect when ordering an heirloom item for a friend or family member.

Vintage Aerial - Vanderbilt Mansion

Above, the framed print of the Vanderbilt Mansion on my office wall.

  • Turning the item over, I could see how carefully the print was framed. Included on the back was a Certificate of Authenticity as well as hanging wire and supplies.

Vintage Aerial - COA and backing

Above, the back of the framed print complete with Certificate of Authenticity and hanging supplies.

The finished product from Vintage Aerial is everything I would expect in terms of a high-quality heirloom at the price point available. There is nothing cheap or shoddy here; there were no corners cut in producing the framed print. This is artwork. Artwork that can bring back memories for a family.


Vintage Aerial provides a unique, high-quality product that is certain to impress any friend or family member who receives it and the “finished product” is excellent in terms of quality of the frame and photo finish.

Working with the Vintage Aerial librarians and staff to locate an image might seem cumbersome to some, but I actually enjoyed the process since just exploring the areas where I grew up brought back so many memories.  I don’t think this is just a “genealogist” thing – I believe that most visitors will have the same experience in trying to select just the right image to be printed and framed.

Personally I feel that the price point is a bit on the high end for the genealogy market; however, over time I hope that the pricing will be more in line with other items available in the “memory keeping” area of genealogy products. Also, I hope to see Vintage Aerial provide other products using images from their vast library of photographs.

Overall, I think the Vintage Aerial experience is unique and its products are high quality and a great way to capture a family’s memories.

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Disclosure statement: I was contacted by email to review a Vintage Aerial product and the process involved in locating and selecting a photograph.  I received a complimentary 12 x 18 framed print of my choice from Vintage Aerial valued at $349 for review purposes. After the review, I retained the product to hang in my home office. In addition, I have contributed blog posts to the Vintage Aerial blog .  To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Review – Revolutionary War Pensions

Revolutionary War Pensions

The title Revolutionary War Pensions – Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905 may seem long and a mouthful but it does not even begin to describe this gold mine of a genealogy research resource.

The author, genealogist and Revolutionary War expert Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck has spent considerable time and energy taking many different sources to hammer together this tome with close to 1,100 pages. While a researcher could access the many different federal and state resources Bockstruck used to reconstruct Revolutionary War pension records, Revolutionary War Pensions is a convenient way to research your ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War.

Reconstructing Lost Pension Files

So why is this such a valuable and long-awaited resource? As Bockstruck describes in his introduction, Revolutionary War Pensions is:

” . . . an attempt to identify and recreate the Revolutionary War pension files generated prior to the disastrous conflagration  in the War Department on 8 November 1800, which destroyed nearly a quarter-century of records. Despite the best efforts on the part of the War and Treasury Departments to reconstruct the files . . . .

“. . . a second and even more disastrous fire occurred during the War of 1812 on 24 August 1814 with the British invasion of Washington. The second fire effectively destroyed all the pension files from 1776 to 1814.”

Bockstruck has been able to effectively “reconstruct” the files for over 16,500 pensioners. In doing so, he used various sources including pension records from the governments of each of the original thirteen states as well as acts of Congress between 1792 and 1840.

Besides the more than 16,500 pensioners listed, over 15,000 additional individuals are mentioned including widows and family members. Entries also include service dates, dates of battles and engagements, wounds received, and more.


The soft cover book is fully indexed by surname and also includes Bockstruck’s background information on each resource. Especially helpful is the breakdown by state of each resource and what acts of each state legislature were enacted to create pensions, disburse payments and collect information.

Revolutionary War Pensions is a “must have” for any professional genealogist whose client research involves Revolutionary War soldiers. In addition, individuals with extensive early American roots should consider purchasing Revolutionary War Pensions.

Disclosure statement: I was contacted by Genealogical Publishing Co. via mail to review Revolutionary War Pensions and a complimentary copy was delivered to me. After reviewing the book, I will be giving the copy away in a contest here at GeneaBloggers and in conjunction with GeneaBloggers Radio.  To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee