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When you think of road trips, the first things that probably come to mind are awesome playlists, random snack stops, and whether your Subaru will make it all the way there (don't worry, it will).

You might not think of somebody like Marcia Orland, who hit the open road this summer after her 76th birthday.


Marcia Orland with a picture of herself as a child growing up in Warsaw, New York, and with a map of her trip. Image by Pam McComb Podmostko, used with permission.

She wasn't just looking to visit antique shops and disconnect for a while. The trip was a way for her to reunite with relatives she grew up with in the upstate New York town of Warsaw, an hour's ride east of Buffalo, and capture their childhood memories and family stories.

“I hadn't seen my cousins in 50 or 60 years, and I realized if I didn't do it now, the stories would be lost forever," Orland said.

She hunkered down in her home in Summerland, California, a beach town near Santa Barbara, and mapped out a 37-day road trip to visit her cousins, who were spread out throughout the country from Tucson, Arizona, to Fairport, New York.

Marcia connects the dots. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

In preparation for the trip, she started a GoFundMe campaign to help with the cost of the hotel stays, food, fuel, and the Toyota Prius she rented (by the end of the trip she had raised $5,500 of the $6,950 she requested).

Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

The packing was relatively light: She took two suitcases of clothes, an iPod and laptop, CDs of family photos, digitized old family films, and a cooler for water and snacks.

Along with the provisions, she also packed two video cameras (she mounted one on the dashboard), a tripod, a microphone, and four external hard drives. Orland has been a personal historian for 11 years, which means she helps families tell their stories in video and print form. Now she's applying those skills to her own life — she plans to make a documentary about the trip.

Capturing the trek with a dash cam. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

By the time she left on Aug. 2, she was excited.

“I had been looking forward to the trip for so long, I was happy to finally start it," she said. “I had originally had the idea for the trip in 2010, but life kept getting in the way. As I was leaving, I realized I was accomplishing something fun and meaningful, and I felt proud."

On the journey, Orland was hoping her cousins could tell her more about her parents and her aunts and uncles.


Marcia and her cousin Bill Embury in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

She wanted to learn things about their early years in Warsaw and gain more insight into their family dynamics.

Her cousins confirmed and added to the memories she had. “We talked about the simplicity of the times we grew up in, the feeling of being safe in spite of World War II going on, and the relaxed small-town atmosphere," said Orland.

Marcia and another cousin, Diantha Heitmiller, in Richmond, Virginia. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

Along the way, she also encouraged people to save their own family stories (as a good personal historian must do!).

To accomplish this, she posted clips of her travels on Facebook (#FindMarcia) and held “show and tell" events, where community members in the places she visited shared stories about heirlooms, mementos, and precious objects.

Orland originally became interested in helping people preserve their memories after her parents died just a few weeks apart in 2004. She founded her company, Afterglow Media, the same year, with the goal of helping others preserve their histories.

As for people interested in creating their own epic family history road trip, she recommends having a plan and preparing as much as possible, but to expect the unexpected.

“For instance, at one personal history 'show and tell' event that I hosted, I noticed a 13-year-old boy sitting at a nearby table listening to the stories being told by the adults," she said. “I asked him if he'd like to join us, and he eagerly did. When the participants realized how much the stories meant to him, it did more to inspire them to continue personal history conversations with their own families than anything I could have said to them. It was a wonderful moment."

You can watch Marcia Orland talk about her trip here:

Sometimes it's not about the destination, but the memories we form along the way.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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