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Family history: Preserving memories for future generations.
Curiosity about family history, where we came from and how we became what we are today, is a part of human nature. By finding ways to preserve this history, future generations can know what brought them here and have a better understanding of their past. It’s not just about knowing your great-great-grandmother’s name, but understanding the lives, struggles, joys, and events that shaped their world, and ultimately, your world.
Have you ever wondered what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression? Did your parents ever travel in a VW Microbus? Where did your grandparents grow up – in the country or in the big city? Who did they admire? Was there running water in their home, or did they warm water on the stove to take a bath? When did they first see a color television set? What was your Mom’s favorite activity as a child? Does your Grandfather have siblings?
Every life has a story wrapped up in memories and emotions, not just “facts”. Maybe you know where Grandpa grew up, but did you know how he felt struggling to start his own business? His drive and ambition could be an example to future generations. Do you know how & why he asked your Grandmother to marry him? His thoughtfulness and caring may have been a model of behavior that has been passed down.
Secrets shared between brothers and sisters, activities like backyard barbecues and vacations with cousins, a first car, first date, or first kiss, serving in the military, building a career, saving for that first home, and raising children. All of these combine to shape us as it shaped those before us. Preserving these stories and memories for future generations is a gift that helps bring richness and depth to your family’s history and an appreciation for your heritage. Preservation of history can be accomplished in many ways. Here are some examples.
1. Digitize Photos & Documents
Preserve documents, photos, and slides by transferring them to an electronic medium – your computer, “the cloud”, a DVD. Pictures and documents can be scanned directly to the computer, using a regular scanner or a handheld device like this one for mobile use. If they are in fragile condition, consult a professional for advice on preservation. Slides can be converted to digital images using a converter like this Wolverine FD2 device. The bottom line is, preserving history through a digital process will help to ensure the survival of these treasures in the event of disasters such as fire, tornado, hurricane, or flood.
2. Create a Memory Book
Purchase a journal for the older adults in your family. Some journals are designed to present questions about the past and give the writer space to answer and discuss their lives. If they are unable to write their answers, send a family “reporter” to document their responses. Memory books can be created from photos that have been scanned using services like Shutterfly or Snapfish. StoryWorth even has an audio option for those who rather speak their memories. With this service, a weekly question is sent to the storyteller who can submit their answers by email or by voice and at the end of the year, a keepsake memory book is created from the submissions received. No matter the approach, creating a memory book can provide a glimpse into the events, feelings, and memories of your family members from their perspective, in their own words.
3. Collect Family Recipes
Do you remember that delicious apple pie your aunt made every Christmas? Did your family have a special dish, like our Whipped Cream Salad that was always present at family gatherings? Does your Grandpa make a killer barbecue sauce? Celebrations with family usually include food. Close your eyes and think of Thanksgiving. Memories come, tied to the smells of turkey baking or the taste of the pumpkin pie.
Gather recipes from your family and create a family recipe book by using something already available like this organizer, which can store recipe cards, photos and has a place for your own handwritten recipes. Recipes and pictures can also be posted online, like Grandma Grace’s Christmas Tree Cookies (above). Recipe cards can be sent to your older family members, asking them to share the recipes that they know are traditional or special to them and the family. These can then passed on to sisters, brother, children or cousins. A treasury of family recipes would even make a wonderful gift!
4. Ask about the Story of “Things”
This little pitcher belonged to my Great-grandmother. It was passed to my Grandad, my mom, and now to me. I know this because it has their notes inside, in their own handwriting, telling me so. Having this little pitcher is not as special, though, as knowing that my Grandad (Pop) was thinking of me when he wrote this note. It’s probably time for me to write my own note designating the next one to continue caring for this special family memento.
Most older folks enjoy talking about the past and are happy to share information about the “things” in their family. Where did they get that old clock on the mantle? Who has owned that antique kitchen table? Ask questions and discover which “things” carry important memories and are considered special to your family.
5. Travel Together
Spending time traveling together gives an opportunity for conversations that may not take place in other circumstances. Subjects are rarely discussed in detail at simple family dinners. However, travel experiences, such as visiting a hometown together, can bring back those memories, otherwise forgotten, and encourage further exploration of the past. Seeing where Grandpa grew up, meeting people and hearing stories from those who knew him “back when” may provide a clearer picture of how things really were in his past. Weekend getaways or extended vacations can result in an appreciation of each other’s personality and perspective.
In order to preserve family histories for future generations, a conscious effort should be made to gather pertinent information about our past. Make an effort to get to know the older generation. They have a lot to share, not only information which can make a positive impact on individuals of the future, but which could make a significant impact on the current generation, you.
Have you made an effort to talk to your parents or grandparents about their past? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you!