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20 Ways to Preserve Your Family History

July 30, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPreserving family history is important for many people. We pass information from generation to generation that may seem ordinary and unremarkable. We often don’t think our lives are anything special but what interest is there in recording family history?

For some even outside their family it’s a fascinating look at a time in history or an event. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne Frank and many others recorded their family history that became, in the eyes of many are now classics. When it is your own family history it is a link to people we never met.

October is family history month but don’t wait until then to start. There are many ways you can preserve your family history that can be precious information to grandchildren, and their grandchildren. Here are some ways to preserve stories of life now for them, in a gift no money can buy.

1.Start a journal. It doesn’t have to be a “dear diary” kind of thing, but gives more information than a simple appointment calendar. This can be a catchall for recording large amounts of information. You can use a computer if you’re more comfortable typing than writing, but back up regularly and print out regularly.

2. When major events happen get a newspaper or magazine of the coverage but don’t stop there. Go to that journal and record what your thoughts are on it.

3. Print and record photos, both still digital and video. Be sure to update these as technology changes – which it can do tremendously in a lifetime! The old Brownie cameras or early point and shoot were modern for their time but are antiques in a digital world.

4.Record household and maintenance tips. This can be anything from home maintenance to maintaining today’s vehicles (or yesterday’s classics!).

5. Favorite family recipes. Whether it’s a special seasoning that goes into the stuffing at Thanksgiving or a traditional summer picnic salad they are valued. So many people browse recipe sites today looking for “grandma’s recipe that had (whatever ingredient) in it” because it was lost when grandma died.

6. Family traditions and the meaning behind them. Do you tell the Christmas story every year? Or perhaps you celebrate on Christmas Eve or the 4th of July is a big decorating day around your home. How do these traditions get started?

7. For families with military members recording information can give a glimpse at the difficulties that may be different from others who served. Recording family history showed my grandfather, who I never knew, serving in World War I and, among other duties, handling horses on the battlefield. Others might have handled dogs, or met special people even from the “opposing side” that made a difference.

8. Do a “day in the life” journal entry. What duties do you do on a typical day and how has that changed from 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

9. Record some different places you’ve lived and what it was like when you lived there. As some cities grow even 20 years changes the landscape drastically.

10. If you’ve always lived in the same town how has it changed over the years and what has stayed the same? What are town festivals, fixtures and celebrities?

11. Describe a typical day of your youth, and as a teenager. Are you where you thought you’d be at this point in time? What is different?

12. How did you meet your spouse? Describe him or her as if introducing to someone who doesn’t know them.

13. What is popular culture? What do you remember of the ’60s? 70s? 80s? 90s?

14. Record your reactions to things that have happened. 9/11, presidential deaths, presidential elections, times when we say “this is history.” This is an even stronger message for those who in some way had a part in it.

15. Have a box of preserved family momentos and what they mean. That scarf may be just an old scarf to someone who doesn’t know it was a gift from someone who saved your life. Too often the stories fade and each one is a piece of family history lost forever.

16.Record memories of family members including descriptions, mannerisms or accents. “introduce” your mother, grandmother, perhaps great grandmother to a great granddaughter you may never meet and it’s a look six or seven generations in the past.

17. Describe people who made a difference in your life whether a friend, neighbor or passing stranger. The ordinary is still history, and what is ordinary to us may not be to others.

18. Keep photocopies of birth and marriage certificates as well as death certificates. Medical documentation including not only history of heart disease and diabetes but recording also more unusual conditions. In our family we found that on the women’s side of the family several were genetically born with one kidney. While it’s true many of these women lived full lives it’s also something that can affect future generations if someone has one kidney and something happens to damage that one kidney.

19. Record the stories passed down from family elders that perhaps have never been written down. Capture beliefs and wisdom that used to be passed along verbally.

20. If much of the immediate family is alive turn on an audio recorder or video recorder and just carry on normal conversation sharing memories. This preserves precious images and the voices of those people who are gone from our lives far too soon.

We all think that we have forever. We picture and plan for retirement and imagine being 80 or 90 and wondering if we’ll be in a senior home. The truth is any of us can be gone tomorrow and with it those stories are lost. Whether we’re 25, 40 or 60 start documenting this family history – it’s your history.

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