"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Five Ways to Learn About and Preserve Family History

This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of my grandmother (on my father’s side). That’s her in the picture. In the six months that followed I lost two more grandmothers (both my mom and my stepfathers mothers).

I talked about writing and editing through grief here.

Now that I’ve had six months since the passing of that third grandmother, I find I’m still spending time writing stories involving them. Nonfiction seems to be the center of my writing at the moment. I find myself remembering small details and needing to record them.

Even when I take a break from writing about them, whether I’m writing something else, or just participating in the everyday activities of life, surprising moments trigger recollections.

I often wish I had spent more time recording things while they were alive. I long to hear their own impressions and memories; tales of family heritage, coming from another country, learning a new way of life, and discovering new reasons to live. Sadly though, I never recorded the stories they shared.

I wish I had asked more questions about family, circumstances, and feelings. It’s the kind of personal knowledge that not even my parents can share, though they do share their own memories.

I’m piecing together my family’s story. I have very little information from before my great grandparents – for now. So, how do I discover which tales are true? Am I really related to Scottish royalty, was my great grandmother really a Native American, did we have Jewish ancestors, or someone in the army under Sam Houston?

Here are five steps that will help anyone researching family.
  1. Interview Parents and/or Grandparents – Any family get together is the perfect time to pay attention. Before you visit them or attend a family reunion (where multiple viewpoints are available) brainstorm a list of questions. What was it like when grandpa was growing up? What was his favorite toy? An important memory? His best friend? Did anyone enlist in the military? Live through a war? What important historical events were they alive during? Consider videotaping the conversations so you can have a visual record of your loved one’s voice and personality.
  2. Research - Visit free popular search engines such as Ancestry.com, RootsWeb.com, FamilySearch.org, or even just Google.com. Plug in first and last names of family members, and use what you learn to create a family tree with your relatives’ names, countries of origin and other fun facts.
  3. Read, Listen, Watch - Check out books or videos about the countries connected to your family history. Explore them with other family members to get their impressions. What interesting facts did you learn? Where would you want to visit, if you could? What would you like to know more about? You can even use Google Earth on the computer to take a “virtual” vacation to those places!
  4. Recreate a Family Story - Identify an interesting historical event that took place during an ancestor’s lifetime and use questions to help bring that person to life. Was she a nurse during a war? What would she have seen or heard? Was he an artist during a revolution? What might he have painted? Encourage family members to write a story, record their own memories, or create artwork based on what they know. Have them share it with the family.
  5. Host a Family Culture Day - August 1 is American Family Day, so why not create a new family tradition that incorporates what you’ve discovered? Cook a dish native to an ancestor’s country, or play a game popular during that person’s life. That would be a great day to host a family reunion or share #4.

What will or have you done to learn more about your family history?


Jeff Hargett said...

My sympathy to you and your family. It has been almost seven months now since I lost my wife. I've written very little since--aside from the hundreds of pages worth of letters to her that I keep in a set of journals. I managed to gather quite a bit about our family trees decades ago. It's something priceless that can be handed down to future generations.

Sylvia Ney said...

Jeff - I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't imagine the pain of losing a spouse. I pray you find the courage and peace you need to continue on the road to a happy life.

Remembering Grace said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my grandmother in June of 2011, and I'm still grieving. I guess you never stop. My blog really helped a lot that first year when everything was so difficult.

Nicole said...

Sorry to hear about your losses. Family is so precios! I took some time this past holiday season to interview my grandpa - it was so fun and wonderful and fascinating! He is full of stories.

Nicole said...