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Monday, 14 November 2011

Preserving Your Family History

Preserve Your Family History

Most genealogy researchers will tell you that they are searching not only to find out about their history but also to keep their family’s history alive for future generations. So, now that we have those research documents, bits of scrap paper, newspaper clippings, photos, e-mails and other assorted bits of “research”, how do we preserve them for future generations? There are a number of options. Here are a few:

1.) Scrapbook - take those precious old photographs and preserve them in an archival, acid free book. Remember to tell the story as you add the photos. If you are having trouble getting your old photos out of those sticky magnetic albums, don’t despair. You can use a micro-spatula (a small science tool about the size of a large crochet hook, but with a soft rounded edge) and gently ease this under the photo to separate the photo from the sticky page. Gently pull up on the photo with consistent pressure while sliding the spatula under the photo and work slowly and firmly to ease the photo away from the adhesive of the magnetic album. The spatulas can be expensive, so a “multi-purpose tool” can be ordered from Creative Memories for $10 and will work wonders and last years. Other scrapbooking companies and stores likely have similar items for getting those embellishments off the pages. Drop by a store or check online for a dealer nearby and start getting those precious photos OUT of those sticky albums and into archival, photo-safe ones that will keep them preserved for decades. While embellishments are aesthetically appealing, they are not necessary in a family history album. The history is what is important.

2.) Family History Book - This really isn’t as complicated as it sounds. My first family book was a record of my grandfather’s descendants. Harry fathered 21 children. My grandmother and my mother were fantastic story tellers. Once they passed away, I knew in my heart that I needed to get their stories onto paper. I needed a way to let my children know my granny and my mum. And I needed to give them a way to feel like a sense of belonging to our very large, very open family system. Our family is all encompassing and all embracing. Don’t get me wrong, like all families, we have our moments and our members. But in such a large family there is usually always someone you can connect with. Your family book can be whatever you want it to be - the story of a single ancestor, the story of one branch of your tree, how the family came to emigrate. Any subject you choose. As we all know, it is important to document, and a family book is a great way to do just that.

And while you are at it, don’t forget to document your own history. Provide a personal history lesson for your family. Think of how thrilled you are when you come across an old letter or postcard from a now deceased relative. Why not provide that same feeling for your descendants? When does your memory and awareness of certain events (ie. JFK’s murder, the first man on the moon, the Watergate Scandal, Lady Di's death, 9/11 hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami, the Japan earthquake, Obama being elected) kick in? Where were you when you first learned the news? How did you respond? How did you know this news was bigger than most? Do those events trigger memories of what life was like then? What society was like? What values and principles were important? Think of the inventions you’ve seen in your life time. My granny went from travel by horse to watching rockets being launched. Remember when YOU were the remote for the tv? How you used a wringer washer? Life before microwaves, electric can-openers, a time when home milk or bread deliveries were the norm? Think of a time before space shuttles; when trains or boats were the main form of vacation transportation. Fear not! Document your own history. It will make fascinating reading to those who wish that they could reach back 100 years and touch you, share a coffee and a chat with you. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. It is YOUR story that they are interested in. This is not an English class.

3.) Family Newsletter - if your family is large enough, you may want to consider sending out a newsletter. I promise you that you won’t regret it. Especially if your family is spread out geographically. The newsletter content can be whatever you want it to be. I started our family newsletter in December 2005  -  nearly 2 years after I put together our first family book. When I finished the family book, I wanted a way to record and to share new babies that were added to our tree, a way to announce marriages, a way of acknowledging and honouring those who have passed away. I have also included facts and trivia about the area where the family grew up, Scottish traditions, recipes, new research that I have uncovered about past generations. The newsletter started out being mailed to 20 of my aunts, uncles and cousins. It is now e-mail and snail-mailed to over 80 people. Kids can’t wait to get their own copy in their in-box. And everyone who gets a copy passes it along to someone else. The distribution has expanded in other ways as well. It is no longer just for Harry’s descendants, but for the descendants of his three brothers as well. Others now contribute stories, poems, recollections, old photographs and even funeral cards for our ancestors. They share their pride in their children’s accomplishments. The one thing EVERYone looks for in each edition are the physical similarities that run through our family. I have cousins in Timmins who are the double of cousins in Edinburgh. The two have never met and yet anyone seeing the two of them would know they belong to the same family. These realizations provide a remarkable sense of belonging. I even do a section once in a while where I run two photographs together to show the rest of the family how much of a resemblance there is. The family are thrilled with the resemblances. As my uncle once said, “Joey looks more like Alex than Alex does!” We have dedicated some issues to family occupations and are able to show the family that we are not just coal miners or farmers anymore, but also firemen, teachers, bus drivers, nurses and social workers. The newsletter has been a remarkable journey and one that I am so very glad I undertook. Know your intended audience (mine is always my older aunts and uncles). Be sure to add more than just birthdays and reunion news and you will be amazed at the gratitude you receive.

I recently had the honour of putting a family history book together for a friend. Her uncle was turning 80 and this was to be a special gift for him. His sister is edging towards 80 herself and as an aging grandma, was eager to get her memories into a format that would preserve them for her grandchildren and generations yet to come. Their father was a soldier in both world wars. An amazing story in and of itself. He was wounded in WW1 so was not able to go back into the field in WW2. Instead, he was a trainer of soldiers who were about to be shipped out. The big blessing for his daughter was that with the Family History Book, his memory and his story would not be forgotten when she and her brother died. They could now enjoy the rest of their sunset years knowing that their father’s legacy would be preserved.

From the family book and from amassing hundreds of pictures, I made family calendars for my friend’s mom and uncle. That was a year ago. This year, I was asked to make 5 for the family. There was lots of secrecy as the calendars were requested and put together. At Christmas, they were all opened during a family gathering. The comment I received from my friend really hit home for me. She said, "you know you have given my cousins the greatest gift and that is a sense of family as it was certainly fractured prior and maybe always will be but at least there is a "knowing" now that didn't exist before.....that is a gift." I realized in that moment that this is what my family book, and even more so, my family newsletters have done for my family. These preserved memories had given each and every one of us a sense of belonging. Like it or not. And certainly we each have twigs on the tree that we wish we could prune. Regardless of that, we are connected. Forever. By blood, by relationship, by being connected. Whether we were born a Crawford, married a Crawford, were adopted by a Crawford or were raised by a Crawford, we are all part of the same cloth. A cloth that is unique in design. Our ancestors were warm and welcoming. Others were welcomed into the clan for a number of reasons: close friendships, far fetched kin, neighbours, folk who just needed a place to be. By nature, then, the cloth for our clan of Crawfords is an open weave. Anyone "claimed" by a Crawford IS a Crawford. And they all get their branch on our tree. Others are jealous of our connection. Not that they are necessarily envious of the relationships or even of the individuals, but of the deep and abiding sense of belonging. You can give that same gift to your family.

4.) Blogging - For those who have heard the term, but have no idea the meaning, a blog is basically an online journal. Something written on the web and updated regularly. Blogs can be about absolutely anything and can include photos, videos, links to websites or to other blogs. The new social media craze seems to show that most of us enjoy sharing our thoughts, but letter writing to just one or two people is both tedious and time consuming for those of today’s generation. So social medium such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Blogging has become an easy way to share with everyone at once and to do so in a timely way. Everyone can know everything there is to know in an eye-blink. I have a blog that I often use to update family in Scotland, Australia and the western states about family outings, special events and vacations. I also have a blog where I can update those who are interested in the latest research I have uncovered (most were thrilled with the possibility of a “black widow” in the family tree). If you already use your computer to communicate with other family members, consider blogging. Others can always print the information and save it for future generations.

5.) Family Website - again, this is for the computer savvy researchers. And again, this is a great way to keep the information alive and to share with others. My cousin in Australia is the webmaster for our family website. I visit it often, not only for dates and events, but for pictures, information about family homesteads, old family occupations, stories and so much more. I rarely come away from the website without having learned something new. And again, this is a great way to keep in touch with other family members and to get them to contribute information and pictures as well.

There are a number of ways to preserve your family history for future generations. Try tackling one of them. You will be amazed at how easy it really is and you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment as well.

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