Preserving family history can seem like a huge undertaking and it is! Getting started is the scariest part for me – not knowing how to begin. There are the facts that I have gathered so far, but a family history is more than just the names, dates and places.
I have researched family genealogies for over 10 years and have been able to gather thousands of names and dates. I have been able to verify more names and locations as I continued my searching and improved my search skills.
I have met new cousins and heard family stories that helped to verify details that I had already found. Hearing the family tales have brought to life those names – those people that were our grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins.
We have connected through family reunions and gatherings, encouraged and asked for any old pictures of the family. Even if we did not know who each person was, we brought them along to the reunions and asked other family members if they recognized them. We have been able to put faces with the names and added photos to our large family tree. When they were identified, the stories started and family members would tell what they remembered or family “lore” they had heard about these people. This made those grandparents and cousins more real to the younger ones.
This helped us to think of what their lives were like. The timelines of when they lived can help us understand their occupations, their way of life, and their losses in times of great illness. History was never a huge interest of mine, but now I look for historical perspective to learn more about what my ancestors may have lived through.
For most genealogists and family history buffs, our attention and interest does not peak until we are older and our kids and jobs are not as demanding. As we get older, maybe our realization kicks in that half of our life is behind us! Maybe we have lived enough life that we understand better what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents must have had to endure in their journeys. As tough as we think we have had to live, they may have had to fight many more battles to survive and raise a family.
So the first step is jut to get started! Break it down into smaller steps!
Starting the family history……
1) Journaling doesn’t have to be complex or scary. Just make a few notes when you think of a topic you want to remember or write about.
2) Make a list of those family stories you have heard over and over from your parents and grandparents.
3) Think of and list the timeline of important times in your parents lives – their childhood, where they grew up, their schools, their churches, their maternal and paternal families, how they met, their courtship and wedding. Then list their children, homes, jobs, grandchildren, pets, etc.
4) Do the same for your grandparents and any other living relatives you may be blessed enough to share stories with.
5) Ask the oldest living relatives to share their journeys, their stories, with you. Use video on a camera, laptop, camcorder, or even write it down on paper if they are not comfortable with being on camera. My first filmed video was with my mother, and I set up a laptop and a camcorder to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If one method works better or has a better sound or viewing angle, then you can choose which to use when putting a family video together.
6) Keep attention focused on your relative during the interview, suggesting topics, letting them do most of the talking, and make notes later of new questions you have or stories that came up that you want more detail about. Break the interviews into a few sessions, so neither of you have to sit for too long or get too tired.
7) Parents and grandparents tend to tell stories on each other, usually funny stories, sometimes touching ones. Siblings are great at sharing stories about each other!
My father’s “story” was of the time he made his daddy jump into a creek because he hollered “Snake!”. He laughs now, but my grandpa wasn’t happy to be tricked! He ended up with scratched up legs from hitting the rocks in the creek!
My “story” is about being pregnant with our second child. We had mostly boys in our family and we had a four-year-old son. He said our baby was going to be a girl. We explained that we would love a boy or a girl, we just prayed for a healthy baby, a little brother or a sister. He replied that he had already told God he wanted a sister – the faith of a child! He got his little baby sister!
So, whether the stories are about how the old-timers grew up, how eccentric or special their cousins or uncle was, or how siblings got along, they are all stories that bring life to the family history.
One day, when we are gone, fifty years from now, when our grandson is 50, I hope he will be able to read about – hear on audio – or see on a video – the stories and journeys that we lived, our parents and grandparents lived, and know that he comes from a long line of love and blessings.