8 Ways to Preserve Your Family History
“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
~ portions of Walt Whitman's classic poem, “O Me! O Life!”
What verse will you contribute?
It’s not just what we’ve earned in life that we pass down, it’s also what we’ve learned. It’s in everything we do: our values, our belief system, our experiences, and how we respond to life’s challenges. It’s reflected in how we give back. Have you ever wondered, “I wish I knew more about so-and-so’s life, but now they’re gone and I can’t ask?” You’re the only one who can tell your stories—preserve them for future generations. We highlight eight ways to do just this:
Write a legacy letter. Write down everything you want to tell your loved ones—important life lessons, values, hopes, and dreams.
Leave something behind. Plant a tree or rose bush, build a piece of furniture, paint a picture, leave something behind that your hand touched in some way.
Record your genealogy & family history in a scrapbook. Create a family tree bystarting with the most recent family members and moving outwards, (rather than the other way around). Include important dates, migration from one country to another, family traditions, hereditary information, interesting keepsakes (receipts, concert tickets, etc.), and photos from all stages of life—not just the younger years. Ask family members to create their own pages so they can control their messages and how they most want to be remembered. Also, do not laminate important papers or documents. Instead, store them in a controlled environment (two common spots—the basement and the attic—aren’t really the best places, due to fluctuating heat/humidity and possible water damage). A better spot? A clean, dark place, like the top of a linen closet. Buy an acid-free archival box, avoid tape, and avoid paper clips or staples that can easily rust. Once you have everything you want/need, sites like blurb.com can help you put it all together.
Interview family members and put it all together in one spot. At the next family reunion, designate a few people to pass out questionnaires and share their thoughts about what it means to be a member of the family, or some words of appreciation for another family member. Create a family Facebook group to share photos and stories after the event, then use a platform like weeva.com to make hard copies for those who are interested.
Share 52 stories this year. That’s one story for every week of the year.The #52stories project exists for the sole purpose of capturing stories that might otherwise be lost, bringing you “one step closer to completing your family history.” You can access the 52 questions here: 52stories-weekly-questions.
Do monthly audio interviews. A great way for loved ones to preserve their matriarch/patriarchs’ memories is by recording conversations on a digital recorder, then uploading audio files to their home computer. (You can start the conversations with some of the 52 questions mentioned above.) When seniors talk about their past, it gives younger family members a rare look into what Grandma or Grandpa (or Great-Grandma or Grandpa) were like in their youth. For a fun idea, create a documentary. This website provides a helpful step-by-step “how-to” guide: desktopdocumentaries.com.
Start telling the stories behind family heirlooms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if beloved family heirlooms could talk? Give them a voice by recording what you know. Take a photo and store the following information: What is the item? What are the family stories/memories associated with it? When was it made or acquired? Who owned it first? Who owns it now?
Compile a heritage recipe cookbook. For some families, their best memories are wrapped in memorable meals. If recipes have been handed down through the generations, compile those in a cookbook. In addition to the recipe, you can include photos of the meal and the person or family who first made it, the person or family who submitted it for the cookbook, and any special memories associated with it. An easy way to compile these recipes is through heritagecookbook.com.
Record your own stories or a loved one’s memories of the past—and help preserve those moments long into the future.