Thursday, 24 February 2011

Preserving 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. 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 Crawford. A sense of belonging. To a very large, very open family system. 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 book can be whatever you want it to be - the story of a single ancestor, the story of one branch of your tree, your own story. 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.

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 live apart from each other. 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, Harry had 394 descendants. 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 honoring 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 50 people. And everyone who gets a copy passes it along to someone else. The distribution has branched out. 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 anymore, but also firemen, teachers, bus driver, 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.

4.) Blogging - if you use your computer to communicate with other family members, you may want to consider blogging your family research. Again, this is a great way to tell the story, to link to pictures or websites that might be of interest and to share what you have learned in your research. 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 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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