Often as I am working with genealogists they express sadness that they cannot get more members of their family to become engaged in family history. Many of them have been doing family history for years. Sometimes they have rooms full of information on their research and no one in their family with which they can share it. At Christmas time I think about the gift we can leave to our family of the information we have found and the joy of the work.
There is something sacred about family history. There is a feeling as we research our ancestors that lifts us and helps us find a joy that can be found nowhere else. Those who have experienced this joy build a lifetime of love for the search for their ancestors.
I have seen many ways in which genealogists have shared the fruit of their labors and given the gift of the knowledge of their ancestors. I thought, at Christmas time, I would share some of the ways I have seen that have helped others feel the spirit of the work.
One of the best ways I have seen to share family history is through stories and pictures. My mother prepared a Book of Remembrance for me and my brothers and sisters. It remains one of my treasures. My children have learned about me, my parents, and my grandparents through this book. It is mostly pictures with captions but also contains some brief histories of my ancestors. Through this gift my children have come to know their ancestors as real people with real challenges and families. It has given them a sense of their heritage. I am confident that one day they will begin the search to know more about them.
In the Copy Shop at The Morgan County News we have the opportunity to see many projects where individuals are sharing their family with others. These have ranged from short stories about ancestors, to photo albums, to picture collages of ancestors and current families. We see many individuals who are copying and sharing their family photos with others. This last week we had an individual who had created custom calendars for family members. Each month showed a scene of things that happened with the family that was relevant to the month. It was a wonderful personalized gift that came from the heart and helped those receiving the gift to remember and connect with their family. It is very fun to help individuals with these projects.
The most successful items I have seen created include living individuals alongside their ancestors. Children (and for that matter adults) generally like to see themselves in pictures. It reminds us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves and it often makes us feel loved and communicates to us that we are important to someone else. Creating collages, books, and stories that include the person to whom the gift is being given and a connection to their ancestors helps make the experience more personal.
Many individuals are sharing their information online. I have written in the past about how I have scanned the journals of my grandmother and grandfather and placed the digital copies of these online for all of the family to enjoy. It is possible online to create an experience with ancestors that adds depth to their lives. An online pedigree is fine, but a pedigree with life information, photos, and documents brings the ancestors to life. One of the individuals with whom I work uses Ancestry’s online family trees and he has been astounded at the amount of individuals that have viewed and commented on the information he has placed online.
The advances in video production on normal personal computers has meant the ability to create family videos. One of the genealogists I know created a short video of the lives of their ancestors. While this is still a little complicated to do for those not comfortable with computers, new video editing and authoring products are making it more and more possible. They created a video that includes a narrative about the ancestor’s lives, pictures where possible, maps, and good music as a background. It took them about two weeks of time to create it, but it is an amazing piece of work that really brings ancestors alive.
Lastly, I think the best gift is that of your own life and that of your parents. If your parents are still here with you, one of the best gifts you can give your children is to take the time to interview them. There are many resources online and in family history books that give good interview questions like, “Tell me about the first person you dated.” and “Where did you meed grandpa?” and, “What was different about the world when you were growing up?” Often we only think about asking these questions after our parents and grandparents are gone. In Africa, where there are few written records and there is only an oral tradition kept of ancestors, it is said that when an elder dies it is like an archive burning down. This is just as true here. When our parents and grandparents die, unless we have taken time to get to know their life story, the archive that is in their heads burns down.
I would encourage you over the holidays to take a moment and do a project for your family. Put together some photos of your family and your ancestors, take a moment to interview a parent or grandparent. Take a few minutes and just write down the basics of your life with some of your most memorable experiences and add a photo or twelve. This is the way that family history is best passed on. It is the way that brings it to life, and it is the best gift of all that you can leave your family.