Would you like to leave a record of your life behind?
Do you want to preserve your family history?
Want to incorporate technology to pass on your family stories?
Preserving Your Family History for the Next Generation
In a world of ever-increasing outside influences—news, social media, advertisers, public opinion, etc.—it becomes increasingly important to know where you’ve come from. When we talk about creating a family history, of course we mean you and all those who came before you… as well as those who will come after: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. Let’s look at some big reasons for keeping your family history alive.
By taking the time to keep a record of your family history, you create a gift for all of your descendants. When you put together a family tree and a family history, those future generations will gain a great sense of where they’ve come from, who their ancestors were before them, as well as a more grounded sense of self.
It’s an amazing gift to know the story of your family, the ups and downs of what they’ve endured, and how historical events affected them. In addition, you gain a rich history of your family health history, which can help your descendants make decisions about their own health care many years from now. If your family has a history of heart conditions, addiction, bipolar disorder, pregnancy loss or any other health issues, your descendants should know.
Knowing what makes your family strong can also inevitably help individuals develop their own internal strengths. And being aware of challenges and mistakes made before them can help them put the ups and downs of life into proper prospective. Plus, understanding and preserving family values that built your family is essential to personal growth.
How to Start Recording Your Family History
Keeping family history alive can be a big project to handle. But like any other big project—inventing the iPhone or launching a rocket into outer space—it’s entirely possible to do if you take it one step at a time. And the first step is just starting.
So, here are some steps to help you get started, in no particular order. In fact, you may need to bounce back and forth between steps or go back to a step several times.
- Write your own story and preserve your own memorabilia.
- Collect and organize family photos, documents, memorabilia, family heirlooms, coats of arms, etc. You can use originals, photocopies or photographs.
- Search through scrapbooks, boxes, attics, etc. for stored treasures.
- Talk to family members to make a record of their stories.
- Develop a set of questions to ask each person. Be open to changing the questions from one person to the next and exploring historical information that is new to you. Try to ask open-ended questions that encourage your interviewee to speak and share freely.
- Create an audio or video recording as you speak with relatives. Be sure to test your equipment first and always keep fresh batteries on hand.
- Agree on a comfortable place and convenient time to meet with each family member. You may need to sit down with someone more than once.
- Focus on one family member’s story at a time. This will help you to not confuse or combine more than one person’s story.
- Speak with your oldest living relatives and write down everything they remember from their past as well as what they’ve heard passed down through previous generations.
- Take the time to preserve any family relics. Keep them safe from sun damage, water damage, the natural oils on your hands or from any other source that could cause items to become damaged or deteriorate over time.
- In the end, you may want to put all of your family information together in a book format. We recommend printing more than one book so that more than one family member has access. You may want to keep at least one copy of your book in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box so that it is protected from destruction through accidents and natural disasters, such as fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, and tornado.
What Questions Should You Ask Family Members?
If you’re not accustomed to interviewing family members or maybe you feel nervous about speaking with those you haven’t seen in a while, it’s always best to create your question list in advance. That way, you know what to focus on. You’ll want to keep some questions consistent among your interviewees. And you may also want to change some questions depending on who you are interviewing.
Here are some basic questions you’ll want to ask in order to gather accurate information for your family history and for a family tree.
- What is your full birth name?
- Why did your parents choose this name for you?
- Did you have a nickname when growing up or now?
- When and where were you born?
- How did your family come to live there?
- What was your childhood home like? What was similar to or different from homes of today?
- What special items do you remember?
- What is your earliest childhood memory?
- Did your family take part in any activities or traditions?
- Describe the personalities of your family members. How did everyone get along?
- What did you and your family do for fun?
- Did you and any siblings have responsibilities/chores?
- What do you remember about family finances?
- What do you remember about school (preschool, elementary, middle school, high school, college/university, post-graduate studies, etc.)?
- What fads do you remember from your youth?
- Describe any family pets.
- What was day-to-day life like?
- Did your family practice a religion? If so, describe how.
- Did you or anyone in your family gain recognition?
- Describe your friends while growing up and today.
- What local, regional, national, and world events affected your family? How?
- How did your family celebrate holidays and other special occasions?
- What do you remember about those who came before you? What stories have you heard?
- Describe when you got married, your spouse, how you decided on the person, and what married life was like.
- Describe your children, becoming a parent, and what raising children was like.
- What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage? Successful family life?
- What have been your proudest moments, scariest moments, best days, and worst days?
- Describe your professional career and any other jobs you held.
- Is there anything in life you wish you had accomplished or are still trying to accomplish?
- What were the most important things you learned from your parents?
- What do you want people to remember about you?
Is There Something Only You Know That Could Be Lost Forever?
We’re not talking about juicy family secrets, although if you are aware of something essential like parental lineage, you may want to consider the proper way to let the important parties know about their own personal ancestry.
It’s not enough to maintain an oral family history. You need to write it down because our memories can fail us in later years, or we can even remember something differently than how it really happened.
If there is something essential to your family’s history that only you know about, then be sure that it isn’t lost forever if something should happen to you. Write it down today so that it is not locked into your memory alone. Don’t risk losing important information forever.
Creating Your Family Tree
Researching your genealogy and creating a family tree can be a fun and exciting experience. You may make discoveries and find connections that you never knew existed.
When recording your family tree history, make notes of connections when interviewing family members. Write your family tree information starting with the youngest existing family members and work your way backward. Utilize local and family historians as well as census, military, and other records, which are available for public viewing. There are also several popular websites that can help you access family records.
You’ll want to keep track of birth dates and places, marriage dates and places, and death dates and places to construct a well-detailed family tree. Some people also include pets in their family tree. Don’t forget to include those who have passed away as well as any stillborn children.
When you have sketched your family tree, you can look online for family tree templates. There are lots of free resources available to help create your family tree. You can draw out your own family tree or ask a professional to help.
We wish you great success in keeping your family history alive!