Want to preserve your family history?
Do you wonder about your digital afterlife?
Hope to share memories and family history with your children?
A Digital Legacy Defined
Your life story and your life family’s life story are essential to future generations. We all want to know our family, understand where we came from, and be sure that we are remembered after we are gone. It’s a basic human instinct. That’s why recording your family history to leave a legacy is important.
Fortunately, today we have numerous legacy systems available to preserve our family history, including online digital formats. So, what exactly is a digital legacy?
For the purpose of recording your family history, a digital legacy is a way to preserve your memories in a digital format: audio, video, website, vlog or another format. Rather than focusing on paper documents, which can succumb to age or become lost or damaged, a digital footprint allows for permanent, online storage of your family’s history so that it is accessible to all and is preserved for all future generations.
Further, a digital legacy is also comprised of properties that are intangible. Homes, cars, bank accounts, jewelry, and keepsakes all have monetary value and can be physically held; hence, they are physical assets. However, there is an entire realm of digital data and online accounts that cannot be physically held or monetized, including email accounts, social networks and social media accounts, business or personal blog articles, trademarks, digital photos, online documents, loyalty reward points, other online services and subscriptions, and much more.
What will happen to your personal data and these digital assets when you are gone? And how can you preserve your family history and digital estate in a way that both honors your deceased family members and doesn’t allow for it to be lost or damaged?
Today it is more important than ever to consider your digital inheritance when legacy planning and how to pass along your digital legacy to your heirs. In addition to wills and last testaments, estate planning should also include clear instructions for the preservation of digital assets.
Why Leave a Digital Legacy?
Sharing and recording your family history is beneficial to all generations—both current and future. Generations ago, it was enough to tell stories about family history around the campfire or the dinner table. Stories were meaningful, and we listened intently to our elders out of respect, love, and honor. We took their stories to heart and applied them to our own lives.
Today, these stories are still as important as they were years ago. And now that digital technology seems to be advancing faster than we can blink, it makes sense to take advantage of these new tools to help preserve and share our family legacies. While there may always be a need for paper copies, books, and physical memories, we are indeed entrenched in the digital life. Soon, it will be commonplace to store family histories on a digital platform.
Let’s look at some ways of recording your family history and leaving a legacy that will last for generations to come.
Make an Audio or Video Recording of Your Family History
Anytime is the perfect time to start recording your family history. It might make sense to put off such a project to when you will have more time to devote to it. However, every day delayed is one day less to save your family history and enjoy the fruits of your labor—while you and your loved ones are still here.
So, while you (or your loved one) are still coherent and of sound mind, you may want to take advantage of the time to create a video recording to begin your family history. Plan a special time to get together for an in-person interview. You may want to schedule more than one session at a place that’s quiet and comfortable for the interviewee. Test your equipment beforehand and bring any backup supplies, such as extra batteries and charging cords.
Remember that each person’s life story doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. It’s may be best to pull out the most interesting portions that provide insight into your family history, what was going on during those times, and important events and turning points in each person’s life. Sometimes, short stories about a moment in time can be just as telling as a full story.
A family history video can cover a variety of purposes.
- Share family history with future generations.
- Preserve childhood stories.
- Record final wishes.
- Impart life advice and words of wisdom to family members and friends.
- Chronicle life events, major milestones, and special or defining moments.
- Communicate sentiments about loved ones.
- Provide instructions for saving digital assets and digital data, including usernames and passwords
- Leave an online memorial
- Record a legacy letter
- And more!
Before recording, try to eliminate background noises, such as children, pets, appliances, motors, phones, etc. Noise interruptions may mask what your interviewee is saying, and you may miss an important piece of information on your audio or video recording.
If you’re making a video recording, be sure to choose a well-lit location. You may want to bring some extra lighting into the space because video recordings usually end up looking darker than you think. You’ll also want to be sure that there is not too much light behind the video subject. Too much light—from a lamp behind their head or a sunlit window—will make them look washed out on a video screen. You’ll want to be sure that you can both see and hear your subject as well as possible.
When you sit down for each interview, take the time for both of you to get comfortable. Encourage your loved one to have items of inspiration with them. Small items (photos, letters, mementos, etc.) can spark memories and be a fun way for both of you to connect. Make your interview more like a conversation between family members. And remember to have fun! Preserving and recording your family history should be an enjoyable process for all.
Resources for Writing Your Family Legacy
What if your loved one’s memory is not as reliable as it used to be? Or what if they have already passed away? There are still plenty of ways to access your family history and record treasured information for future generations.
First, start with your oldest living family member. One of your parent’s siblings or cousins could have a wealth of information available to give you, including stories, photos, documents, and more. Once you have spoken to your oldest living relatives, work your way through each generation of family members until you have recorded as much history as you can gather, either by audio, video or in writing.
Once you have interviewed all family members, you can move on to public resources for more information. Your local library may store local history items. Your local town hall would have birth, marriage, and death records, if they were recorded locally. If a relative served in the military, you can access those records through military sources. In addition, several companies online, such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe, may be able to help you discover more information about your family.
Leaving a Visual Legacy
What is a visual legacy? And why is it important? In short, a visual legacy is a collection of all your photographs, videos, memorabilia, and other visual items that are meaningful to you and your family.
Collecting these items in one place and in one media format is a wonderful way to leave a digital legacy and preserve your family history. While you may remember your parents and grandparents, How much do you know about your great-grandparents? What about their siblings? And those who came before them?
In the past, oral history has transpired in the form of family stories passed down from one generation to the next. But at some point, they can be watered down through interpretation or be lost altogether. A visual legacy is an interactive way of connecting your family with their past as well as with future generations.
Creating a Digital Scrapbook
Heritage scrapbooking was—and still is—a popular pastime. So, while it has been traditional to cut and craft paper to create a bound family photo album complete with keepsakes and other memories, you can now leave a digital legacy by creating the same look with an online digital scrapbook.
A digital scrapbook can be created with unlimited designs. The final scrapbook can be duplicated digitally and sent to all family members or it can be printed and bound for as many recipients as you would like. Either way, instead of having a single handmade scrapbook, you can have multiple versions available to spread throughout your family and friends. Everyone will have a cherished item to remember your loved one.
Digitizing Family Records
The clear advantage to digitizing family records is to obtain and safely store more than one copy of an item. For example, if your grandmother made you a treasured quilt, it could be lost in a house fire or a tornado. By scanning an image of the pattern or photographing the quilt, you have another ‘copy’ of the quilt in your family’s possession. The same can be said for any object, documents, photos, and video or audio recordings. It would be devastating to lose any of these items due to a natural disaster, carelessness or natural aging. So, how do you transfer family records from paper, audio, and video into DVD, Blu-ray or other digital formats?
While many modern records are automatically stored digitally, pre-existing records are probably still kept as hard copies. Or perhaps you have old video or audio tapes—even reel-to-reel tapes—that you’d like stored digitally. Photos can be uploaded and stored on one or more DVDs. Paper records can be scanned and uploaded into a computer. This is a great opportunity to organize these items according to person or year, family branch or whatever makes sense for your family. If you have several boxes to sort through, you may want to think of an organizational strategy at first and work through one box at a time.
Please note: never use an automatic copier to make copies of important papers and documents. Paper can get stuck or torn in these machines. And the varying thickness of different documents (especially delicate items) may not be pulled properly through a copying machine.
Oral histories can be transcribed, then written in book format. If you have pre-existing recordings, you can play them back and transcribe them yourself. There are also professional services that will do this for you, while preserving the original audio files. In addition, you can record an oral history of your present-day family members. Once you have made the recordings, you can take the time to transcribe these as well.
Physical objects may present a different challenge since they can’t be scanned and uploaded into a computer. For memorabilia, jewelry, art pieces, and other treasured objects, you can take photographs of the items and research their importance to your family history. For some digital transfer jobs, you may need specific equipment. If you have access to such equipment, you can learn to do it yourself. Otherwise, you may want to hire a professional to digitally restore photos or recordings as well as transfer them to more permanent and safe digital storage.
Using Your Digital Family History
Once you are done recording your family history, there are several different applications for the information you’ve collected. Many families are taking genealogy and the traditional family tree a step further by creating a family genogram. A genogram is basically a highly detailed family tree, which includes life events and health history, diseases and disorders, and more.
A family health history can be valuable to some people in terms of predicting their predisposition to certain disorders as well as providing a decision-making basis for genetic testing. You can also use digital media as a way of recording the last wishes of family members, so there is no confusion, room for mistake or misinterpretation.
You may also want to maintain a permanent family website or cloud storage to promote family sharing. All family members can access photographic images of your family heirlooms and historical items. Here are some more options to take your family history research a step further.
- Family scrapbook
- Family history book, including day-to-day life
- Photo display
- Audio / video presentation
- Family tree (many online family tree makers available)
- Family genetic health history
- Last wishes and end-of-life care
- Family website
- And more!
Recording your family history in order to leave a family legacy is something your family and friends, as well as future generations, will always treasure. And once you leave a digital legacy of the past, it will be easier to continue in the future.