Our family has experienced two recent events in the circle of life.
When family historians and genealogists speak about sharing family history at life cycle events, we generally mean life's happy occasions: births, engagements, marriages, graduations, birthdays and anniversaries.
We don't often think about the sad events, which occur just as frequently, such as the deaths of family members.
As I have often shared, in addition to a traditional gift for a happy occasion, I also add a printout of the family history, a chart and a list of ancestors to a young couple getting married (with their names already entered), for the birth of a baby (with the baby's name already entered), anniversaries and at other occasions.
At the recent wedding of a cousin from Switzerland, the family history envelope handed to the bride's mother elicited immediate conversation with the guests surrounding her. I answered many questions and met several new and interesting distant relatives who had traveled for the wedding. Everyone was interested in the material and wondered how I had gathered it.
Happy occasions are very simple. Funerals are something else.
At the recent funeral, there was a major surprise for the family as it gathered at the cemetery, with people coming from several cities and countries.
The woman's husband had already ordered the large double grave headstone, with everything inscribed except his own death date - he's 94 and still going strong. What was more surprising was that he had inscribed his wife's family history on the large rectangular granite slab covering her grave, and his own family history on the slab that would cover his.
The wording included where each was born and when, important dates, the names of their siblings, parents and grandparents. The children hadn't known about the stone and the family history inscriptions and were very surprised that their father had done this and never told them.
When we returned to the house after the funeral, the cousins began speaking about their mother and one of them brought out an old photograph showing the woman, her siblings and her parents. It was the only photo of the entire family to survive the Holocaust, and she was one of only two people in her entire family to survive.
Fortunately, their mother had often recited the names of those pictured. Her eldest son remembered them all. We wrote down the names on a paper, placed it in an envelope, took off the back of the frame and added the envelope.
Whether we are celebrating the beginning of a new life at birth, the joining of a young couple in marriage, or sharing our thoughts at the loss of a senior family member, family history is appropriate, helpful and appreciated.
Every family event is a chance to discuss family history and learn more about your ancestors.
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