Or, have you been researching your family for a long time and are now experiencing writer's block?
This post may help everyone interested in recording family history.
Many researchers want to do more than just record names and dates. What we'd like to do is "add meat to the bones," or flesh out our ancestors as we learn about them as individuals.
Amy Coffin of the WeTree genealogy blog has organized 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History, which offers a weekly prompt on a different topic. Readers can also access this list at Geneabloggers.com.
We think that this list is as valuable for recording your own life for your future descendants as it is for those considering interviewing older relatives.
It doesn't matter if you start in the middle of this list, at the end or at the beginning. The essential thing is just to start.
How you record your answers doesn't matter: Use "notes" on an iPad, a document on your computer, write your ideas longhand in a leather-covered journal, an ordinary school notebook, or on plain white paper. Just begin. However, recording them in a nice journal that can be passed down through the generations seems a good idea to us.
As you start recording this information for yourself - and that notebook may become a prized possession for a great-grandchild in the future - you will find more information useful when you interview senior family members.
It is also a great suggestion for your family members at your site at MyHeritage.com. Ask your relatives to contribute their own memories of a topic each week.
I've included a bit about my favorite stuffed animal - in the toy category - but you'll need to read on to learn about Wolfie!
Some warm weather topics:
The Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree is one of the best-run large regional events in the United States. MyHeritage chief genealogist Daniel Horowitz and myself again attended and presented at this year's conference, held June 10-12, 2011, in Burbank, California.
Conference co-chairs Paula Hinkle and Leo Myers, in addition to their large team of volunteers, always make this an excellent experience.
Some 70 genealogy bloggers – a record number at any gen conference - blogged, tweeted and Facebooked throughout the event, as well as participating in social events, including an ice cream party and a piñata smashing, among others.
There are many good sports among this friendly group whose conference get-togethers are like a family reunion. A blogger media island enabled the bloggers to continuously tweet and Facebook over the three-day event.
More seriously, there were outstanding sessions to attend, ranging from breakfasts to evening dinners and everything in between. Among those attended by Daniel and myself were:
- A free Kids' Camp attended by many young people, including Boy and Girl Scouts.
- World table discussion, where Daniel and I headed the Jewish table at two sessions, answered questions and directed visitors to many resources for their individual quests.
- An informative breakfast presentation on using social media for societies by Thomas MacEntee, and
- A full-day family history writers conference.
Read on for more details.
Journals and diaries are excellent resources for family history research.
Don't you wish your ancestors had recorded their daily lives and thoughts in a format that has come down to you as a treasured keepsake through the centuries?
I know someone whose ancestor left a journal written several hundred years ago. The writer describes the family's everyday life in difficult new surroundings, how they celebrated holidays, the writer's wishes for her descendants far in the future and much more. It is as if the writer knew it would be treasured and passed down through the generations, as it has been. It is a priceless heirloom.
Put yourself in the shoes of a great-grandchild who finds your journal. What do you think will interest him or her? What is happening in your life now that you want future generations to know about? Do you want to include advice for future generations?
If you are lucky, these lifecycle events will be documented in the newspapers where your family lived. The pages also allow us to glimpse how people lived, what they bought, what they ate, their social activities and more through advertisements and local event coverage.
If your family lived in New Mexico, you may find information dating back to 1860, as the University of New Mexico Libraries has just received a major grant to digitize the state's old newspapers (1860-1922).
As a young girl visiting my grandmother in upstate New York during the summers, we would often go to see her friend Fanny who lived not far away.
I remember the old country farm house set in large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.
Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn't recognize the importance of these finds.
Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields.
The recently concluded Southern California Genealogical Society's 41st Jamboree presented numerous such sessions.
Sometimes there are sessions at which the proverbial lightbulb switches on. Such essential knowledge is transmitted that the participants then find it difficut to look at their own individual family histories in quite the same way as before.
All of us have family stories that might be termed myths. How can we determine whether a story may be fact or fiction?
A fascinating session on just this topic was given by Jean Wilcox Hibben. With a PhD in folkore, an MA in speech communication, and a Certified Genealogist, Jean is president of both the Corona (California) Genealogical Society and the Southern California chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, Genealogical Speakers Guild secretary and much more.
Family newsletters are a great way to involve relatives in family history.
Such publications can be as simple or as detailed as the author desires. They are another way to stay in touch and keep relatives informed of what's going on.
While in Australia, I attended an informative session by Bubbles Segall, who addressed the essentials of family newsletters.
CONSIDERING A FAMILY NEWSLETTER?
According to famed author Eli Wiesel,
"Your family is only the bare framework of your family history. Without the stories, legends, tales and episodes of your cousins and ancestors, all you will have is a dry collection of names and dates."
Your newsletter can be another part of the "keeping connected" plan. In addition to a family site (such as MyHeritage.com), a publication may likely reach relatives in different ways. Of course, if you have a family website, the newsletter can also be placed online at the site for invited members to read.
In any case, there are numerous reasons to create one. A family newsletter:
-- Helps everyone keep in touch.
-- Preserve stories and data which might be lost.
-- Shares information with relatives.
-- Shares, preserves photographs of lifecycle events.
-- Serves as a central family information location and points to other family resources.
-- Leaves a paper trail for future generations.
-- Records your family's history, customs, origins and culture.
How often you publish a family newsletter is up to you. Factors impacting this includes whether you will be emailing the newsletter or printing and snail-mailing copies. Although many researchers I know choose a quarterly newsletter, others prefer a larger semi-annual or annual edition, and still others send out short monthly updates. It is up to you and depends on your available time. It will take time to produce a good one.
Depending on your family's unique demographics, you may need to use both emaill and postage as older relatives may not have computers. However, their children and grandchildren are likely Internet users; email them the newsletter and ask them to print a copy for their older relative.
Mailing copies? Who will pay for the postage? It can be expensive, especially if you're considering a large semi-annual or annual publication.
Will you be including photos? Everyone wants to see photos, but it can make a Word document very "heavy." Consider converting Word documents to PDF files via readily available software.
SEND IT TO WHOM?
Before you write your first issue, think about who will receive it. Do you have a family address list already? Will you need to create one?
Consider the fact that many people will want it, but others simply won't care.
You could try sending the newsletter to everyone in the family and ask them to respond if they'd like to continue receiving it.
-- Life cycle events (births, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, deaths) are all important to each family. If possible, include photos of the individuals and make sure to identify them in the photo. An important idea is to include the relationship of each individual to the first person on your tree, e.g. great-grandchild of X, great-grandson of X's brother Y, etc.
-- Family traditions, customs, hoildays, recipes.
-- Stories about the ancestors.
-- Family history projects completed by relatives
-- Origin of the family's surname
-- Updates on recent research success
-- Old letters (remember to identify the writer and recipient)
-- Old and recent photos
-- Diary or journal entries
-- Newspaper articles mentioning family members
NAME YOUR NEWSLETTER!
Unusual original names are good. Easy to remember should be another quality. When I was considering a TALALAY newsletter, we used "Tales of the Talalay." Use the following - a thesaurus will come in handy as well - as a jumping-off point:
Tie your surname's first letter to any of these: Connections, Beat, Family, Chronicles, News, Words, Capers, Tales. Links, etc.
WHAT SHOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
There are many free newsletter templates available. Check Microsoft Publisher and other desktop publishing programs, or simply compose it as a Word document. If you plan to use many photos, consider converting the newsletter to PDF.
Have you ever kept a journal?
If you have - perhaps even as a young teen - what would happen if your grandchildren or great-grandchildren found it? What would it say to them about you, your life and the times in which you lived?
I know that some people who keep journals might not be too happy if their descendants found those, well, revealing diaries - which recorded their inner-most thoughts at a young age.
But what would those teen writings mean a century from now?
I have a friend whose family arrived in the New World in the early 1600s. One of their ancestors, a young woman, kept a journal about her travels, her family, the day to day chores, advice for her descendants and much more. The writings are a revered and priceless piece of family history.
I wish one of my ancestors had done that. I want to know how the family lived in Mogilev, Belarus in the 1700s, and how, in 1837, some formed an agricultural colony about 12 miles out of town called Vorotinschtina. And, I want to know how they got from Spain to Belarus even earlier.
We did have a 300-year-old genealogy, brought to America by one of the last to leave Belarus, but it disappeared in the 1950s when the man who had it died. It was likely discarded when his possessions were cleared out of the house.
While our family can never completely reconstruct those 300 years, we still try to find as much information as possible.
One reason we began this journey is that we'd like our descendants to know more than we did when we began our quest.
If you cannot locate writings of your ancestors, consider keeping a journal for your future descendants to go along with the family history you will leave to them.