Losing our Family Stories in 3 Generations

 

I hear stories all the time that people are amazed at how deeply they have been affected once they learn about their family’s history. It never surprises me. In fact I’ve said quite a few times that researching your own genealogy is,

“Better than any reality show out there.”

More than a feeling

Since I began my own journey discovering my family’s past, I could never understand where a certain feeling of intense well being came from until I listened to an opening session at the Midwestern Roots Conference recently held here in Indianapolis.

This feeling, which is hard to describe, stays with me all the time; it was and is a sense of very intense love and appreciation for not only my ancestors but also for my state and country. I’ve always loved history, and as the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, I have the wonderful opportunity to steep myself in the rich stories and history of the state where I was born and grew up — Indiana.

Little did I know how all my knowledge was affecting me and I think that you might be a bit surprised yourself when you read the rest of the post!

That “aha!” moment

Curt Witcher never fails to catch my attention, whether or not he is talking about the Allen County Public Library Genealogy section or the topic that he chose for the Midwestern Roots Conference. He is and will forever be associated, in my mind, with the ACPL because of the tremendous job that he (and a lot of others, I’m sure) has done to transform it into the United State’s largest public genealogy library.

This year, Curt had the privilege of opening the conference and his title for this session was, “Your Story, Our History: The Power and Value of Story.” Well, let’s just say that there was never any question that this would be one session that I would for sure be attending and he didn’t let me down.

It gets Real

Of course there were lots of stories that Curt so eloquently told us but the part that truly caught my attention was his quote that

“If we don’t tell our [family’s] stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

He went on to explain in more detail about the article where research claimed that children were more resilient if they had a firm knowledge of their family’s history.  Whoa… This validated me and instantly tugged at my heart; I knew this statement to be oh, so painfully true.

Here is another quote Curt zoomed in on:

“Children that know about their family history deal with tragedy better, and are more accepting of diversity.”

To sum it up, they are more emotionally stable and can handle the up’s and down’s of life much better. Wow… just wow… I felt so immensely warm and fuzzy when he stated that there was actually research out there confirming what I had felt for so long and still feel very strongly about. But to hear that there was proof, a real study that had been completed, confirming that family history does indeed give you a foundation to live your life to its best, well, that was priceless. I could have left after that and been quite content knowing that my belief did indeed have proof to back it up.

Ready for another quote?

“We hold our children’s histories in our hands.”

Oh, Curt really summed it up in those words, didn’t he? Now it is up to all of us to share this knowledge, our knowledge of our families and their stories, so that our children and grand-children will also know their stories and have a foundation to build their own lives upon.

Here’s the proof

The article, “The Stories That Bind Us”, written by Bruce Feiler, March 15, 2013 for The New York Times, gives a more in-depth explanation of the study and the epiphany that Bruce, the author, had within his own family. It is inspiring and if it doesn’t convince you to start writing down your own memories, I’m not sure that anyone or anything could.

In the article, the question is asked, “What would you want your great-grandchildren to know about you?” If you don’t start to write and narrate your own story and the stories of your parents and grandparents, then they will soon be lost. Remember,

“If we don’t tell our stories, they could be lost in just three generations.”

Oh, it just gets better, believe me! Let me leave you with another quote from the article, The Stories that Bind Us:

“Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply “talking through problems,” as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

I’m in — let’s get started

So, what to do with this information? I think that we simply need to use it as a kick-starter to push this to the fore-front of our to-do lists. After all, what would you give to have stories that your great-grandparents had written themselves, all pulled together into one place, for you to read and enjoy and pass on to your own family.

Here are a few concrete things that you can start right now:

  1. Begin with yourself. Start a notebook of your own stories – in no certain order. Just simply let the stories come as they may. Look at photo albums and think about what is going on in the background of a photo – the story behind it. Think about places, people, emotions. It’s ok to start with the basics and then branch out. Don’t be afraid to talk about current events as well. Even tough times that you have gone through, is certainly worth getting down in a written form. You can even post photos into an app like Day One where you can talk about the picture and it will save by date. There is no time like the present.
  2. Start to add your parents’ and grandparents’ information, or if they are still alive, think about getting them on video or audio explaining about their childhood, marriage, work, and family. Photos are great conversation starters. None of these things need to take more than just a few moments, but it is important to keep adding more and more so that one day, you will find yourself with a rich history that can be shared for generations.
  3. Get the old photos out and start to write down whatever information that you might remember. These are great starters for your parents and grand-parents.
  4. And last, but not least, we need to start to share all this information in ways that our kids and grandchildren will be able to remember and take with them.

Here’s where the no-guilt, no-pain part comes in

So, I know this all really sounds like a huge commitment and that’s where I plan to come in and try to take some of the overwhelming-ness (can I use that as a word?) out of the project. As you follow along, my plan is to offer memory prompts to get you started with your own stories and ideas on how to get bashful parents and grandparents to start to open up and share their wealth of stories.

It is all a process, but it doesn’t have to be painful! (That’s where I plan on helping.) If you know someone that has children or grandchildren, please share this post. We tend to focus on making millions of memories with our children and grandchildren, but it’s equally as important that they know the generations that made them who they are and will become.

Help me spread a message that is part of what keeps our country and society functioning – our knowledge of our past so that we can make a strong future! (And no, I’m not running for President – even though my husband keeps on writing my name into the ballot when he is frustrated with the candidates [not even kidding there!])

Too many times we feel like we can’t do anything to make “things” better and here is one fairly easy way to leave your mark – by leaving your story.

Feel free to Share!

For anyone on Instagram, follow me on @_ItsaLifeStory where I show you how I am documenting my own family momentos for my children to see. How will they know what anything is if I don’t tell them! It’s just one way that I’m working through this myself in order to pass on my own memories.

For those of you on Facebook, I have a page for my website as well. You just need to search for “It’s a Life Story” or @itsalifestory. When you find it, click on the LIKE button so that you receive my updates. I have a lot going on between the FB page, Instagram, this newsletter and my website but I think that each one has their place!

 

Here’s a tip: I use the Day One app in the evening when I take a few moments to do some decompressing from the day! I can use a pic from the day or take a quick one of a photo or momento to use as my own memory booster. For anyone that also does scrapbooking, this is an excellent way to write your journaling to be used with a group of photos in a layout when you are ready to work on them!

Remember to SHARE this with anyone and everyone that has children and grandchildren! Let’s show them exactly how much we love them by giving them that all-important piece of ourselves! Suggest that they sign up for my email list to receive newsletters in the future so they can find the inspiration and ideas of how to get started as well as how to pull all their research and hard work together into one format that can be shared across generations.

Together, we can make sure that we will not be forgotten in three generations!

Beautify Your Family History Research Binders – Dividers reimagined

Putting It All Together

This project is very near and dear to me. I have actually applied these changes to my parents’ binder and I will be changing all my binders over to this format one by one. The side benefit to working on this project is that I have pulled all my documentation into one place (the binder) and it has become a far better Life Story Book.  You be the judge. Here is my research binder after its transformation.

(This was made for my own personal use, but if you see some digital scrapbook paper that catches your eye, I will post a list of my digital papers that I used at the bottom of this article. Some of them are rather old, but I will try to give credits where I can find the information!)

Project_final-touches

Tutorial Alert!

I am so excited to bring you this third tutorial that looks at the finishing touches that can be added to your Research Binders that will give the tabs a much needed update. Gone are the old tabs with the names typed so tiny that you can hardly read them. This tab system is simple, beautiful and very effective. (And I love how much nicer the whole book looks and feels!)

If you love the look of the dividers, they are an Avery product (Avery® Durable Write-On™ Plastic Dividers With Erasable Tabs, 8 1/2″ x 11″, Multicolor, 8 Tabs) and widely available at office supply stores. My favorite page protectors to use are the heavy weight non-glare sheet protectors. They are easy on the eyes and give added protection to the document.

 

Like the Beautiful Borders?

Binder w borders

If you see some borders on pages, I haven’t left them out of the tutorials on purpose; I promise! They are Welcome gifts that I send out to anyone that signs up to be a part of my Life Story Community. I am commited to transforming all our rich family documentation into amazing presentations that will captivate our family’s attention. That’s the goal, right?

Results

This has been a project that has made a profound difference in my own Research Binders. As we digitize everthing in our lives, there is still a place for hard copies — they can be viewed any place and any time — even if we don’t have wi-fi! I will be re-working all my albums in addition to any digital Life Story Books that I prepare.

I’d love to see some of your own updates – please post them to my FaceBook page, “It’s a Life Story”, email me[Michele at Lifestory dot com], or tweet me a picture[ at MicheleKerr on Twitter].

Better Yet

I would love to hear any stories of family members’ reactions to the binders!

 

As promised

Here is a list of some of the digital scrapbook papers that I used in my own personal family history research binder: 

Title pages & Parents Marriage Photo Page & Childhood Photo Page = Becky Higgins’ Heritage Edition  – designed by Celeste Knight:  http://www.digitalprojectlife.com/products/heritage-edition-full-collection

Work Photo Pages = Julie Mead’s Family Yearbook paper – http://www.scrappersguide.com/vol1_yearbook.html (This was a 2007 kit, so I’m not sure if this is still available.)

Beautify Your Family History Binders – Photos Are Up Next

Step Two_Photo Splendor title_Canva

Welcome to the second of three tutorials where we look at making a few changes to our Research Binders in order to make them a bit more reader-friendly. 

I’ve got a some information following the tutorial in case you find that you have any questions. Hopefully, I’ve addressed them all but feel free to send other related questions my way! If you haven’t seen the first tutorial in this series, you might want to read through that as well since I address a lot of basic information that you might not see in this second tutorial like background papers and using Picasa tools.

As I have explained in the first video, I am showing you the changes that I have made to my own personal family history research binder. I love the digital scrapbook papers that I have used. If you see some that catch your eye, you can find out where I got them at the bottom of this tutorial!

Video #2 – Beautify Your Family History Research Binders – Photos are Up Next Using Picasa

 

While working with clients for almost ten years, I have given back many a research binder filled with lots of wonderful documents detailing the lives of their ancestors. When I hand over those binders, one of the first things that I usually suggest is that they add family photos to the album to bring it to life. Today, I’m suggesting that we can take a couple more steps that might result in the binders actually being looked at by family.

Disclaimer alert!

The idea that your research binders won’t be enjoyed without sprucing them up doesn’t apply to everyone. This is just a trend that I have seen over quite a few years and a large majority of clients! They either do all the work themselves or have hired it done only to find out that no one in their family seems to care. To their family member’s credit, I also know that family history is something that we all have to be in the right place and time to want to become involved.  — I’m suggesting that we can nudge things along if we try a few things within our binders.

In my first tutorial I ended with the thought that we would all “love to lure our younger family members into looking at their family history and taking an interest.” Well, if you have ever watched the younger family members scanning their phone “feeds” of Instagram or FaceBook or whatever app they are fond of, you will quickly see that what gets their attention has to have something that draws them into the story or picture.

I’m not suggesting that we need to change our book solely for the younger family members, but that we can reach more generations if we combine those valuable documents with photos and stories – kind of tying it all together into an easy-to-digest format.

Stories – Got them?

Of course, there is always a little ground work to do before heading into any project and this one is no different. We need to have stories before we can incorporate them into our research binders. As you are pulling together the photos that you want to add to your binder, I suggest that you take copies of those pictures and make a few visits to family members that either knew the people in the photos or were actually in the photos themselves. Then I would prepare to make some notes as they reminisce about the event that was happening or something in particular that sparked a memory. It is these little bits of stories that make such an impact when adding it to your family history binder.

While I have your attention, I’d also suggest that you take this opportunity to get a video or audio record of your interview. Then I would save those clips to be enjoyed at a later time and possibly even added to a digital version of your binder.  (Just thinking ahead!) It also helps to be able to listen again and catch everything that was mentioned without having to stop the flow of the story as it is being told. Lastly, I suggest that you go ahead and leave the copies of the pictures you have been looking at with the family member as a thank-you. Of course, if you send them a copy of your finished page that includes their story, that would be even better!

No Pics? No Problem  — but Time is Wasting.

If this is where you are lacking, then again, I would make a point to contact all the family members you can get to and see when you might visit them.  Take along your smart phone and an app like “Heirloom” to scan the pictures. If you don’t have to take the photos out of their sight, it is more likely they will relax and then you can proceed with listening to their stories. Don’t be surprised if you don’t leave them with a real good feeling – talking with your family about their past makes them feel important as well as loved. A win-win situation in my mind!

I’ve said it before, but most of the older family members that I interviewed several years ago have all passed. If I hadn’t taken the time, I would have missed out on all their stories. Lesson learned the hard way.

Organization strategy – Who Needs It?

That title is laughable, I know. Once you start to collect any family documentation, stories, and or pictures, you quickly find out that you will need some type of organization. It can get crazy real quick.

 

To keep things simple, I would have a main folder on your computer titled with the Project name such as “Julian Family” or “Genealogy of John and Susie.” Then within that main folder, I would add the Surnames that you are starting with. Within each Surname folder, I would add the names of both the husband and wife that heads up each generation in a Last Name, First Name order such as “Julian Nathan.” And then, within each of those folders, I would add folders that have titles such as:

  1. Childhood through High School Years
  2. Marriage
  3. Military
  4. Organizations
  5. Family
  6. Death
  7. Land records (if you have enough that warrant a separate folder)
  8. Work / Business

Here’s an example of what my folder looks like:

Contained within Childhood folder_cropped

These are all simply suggestions and obviously they are based on a more recent generation – in fact these are the same titles that I used with my father’s folder. Just take a few minutes to jot down some ideas of what you think might work and then look through your binder to verify that it all makes sense. There is nothing worse than starting to organize things and quickly realizing that it just doesn’t work!

Once you are set with the format, then you can begin to scan the documents you have already located or download them directly into the folder that they belong. There are a lot of organizational plans for family research, but if you are going to try and tie them together for a presentation, this works well for me. I can have a visual idea of everything that I want to include in the binder and it is easy to pick and choose what I need!

Picasa – Love for Photos but Definitely Not a Word Processor. Did I mention it’s FREE?

As long as we all go into this project with the idea that we are going to keep costs to a minimum – FREE, then we can come to terms with the limitations that we will encounter. Picasa is a very user-friendly photo editor and photo management software. I’ve been using it for years even though I also have Lightroom and PhotoShop. It’s quick and easy to move around in and you don’t have to take a refresher course everytime you want to use it! By the way, I also have PhotoShop Elements and it is an excellent bridge product between Picasa and the full-blown Photoshop, but my focus with this tutorial was on FREE and EASY.

So, when you are preparing to tie the photos together with stories and documentation, you will want to have an idea of exactly what you want to get across with each page. In the page that I’m demonstrating with this tutorial, I am enlarging a section of a 1940 census so that I can see what was entered for my family. In my description of the census, I will explain the column entries and if I have any background information, I  will add that in as well. All the stories for that one page can be kept in one document for easy retrieval and then saved in the appropriate folder as well. As I’m working in Picasa, I can then simply copy and paste (Control-V) into Picasa.

This might take a bit of trial and error but it is really worth it and you will quickly get an idea of how much you can add to get the desired effect. You might need to adjust the size of type if you want to add more to a line.

Important Point for Adding Text

The important point here is that you will want to manually add RETURNS into your text so that it will pick up on the returns when it gets pasted into Picasa. Otherwise, it will become one long line of text and you will need to place the returns manually within Picasa. I think you will agree that doing it ahead of time is a good thing! You can always adjust the end of a line by deleting the <return> and adding it back at a different spot, but experiment first.

One other thought: When you paste your text in Picasa, it will be huge and you will need to shrink it down. That works for me, but it might take some getting used to when you are starting out!

Final Thoughts

I never know if anything I ever post will help anyone. But I can sincerely see the difference it has made in my own family history research binders and I am hoping that it might prove helpful to someone else. You might choose a different path to change up your binder, and I’m OK with that. I’d love to hear about the changes you have made and what has worked. And if you have taken it to a family get-together and have some reviews on how well the change-ups worked, I’d love to hear about that as well!

Digital Papers

Here is a list of some of the digital scrapbook papers that I used in my own personal family history research binder: 

Title pages & Parents Marriage Photo Page & Childhood Photo Page = Becky Higgins’ Heritage Edition  – designed by Celeste Knight:  http://www.digitalprojectlife.com/products/heritage-edition-full-collection

Work Photo Pages = Julie Mead’s Family Yearbook paper – http://www.scrappersguide.com/vol1_yearbook.html (This was a 2007 kit, so I’m not sure if this is still available.)

 

Our Family Research Binders need to be brought out of their closets! Let’s get them to the point that they see lots of light and are enjoyed by even more family members.