FAMILY HISTORY BASICS #2 – Family Documents (We need them!)

Last month, we began the process of pulling our own records together. Of course, the stories that make up our own LifeStory might take more than one month to pull together. Mine is a work-in-process. Whether you love to write in a journal by hand, enter into a computer or use your phone, there is never a better time than now to start! (I recently started using Prixm on my iPhone to do my daily journaling.)

Setting our sites

The next step in our journey is to tap into our own living relatives for stories. Just think… if you have a living grandparent, they will have stories about their grandparents and those are your gg-grandparents! I’ve learned the hard way that we can’t put off contacting those important resources – our family, when life is so fragile and we are never guaranteed “wait time”.

And if you have elder family members, then it is a win-win to take the time to visit with them and listen to their stories. And don’t forget to ask them to see photos! Those are the best story-starters but you will want to have something handy to take notes (audio, video or handwritten!) Can I just say that the I always get an instant up-tick in my own feelings when I have made the effort to go see my elder family members, either in person or by phone call. I’m betting that your elder relatives will get a similar reaction as well.

On to Generation II and III

This month, as we go back to basics with our family histories, it’s all about the next two generations, or as we better know them, our parents and grandparents. I know that sometimes families, for better or worse, can get a bit difficult or make us uncomfortable, but they are who they are, which is our family, so let’s get their information written down and pulled together so that we can continue on to see where our journey takes us! We are who we are because of where we came from or even in spite of it, right?

Checklist? Yes.

Need a handy sheet to help track the documents? I’ve got you covered. This PDF is a fillable form so you can save it, open and type in all your information, or just go ahead and print it out to take along with you to get help in filling it out!  (It’s for your personal use. Enjoy!)

Next Step

Where to find birth, marriage and death documents? Do a quick Google search to see where your state or region’s vital records can be found. For me, here in Indiana, I can find, birth, death and marriage records right on Ancestry.com and yes, that would be the copies of the original documents! If you don’t have a subscription, don’t forget to look to your public library to see if they have a library edition or consider taking a free trial. They also have month-to-month subscriptions if you want to take it for a test drive! Not all states have their vital records online so you will need to get copies directly from your parents and grandparents or check to see if any family members have copies. And if you can’t locate them personally, then check in with the County or State where they were born, got married or passed away to get “genealogy” copies. (You probably don’t need certified copies so make sure to ask!)

Who doesn’t love Goals?

So, our goals for this next month? Contacts, contacts, and more contacts. Get creative if you like but take this as a gentle nudge to take that step. I’d love to hear some of your stories! After my mom passed away back in 2000, I made a point to go visit and/or call three remaining elderly relatives of mine who were all in their late 80’s and early 90’s. Not to be a Debbie-downer, but now, some eighteen years later and they are all gone as well as my own father and brother. I will always count our talks and visits with these precious women as some of the most special times I had after losing my mother.

The documents are an important part of the puzzle because they give us directions as to our next step in our family history journeys. More important than stories? Mmmmm…. that would be a tough one for me so let’s call them equally important and something to try and work on together!

Note:  I have been posting monthly heritage articles for Scrapaneers since December 2016 and this article originally appeared February 22, 2019, on The Scrapaneers’ Society website in a series titled “Family History Basics.”  My articles are meant to encourage us all to get our own LifeStories written down and I’ve been given permission to repost them here on my own website. If you are interested in learning more about digital scrapbooking, The Scrapaneers’ Society has wonderful classes available from beginner to advanced.

FAMILY HISTORY BASICS #1 – Starting with what we DO know

Stories are powerful and telling your family story can have a great impact on your life. Reaching back into our family’s history helps us to build our own story and to make sure that our descendants will be telling them into the future. Your family history does matter.

Where to start?

Each month, I’ll add a different project to work on that will help to guide you in your own journey. This is meant to be fun, so I’m going make it as easy and non-stressful as I can. If you have never done family history research, you are in the right place, so jump in wherever you are in your own research and join me! (If this isn’t your first rodeo working on your family history, please feel free to share your own tips and inspirational stories!)

We’ve all seen family trees before so let’s think of this journey in the shape of those family trees:  starting down at the bottom with ourselves! It is a safe bet that you have most of your own documentation available or know where you can get your hands on it. What other pieces of information do you know for sure? Let’s get them written down and start to round up our own documents and call this month a Win.

Let’s begin

Family pedigree charts and group sheets are really simple place to start tracking, but really… we just need a notebook. On the first page, start with yourself and then add your immediate family:

  • Names (first, middle, maiden/last names)
  • Dates and places of birth, marriage and death
    • If you have documents for all of these pull them into a folder or binder
  • Where have you lived (add addresses if you have them!)
  • Your immediate family?
  • Occupation(s) and dates (these don’t have to be exact but best guesses are helpful)
  • Military service (dates if available)
  • Interesting stories
  • Timeline:
    • Let’s start at the very beginning… You were born, so add that date at the top. If you take a few moments, you can quickly figure out the years that you were in kindergarten and continue through college. Go ahead and add those as well. If you are married, then there is another date to add and so on.
    • Why a timeline? It is great to have those dates to be able to easily find so we can plug in our own stories as we think of them. Just trust me on this – you will be happy you did.

If you don’t like paper, then start a spreadsheet where you can keep adding and moving around the information. Do whatever sparks joy! (Yes, I’m a Marie Kondo fan and working on applying her techniques to my own family’s important sentimental documents and photos.)

That’s it!

Yep, you read that right. That’s all we are going to work on this month  —  it’s all about us! I like to slow way down and just enjoy the process. When I did this, I got out my own photo album and started to plug in dates and brief reminders of stories and events. Actually, this was my favorite part – reminiscing and scanning over the photos.

Do you find that you feel better after looking over your childhood photos? I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about reminiscing and how it can actually help to motivate us.  We “tend to look back longingly to the stability and comfort of the past as a way to regulate … anxiety about the future.” I could have written the article myself because I know how happy it makes me feel when I look over old photos – and I’m guessing that this doesn’t happen to just me, right?

So, think of this month’s homework as a self-help tool!

See you next month!

We’ll take the next step in our family history journey…

Note:  I have been posting monthly heritage articles for Scrapaneers since December 2016 and this article originally appeared January 25, 2019, on The Scrapaneers’ Society website in a series titled “Family History Basics.”  My articles are meant to encourage us all to get our own LifeStories written down and I’ve been given permission to repost them here on my own website. If you are interested in learning more about digital scrapbooking, The Scrapaneers’ Society has wonderful classes available from beginner to advanced.