Written by: Shannon Combs-Bennett
Well this third rock has gone around the sun…again. And if you are like most people, you have made some resolutions and yet most likely broken a few as well.
Don’t feel bad though. It’s never too late to get back on the horse.
If you are still considering what you want to do this year, I have a few suggestions. Take the time now to make a plan to celebrate, preserve, and discover more about your rich family heritage. Here are my top five suggestions:
1. Do one organizational task each month
We all have a stack of papers, photographs, or partially done scrapbooks laying around. I, for instance, have all the materials for my youngest child’s baby book collected together in a bag waiting to be created.
Photographs are my biggest organizational hurdle when it comes to family ephemera. It is not so bad now that everything is digital. At least there aren’t piles and piles of negatives and glossy prints laying around the house.
However, digital images need to be curated too. They need to be placed in folders which tell you what the collection is about. The images should be labeled so that others know who the people are in the picture.
Keeping them labeled with the generic numbers and letters assigned by your computer is just as bad as a blank photograph from your grandparent’s home.
If we took time each month to care for these potential family heirlooms, our family (and our sub-conscious mind) would be very grateful. Just a few hours, or an afternoon watching a movie with your computer each month will be enough to chip away at those disorganized stacks.
2. Celebrate an ancestor each month
Every month in the United States, and nearly every day, there is a celebration for something. There is Women’s History Month in March, and Family History Month in October. Not to mention a plethora of other observances in between.
Take these days, or months, of remembrance to celebrate the life of an ancestor who falls into that category.
This is a great way to get children and young adults involved with learning more about their family history too. Kid love stories and even better, love knowing that their ancestors were a part of something.
Once you identify an ancestor who fits one of these themes, put your creative hat on. A few of the things you could do to remember them are:
• Watch a movie or read a book about a historical event they experienced
• Write an journal entry about an ancestor each month with information you discover
• Share stories or experiences about how you remember them with your family
• Have the children in your life create a collage about what they think their life was like
To learn more about what the you could celebrate in 2016, check out the National Day Calendar.
3. Take a virtual field trip
I love to travel. Some people say I have itchy feet and I just can’t stay in one place too long. Unfortunately with a job and family obligations traveling has slowed down significantly.
However that doesn’t mean I have stopped entirely. It just means that I have changed the way I do things.
More and more I have started to take virtual field trips to places where my family came from. And this is especially easy now with Google Street view.
I can type an address of an ancestor from records I have found and then navigate to that very spot. Showing my parents and children where our family lived, worked, and died has been very moving on many occasions.
For more historic places, you can check out History Pin to see if anyone has uploaded vintage photographs from your ancestral homes.
4. Interview your loved ones
No one lives forever. And when they are gone, so much will be lost with them. This is why I try to ask my relatives about their lives whenever possible.
Heck, you can even interview your children. As they grow, their outlook on life will change and grow with them. If you have the chance to record these conversations, they will become great keepsakes for the future.
There are times I would give nearly anything to hear my grandparents voices again. Which is why I started interviewing my family. That way my grandchildren can hear for themselves the stores I was told.
Thankfully in the 21st century we don’t need bulky equipment to do this. A smart phone with a recording app will do the trick. It is small enough to not be intrusive, and many times people forget that it is there.
However, always make sure you get the person’s permission to record them. If they say no, you will be left with pen and paper notes, but you will still have a wonderful time.
5. Write about yourself
In a time where people become obsessed with finding their ancestors and documenting their family’s history, we tend to forget about ourselves. Think about it: who could tell your story better than you? Journaling is picking up steam again and as a genealogist I feel this is a fantastic trend! Take some time each month, week, or heck each day and tell your Footprint a story.
It could be a memory, something that just happened, a dream you have, really anything at all.
You do not need to keep a paper journal anymore. In addition to America’s Footprints, there are many other apps and software programs to assist those who strive to be paperless. With digital Footprints for example, you could even add photographs to your entries, making them even more personal.
Do any of these 5 things and I promise you will have an amazing year in family history! So which one will you be starting with today?
Shannon Combs-Bennett is the Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist and Education Chair for NextGen Genealogy Network. She writes and lectures on a variety of topics from genetics to methodology and is contributor to Family Tree Magazine / University.