Celebrations and holidays are a time for families to gather, which often involves reminiscing and remembering. Before the details of your family’s stories become lost or forgotten, get different generations involved in preserving the memories—and perhaps you’ll create some in the process, too.
Your grandparents might not have been world famous, but undoubtedly each had a claim to fame in the community or family. Have the kids interview family elders (make audio recordings of camera-shy subjects) about themselves, but also about their parents and grandparents. Try to elicit funny stories and anecdotes that reveal individual personalities, unique interests, and talents—you might be surprised to find that your nephew has the same passions or quirks as his great-grandmother. Here is a list of questions to consider asking, with pointers about how to record your family’s history.
Whether your family snapshots are in boxes, photo albums, or scanned onto computers, make sure you’ve identified the people in the images, as well as recorded dates, events, and locations. Transfer old home movies to DVDs and send copies to family members as a holiday gift.
You can start with an ancestor and list all of his or her descendants, or start with yourself or your children and trace back on both sides of your family tree. Some branches may be leafier than others, but try to include as many full names and important dates as possible. You can find templates and information online, or have family artists or calligraphers create a family heirloom to copy and frame for everyone.
Do you hear howls of protest if you threaten to try a new recipe for Thanksgiving? Does your granddaughter ask for a favorite cake every year for her birthday? Make sure future generations can enjoy culinary traditions by creating a personal cookbook of favorite recipes. And make note of the stories behind beloved objects. Was the menorah among the few items your ancestors brought from their homeland? Where did a favorite ornament come from? “When my parents downsized, they divided some of the Christmas decorations among my siblings and me,” says Amy Smith. “I would tell my kids about each ornament as we decorate our tree—whether someone gave it to them, if it was from my childhood, or even where their grandparents or great-grandparents got it. I know they remember, because now they tell me the stories.”
Now that you’ve assembled all these great family histories and objects, house them all in a keepsake box so you’re sure not to lose track of them. Over time you can add to it, and it will be a wonderful chest of treasures to pass on to succeeding generations.