“What do I do now?” is something I hear from readers every once in a while, as in, I’ve done all this research—now what should I do with it?
What I like about this “Best of” excerpt from Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s “How to Be a Good Ancestor” article in the April 2005 Family Tree Magazine is that it helps answer that question. These are a few of her ideas for putting together and passing on your family history.
Start scrapbooking. Only your imagination limits the scrapbooks you can create. There’s the standard heritage album, but also consider these five themes:
- Family reunion: Make a scrapbook of the gang’s get-together, including programs, photos and interviews.
- School: Create school scrapbooks for yourself and for your spouse, as well as your children. Scan or photocopy yearbook pages and include memorabilia (report cards, your graduation tassel) plus journaled memories of events and friends.
- Cemetery: Photograph grave markers, and find death certificates and obituaries.
- Immigration and migration: Maps, passenger lists, passports and naturalization records document your ancestors’ travels. Record their modes of transportation with images of prairie schooners or the ships that bore them across the Atlantic.
- House history: Include deeds, pictures (take photos of similar buildings, if the houses aren’t around anymore), descriptions of the furniture and décor, and information on the people who lived in each house.
Assemble an album. Photo albums are a natural legacy project. Just be sure to identify the photos with names, dates and places. One must-have guide for learning how to find and identify photographs: Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs, revised edition (Family Tree Books), by Maureen A. Taylor.
But what about all those cool documents you’ve been collecting, such as military records, passenger arrival lists, vital records, censuses, and wills? Start a binder for each surname and organize documents and charts for each individual behind tabs in acid-free sheet protectors. Place a label on each sheet protector identifying the document and the source where you got it. Not only is this project a great legacy, but it also forces you to keep your research in order.
Put your family history into words. If writing is a pastime you enjoy, try one of these projects:
- Book: This is the ultimate way to hand down your history legacy because you can give copies to everyone in the family — and even to libraries and archives. My book You Can Write Your Family History (Genealogical Publishing Co.) provides genealogy-focused writing and publishing advice.
- Essays: Compile a collection of essays on topics such as your own experiences or memories of relatives, then copy and distribute them to kin. If you collect the essays in a binder, you and other family members can add to them easily.
- Articles: Maybe you don’t have enough information to fill a book, but you still want to publish your research results or tell other researchers about a brick wall you’ve conquered. Genealogical society journals and newsletters are good places to do this. Consult Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century edited by Henry B. Hoff (New England Historic Genealogical Society) for help writing a publication-worthy article.
- Letters: Whether you mail them or not, compose letters to the youngest members of your family to tell them what life was like when you were growing up. Write about your parents and grandparents, recording your fondest memories of spending time with them in addition to facts about their lives. Make copies for all the kids in your family, and present them on a special occasion.
Feast on family food heritage. Gather family recipes to create a book, CD or Web site for your kin who like to cook. Along with each recipe, include a photo of the dish and the cook who’s most famous for it, a brief biography of the chef, and notes about the holidays or occasions when the dish was served. If your family has a strong cultural background, such as Italian or Hispanic, incorporate some food history gleaned from ethnic cookbooks. When family members gather for a meal, don’t forget to turn on that tape recorder or video camera. Capture some of the food-focused conversation to include in the recipe book.
Related resources Family Tree Magazine:
- Family Tree Magazine Plus members can read Carmack’s full article
- Oral history interview toolkit (both free and Plus articles)
- Family Tree Legacies: Preserving Memories Throughout Time from Family Tree Shop
- Instant Interviews (a book of thought-provoking questions and interview techniques) from Family Tree Shop