You’ve spent years digging up data and stories to breathe life into the grandparents and great-grandparents who’ve made your existence — and your children’s — possible. But what are you doing to ensure your family’s legacy will be around after you’re gone?
Here’s something else to ponder: What if a long-ago relative started climbing your family tree, but all his efforts got pitched because he didn’t take measures to ensure his opus would outlast him?
1. 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 scrapbooks
• School scrapbooks with yearbook pages and include memorabilia .
• Cemetery scrapbooks with grave marker photos, plus death certificates and obituaries.
• Immigration and migration scrapbooks with maps, passenger lists, passports and naturalization records.
• House scrapbooks with deeds, pictures and information on the people who lived in each house.
2. Assemble an album. Photo albums are a natural legacy project. Just be sure to identify the photos with names, dates and places.
3. Transcribe diaries and letters. Are you one of the lucky genealogists who’s inherited an ancestor’s diary or letters? Not only do you need to think about preserving them for the future, but you also should consider ways to make them accessible to other family members.
4. Put your family history into words. Try one of these projects:
• Family history book
• Essays: Compile a collection of essays on topics such as your own experiences or memories of relatives.
• Articles: Genealogical society journals and newsletters are good places to publish your research results or tell other researchers about a brick wall you’ve conquered.
• 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.
5. Tombstone rubbings. Your descendants will find rubbings of their ancestors’ headstones more intriguing than photos. But remember, if the headstone is cracked or seems unstable, don’t attempt to make a rubbing. And always ask the cemetery superintendent or caretaker if rubbings are allowed.
6. Know your needlework heirlooms. If you’ve inherited a family tree sampler, make sure you’re displaying it in archival materials away from sunlight, or storing it in acid-free materials. You also can create your own family tree sampler or quilt using patterns from your local craft store.
• Journal or diary
• Research journal: Keep track of your searches and the results, but also report your joys, frustrations and feelings about the search for your ancestors.
• Memoir or autobiography: A memoir focuses on one aspect or part of your life, such as your college years, the 1970s or your military service. An autobiography details your whole life.
8. Get ’em talking on tape. Never leave for a family reunion or relative’s house without a tape recorder or video camera. You don’t have to plan a formal session. Impromptu talks work just as well.
9. Inventory ancestral artifacts. Now’s a good time to create an inventory of your family artifacts, even those in your relatives’ possession. Photograph each item and record the following information:
• how the item came into the possession of its current owner
• the owner’s name and address
• a description of the item
• family stories associated with it
• the date it was made or acquired
• its provenance—that is, the heirloom’s history
10. Display family photos. As you collect photos of your ancestors, frame their faces for a family tree wall display.
11. Electrify your research. Digitally preserving your family history is an easy way to share it with family members who live near and far. Compile scanned photographs and documents along with family stories, and create a family Web site or make a CD-ROM scrapbook.
12. 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
13. Create a family newsletter. Do you send an annual holiday letter summarizing your kids’ and spouse’s activities for the past year? File each one with your family history research, or keep a notebook of letters that you’ve written and received from others.
14. Save the dates. Buy a special calendar to record ancestral events, such as births, marriages and deaths.
15. Rerun yesterday’s news. Create your own family newspaper—The Thompson Gazette, The Wilson Observer, The O’Reilly Times—and fill it with clippings you’ve found about your ancestors, including obituaries, news articles, marriage and birth announcements. Publish you paper annually as a holiday tradition.