Q. Why should I include holiday celebrations in family or personal histories?
A. There are so many reasons. Holiday traditions are the connective tissue between the generations. We change traditions as we get married and create our own traditions, but we always pull in some aspect of what came down through our families.
Q. What kinds of holiday traditions could give me insight into my ancestors’ lives?
Q. Where should I start gathering holiday stories?
Find time at the dinner table to stop talking about sports and politics and talk about the holidays when you were young. Kids love it! It’s a world they otherwise can’t begin to visualize.
Q. What other sources should I turn to?
A. Certainly the family photo album is a place to start. We tend to take a lot of photographs on holidays, and this was especially true in the past. It’s amazing in how many photos you’ll see food sitting around. Research the community where the family lived, looking for ethnic and small-town newspapers.
Q. What if some holidays bring up sad memories?
A. Tell the stories anyway, in a sensitive way. It honors the difficulties and the loss of those who are no longer at the table. I lost a brother when he was 29, and he is always at the table with us. We grieve, but the stories always lead to laughter, and that’s what honors him, more than the tears do.
Q. What formats work best for these stories?
A. Archive everything as much as possible on the computer. Self-publish a little book: Put together photographs and stories and print them. I also know a lot of people do video work these days; it’s so easy with the technology that’s available.
Q. Any last suggestions?
- At an upcoming holiday gathering, take a picture of every dish served. If possible, get a photo of the person who brought it.
- Collect each recipe. Note who brought it and why, along with any traditions or family stories that go along with it. (If you can’t get all of this done during the holiday get-together, send follow-up e-mails.)
- Print the photos.
- Gather photos and your notes in a scrapbook, binder or photo album. For example, a 4×6-inch photo album with three pockets per page can hold a photo on top, a recipe card in the middle, and a family story about the dish or its creator in the bottom slot. Recipes and stories can be written on 4×6-inch journaling cards (see Resource Roundup) or index cards.
- Create copies for other family members as keepsakes.
- Christmas: The Holiday Journal, $18.95
Journals Unlimited (800) 897-8528, www.journalsunlimited.com
- Recipe Memory Book, $22
C.R. Gibson (800) 243-6004, www.crgibson.com
- Archival ornament tray with lid, $18.50-$19.50
Ultimate Christmas Storage (800) 397-7566, www.ultimatechristmas.com
- Share & Tell journaling cards, $3.99 for 25
Pebbles (800) 438-8153, www.pebblesinc.com
Becoming a necessary part of modern life in the late 18th century, portable writing boxes were used by learned families to draft correspondence. Writing boxes were the center of correspondence at home and were often taken on trips. Consider this your ancestor’s laptop. —Antique Trader www.antiquetrader.com