My daughter was just 18 months old when her grandmother, my mother-in-law Colleen, unexpectedly passed away after a short illness. One of my biggest regrets is that we didn’t have more photos or any videos of Colleen with my daughter and that she didn’t get to share more of her family memories.
Colleen had actually purchased a beautiful memory book from kikki.K that she was planning to fill in for my daughter. Unfortunately, she never got a chance to start and the pages are still blank.
Although we recount our stories and display photos of this larger than life woman, it’s not the same as having Colleen share her memories with her trademark laugh.
I’m now spending more time compiling and recording family history to provide family memories to my daughter and her cousins and their future descendants.
If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are – Madeleine L’Engle
Here’s 7 ideas for recording your family history
Take lots of photos and videos
Whip out the phone or camera and take lots of photos and videos at family events and encourage others to do the same. Take videos of your kids playing with their relatives or doing things with their grandparents. Weddings and family birthday parties are perfect opportunities to get lots of snaps of family members together. I also take lots of photos and videos of my child having fun with her grandparents. I have a great video of my mum and daughter baking and icing cookies and one of her gardening with my dad. Another suggestion is to get professional multi-generational photos taken.
Interview your older relatives
Sit down in person or virtuallly with family members and interview them while recording with smartphones or an iPad. Ask them to recount family stories. Here’s a few questions to ask them to get them talking.
- What is your happiest childhood memory?
- What were your favourite subjects at school?
- Tell me about your parents and brothers and/or sisters
- What was your first job?
- Tell me about your wedding day
Or if they don’t feel comfortable being interviewed, provide them with a hand-held voice recorder so that they can record their memories privately.
Get family members to write about their life
Get them to write their story. I’ve provided my parents and my father in law with blank notepads to write about their lives. As well as video memories, I also want written memories with their stories recorded in their handwriting.
Ask them to write about their memories about their wedding day, school days, working life and memories of their own parents as well as including advice for younger generations.
Find old family photos
Search through the trove of family photos and pull out some treasured ones. Do a call out throughout the relatives for old photos. Often different family members have photos that you may not be familiar with. Scan them in and save digital copies of the old prints. Record the names of the people in the photo, location and approximate year. This is where older members of the family might be able to provide further details and the stories behind the photo.
Once you have your photos, add newer digital photos and store them securely either on DVD, cloud storage or on a website. With applications like iMovie, it’s easy to create a family history movie featuring photos and video to a backdrop of music. Or you could make a photo book of family photos and distribute them throughout the family.
Create a family tree
Making a family tree is a wonderful way to explain to kids where they come from and how they fit into a larger family. There are lots of online programs which enable you to enter and print family trees.
See how many generations you can go back. For my family history, I have details ranging back four generations while my husband’s family can trace it back 10 generations to Ireland and England.
One of the tools, I’ve been using is MyHeritage.com, which lets you create a free family tree. (Sign up for free Basic plan) I’ve shared it with family members around the world so that they can fill in information about their family members. You can even edit information, and upload photos on the go with the MyHeritage mobile app during your next visit!
Collect family recipes
If you have special family recipes, honour them and record them in a book that can be shared with the family. If you don’t have recipes, ask for them. I had to pester my mum to write down our Indian family recipes.
After the passing of her grandmother, a friend took her Nana’s handwritten Ukrainian perogy recipe and framed it as a special keepsake which she houses in her kitchen. Every year, family members get together at her house for a day of perogy-making following Nana’s recipe.
If you can’t get family members to write down recipes, film them the next time they make the recipe so you can see what they do.
Visit places of significance for your family
Take your kids and visit places that have significance to your family such as places where your parents and grandparents grew up. Visit their childhood home, wedding location or their school.
These days, you don’t even need to leave your house to travel. Go on Google Earth and look it up or search on the Internet for images of locations. Post-COVID-19, I’m planning to take my daughter to Canada and show her where I grew up. When she’s older, we’ll do an ancestral trip to India so she can discover a part of her heritage and one to Ireland to discover the land where her great-grandmother arrived from.
Whatever you choose to do to record your family history, just start it without delay before it’s too late. I’m sure there’s plenty of family stories waiting to be recorded.
In 2012, Reena founded Newy with Kids to share information about family-friendly Newcastle. Originally from Canada, she had no idea about what to do with her toddler and after searching unsuccessfully for a family guide, decided to start her own. Since that time, both the toddler and Newy with Kids have grown keeping Reena busy. If you see her out and about, say hi.