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Resolve to Share Your Family History

Art Aiello |
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Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.

When researching this blog post, I spoke with my wife’s 88-year-old grandmother to learn what kind of New Year’s resolutions she had made throughout the years. She chuckled and told me the only resolution she could ever remember making was to lose weight, but she also said it was a resolution that she made many times throughout the year — not just at the new year!

Improving our health, whether through weight loss or exercise, seems to be one of the more ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions — no matter who you are. And if you follow this blog regularly, you will have seen many discussions about diet, exercise and wellness, as the benefits to seniors are perhaps even more marked than the average person. Nonetheless, while I think focusing on good health is always a great New Year’s resolution, I will presume it will make your short list of resolutions regardless of what I say here. Instead, I’d like to focus today on a resolution that is near and dear to my heart: sharing family history with your loved ones.

I’m an amateur genealogist, and I’ve been tracing my family’s history for well over 10 years. As my parents, their siblings and cousins grow older, I consider it more urgent than ever to speak with them about what they remember growing up, what photos or other memorabilia they might have and what information they want to pass down to younger generations.

Thus, if you are a senior, consider sharing your memories with your children and grandchildren as part of your New Year’s resolutions. Where to begin? Look no further than your old photo albums. As a family historian myself, I spend a lot of time talking with relatives about the photos they might have. I spent years tracking down my great-grandfather’s stepson just to get a single photo of my great-grandfather. He was estranged from the family, and nobody in my more immediate family had a picture of him. I can’t tell you what a wonderful experience it was to finally see what he looked like — and how much my grandfather resembled him.

If you have children or grandchildren who live nearby, ask them to stop by for some holiday cheer and to see some of those old pictures. If not, scan them into your computer — or have it done at your local retailer or drug store — and email them. Then follow up with a holiday phone call. My parents recently gifted me and my children with customized photo albums. My children have albums filled with images of them and of family they are interested in. My album has older photos that I’ve taken the time to tell my children about.

If you have old film or videotape that contain memories to she, many companies — including many major retailers — offer film and video transfer services for reasonable prices. They will digitize your footage so that you can share it electronically with your friends and families. I have a videotape of my late grandparents visiting us on Christmas morning when I was seven years old and my sister was only two. It’s a memory I will always treasure.

In any case, while a picture might be worth a thousand words, don’t skimp on telling the stories behind the pictures. They will become only more precious as your listeners get older themselves.

If you are a caregiver, how can you help? One way is to help the seniors in your life navigate the technology necessary for sharing family memories. While many seniors are very savvy around technology — my wife’s grandmother has been using an iPad for over two years now, and I communicate with one of my father’s 86-year-old cousins on Facebook — others might require some additional assistance. Offer to scan photos or assist your relatives in getting to the providers that can digitize photos or videos.

Another more important way to help is in gathering and documenting family history information. By this, I mean recording stories from the seniors in your life — either audio or video. You don’t need any fancy equipment. In fact, your smartphone will do nicely. Apps exist for recording audio, just like you would if you had a dedicated digital recorder. And of course, you can make use of your phone’s camera to shoot video of your friend or relative relating their stories.

What should you ask? A better question might be what shouldn’t you ask, because there’s virtually no topic that would not be of interest to the younger generations. In my personal experience, I’ve asked about growing up, going to school, work experiences, family and memories of those relatives who are no longer with us. If you know some memories are painful, then it might be wise to avoid them. But generally speaking, few topics are off limits, and by that I mean that younger generations will cherish them all.

Regardless of your New Year’s resolutions, the entire team at Motivo wishes you a happy holiday and a wonderful new year!

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