Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: November 9, 2001
The holidays are fast approaching us! Many of us are making plans to travel to parent's and grandparent's homes to enjoy big turkey dinners, watch parades and root on our favorite football team. It is also a time of togetherness and bonding, particularly this year with all of its tragic occurrences. Nothing can give a family the feeling of closeness as getting together and talking about their ancestors.
Remember asking Grandma if she would let you see the wedding photo of her mother? And being told it was put away in the attic? Now is the time to ask again, long before you show up! That way you're not competing for attention with a turkey that needs basting every twenty minutes! Ever ask Pop to show you his medals and the pictures from World War II? Ask now so you aren't pulling his attention from the football plays.
It's also the time to ask any other relatives that are in the area if they could bring their picture albums or documentation when they show up at the door. Sharing pictures often leads to stories and remembrances that they may have of their parents and siblings.
And you get to actually hold the items in your hands! So much more satisfying then just seeing a picture or a photocopy. The weight, the feel, to realize that your Great great grandfather used that knife, or wore that medal will send a thrill up and down your spine! And to hear the story associated with an item from someone that heard it first hand or was actually there is worth its weight in gold.
This is also a great time to have that digital camera figured out and know exactly how to take pictures of pictures, documents and other items! Faster than scanning, better than photocopies, a digital image can be obtained in a matter of seconds, and you don't even have to take the item out of the album, book or frame. Familiarity with how the flash creates glare, how to light the item and the distance can be learned pretty quickly with an hour or so practice at home on a rainy afternoon. Once you have the skill down, you will be amazed how useful a digital camera really is! I no longer need a pocketful of dimes when I visit the library, I just snap a picture! I then have the option of simple printing it out, or storing it electronically. I can even print out documents that are set in print and then scan it into the text processing software to create a text file to share with others, or include in the family history.
A tape recorder is another handy item to have! A surer means to capture the words than depending on your memory or that short hand class you took in high school! It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive, a simple one will work to serve as a way of transcribing the words. If there are secretaries in the family, they may have access to transcription machines made to allow you to type in the words, operating the tape with a foot pedal while you type away. Many computer systems now have the ability to record and store sound files. Clips of voices and sounds can be easily stored on CD and made a part of the overall records preserved for posterity.
So take some time to prepare before you show up at the family gathering. Talk to your relatives and perhaps even set some goals. You will improve your chances of getting good stories, actual documentation and enjoying yourself. It will really bring the family together with a renewed sense of belonging.