[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee discusses a grandparent role being a generational bridge].
Do you remember spending time and talking with your own grandparents? What do you recall from those chats and about those family members who were important in your life? More importantly, do your own grandchildren know how important your grandparents were to you and if not, how will you capture all that history and pass it on to the next generation?
Connect the Generations
If you can quickly sketch out a family tree listing your parents and grandparents as well as your children and your grandchildren, you’ll see that you are right in the middle. You are the connector between your ancestors and the younger generations in your family.
What do your children and grandchildren know about your own parents and grandparents? If that information is stored in your brain, realize that it is at risk of being lost . . . forever. More and more of us are learning that family stories and photos that aren’t preserved for safekeeping, can easily vanish in an instant.
Recently, Thomas MacEntee, a respected thought-leader in the genealogy and family history industry, summed up the burden of being a generation connector this way: “The younger generations in my family will only know the special people that were my grandparents through my words and through my role as a bridge between the generations of my family. I owe it to them to preserve the legacy that is our family and to collect as much meaningful content as possible.”
Collect First, Then Curate
Even if you’ve never thought much about your family’s history, it’s easy to preserve the information you have about your ancestors stored up in your noggin. Here’s how to get started:
- On a piece of paper or in a computer document, list your own basic information including when and where you were born as well as the important events in your life. Keep it simple, but be precise in terms of data. Don’t worry if you need to go back and make corrections; use your best efforts to remember the important stuff.
- Then work backwards starting with your own parents and then their parents. Again, focus on the most basic information.
- Now add more information including important life events such as employment, marriage, military service, etc.
- Next, jot down those little tidbits and family stories that you remember hearing about family. Be clear on when you heard the story, who provided the info and if possible, how the story got handed down in your family.
- Finally, complete the “picture” with photos, news clippings and documents. Consider scanning those items so you’ll always have a digital version available. You can then share them with family via email or even social media sites like Facebook.
While you are enjoying your new role as family history detective, don’t worry about what you are gathering. Focus on the actual process and make an attempt to collect everything that you feel is important to telling the story of your family history. There will be plenty of time to review what should or shouldn’t be included later on.
The Time Is Now – Don’t Delay!
While this project to complete the connection between your grandparents and your own grandchildren is important, most of us will commit to this in “concept only,” meaning we think it is a great idea, but we won’t get to it right away. Sound familiar?
The tendency to put off preserving your family history is common, but it often results in gaps in a family’s legacy and important information is easily lost. Life gets in the way and the next thing you know, you’ve forgotten about the project, or worse yet, you have trouble recalling those family stories from your youth.
What’s even more troubling is the realization that photos and documents can get damaged or lost in an instant. No one else is going to preserve the items for you . . . it starts with you and to be honest, there are no excuses given the current technology to scan and digitize family photos and other items related to your family’s history.
Get started on being that bridge and making sure that your future generations have full access to as much information as possible about your family.
Keeping Your Research Organized
Once you get started as a family history detective, it helps to keep track of the information you’ve already found. While the options abound, here are the most common methods used:
Notebooks, Folders and Binders
The paper method is still the best method for many family historians so don’t feel that you have to go “high-tech” by any means. Finding your ancestors is just like any other research project – remember those from high school or college? The most important thing is to use a method that works for you whether it is a 3-ring binder, 3×5 note cards or a notebook.
Apps, Websites and Software
There are many programs available, many for free, that will allow you to enter your family history information and keep it organized. Better yet, some programs will even make suggestions on new resources to search. Here is a list of the most popular options:
- trees.Ancestry.com – Create an online family tree for free at Ancestry.com, the most popular family history site in the United States. Once created, you can share the information with family and friends.
- LegacyFamilyTree.com – A free database software program to capture your family history information. Many options and ways to display data and share it with family members.
- MyHeritage.com – Also create a free online family tree using MyHeritage. The site is user-friendly and has many ways to connect with other family members and work together on research.
- RootsMagic.com – Another free software program with a simple, easy-to-use interface for entering data. Allows you to build a “to do” list and print family tree charts.