[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee discusses how you can memorialize the military service and achievements your ancestors.]
“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” (—George Canning) represents the sentiments of many when it comes to honoring those who gave their lives in military service. We often feel a duty not just to remember our military ancestors, but also to make sure future generations never forget their sacrifices.
Most of us will mark Veterans Day or Remembrance Day on November 11th in different ways: attending a memorial service at a military cemetery, watching a parade or simply noting the day with our own thoughts and memories of family members who served.
And some will take time to work on projects devoted to memorializing the military service and achievements of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and generations on end.
Gathering Records, Photos and Mementos
Before you create any tribute, take time to gather as much information about the veteran as you can. Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious hiding places:
- Photos: Family photo albums and scrapbooks; also ask relatives if they have any related photos. These should be scanned using your Flip-Pal mobile scanner and digitized so you always have a secure copy.
- Medals and Patches: Medals awarded in combat during military service; patches worn on jackets and other items of clothing; dog tags and other ID items. These can be scanned as well and incorporated in digital or online tributes.
- Letters and Diaries: Letters from the veteran sent home and vice versa, from loved ones to the veteran if they were saved. If the veteran or people mentioned in the documents are still alive, make sure you get permission to use the items. And again, don’t forget to scan these letters and diaries!
- Interviews: If your veteran family member is still living, take time to conduct an interview about their service. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress has sample interview questions on their website: http://www.loc.gov/vets/questions.html. Record the audio or video interviews and transcribe the text as well.
Create a Lasting Tribute
There are various creative ways you can remember family members past and present that served in the military. Many of these projects involve photos—both printed and digital—as well as the use of medals, ribbons, patches and even written diaries and letters. Some inspiring ideas:
- Create an Online Memorial Page: There are many sites such as Fold3 where you can create a multi-media online tribute to a veteran. Most are free and don’t require a membership or subscription.
- Build or Fill a Shadow Box: If you have several 3-dimensional items such as medals and patches or dog tags along with photos, you might choose to build a shadow box, which is basically a deep-framed box with a glass door. You can also choose to purchase a shadow box and then fill it with various items you’ve collected.
- Publish a Memory Book: Once photos and documents are scanned, they can easily be uploaded to various publishing vendors to create a quick and easy photo book. Include quotes and scans of medals as well.
- Create a Military Family Tree: Many families have generations of veterans who served in various wars and engagements. Consider creating a family tree chart listing names and dates of service along with photos.
- Write A Story: Use letters, diaries and interviews, as well as other items gathered through research, to write the story of a veteran. Make sure you include ways to share your written tribute including blog posts, a printed book or even an e-book.
Any tribute you create will help tell the story of that veteran and their service and allow you to pass the story down to future generations.
Image: Robert S. Austin, abt. 1918. Photo in possession of Thomas MacEntee. Used by permission.