Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 22 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 December 14, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss gathering information about your family during this holiday season. I love bringing out old photos or artifacts to help start the conversation. It is so great to share these family stories as everyone gathers.
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We wish you a wonderful Holiday season!
James L. Douthat
'TIS THE SEASON “Tis the Season” to gather around the family with all of the Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and whoever else there is in your family. This is a time of joy and hope. Let’s not waste the time spent together. Now is the time to decorate the family tree with all of the stories, tales, and experiences of the past. Don’t pass up the opportunity!
There are a couple of steps to take if you know family will be there. The first thing to prepare in advance is a short listing of a couple of questions. These questions need to be short and to the point. These will be used as starting points in the conversation. You might ask something like, “Tell us about your early memories of school.” This should start everyone to tell about their school experiences. Even the young people can get in on the action. You want all ages to respond.
Now whether you use a phone, video camera, or just plain note pad with pen, be sure and take notes on this conversation. Don’t and I repeat DON’T try to remember all of the conversations. Notes will help you later to remember. I have a number of audio tapes of old timers telling the history of our area of the country. In listening to these tapes it is chaos as everyone wanted to talk over the others, making corrections, adding additional information, etc. If this had not been on tape, we would have lost most of the history. It took many times listening to the tape to get all of the conversation. I had to listen to just one person at a time and then re-listen to another of the participants to make a record of each conversation, but the effort was one of the most enjoyable times I have spent.
Try to think across ages in getting the questions together. Photographs are a great way to start. In fact, you might find out something that you never knew. I had a photo of a local school with the students in front of the building. In talking with several ladies in the photo they were able to identify all of the students but one little girl sitting on the front row. Since most of the students in the photo were brothers/sisters or cousins of the ladies, they knew all of the students and then went on to tell me about each one. Who they married, who their children were, and who is still alive today. That one little girl, however, bothered the ladies for days. Finally, one of the women remembered that there was a new family living across the road from the school and the little girl was not old enough to attend school yet. When she saw the activities with the photographer and the students outside, she ran across the road and wanted to be in the picture. The teacher let the little girl into the photo and she is there until today. No one could remember the little girl’s name, but they remembered the event. Record everything that is said about each photo, you can verify all of this later from other sources.
If you have antiques or objects used by your ancestors, this is also a great way to start the conversation. Many of the younger generation may not have seen a butter churn or an iron without a plug. I have a doctor's kit and shoe making tools that are very interesting and stir memories in the older generation of great stories.
Here is another activity you might want to try this season. Give everyone index cards to write down those recipes of Grandma’s that everyone loved but has never been recorded. It could also be just a favorite family dish brought by Aunt Sallie Sue at every family get together. You might even collect these and print up a small recipe book for the family. I remember some of my wife’s aunts and uncles talking about my mother-in-law’s chicken soup. It was one of those dishes she must have made when they were growing up that hit the spot. My mother-in-law was the oldest girl of eighteen children to live to adulthood and cared for most of the children as they grew up. This soup had cornmeal in it, but no one seems to remember the recipe. I have been married to this family for fifty-one years and I never tasted the soup as no one could remember in later years how to make it. What a loss. I am sure this was one of those recipes made up during the Great Depression out of whatever was at hand, but as time passed it just slipped into the deep recesses of her mind.
The real gift in all of this is that you might, really just might, stir up an interest in the mind of one of the young people in the crowd. You never know who might want to pick up the search for the family. The interest is there, cultivate it anyway you can. What a gift to leave as a legacy to the family to have someone who wants to take your records and run with them into the next century. After all “Tis the Season.”
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