Can you give the gift of hope? My pastor would probably say no. He recently gave a sermon in which he argued that hope doesn’t come as a gift, neatly wrapped up. It requires discipline and endurance.
In her ongoing Remember the Descendants blog party, Elizabeth O’Neal asks family historians how they plan to preserve genealogical research for future generations.
The question is well-put for all memoirists and family storytellers. We’re creating a legacy. Even if you don’t know much about your family’s genealogy, preserving what you do know is important.
Preserving Roots, Not Just Branches
Knowing where you came from matters. We hear stories, again and again, about how knowing one’s roots has made a difference. LeVar Burton had a particularly poignant one. I have a couple of my own, which you’ll find peppered throughout this blog.
The Global Family Reunion party I hosted two years ago also brought this home. Though few of the attendees were hard core (or even light core, for that matter) family historians, most showed up with a precious stack of papers, notebook, or chart that Aunt So-and-so had put together years ago. My friend Judy had a single sheet of paper with what her father, then 93, could remember about family names and places.
These unremarkable-looking treasures were heirlooms which connected them to their roots.
Including Family History in Your Legacy of Stories
There are a multitude of ways to preserve that you know about your family’s genealogy. Below are just a few ideas.
You can look at the tutorials on this site or create your own design. Almost every craft store has family tree or family history pages and layouts. When you need inspiration, Stacy Julian’s “a very fruitful tree” site is packed full of great ideas that merge scrapbooking and storytelling. I’ve also pinned quite a few layouts on my Scrapbooking Pinterest board.
Family Bible or Holy Book
Writing names and birth and death dates was a tradition born of necessity before the advent of hospital births and birth certificates. Wouldn’t continuing to honor this tradition make a wonderful gift? Whether it’s a new Bible you purchase for a young person or using your best penmanship (or even a calligraphy pen) to preserve information in your aunt’s dog-eared tome, loved ones will appreciate it.
Remember the Descendants by Writing a Family History Book
You don’t have to have a file cabinet full of genealogical information to start thinking about compiling a family history book. This allows you to combine the stories with the facts. (Hmm. I feel a blog series coming on.)
Digitizing Old Films so the Whole Family Can Enjoy Them
Disclosure: I represent Legacy Republic (affiliate link), a company that does just that. It’s not simply a matter of preserving old VHS tapes that are degrading to put them back in the same closet in another, albeit longer-lasting, format. You can remember the descendants by making your past accessible to them and sharing it with them. Those old photo albums and 8mm films can work as story prompts.
Journaling isn’t what it used to be when I wrote in my diary in high school. Or at least, it’s not necessarily that. Though it can be the portal through which you dump your deepest and most embarrassing thoughts, journals also make a great way to preserve memories, stories, and love for the next generation. Pinterest, of course, makes a great source of inspiration. But keep in mind, it doesn’t have to look like Martha Stewart’s staff put it together for it to connect. My grandmother’s journal was barely legible (I’m not endorsing that, mind you), but we love it immensely.
Need more Ideas?
Below are just a few posts in which family history and storytelling intersect.
- Why You Should Tell Family Health Stories
- Of Trees, Beauty and Family Stories
- Writing Your Family Story in Your Memoir
- 12 New Apps for Family History & Storytelling
- How to Form Emotional Connections to Family Members You Don’t Remember
- Cemeteries: A fata morgana of stories?
- What’s in a name? Sharing Surname History
- What’s Your Fathers’ Day Story?
- Emotional Genealogy: Are You Visited by Ghosts of the Past?
- How to have Conversations that Matter this Holiday
How do plan to preserve genealogical information for your descendants? Leave me a comment or join in Elizabeth’s Remember the Descendants Blog Party (open through June 2017).
Having one foot in the writers’ community and one foot in the family history crowd, the question surprised me. I don’t think it would have come up in an authors’ group. Writers look at it as both, not either or. Probably because “platform building” has become a necessity as authors’ are increasingly forced into functioning as entrepreneurs. They wield whatever tools they can put their hands on and use effectively. Blogging and Facebook come immediately to mind.
In the hyper-awareness that comes with loss, quite a few bittersweet moments have embossed themselves on my heart and memory. Snapshots of love, grief, and faith, gathered over the last two weeks.
I thought the dearly departed would have enjoyed some of them, were he watching. Perhaps he was. My insights aren’t unique, I’m sure. Such bittersweet moments happen in families all the time. But I found comfort in writing them down. Considering them together, I realize that they tell a story that is as much about the departed as those he left behind.
I hope that by my sharing them, you’ll record a few of your own.
Romance stories aren’t only for the young. We’ve always known that. But still, it’s the stories of youthful innocence and falling in love that make the best seller lists. The stories of couples entering their seventh decade of marriage make the back pages.
But those long relationships started somewhere, a lot of times with young love. And these stories get better with age.
Last week I sat in a hospital room with two people I dearly love, both in their mid-eighties. A palliative care professional was trying to get the man, recovering from a stroke, to think about “outcomes” and “interventions.” She asked, “How would you feel about it, if you couldn’t go home? If you had to go to a nursing facility?”
Though poignant, stories of forgiveness can be difficult to write. They call for us to reveal the dark times of our relationships with our family, friends, or even faith. Telling heartfelt stories of forgiveness push us even further than the proverbial long honest look in the mirror. They require us to admit to the world what the reflection revealed.
Stories of Forgiveness
Perhaps because of forgiveness’ elusiveness or our own limited ability to harness its power, stories of forgiveness make for compelling reading. If you doubt their popularity, just do a Google search. Readers’ Digest, Real Simple, and The Huffington Post all offer compilations of stories of forgiveness, as does The Forgiveness Project.
TapGenes, an application that helps families compile their health information, won the 2016 RootsTech Innovator Summit. Last month, I caught up with CEO Heather Holmes to see what difference a year makes.
(In case you’re wondering, I am not affiliated with TapGenes. I just like the platform. Much of TapGenes is free to use.)
How TapGenes Helps Families Tell their Stories
TapGenes explains that they use “the idea of “crowdsourcing” to help “families create a more complete and accurate family medical history, together.” That little word “together” isn’t an after-thought. As families accumulate information, they have conversations about what they know. Not only does this help inform all members of the family, it also fosters honest conversations, a key to preventing important health topics from getting swept under the rug. (See Why You Should Tell Health Stories)
Despite all the fanfare about genetic testing, the information already known to your family provides crucial information for doctors. Think about it, before you even see a doctor, you fill out forms about your own and family health history. Unfortunately, a lot of us can’t remember everything in that 10 minutes during which scribble on the forms as we wait to see the doctor. The website is HIPAA compliant so it’s a safe way to accumulate data
You can also fill out your own information, then opt to share it with family members. Perhaps knowing that you suffer from borderline-diabetes or anxiety and depression will make other family members more comfortable sharing their own or taking actions to treat those conditions.
Assessing your risk
In addition to assembling family health information, TapGenes wants to help “families connect the dots between their known risks and … discover where they can impact and influence better health. One way they do that is through questionnaires that assist with risk assessment. Throughout these Q&As, TapGenes weaves in advice regarding life-style choices, such as taking multi-vitamins, exercise, and alcohol consumption.
The ability to change the ending of your story
My colon cancer risk assessment surprised me. It also forced me to be honest with myself.
I think of myself as active, but my exercise is on a weekly basis, not daily. Clicking through the friendly interview, I had to admit the multi-vitamins are nearing their expiration date in the kitchen drawer and that the closest I come to taking a vitamin D supplement is using whole vitamin D enriched milk in my coffee. And it didn’t even ask me about that polyp they found at the last colonoscopy and how long it’s been since I had a follow-up.
By making me a little uncomfortable, TapGenes reminds me that I have an opportunity to influence how that story ends.
All of the above is available under TapGenes free subscription. However, their upgraded membership includes unlimited documents and access to their genetic section and pharmacogenetics alerts.
If you’d like to join me in trying that out, Heather is offering TreasureChestofMemories.com readers a 50% discount on the upgraded membership (from $79 to $39 for a one year subscription). After signing up for a free account, use the code (treasurechest50) to get the promotional discount for the premium account.
When we’re writing our family’s history, we tend to skip over the family health stories.
With the exceptions of gory accidents or war injuries, health—or lack of it—gets a subtle billing. It often only rates a simple note of what the attending physician scrawled on a death certificate.
I get it. War stories, including injuries, inspire the imagination. Plus, they possess a certain valor. We’re far removed from a society in which all able-bodied men were expected to serve. And, train-wreck stories rivet us. We’re wired that way. Maybe it’s so we have that “I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me” feeling.
Research isn’t what genealogy is all about. It’s about understanding your roots. Knowing where you came from is part of your story. What makes you uniquely you.
Sometimes, though, we don’t like the facts we find. (See Facing Ancestors’ Pasts & Not Liking What We See) We’re tempted to ignore them, make light of them, or re-frame them. The problem is, none of that breeds understanding.
I recently attended a lecture on telling ancestors’ stories. I found myself stopped short when I heard the speaker say, “We must be proud of our roots.” Although he was trying to make the point that ancestors’ stories can invoke family pride, he lost me. My brain was screaming, “Oh, no, we don’t.” If I limited my ancestors’ stories to those I could be proud of, I’d leave a bunch of folks out.
RootsTech is a great place to discover apps for family storytellers. In fact, Rootstech is to storytellers as Virginia is to lovers. A homeplace. A source of inspiration. A show case of innovation.
Innnovator Summit’s Apps for Storytellers
Although FamilySearch’s Steve Rockwood advised innovators to look beyond the storytelling, thankfully a couple of this year’s innovators didn’t get the memo.
Emberall helps you let loved ones tell their own stories in their own words via short video clips. Which, according to Embrell’s Karen Corbitt, is the preferred format for millennials.
When downloaded on an Android or iOS smart phone, the app guides users through creating an album and interview question prompts. Using the smart phone’s video, loved ones record their responses. Better yet, Emberall tags and categorizes the video clips, making them easy to find and share. You can also upload the videos to presentation quality DVDs.
QromaTag came from innovator Tony Knight’s desire to uncover the stories behind the photos his father left behind when he died. Tony asks, “How many times have you looked at a photo and wondered what was going on? If it was a print, you might be tempted to flip it over to see if anything was written on the back.” Sadly, those of us who’ve been obsessively scanning photos for years haven’t taken the time or had the expertise to add meta data to the photo file. (Metadata is bits and bytes of information stored in photo files.)
Luckily, Tony knows more about things like EXIF, IPTC, Voice Recognition and standard outputs than the average bear. With QromaTag, you can record the exact GPS coordinates of the place your grandparents’ home used to stand. In addition, you can use—get this—voice recognition to tag photos with names, places, and even 2000 characters to attach “the most important parts of a story” to the photo. This makes finding the photos to use in stories much easier. It’s currently available for iOS, but will be out soon for Android.
Qroma Tag won 2nd place in the RootsTech Innovator Showdown.
Previous Innovation Summit Winners
Twile.com (Last year’s Innovator Showdown People’s choice winner) “makes your family history more visual and engaging” with the creation of timelines and aesthetically pleasing info-graphics. Though Twile can pull family’s memories, photos and stories in the same place, it can also be used to enhance your stories. For family history buffs, their partnership with FamilySearch makes them even more attractive. “Twile” comes from “erstwhile” and is now completely free to use.
Storyworth.com (the 2015 Innovator Showdown winner) helps with the problem of getting stories from loved ones who probably would never get around to writing themselves. A subscription service, loved ones (or you) will receive weekly story prompts. They can respond via email or phone and those stories are kept on an ad-free private server.
Other Apps for Family Storytellers
Storycorps’ app remains at the top of my list. Like many other apps, it offers prompts to facilitate interviews, but it offers the users a chance to upload their interview to the Library of Congress. In my experience, these interviews are stilted questions and answers, but rather include a lot of heart.
Rev.com transcription for voice recorders, intrigues Valerie Brown Eichler, a friend who blogs at familycherished.com. Imagine, recording your oral history interviews and having a service that automatically transcribes the interview. Neither one of us have tried it out for accuracy, but it’s definitely one to watch.
What are your favorite storytelling apps? Let me know!