Mar 272014
 
Preserving family history info and roots

Preserving family history information will help loved ones know who you are

“Let your roots show” isn’t something likely to go over well over drinks on a girls’ night out. However, the same comment might be warmly received by a group of family history buffs. They’d wonder how they could do that, short of getting their pedigree chart screen-printed on a sweatshirt.

Whether you’re a certified genealogist or just writing down a few stories, you need to let your roots show. Preserving family history information will be a true gift for loved ones. Knowing where you’ve come from will help loved ones understand who you are. Even if you haven’t been tracing your roots, there’s a lot you can do.

Preserve data about your grandparents

Of course, it’s important to write about your parents and grandparents as people, not facts. However, it’s important to include the basic statistics. Documenting basic names, places, and dates is a way of preserving family history information. With the digital records archived with online sources like Ancestry.com, with basic facts about a person’s parents and grandparents the future family historian is off and running. Write down any of these basic facts:

  • Names, including maiden names
  • Name changes
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Places they lived
  • Military service
  • Date and place of immigration
  • Date of death
  • Place of death, including cemetery if you know it

Stories about the “old country”

Family folklore is important to save. Did a grandparent talk about life in the “old country?” Was a different language spoken at home? Did you hear stories of immigration? Write these down!

Old Photos:

Even if you don’t (yet) have time to make beautiful scrapbook pages to memorialize family photos, you can take simple steps to make sure they’re available to loved ones. Make sure they’re stored in acid-free albums or boxes. According to Bertram Lyons, an archivist at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in Washington, “acid-free photo albums with non-PVC plastic pockets (polypropylene, polyethylene or polyester) and no adhesives are fine for storing prints.”[1]

Whenever possible, leave a record of who is pictured in photos. Family Tree magazine recommends using a soft lead pencil to avoid making indentations on the photos.[2] I prefer purchasing photo-archiving pens for this.

Preserving Family History Trees and Charts

Preserving family history chart

Someone in my husband’s family knew the importance of preserving family history information. Though no sources are mentioned, this data was extremely helpful.

In many families, someone else has undertaken the task of preserving family history information. Often, there are some family trees floating around the family. These can range from a simple chart to extensive compilations. Make sure this information is passed along. (For simple charts, you can scan them and distribute digital copies.)

Preserve Family Papers

In many homes, family papers are stored in a box on the top shelf of a closet, in the basement, or in the attic. Make sure they’re not in an environment that will cause them to degrade. Keep them away from moisture or excessive heat. “How do I preserve my family papers” has straightforward advice from the National Archives.

Your Turn:

What are you preserving for your family? Please leave a comment below.


[1] Bertram Lyons, “Tips on Archiving Family History, Part 2,” New York Times, June 5, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/booming/tips-on-preserving-family-films-and-photos.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[2] Maureen A Taylor, “Safely Labeling Your Old Family Photos,” Family Tree Magazine, May 30, 2013, http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/How-to-Safely-Mark-Your-Photos.

  4 Responses to “Preserving Family History Information”

  1. My dad was the holder of a family letter from 1864 describing personal accounts of the battle of San Jacinto. I read the original letter one time as a teenager; it was stored in a store-bought clear plastic sleeve. When my dad passed away a few years ago, I discovered he loaned the letter to a university for display in exchange for proper treating and storing. Unfortunately, the curator believed the letter was a gift, not a loan. Although it remains at the university for now, our family is glad it’s being preserved appropriately. I do have a fantastic photocopy of the letter; however, I’m missing 2 of the 7 pages. Hoping the university will copy the missing pages for me; not sure what damage photocopying might cause. Thanks for the article!

    • That’s a cautionary tale. I guess my sister, the lawyer, would say that those “loan” agreements should be in writing. However, I can’t imagine the university not helping you get copies of the missing pages!

  2. Ooops! It’s been awhile since I’ve read the copy of our family letter – it would have been written in 1830s or 40s.

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