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How To Not Forget Family History Stories – 3 Easy Steps To Start

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By Jasmine Brand, historian, researcher, writer, guest bloggerJasmine Brand


Having a hard time remembering past stories from people in your family? Are you worried about the next generation remembering their heritage?

Fletcher Martin

While some people love their family photos and get warm fuzzies, some people struggle reconciling their past relationships and events. Yet, we are all playing “a part” which will become historical… and hopefully, the part you play will bring those warm fuzzies to others. The past stories and your future stories are often illustrated with a few choice, favorite family history items that need to be saved, protected and taken care of; an old journal or bible, a piece of furniture, artwork, collectibles and memorabilia, awards and certificates (and much more) are a powerful recall trigger of the memories and tell the stories. (Photo of grandfather who was a boxer in the Navy and later a renowned artist. There are LOTS of stories to tell!!)


History plays an important part in the lives of every person whether knowingly or not. It gives a sense of identity, it tells the stories where we come from and with it a sense of belonging. The definition of history in the Oxford Dictionary is “the whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing.” By this definition each person has their own history, their own legacy, and it is vital that this is preserved not only in their memory but also for their families and perhaps for a community at large.

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed (The Monuments Men, Frank Stokes).”

Saving people's heritage

Part of preserving this personal history is the keepsakes and collectibles a person comes into contact, uses and carries with them through their lives. Returning to the quote at the start of this article, a person’s history – if remembered – is their legacy and by preserving this you can preserve them, preserve their achievements, tell their stories. Loss of this history could change the story we tell of the past, whether it was a World War II battle story or a cherished family tradition.

There is nothing more precious or even sacred than family history. It goes to the very core of who a person is and keeping their memories alive. History is all encompassing, it makes up a personality, desires, needs, everything. It may even provide important health related references.

Some cultures take this very seriously! In some Asian cultures- everything is tied to a person’s ancestors, down to the actions they might make in their own life. The Japanese celebrate Bon a few days of rest taken in the summer months to honor those past and this is considered to be one of the most important holidays there. The Mexican celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead in which they celebrate all that their ancestors did and their family history. However celebrated or cherished family history should play an important role in everyone’s lives. There are many ways to celebrate individual histories and keep them alive for generations. But independent of a person’s cultural roots, a family’s stories can be kept in all sorts of formats from pictures, to paperwork, even through family valuables and heirlooms.

An excellent example of the importance of family “heirlooms” are the reactions that occur from family members when keepsakes are brought out when the family gathers. Faces may light up or eyes may roll but one things happens for everyone: brains turn to the mental archives for the stories connected with the items and the people associated with the items. Each item carries a story with it and with that story a piece of history, however small is told and transferred to others. As you can see, its not all just clutter… but, yes, some judgment calls need to be made when sifting through boxes of stuff (see more about this below).

Discovering a lost box of family history documents


So it is vital to preserve these story telling keepsakes in any way possible, of course the best way is by keeping track and taking care of these items and protecting them from any sort of disaster- whether it be burglary or fire. Saying from personal experience, after the loss of hundreds of family pictures, childhood artwork and priceless toys,

  1. having a high resolution, high quality digital backup of everything important to you is the best way to minimize the loss and will help settle insurance claims (send a copy to others for a back up).
  2. Of course the family heirlooms and valuables have to be handled in a different way… be careful!
  3. A good start in preserving your past is by setting these memorabilia apart and protect them (good storage methods).

It is not the immediate devastation of the loss of these items but the later loss and grief that accompanies it. These tips come from the authoritative book being distributed by many of the genealogy companies on line, Save Your Stuff – Collection Care Tips by Art Conservator Scott M. Haskins.

However what is important to preserve when an average lifespan is now 76 years? 76 years of receipts surely does not make up a history, for example, and when all the inherited items get added in, the problem becomes what is important, what to save. My mother hates clutter, has not kept anything except the odd photo and important document, subsequently I am the opposite, I save everything. So where is the middle ground? What is important?

War Memorabilia

This of course is going to vary and take some individual judgment and careful consideration. The obvious important things are photos, birth, marriage, and death certificates and anything that would encompass what would have been in the Family Bible. You cannot know what is going to be important in the future and for generations to come. This is why it is of the utmost importance to preserve what you can while you can, especially in such a disposable world.

Perhaps by diving into family history you can learn more about yourself than you ever thought. Some people even see it as a spiritual experience, a connection to their ancestors.

For ideas on how to physically preserve your most cherished original keepsakes download this FREE copy of Save Your Stuff – Collection Care Tips, a 210 page multimedia e-book embedded with 35 how-to videos, a $27 value.

Pile of Family History Stuff


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