GATHER FAMILY STORIES
Karen Utter Jennings
The harvest season is a season of gathering crops from the fields and getting together with family and friends to celebrate the harvest. Gathering family stories is a fun and tantalizing aspect of genealogy. With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to prepare for big family gatherings.
Collecting family stories includes letters, oral stories, photos, cards, interviews, Bible records, published materials such as books, etc. Each piece of memorabilia contributes to a rich family history.
Many folks write holiday family letters to their kinfolk. These letters can sometimes be full of family information, so keep them with your research. Not long ago, my cousin, Shirley Bell Utter Grout gave me photos and old family keepsakes from her side of the Utter family: Zim and Sarah Utter. In the batch were several letters written by Sarah’s sister. The sister writes of news from their hometown in Indiana and of family still living there. The sister gives details of a friend’s wedding and all she received as wedding gifts. What a wonderful documentation!
When you have old letters, somewhere on the letter, perhaps at the top or bottom, include the date, who the writer of the letter is and how they are kin to you. In fact, always save all letter and cards as they document and preserve that person’s handwriting and their words.
This year, during your annual Christmas card sending, why not try your hand at writing family letters to your kinfolk. Explain that you are doing genealogy and include family information that you have found. Ask them if they can supply answers to the missing information and if they have pictures they will share. You may be surprised at what you will get in return.
Another suggestion for this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings is to ask your guests to bring a few family photos to share with everyone. Then prepare for the event by writing down questions you may have or memories, which will be great conversation starters.
Interviewing relatives at the family gatherings is another great way to learn bits and pieces of days gone by. An informal interview can be as simple as sitting together asking and answering questions. Beforehand, write questions on paper so you will not forget them during the excitement of the day. Keep the paper and pen with you. While interviewing, think about using a small cassette recorder if you have one. I have learned that when our family members get to reminiscing, I cannot write fast enough to catch every phrase and word! You may want to ask your relatives permission to use a recorder beforehand.
Another great way to gather family stories is to use the photos you have with no identification on them. Place the photos in archival-safe clear sleeves and assign a number to each photo. During the get-together, pass them around and ask if anyone recognizes the people, places, events, and dates. Write the information you learn about the photos on paper corresponding with the assigned number of each photo.
Please, never write on the backs of the pictures and if you must, use pencil. If you use an ink pen to write on the backs, over time the ink will bleed through onto the fronts of the pictures ruining them.
Family dinners and get-togethers are opportunities to discover missing pieces of your research. The holidays are coming: gather your family history stories.