We are family historians. We collect documents. We fill our files with records (either digital or paper or both.) We need to know every detail. And...we collect more. More records. More photos. More evidence.
But, what do you do with what you collect? You plug your data and records into your family database program, add the document image, add your citations and continue on your merry way: to the never-ending goal to grow your collection, to expand your family.
…except…does anyone else ever see what you have found? Is it a secret?
Well, it’s not really a secret, but do you share it?
A few years ago a client wanted to present her parents with their own genealogy, in a format that her parents would appreciate for Christmas. (I know that sounds like a simple idea…but genealogy is not simple…and it can be – hold your breath – boring.) To the majority of your relatives – a bunch of documents, lots of illegible handwriting and stories that are way too lengthy in wording (facts) are way beyond comprehension and appreciation of what you truly possess.
This client thought photo books would be great – she would tell her ancestors’ stories with a mix of photos and document excerpts. The end products were not only full of facts and document images, but also entertaining with humor and photos. Well, the books were a hit! Sadly, and recently, her dad has passed…but she contacted me to let me know and now the books live on. She lives in California, her parents in New York State. The books were a connection to family. Her ancestors’ stories have been shared.
Others organize and attend family reunions. But at the end of the reunion, after stories have been told; as heirlooms have been touched and passed around and photos have been around – what do you do with what you learned? What do you do with what you have shared?
Others, like academic genealogists, they write. Some write to entertain, some write with citations. Some authors offer full proof arguments for readers to digest and understand as they persuade you that their story has a firm foundation, built upon a stupendous tower of evidence. Their case is won.
Closer to home, my brother-in-law, Jerald, passed just before Christmas, in December 2016. He was single, no direct descendants of his own. He had two passions in his life that I know of: music and photography. What was his story? His photographs. From his collections, though scant in years, we are working on a tribute photo book to honor his memory, to tell his story. Jerald’s story will be told through his camera eye. Through his vision.
To family historians: we are record keepers. We are the collectors of primary documents, of faded and long forgotten memories stuffed into a cardboard box, diaries of brittle pages and weathered but treasured photographs. However, not all stories are told via birth, marriage or death information. Remember, our primary goal is to tell their story. It doesn’t have to be only vital statistics.
Another one of my friends, Jill, has her grandmother’s postcard collection the early 1900s. Her grandmother mailed these to family members about her travels through the years. It is her diary in a way. Combined, the postcards tell her story; one glimpse into her life one postcard at a time. Jill scanned, transcribed, and published these into a bound book for her own family. She shared her ancestor’s story.
To fellow genealogists: We are the eternal seekers of family information. No matter the level of genealogical education, nor professional goals – in the end, all we care about is our family.
We never tire of our mission. We are never burdened with too many documents. We are the master interviewers of the young at heart and the youth, our descendants. We are the family archivists. We are the guardians of records.
The story is already written. Those that have lived before us, have written it. As gatherers, as collectors, we know their story. It is our responsibility to share it. We love our family – even if we never even met them. They are our heroes. They deserve for their stories to be told. Tell their stories.