Get Ready To Start Your Family History Project … and Finish It By The Holidays!


Photo courtesy of Jay Phagan via Flickr.

A lot of people complain that stores bring out holiday decorations, music and gift ideas right after Labor Day, and even though I’m  a huge fan of Christmas music, I have to admit even I find seeing the glint of shiny tinsel while I’m still wearing shorts (remember I live in Phoenix) a little disconcerting.

However, if you’re thinking about creating a family history project to present to your family at for the holidays this year, the last days of summer are a fantastic time to start working on it.

If you’re thinking that it is way too early, that you’re going to be able to knock it out between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, consider these factors:

  • The relatives you want to interview might be busy with holiday parties, shopping or decorating.
  • It may take longer than you expect to pull together questions for your interviews, locate old photos, or look up something to confirm a story your narrator tells you.
  • Once you have your interviews and research gathered, you may encounter delays as you review the raw material you have, figure out a storyline around which to organize the anecdotes, and actually edit the video/audio/interview notes into a finished product.

Scope: Your friend when time is short

One of the things that I emphasized in my “Becoming the Family Storycatcher” blog series was how important the concept of scope was to successfully completing a family history project. Simply put, knowing how much of an individual’s or family’s history you intend to capture in the project will help you figure out how much preparation will be necessary to pull it off.

While your long-term objective may be to record your narrator’s life history, or to present the entire history of your immediate family from your parents’ marriage onward, if you don’t have enough time to set up multiple recording sessions of 60-90 minutes a piece this fall, maybe you can focus on family life while you and your siblings were in school, or for an even more focused project, you could try to tell the tale of a particularly memorable summer vacation trip.

Some small-scope/tight focus ideas that can work for a lot of families and individuals include …

  • How we met (any couple, significant friends)
  • School memories
  • Our wedding
  • Military service
  • Early marriage – “before we had kids”
  • Career stories/on the job accomplishments
  • Church memories/spiritual path milestones
  • My hometown (focus on town itself and early memories)

Many hands make light work

Another way to speed up your family history timeline is to delegate some of the work, either to willing relatives or to professionals.

Maybe your sister can help you find and sort old photos (or scan them, which saves a ton of time). Maybe Uncle Emmett has a cute smartphone video of your narrator interacting with his grandson.

Or maybe an audio transcriptionist can give you a clean transcription to work from, making editing much easier. Or you could hire a personal historian, whose primary professional concern is to help you complete this project!

The important thing to remember is that you can spearhead and champion this project without falling into a toxic “family hero” role. Get the help you need, and do the project you can do in the time available!

Flipping the script: Using the holidays to gather material

If you’re reading this post and realize that, for whatever reason, getting a family history project together by December just isn’t realistic, you have one other option. Instead of trying to cram preparation and execution into 3 short months, you can make plans now to gather your raw interviews during the holidays and spend next year assembling your masterpiece.

If your family gets together at Thanksgiving, StoryCorps has essentially made that weekend a national family history holiday, so you may actually be able to apply peer pressure on narrators or relatives! (“All the cool families are doing history projects …”) If you and your narrators have more free time at the holidays, you can also try to arrange to conduct a long-distance interview during that time.

As we get closer to the winter holidays, I’ll offer a few more tips about how to use the holidays as a positive time to promote a family history project. For now, here are a few helpful links.

Beat the Holiday Rush With Family History Month Projects

This post is part of the Ancestry.com blog network, and the author recounts the projects she plans to work on during October, which is Family History Month. The post is from 2008 and references some options specific to Ancestry.com, so be aware things could have changed and use those suggestions as take-off points for you own dreaming.

Recording Your Family History At The Holidays

This is a very nice post from the blog Home & School Mosaics. It walks you through a number of projects that could be done with your children that could help all of you learn more about your ancestors, living or not. It breaks down projects for the kids by age group, which is especially helpful.

Grow a Family Tree: An Ancestral Project You Can Begin Over the Holidays

I was pleased to see a really beefy family history project on Autostraddle, which is a site that covers culture and other issues for an audience of mainly lesbian and bisexual women. People of every walk of life can benefit from this post, which walks the reader through how to create a frameable family tree art project.  It has some nice suggestions for finding detailed genealogical information and for fitting your family’s structure into a tree structure if it is even a little bit non-traditional.

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One comment

  1. marjorie561 · · Reply

    Great article with lots of practical ideas. Thanks!

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