Document Your Family's Journey (but not too much)
We are fortunate to live in a time when it is incredibly easy to document our lives. We can use our smartphones for photos, videos, audio recordings, and even speech-to-text dictation of our memories.
However, how much is too much? Do your descendants really need thousands of photos and videos of your family? Though it hasn't been talked about much yet within the genealogical community, I think in the very near future, there will be discussions surrounding this kind of family history overload that might cause our descendants more strife than joy. Recently, I went through my kids' baby and toddler digital photo files, and ended up deleting a fair number of them. Many were repeats of the same event or scene and a lot were just not great quality photos. I want my kids and their descendants to be happy to have quality photos that tell our family story, but not so overwhelmed at the quantity of files (or memory those files take up) that they simply ignore them because they don't think they have the time.
I can't tell you how many moms I've known who have had at least one panic attack when the phone or hard drive on which their family photos were stored just up and dies. The recommended rule is to have files that you care about in at least three separate places, in at least two different formats, with one backup location off-site. Update your backups at least once a month; many people do it on the first of each month, but whenever you choose to do it, set up a reminder in your calendar so that you don't forget. (Many off-site backup services, like Backblaze, will do your hard drive backup automatically, so you don't even have to think about it.) I know it's hard when your family is young and money is tight, but that $5 a month I spend on a back-up service is SO worth it, just for my peace of mind, knowing my family's memories are safe.
I also recommend that you make an effort to regularly get your photos and videos off of your phone and/or tablet and into a more permanent and safe digital location. (Again, set a monthly or bi-monthly reminder.) Making physical photo books is great, and fun for even the youngest family members to enjoy, but don't let that be your only "insurance" location. There are some really great apps these days, like Chatbooks, Resnap, and Groovebook, that will easily generate and order photo books for you from the photos and social media apps on your phone.
Tell Your Own Story
It's hard to worry about documenting your own experiences and emotions when you're running on coffee day after day just trying to keep the little ones clean, rested, and fed. But I'm here to tell you how important it is to do so, because so many of the experiences and feelings of early motherhood, which are SO precious and SO personal, are fleeting moments, and you may not remember all the details down the road. And, again, there are some wonderful, easy-to-use, daily journaling apps that make it so easy these days to document your daily mom-kid adventures.
Cultivate Strong Relationships With Older Family Members
The older people in our families are so important to our family histories that we need to cultivate strong intergenerational relationships with them, and we need to model behavior to our young ones that teaches them to cherish the older ones' experiences and memories.
Part of building these intergenerational relationships is making the effort to BE at extended family gatherings, which can be SO hard when you have very young children AND live away from everyone else. Driving in the car for hours on end with babies and toddlers is awful. My husband and I did it so many times through the years, but, looking back, it was SO worth it. During my son's first Christmas, he was only about a month old, didn't sleep well, and didn't eat well, which meant I was terribly tired all the time. We could have easily told family members we weren't making the long drive home for Christmas, and they would have understood. But we went anyway, and I'm so glad we did because I just love the photos of my son's first Christmas with my extended family members. Here he is meeting his great-great-aunt, who was a bit of a surrogate grandmother to me and my cousins, since her sister passed away at a fairly young age. I look at this photo now, and my great-aunt has since passed away, but here is this moment in time when my descendant met a woman whose parents bravely left their homeland of Poland to start a new life in America. So, when you go to family gatherings with your young children, take photos, even if the older people don't want you to, because someday you will cherish those moments in your children's lives and in your family's history.
Probably the most important thing we can do to foster intergenerational relationships is to simply LISTEN to our elder family members, and not only when they are talking about family stories. Listen to them complain about sports teams or taxes or the government; sometimes, people just need their thoughts to be heard. You'll find that the more you listen to people, the more comfortable they will become with you as a conversation partner and the more willing they will be share old family stories and memories with you. Modeling good listening behavior is also really great for helping young children learning the basics of polite and rational conversation, which is a skill they will use the rest of their lives.
Take Charge of Elder Generations' 'Collections'
You might have parents and grandparents who are super-duper family history curators, and if that's the case, this point may not apply to you as much, because there are already people in your family who are doing their best to preserve family ephemera for future generations.
BUT, you might have family members who just have boxes of what they deem as 'old stuff' in their attic or crawl space - maybe some old photo albums, china sets, military memorabilia, family legal papers, etc. They may have intentions of 'someday' going through that stuff, or they may just be leaving it for younger generations to deal with when they pass away. Ask them NOW if you can go through it, organize it, and maybe even re-store it in better & safer archival containers. Also, doing so now, before the older generations pass on, allows you to ask your older family members who things belonged to, where they were made or came from, and who are in the photos, all information that is super-important to preserving family history.
Digitizing photos and other family documents is an easy way for a busy mom to contribute to saving family history. Scanning photos is simple, doesn't require a ton of mental focus, and can be done gradually in small pockets of time. So, if you get discouraged that you don't have the time or energy to actively researching your family history, think about just getting some photos scanned and eventually that will all add up to a great accomplishment for your family history records.
Introduce Your Babies & Toddlers To Their Ancestors
It's never too early to start talking with your small children about their family history. Talking to babies right from birth is SO important to their brain development. I always struggled with this when my kids were babies. I would read to them a lot, but the 'baby talk' never came naturally to me. Now, I realize I should have just told stories about my memories of growing up and people I knew from the past, like my grandparents. Turns out that talking about anything is good for baby. And, of course, continue telling those stories to toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. As a child gets older, make the stories longer and more detailed. Pretty soon, the kids will be telling the stories on their own to younger siblings or cousins.
Visiting cemeteries with young children is a great way to 'introduce' them to their ancestors. It's great exercise and it teaches children not to be afraid of cemeteries, an unfortunate and misguided viewpoint they might pick up from books and/or movies. While at the cemetery, model good and safe cemetery etiquette and even bring a little rag along so your toddler can help you 'clean' off your relatives' graves. Make going to the cemetery a regular occurrence for your children.
Let the little ones touch and hold items that have been passed down through your family. Young children are such tactile learners; if they can associate an object with a story and an ancestor's name and photo, they will connect with that story SO much better than if you just tell the story alone.
Of course, I have many more ideas for helping even the youngest kids connect with their family history and they can all be found on the ACTIVITIES page. I hope that mothers of young children have found at least some of these tips helpful, and I hope they can now see that you don't need to devote hours of time to pure genealogy research in order to have a large impact on the preservation of your family's history. You are living your future family members' history RIGHT NOW and you can make large strides in small ways to keeping your family history alive.
©2018 Emily Kowalski Schroeder