In part one, we talked about research and resources, now we’ll talk about what to do with all of your newfound information (in addition to sharing every cool story you’ve discovered with anyone who’ll listen, that is.) This is a starter list broken up by effort rather than age – each suggestion can be made as complicated as you like depending on your goals and/or curriculum.
Photo Album: this could be anything from a scrapbook with pockets that you just slide the photos into all the way to a blurb book. We have a small fabric one with just our immediate family in it, and in the works is a large one with edited photos. You could start with the earliest photos available and leave room in the back to add on family members as they are welcomed to your family.
Family Puzzles: The one pictured is one I made for my son when he was around thirteen months old. I printed out the photos and glued them to file folders and then cut them simply so he could match them up.
Basic Family Tree: A simple google search turns up dozen of options for printing out a family tree – you can list family members and affix available photos, and then you can frame it or add it to your album for easy reference. (This is handy for remembering the birthdays of extended family members!)
Family Cookbook: Building on the photo album, if you have recipes that have been handed down through the generations, this is a great way to intertwine your ancestors and the food that sustains us. In the image at the right, I’ve got a photo either of the person who is credited with the recipe or one that corresponds with the recipe in some way, and the right page has a print-out of the recipe. I did this one by hand – and actually wound up making almost a dozen of them for Christmas gifts one year. In retrospect I should have used an online book-printer; it would have been easier.
Mini-Biographies (build on photo album): another way to build on the photo album is to add in mini-biographies or short stories surrounding each family member or photo. Even seemingly mundane actions like baking bread or playing stickball in a cornfield come alive and connect us to the past when we wrap them up in the details of lives gone by. They can even give us little clues about why we have the tendencies we have…think of them as concrete proof that baking (or baseball, or painting, or homesteading, etc) is in your blood.
Map Project: Find the city or country of emigration (unless you happen to be 100% Native-American, chances are high that your family came from somewhere else) and the port of entry and then map the progress. You can take it a step further and follow the generations through history to where you find yourself living today. Perhaps your family headed west with the Gold Rush, or relocated after the Revolution or the Civil War – attaching images and dates to a wall map (and maybe some string to tie it all together) can help bring to life the journey the brought your family across an ocean and into your kitchen.
Travel: there is really no substitute for Going There. Even the domestic trips can give us so much more information than books or the internet can offer. You can talk to people who may have known your ancestors, or who have access to journals and records that aren’t online yet. You can stand at grave sites, battlefields, and homesteads. You can breathe the air that indicated the end of a long, brave journey to a new world. You can take photos of what it looks like now and compare it to what it looked like then. Be sure to take copious notes – both of what you’re told and how you felt. Come home and sort it out and put it together.
Lengthy Biographies/Histories: Consider this the “dissertation” or the “thesis” of the projects – compile what you know, all the stories and the dates and the history, the facts and the photos and the reactions, and put them into an order that makes sense (chronologically, off the top of my head) and put them into book form – or many books. You can tell the story of a single person, or the story of a single event as it related to your family. Were they in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake? On the Trail of Tears? Did they help out in the Underground Railroad? Even a farmer impacted his town in a way that still has ripples today. Even if no one reads it but the people who share your DNA, it will be one less story getting lost to history.
By all means, once you’ve got a couple of good stories to share, plan a dinner with the rest of your family, and start swapping them – who knows, they might just inspire other people to get in on the action.
Geneartogy (send them your chart and they’ll make your tree, they also offer photo restoration services.)