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Family celebrations, such as holidays, anniversary and birthday parties bring joyful family occasions for all — often the only time we get to see some family members. And when families get together, they talk. The stories may focus on today — or reminiscences of the past.
The following are ideas to help celebrate family and encourage and save the precious flow of memories from your family.
Record the Family
Tape recorders, cameras, or video cameras are useful for recording a family. Practice using them. You should know how to use the equipment before you go.
Don't be afraid to let your older children use the video equipment. They have a unique view of the world that will come through in their recordings.The wonderful "nose" shots that our boys took of everyone at one Thanksgiving gathering help us recall the humor those boys brought to our family as they grew into manhood.
It is not necessary to sit interview-style with individuals in order to obtain information and memories. A video camera can be set on a tripod in a corner of the room and a tape recorder can be placed on a TV tray behind the dinner table, ready to catch the flow of conversation.
You can't be everywhere at once, so purchase several disposal cameras that you can ask people to use and leave for you to develop.
Don't be afraid to let the children take some of the pictures.
Family Slide Show
Put together a family slide show. A few months before the event, ask family members to dig through their collections of old slides for some pictures of themselves and family gatherings.
Ask family members to write their names on each slide so you can return them. Don't forget the newer members (in-laws).
Arrange the slides in chronological order (or your best guess) for greater continuity. It's fun to watch the toddlers turn into teenagers.
During the family event, choose a time when everyone can gather to view the slides. Set your video camera on a tripod angled to film as many people as possible.
Not only will they enjoy themselves, but now you have great video material for future gatherings. Their comments about the slides will add much to your video.
It's never too late to start an album of extended family pictures.
Ask family members to have copies made (or allow you to do it) of some of their favorite pictures from past holiday or reunion events. These pictures can be displayed at future gatherings.
Albums are available that will allow pages to be inserted in chosen sequence for easy inclusion of older photos.
Have the kids draw pictures of something important to them, like their houses, pets, friends. Include these in the album. The drawings might not seem like much right now, but in a few years everyone will enjoy looking back at them.
Bring your genealogical photos of tombstones, of houses, of people.
Don't show too many photos (or unrelated photos) at once.
Everyone will become interested in viewing the photos and sharing their own memories. Allow the memories to flow freely. Once the conversation is flowing, you can insert your questions, such as:
"Wasn't there a daughter who died at a really young age?"
When the holidays are over, transcribe some of the stories for inclusion in the family album.
Display Family Artifacts
Bring one or two family artifacts: Quilts and doilies, clothes, dishes, jewelry, tools, and toys, for example. They're great conversation starters because they are about people and activities.
In our family, a certain quilt always brings back memories, because we all remember the time Dad cut his head on the quilting frame while Mom was making that particular quilt.
Take advantage of developing coupons and have prints made, for each descendant, of that special photograph of a loved grandparent.
A snapshot of grandpa at the fishing hole (once everyone is done arguing about which fishing hole it was) will lead to memories and tales of childhood visits and carefree times.
Display a handicraft item related to the family, such as cross-stitch, needlepoint, or embroidered family trees.
The painting our mom did of the old barn brought forth memories of three generations.
Create a Family Tree
Create large pedigree charts of direct lineage and family group sheets. These provide perspective for those who can't remember if it was Aunt Alice or Uncle John who was on great-grandma's side.
Many computer programs have wall-size charts that are great conversation starters.
One way to get that family history data on all your cousins is to place butcher block paper along the walls and have the families fill in their information on large family group sheets as they find their spot on the chart.
One genealogist I know brings his laptop and printer so he can enter the data on new babies and print out their lineage back to the earliest known ancestor.
Bring articles, stories, or books that you or others have written on the family. If possible, make several copies to pass around.
Stay in Touch with Family
If you have access to a scanner and a word processor, send a letter to family members after the event. Include bits of interesting stories, family news, and some of the pictures, both old and new. The letter will be a wonderful addition to the album for future seasons.
Do you have family who cannot make it to the family celebration this year, but they have Internet access? If you subscribe to an Internet service, set up a private chat room.
Some of the most fun we had at Christmas last year was chatting on the Internet with my brother in Georgia.