Have you ever had a conversation with your parent that ends up with your response being, "I didn't know that about you, dad" or "Mom, you never told me that before!"
How much do you know about your parent's life? Who will preserve the memories and knowledge of family history when your parents are gone? Will family stories be passed down from generation-to-generation? If your family doesn't have a storyteller, family history could eventually disappear.
The upcoming holiday season is a great time to take steps to preserve your family's memories. Although the task of preserving family memories sounds complex, it doesn't have to be fancy to be effective.
Here are some ways to preserve your family's memories.
Make a family video. A video biography not only captures family stories, but also your elder's voice, image and personality – something that only film can reproduce. Make a video of your parent responding to questions from you or another family member. Talking is usually easier for older parents than writing memories down, and you'll be glad later that you saved your parent's likeness and voice in addition to preserving family stories.
It could be as simple as a hand-held video device. Sitting around after Thanksgiving Dinner and telling stories. Or, if going all out is your family's style, have a professional videotaping session, where a videographer comes to where your parent lives, with a professional video, audio and lighting equipment.
"Generations of their families yet unborn will be able to experience their ancestors' recollections first hand," Steve Pender, President of Family Legacy Video, Inc. (www.familylegacyvideo.com)says of the power of video technology. "They'll not only learn valuable family history in a first-hand way, but by seeing and hearing the physical and personality traits they share with their storytellers, they'll connect with them in a very personal manner. The process of creating a video biography can also bring families closer, help family members reconnect and foster an appreciation for, and pride in, shared family history."
Gather up loose photos. Those shoeboxes full of disorganized photos, stacks of dusty photo albums, and slides no one has looked at since the slide projector broke 15 years ago are a treasure chest of memories waiting to spring back to life.
What can you do with those old fading photos? Digitally scan old prints and then save them onto CDs or DVDs or an external hard drive. Make a digital scrapbook. Or send files to companies like Shutterfly and Smilebooks who will create a hard cover photo books for under $30.
Get secret family recipes. Recipes are another type of heirloom that might be overlooked…until it's Thanksgiving and no one knows the secret ingredient in mom's stuffing or dad's trademark pumpkin pie. The foods families share contain as much tradition as they do flour or salt. Getting recipes down on paper goes much deeper than eating good food. It's about documenting family traditions. To take it a step further, create a family cookbook that includes the signature dishes of aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings.
Record your family tree. Tracing your family history through the generations has never been easier thanks to technology. Look for easy-to-use programs like Ancestry.com, an online collection of historical records, and family-tree building software like Family Tree Maker and Legacy. Your parent can lend a hand by providing maiden names, and long-lost relatives who died young.
Archive at library of congress. History buffs can have a relative's audio recording archived at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is a mobile audio company that has traveling audio booths and door-to-door programs that travel across the country to nursing homes, Alzheimer's support groups, libraries and private residences. CD audio is archived among 38,000 others who've documented their audio family recordings.
The bottom line is to not get so bogged down in the tasks of everyday living that you forget what a treasure you have in your elders. Take the time to try to gain insight on their perspective of the world and what they may yet have share. You could be bestowing a great gift on the generations that come after you.