We think our memories will last forever, but they don’t. We grow older and forget things, things which we thought would be with us forever. Someone’s voice, what they looked like, how they smiled. Time moves on, you forget the details of the event, or even the event itself!
I woke up this morning, bright and early. Our time in Madrid has come to an end, and I had obviously been dreaming about remembering parts of our trip. That then led to another chain of thought about family history, and all the things I wished I had asked of my parents and older relatives when I was growing up. It would make my family history research so much easier.
I then recalled a conversation I had with a friend recently about what children remember. Both of our earliest memories were from when we were about 3. Her granddaughter was 3 a few weeks ago, and we wondered what she would remember of the things that happened to her now. Hence my friend decided that sometime soon she would take a short video of her mother reading a story to her great-granddaughter. A couple of reasons
- It would reinforce the child’s memories of the great-grandmother in years to come
- It would be a record of her voice
When I was a young child, my grandmother lived in Zimbabwe for several years but a photograph of her hung on our dining room wall. I was about 12 when she came home, and we went to the airport to collect her. I was the one who spotted her coming down the airplane steps, because of that photograph, even though I hadn’t seen her since I was 6.
Photographs really help keep memories alive. I can remember the one above being taken, just before my grandmother went to Zimbabwe. However, for me the one thing I would really love to hear in years to come, is someone’s voice again. What was my Gran’s voice like? I have no recollection….
With today’s technology, we have no excuse to not keep a record. Toddlers today have their first steps, their first words recorded, posted on facebook, YouTube etc. Their every move is recorded from when they are born. Mobile phones and cameras are everywhere. However part of the problem is we are drowning in quantity, rather than quality.
You will have thousands of photographs and videos of your child’s first few years. As the years go by, the collection grows even more. I have a houseful of photograph albums from my children growing up, and that was in the days of film & negatives, printing costs etc. With digital technology there is no limit. With huge storage drives for a few dollars, there is no real physical limit. I have taken more than 1,000 photographs while I have been in Madrid – will I cut them down – possibly on some wet winters day, or more likely not.
The limiting factor is time. When did you last look at some of those photographs? In years to come you / your child / grandchild won’t want to spend 27 days going through a lifetime’s worth of videos and pictures, to pick out the key 1 or 2 that make them go ‘aaah’!
What Memories are you Preserving & Why?
So why bother? Today there is a whole new science behind the art of digital archives. Technology moves so fast. From reel to reel tape recorders and cine film, through cassettes and video (remember Betamax…) Floppy disks to Terabyte drives. Not only do you want to keep it, but you need to keep the format up to date. When my aunt died a few years ago, there were mounds of cine tapes, (of different formats), but nothing to play them on…
I doubt if many of you have seen one of these – it is a punch card for a computer. Obsolete – but it is what I used to programme when I started work 40 years ago! We used to have stacks of them lying round, held together by rubber bands!
Some years ago an uncle converted a few minutes of an old cine film, and put it onto video. In it, I was a wee blond curly haired toddler running down the garden. Then the video got jammed, the master is lost, so I don’t have a record of that any more. So convert those videos to digital format, before the technology finally disappears.
Take some time to work out what it is you are trying to preserve, and then pick the most appropriate formats, and keep them up to date!! That story of your life that you wrote 30 years ago and stored on a floppy disk isn’t going to be too accessible today….
If you are selecting memories for a child to have in the future, how about
- Pick the best videos. The ones that really show what the child was like. Adventurous, shy, trouble on two legs etc.
- Pick the key 10 or 20 photos from each year. Them, their family, their best friends
- Take videos of the child with key members of the family, particularly grandparents / great grandparents, so they will have a visual and aural memory.
- Keep some physical memories too. Newspapers from the day they were born, and key birthdays. Their favourite baby toy.
- Take some videos / photographs of your home and surroundings. What life was like as the years went by
For memories for Family History Research
- Write down every single thing you can remember being told about your family, where they came from, what they did. How many children there were, who died young, who got divorced / remarried etc. Don’t think – that detail is too small, little things make a huge difference. Keep a printed copy as well as a digital one. Update it every year. Just now, a cousin in the US and I are debating whether my gran had a brother called William and if so, when was he born. Given families in the 1800’s were big, and many generations shared the same name and lived in the same place, it is so easy to get different families mixed up! Some years ago, I asked an elderly cousin to write down about a distant part of the family. (We shared great grandparents…) Here’s part of it. Without this, I would still be struggling to work out who was who (complicated by the same man marrying two sisters – the first died and a year later he married her younger sister)
- Keep an ongoing record of key events, particularly as they relate to you and your family. e.g. my Gran was born in 1885 as cars were in their infancy, and lived long enough to see the men landing on the moon in 1969. She took a ship across the Atlantic from Canada to UK in 1954. I found the receipt when clearing out my Mum’s house. £104 was a fortune then!
- Take some time with your parents / grandparents.
- Get them to get out the old photograph albums. Make sure every photograph has the name of who is in it, and if they are distant relatives, what was their connection to the family.
- when there is a family gathering, get the oldest attendees to sit down together and talk about their youth, what did they do, what family did they know. I did this some years ago with my Mum, 2 aunts and their elderly cousin. The youngest was 75, the oldest 92. From that one session I found out just about all I know of my great-grandparents. I am so glad I asked them. I just wish I had asked them lots more!
- Often in the farther reaches of the family, there will be one knowledgeable person, who has a great memory, and remembers who was who. For me, it is a second cousin who still lives in the village my grandmother was born in. Now 80, she remembers who all my grandmother’s siblings were, met many of them or their offspring when they came ‘home’ for a visit. We have spent several afternoons writing down what she remembers.
- Take pictures of any gravestones you can find. They are full of information.
If you just want to leave some information for the future
- Think about what you most like seeing of things that have happened in the past. What is it that interests you about them? What do you have in your belongings that might be of interest to future generations
- Go through your photographs. Have you any of key events, scenes from your town from years ago. Things that show an interesting aspect. An example is many years ago, I took a picture from my husband’s flat, of a lady across the way, washing her windows. What was interesting about it, was that she was standing outside on the windowsill, and the flat was 1 floor up. You definitely wouldn’t see anyone doing that now! There are many facebook groups covering ‘Old z’ or ‘Did you grow up in x’ or ‘History of y’.
- Make a voice or video recording of what life was like when you were young. Specific memories that stand out. If you go to some special event, make a record of it.
What memories are you going to preserve?
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