Keeping Family History

When my great aunt passed away back in 1995 we went to her house at the invitation of my cousin to grab whatever we wanted. He has never been a sentimentalist and he was planning on getting rid of it all. It was a treasure trove of family history and boy have I kicked myself over the years that I didn’t grab more things. I was 25 then and had absolutely no clue about most of what was there. These days I’d give anything to have the family copy of the Decca 78 RPM record of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.

Later, right before he was going to move out of that house, he brought the last bits of what was left to my mom’s house when we had a family get together. I grabbed everything I could then…photos, my great uncle’s World War II medals, love letters my great aunt had written to not only my great uncle but boyfriends before him. These things have survived for 80+ years and now are in my possession. What about my own stories? Will they be around in 80 years?

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time but a new follower of this blog, JT Weaver, gave me a gentle reminder of the subject when I went to look at his blog. He brought up a lot of points that I’ve considered for quite awhile. I might know more about my parents than JT but not a lot. I know very little about my grandparents, especially my dad’s parents. My dad passed away of a heart attack when I was 3 so he never had a chance to tell me those stories. All of my grandparents were gone by the time I was 5. As I said above my great aunt passed away in 1995, when I was 25, but I never had a chance to ask her about family stories. I do have some bits of old movies she had transferred to video tape but it’s become a bit of an idea to at least record what I know of the family stories and make sure that I record my own stories for my kids.

What concerns me is not the why but the how. How do I record things so that they’re permanent? I’m a big fan of digital journaling. My only problem with digital journaling is how to make sure the things I write actually survive. It’s a tough question to answer. I know I would hear from many people to “just use plain text files” which I do and which is fine but that only answers a small bit of the question. JT has written a blog and published a book to collect his stories. I started doing something similar last year. I created some books at Blurb for the things my kids did last year as well as some of my own stories. What I want is 80 year longevity like my great aunt’s letters. I just don’t think that’s going to happen with digital files.

Is there really any other way than a physical medium like a book or photos? There really is no guarantee that a book will survive either but I’d have to say it’s probably a lot more likely than even plain text files on a computer. It’s hard enough to make sure that type of stuff makes it from computer to computer as you move through life. It would be harder to make sure that loved ones could get to the files in the case of my death. I’m good at that kind of stuff so I have files from 20 years ago that I’ve been able to move but I just can’t say that my family would be able to do the same.

So the books. And the photos (which I still have to go through and get the most important printed out). What about the movies? How does that stuff move through time? Aunt Elsie at least had the forethought to have some home movies transferred to video tape but how do I make sure that stuff survives as well? It’s very important to me that I get as much of this stuff done as I can so my kids will have it. They’re at least lucky to be growing up now when it is so easy to take pictures and shoot video. All that technology is wonderful but nobody seems to be thinking about keeping it moving through time. How do we ensure our stories survive for later generations?

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