Establishing a Family Record Archive

When we hear the word “archive,” a mental picture comes to mind of a large, stately building, usually with a controlled storage environment to maintain proper temperature and humidity.  Documents are stored under acid-free paper or carefully mounted under glass to preserve their original character.

My dictionary defines an archive as, “A place or collection containing records, documents, or other materials of historical interest.” An alternative definition is, “A repository for stored memories or information: the archive of the mind.”

Archives are usually filled with papers and artifacts that describe people, their cultures, values, and morals; their relationships and dealings with each other. Given these definitions, why not a family archive?  Think about it. A family archive. A place to keep important papers of legal significance. A place to keep photographs. A place to keep letters. A place to keep memories.

A friend of mine moved often during the years her husband was in the military service. As a matter of practicality, the Government advised them to keep important family documents such as birth and marriage certificates, proof of citizenship, etc., together in a loose leaf binder and to keep it in a handy place where it would be readily available should evacuation be necessary.

My friend has carried this concept further and keeps the history of their immediate family in a similar binder. Each year she reviews her journal and writes a summary for the family history. Photographs taken that year are kept in the “family book” with their history.  Each member of the family has his own personal book. Mementos of school work, achievements, and of course journal entries are found here. Parents take time to write notes about each child in their own books and even more lengthy commentary until they are old enough to assume this responsibility themselves. As each child leaves home, his book goes with him and copies of legal documents made for the family book.  The originals go with the child.

We know that family ties extend further than our own immediate circle. Adding information about parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to the family archive is a very natural, and almost compelling, extension of this work.  My friend keeps a separate binder for each of her ancestral lines with computer-generated pedigree charts and family group sheets. She adds photos, of course, and copies of documents or other memorabilia–the finished stuff you don’t want someone to throw out when you die.

One year we had an appraiser come to assess the value of our home so we could refinance it. My “office” is in a tiny bedroom just off the kitchen. As the appraiser looked about the kitchen, his eyes fell upon this little room. “Whoa! Office city!” he exclaimed as he counted the filing cabinets. “One, two, three, four. . . I think you could put two more over here under the window!”  “I’ve already tried that,” I replied glumly, “and they just wouldn’t fit, so I had to put them in the basement.” I restrained myself, but I wanted to say, “I have my mother in the bottom drawer and my grandparents over there.  Unfortunately, I could not fit the entire family in one drawer, so I had to use two. I keep my children in the top drawer, next to the bills and taxes, where they are handy to get at.”

Now, I realize that some families don’t have space for six filing cabinets and they have to put their children in the spare bedroom; but every family needs a little space to keep the things they treasure, all together in one place, be it under the bed or in a closet.

My neighbor keeps her family archives (research file folders) in office storage boxes where she can grab them at a moment’s notice if the dam breaks or the house catches fire–something I can’t do with my filing cabinets. Others make copies of their computer genealogy files and give them to their children for Christmas each year.

You can begin with just a cardboard box or a dresser drawer (if you can find one). Bring your important papers, photos, journals, family stories, and other memorabilia into one place. However you do it, start now to collect those things that are near and dear to you. And maybe, if you can, try to retrieve a few things from the archive of your mind and write them down for your family.


Oh Remember, Remember . . .

This was taken from a church talk I gave at a local assisted living facility about three years ago (2014).  I did not record my sources, but I know it is not all ‘mine’.  It sounds like information from the FamilySearch Wiki, a correspondence course from Brigham Young University, from church leaders, etc.
A word that is oft repeated in scripture is the word “remember”. Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to get the Brass Plates so they could remember their language and the teachings of the prophets. Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy noted in a Conference talk that President Gordon B. Hinckley’s sermons frequently included inspiring stories and anecdotes from our past. He said, “Because of his teachings, we understand that remembering enables us to see God’s hand in our past. . . By keeping our past alive, he [President Hinckley] connects us to the people, places, and events that make up our spiritual heritage. . .”
A Story to Tell
We can learn from our own personal experiences and also from the experiences of others. Hopefully remembering will help us build on what our ancestors have learned and keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The simple act of sharing or recording our experiences can help others who may face similar situations in their lives. We can keep the past alive in our families just by talking about our experiences and those of our ancestors.
Prepare a Personal History
Every person who has lived on this earth has a story to tell. Personal and family histories can help us connect with generations who lived long before or long after our own lives. In other words, as we learn about those who have lived before our time we come to know them and our hearts are turned to them. Our personal stories may in fact turn the hearts of our descendants to us. Our experiences related may be able to help them in times of trial. Writing a personal history may seem like an impossible task. I have known people who have spent many hours preparing an outline listing everything they wanted to include in their personal history, but sadly died before actually writing anything.
Ask for Help
Now if you hesitate to pick up a pencil or pen and start writing, may I suggest that you ask Heavenly Father for some help? As you pray to Him, I promise He will answer. To allow the Holy Ghost to whisper to us and for us to hear, we must live worthy lives and keep the commandments the best we can. The Holy Ghost speaks very quietly, and if our environment is noisy we will have a hard time hearing Him. We also must give Him our full attention—no multitasking!
It is pointless to ask Heavenly Father for guidance if we are not already moving. We can’t simply pray for help and then sit with hands folded waiting for a revelation. Think about it. We can’t steer a car unless the engine is running and the wheels are turning. Likewise, we must start doing something before impressions will come. President Boyd K. Packer once said, “. . . if you keep your family [or personal history] in your mind, you will think of little things that you can do, and this will open up the revelation channel, so Heavenly Father can let you know what it is that you should be doing.”  I might add that we have to be actively listening. When we think about it, pray about it and listen, Heavenly Father can help us remember what we need to write about.
I find that my best listening time, and the time that I can hear the Holy Ghost speak to me is when I first wake up in the morning. Usually at that time I am well rested, I am relaxed, and nothing hurts. The house is usually quiet, and my mind starts working. As it does, ideas pop into my head, and I need to have something handy to record my impressions on, so I keep a notebook and pencil next to my bed. I find the more intently I listen and the more I record, the more inspiration comes.
Writing Techniques
Now I would like to suggest some things that may help you record your personal history. You don’t have to organize your history into any particular format or use important-sounding words. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Write like you talk. It doesn’t really matter how or what you write. What matters is that you write something. Anything is better than nothing. Just tell stories. Here are four things we can all do right now:
  • Start writing a retroactive journal by writing about the past rather than the present. 
  • Write letters or send e-mails to children and grandchildren and save a copy for yourself. 
  • Tell stories at family gatherings or when family members come to visit. 
  • Ask your tech-savy great-grandchildren to bring their smart phones and record these stories as you tell them.
In a class on writing that I once took, the teacher compared the writing process to that of a potter shaping a clay pot. The potter sits at a low, round table called a “wheel”. As he presses the control with his foot the wheel begins to turn. Then he takes clay, squeezes it together and throws it hard onto the wheel. It must be thrown hard so it will stick to the wheel and not fall off. Hopefully it lands in the center of the wheel so the centrifugal force is the same on all sides and the pot will be symmetrical. With his hands the potter molds and shapes the clay into the desired form.
The process of writing is much the same. We first need to “throw” (or write) something on paper (or typewriter, or computer, or recording) so we can work with it. When composing a personal history the “clay” we throw on the wheel may be just random thoughts of what might be included in our history. These random thoughts are the ones we wrote down in the notebooks we carry in our pockets or keep by our beds. These are the thoughts that pop into our minds when we least expect them. These are promptings from the Holy Ghost, and if we listen intently we can know what we should write about or talk about with our families.
With these ideas on paper we can now begin to write. I say “begin,” because writing is a continuous process, one that may never be finished. One author described writing this way: “As you start to write you will find that you remember more. One event described seems to remind you of another.  Memories long forgotten will come to mind. The mind is a wonderful place, and if given the command that you want to start remembering about this or that, with a pen or computer in hand, it will respond. It thinks you are really serious.”  I experienced this just a week or so ago when I suddenly remembered something stupid I had done as a teenager. I have no idea why I remembered this event.  It just came without any effort on my part. But I have it in my notebook now, and maybe sometime I will need it.
This author continues. . . “You will never be completely satisfied with what you have written or how you wrote it. You will want to rewrite it many times. Just keep in mind that never being completely satisfied is normal. Just look at the first draft as your skeleton and the revisions as adding flesh to the story. Your story will be more interesting if you include as much detail as possible [including your thoughts and feelings].
“Revisions sometimes bring to mind details that you didn’t think of the first time. The conscious mind may tell you that you are finished, but the subconscious mind continues to go through its memory banks if it thinks there is more to be revealed. Then whenever it wants to, it will send it to your conscious mind, often when you least expect it. You’ll want to have your notebook and pencil handy to catch these items, since they usually don’t return.”
During the writing process you may find it helpful to write in a large notebook or journal. A journal is a place to record your thoughts and impressions. Entries can be made either at the time events happen, or they can be written much later. Reserve a few pages in the front of your journal for an index. Draw vertical lines down the center of each of these index pages dividing each into two columns. Next number the remaining journal pages in one of the upper corners.
When you are ready to write, open your journal to page one, record the date, and start writing. Write a topic, title or name of what you are writing about in the top margin and also on line number one of your index. Write as much or as little as you like on a topic–a paragraph or several pages. Next time you write you will add the date, topic or title; turn back to the index and write the journal page number and title. If you write about the same topic several times, just add the additional page numbers to the first entry for that topic.
In summary. . . Here are the steps to writing or recording a personal history:
  1. Think about it. 
  2. Pray about it.
  3. Listen for impressions and write them down. 
  4. Write about common, everyday things, as much or as little as you like. 
  5. Revise, revise, revise. 
  6. Include as much detail as possible. 
  7. Also include thoughts, and feelings.
  8. Write like you talk. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. 
  9. Write something. Anything is better than nothing 

You have a story to tell. If you want to become immortal or be remembered, write a personal history that will live on. This is important. I testify that Heavenly Father will guide you if you ask and then start moving.  

We’ve Hit A Snag

Well, in spite of my best efforts to demonstrate the usefulness of blogs in writing family history stories, we’ve hit a snag–getting the main participants registered and on board, so all can contribute.

  1. As helpful as blogs are in getting groups of people together without each having to actually be physically present,  they are not without their challenges.  Take, for example, our major participants in this experiment of writing a family history.  These 70- and 80-something-year-old siblings have a perfect knowledge of what life was like “back then,”  but they are lacking in the language to express it.  That’s right, they are lacking in the language of technology.  Not only is it necessary for them to learn new concepts and procedures–those which three- and four-year-old’s absorb with little effort–they also have to unlearn some things and remember others–which is challenging for someone who cannot even remember (or retrieve) a friend’s name or what day of the week it is!
  2. Another challenge is the leader, in this case the blog owner, who is also a newcomer on the technology scene and is struggling to stay one step ahead of her followers.  Like our mother used to say, she knows just enough to be dangerous.
  3. I came face to face with a third challenge as I attempted to help my four siblings register as “followers” of this blog, so the system would recognize them as legitimate participants and not spam.   Well, there is more than one way to register and more than one thing to register for.  As Dad used to say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”
  4. Furthermore, computers are just getting too smart these days and try to anticipate what you want to do next, ofttimes leading you down the path to an unintended destination.  To add to the confusion of registering, the leader (blog owner) does not see the same thing on her computer screen as a potential follower sees during the registration process, making it difficult to give relevant guidance.

If this all sounds like I am confused, it is because I am.  I think I need to make a personal visit to each of my siblings and see if we can figure out how to get them commenting.

In the meantime I will try to post a few things for you to think about.

A Time to Write

“The road to ‘you know where’ is paved with good intentions,” my brother-in-law used to say. Oh, how I wish my life’s intentions were a reality!

Had all my good intentions materialized, my house would always be sparkling clean, and every meal nutritious, tasty, served artistically and on time. I would arrive early for meetings having read every lesson ahead of time. My knowledge of the gospel would be superb, because I would have studied the scriptures daily with my husband, our children, and on my own. Imagine the wealth of understanding I would have gained from more than 50 years of reading every word in every church magazine! Of course I would have kept a daily journal without fail, have my personal history up to date, the family photos organized and preserved, complete with identification and mounted in archival-quality albums.  And the research on all my ancestors back to the year 1500 would all be complete. Not one soul would be missed.

So just how does one do everything? As far as family history is concerned, most people I talk to say, “After my children are grown I will have more time.” Or, “When I retire I’ll work on genealogy.” Then they quote Ecclesiastes and declare that their ‘season’ for family history is somewhere in the distant future.

To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 16, 17)

Or in other words, there is a time to get an education, a time to serve a mission, a time to marry and raise children, a time to work, a time to play, a time to serve.  But what about family history? Does it have a season?

After high school graduation, I found myself living in Salt Lake City convenient to the Family History Library then in the basement of the old Montgomery Ward building. I spent some time copying pedigree charts and family group sheets from enormous binders. The more I copied, the more I realized there was to copy, and I began to see that family history was not a project to be completed quickly.

Before I had time to really “get into” genealogy, I moved to Provo to attend college at Brigham Young University.  It was there I met my future husband. We married at the end of the year, and then came the big move “back East” to St. Paul, Minnesota for graduate school–far from Utah, far from the Family History Library, far from BYU, and far, far from any relative.

Undaunted, I delved into family history projects from time to time while the children were small. I could type, so I helped my aunts prepare family journals, letters, and stories for publication, including Aunt Minnie’s life’s work on our Le Fevre family.  “The time will come,” I told myself, “when I can do real research.” Once all the children were in school, I found myself volunteering in the local Family History Center every Thursday. I loved it, all the while becoming more and more excited about the possibilities for research opportunities without actually having to be in Utah.  I determined to be ready when my ‘season’ came.  As time permitted I took correspondence courses in genealogy from BYU, and, as part of one course, prepared a 400-page history of a great-grandfather.

Hopes for doing my own family history research waned when my husband’s work took us to Spain. My ‘season’ for family history was once more postponed, so I busied myself with trying to learn Spanish and help set up a family history center in Zaragoza.  Mysteriously, as soon as the center was up and running, my husband’s work in Spain terminated abruptly, and we found ourselves on our way back home–to Utah, a genealogist’s heaven. It had finally come! This would be my ‘season.’ Much to my dismay, instead of being able to immerse myself in research, for the first time in my married life, it became necessary for me to work full-time, and even though my church service has since revolved around family history callings, little progress has been made researching my own family. What precious time I have had for genealogy has been spent learning and re-learning new genealogy software programs and getting to know the Internet.

Now here I am in the autumn of my life–the so-called golden years. Although I know I have an immortal spirit, there is already evidence that my physical body is failing. It takes more effort and more time just to exist.  Not only does everything take longer, but time also goes faster. I know you don’t believe me, but my mother, at the age of 80, told me so. There was a time I could dress in a flash, but that was before elastic support hose and when I could still reach my feet to tie my shoes. Cooking takes longer too now that I have to cook low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt, and low-sugar. The list goes on.  Failing memory becomes another problem of old age.  Memories of the past are crystal clear, while recent memory is fleeting, making it difficult to remember not only what has been done or planned, but what I am now doing.

Suddenly I am struck with the thought that I may not live forever!  I never used to think about that when I was younger. Old age seemed so far in the future. Depending on how long I live, I calculate I may have as many as fifteen or as few as five years to do a lifetime of research, if all goes well, and if my eyesight holds out. I’m counting on that promise in Ecclesiastes: “A time for every purpose and for every work.” That would have to include family history, don’t you think? If it does, then I wonder when my season will come. Or did I miss it??