We all have a wish list of the items we dream of finding from our ancestors and other long gone relations. Letters, diaries and labeled photographs are certainly at the top of the list. Keeping “do unto others” in mind, what have you done to provide your descendents with fodder to learn about you and your family? I have done a few things, but there is still much that I need to do and just can't seem to find the time.
What I have done: scanned in many of my own items (birth and marriage certificates, diplomas, driver's licenses, old school photos, passports, etc.). I have also scanned in select photos from the family albums of my parents, one of my aunts and old photos that came to me from cousins. In addition, I have scanned almost every photo I can find of my grandparents and older generations.
What I really need to do: Label, label and label some more. While it's great to have scanned in so many old photos, if no one after me knows who is in them it's not very helpful. After all, I know how frustrating it is to have a collection of unlabeled photos from several generations ago. Starting with group photos will give you more bang for your buck. You can identify more people in fewer photos. At least if you don't get all of your photos labeled, future generations can identify more through comparison. When labeling hard copies of photos be sure to use a pencil or photo-safe pen. To learn how to add information to digital photo files you can read my post Beyond The Label.
One thing that is simple to do and requires little time comes from my mom: write down a list of all of the jobs you have held in your life. You could also ask living relatives about the jobs your grandparents and their grandparents held that they know about. I knew that my grandmother worked for a while at Gibson Guitar, but my mother told me she put the mother-of-pearl on the fret boards. I'm trained as a scientist so few people would probably guess that I worked in a paper mill for a summer. While this information may someday prove useful, another reason for doing it, as my mother pointed out, is that in a hundred years some of these jobs will likely no longer exist, for instance a greeting card or magazine merchandiser.
Another idea is to write up a typical day in your life. This won't take as long as keeping a journal, but it will give future generations an idea of what your daily life was like and how it is different than theirs. While it does not provide insight into your thoughts it could make a big difference in your descendents understanding of your life. Include details about how and what you cook, clean and do laundry, including the devices you use to do them: laptop computer, microwave, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, etc. Don't forget to discuss your job and how you get there (walk, bike, car, public transportation). You can provide a bit of your own social history for your descendents. In only fifty years (or less) some things can change a lot. My mother remembers putting clothes through the wringer and hanging them outside to dry (winter included). I never had to do that growing up.
So here's your list:
- Start scanning. Put something good on the tv to make the time pass quicker.
- Write down the jobs you've had in your life.
- Write down the addresses of where you've lived.
- Start labeling photos. Start with group shots. Remember, even a few labels are better than none at all!
- Write a brief description of your typical day.
Your descendents will thank you.