Researching Family History: Histories, photos and recorded interviews of ancestors, relatives can make valuable gifts at Christmastime

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

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My wife, Leslie, and I have frequently admired a large photo of my grandparents' wedding. We remember Mom and Dad giving it to us seven years ago for Christmas. It was a perfect gift. The photo brings to mind memories I had with my grandparents not so long ago.

Studying the wedding photo, I see something I had never seen before: how much my cousin in my aunt's family looks like my grandmother. There is no mistaking how much my cousin in my uncle's family looks like my grandfather. I have often heard the statement, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” That applies in this case.

What a treasure trove it is to have a collection of your ancestors' photographs and experiences in your possession, as familes.com pointed out recently.

Perhaps you have considered the possibility of giving your children or other relatives photos or histories of your ancestors that you may have. Conversely, some of your children may have given you gifts of pictures of grandchildrens' births and other events in their lives.

One of Leslie's video recordings is a personal history interview with her grandmother. This is something we have treasured through the years. It brings back to my wife her grandma's familiar voice, the memory of what she looked like, and the many things Grandma did in her growing-up years we know about.

When her grandma passed away, that video became even more valuable. Everyone else in the family that did not have a copy wanted one! Considering the years Grandma has now been gone, to hear her voice again is so intriguing for me and comforting for Leslie. It is as though she has been there right next to us the whole time.

My mother passed away in March 2011. A few years previously, she wrote her life's story. Dad helped her gather all the photos, and together they compiled it in a book and gave to my siblings and me for Christmas.

Mom was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, and she has included in the book photos of her at the different addresses she lived at. The photos she included have captions under them explaining the “who and what.”

When photos, documents and experiences are placed into a history book of the family, you see things clearer — like when they happened — and you can see what your relatives and ancestors really looked like.

Nowadays, personal history interviews recorded on DVDs are so priceless. With electronic recordings, you get the benefit of what grandma looked like — and what she sounded like. Personality really comes out in a video because we see the ancestor's movements, hear their voice and discover what they learned some time ago about their life.

Through things like video-recorded interviews, we connect more with our ancestors because we have first-hand accounts of their lives. In these histories, we know we are loved because Grandma would not tell us anything that was not worthy of her love. We may see things few people would discover in a written history, photo or even on the family homestead. For example, when we see fruit trees near the garden, we might recall the wonderful aromas of Grandma's fruit pies as she baked them in the oven before Christmas dinner.

Our senses are affected and it jingles our memory. Those memories become a part of us. On and on the memories start flowing, which can be written in books such as Mom's history or recorded video.

What if your old films that need to be digitized for preservation? Remember, old film can decompose — from the days of the old 8 or 16 mm films to VHS. Have you taken your films to specialists? It may be a little pricey to have them cleaned and transferred to a digital medium, but they are well worth it in the long run. If part of the film or photos is lost due the film decomposing, then that part of the family history could be lost forever.

When we think about planning out such a treasure for our loved ones for Christmas or anytime else, it becomes even more valuable because of the time, effort and all the love that is put into it. It's a lot of learning, and a lot of fun to do a video recording or a history about a loved one's life. It makes me wonder: Who is really the giver and who is really the receiver?

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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