Preserving Family Information Forever?

mom and me matching dresses

Given that today is Mother’s Day, and those who have mothers still with us are hopefully visiting and feeling very grateful for their presence in our lives – I want to take this opportunity to talk about preserving as much about our mothers’ lives as possible for future generations.

Those whose mothers have already passed over know the huge hole their passing creates, in so many ways – unfathomable until they’ve crossed that bridge.

Not only do our mothers take their own memories with them, but the memories of their parents, who we may or may not have known, and the memories of their grandparents, who we probably didn’t know. Their grandmother may have told our mother stories about her parents and grandparents and what happened in their lifetimes – and all of that is lost too.

If you’re counting, that’s a link to 5 generations back in time we’re losing when we lose a parent. In my case, that 5th generation reached back to a woman born in 1823 in Germany.

I asked my Mom questions before she passed away, but not enough. I wish I had asked sooner.  Older people do forget.  I wish I had asked my grandmother’s sister more questions too. I wish, I wish….

There isn’t anything I can do about that now, except document and research based on their recollections – which really has been very productive.

The Memory Book or Journal

In the last few years before my mother passed, I asked her to complete a memory book and when she should no longer write legibly, she dictated the answers and I transcribed in her own words – although I love the answers in her own handwriting.

There are several flavors of memory books available, for Mom, Dad and grandparents.

Here are links to two, but if you look at the “frequently bought together,” books, you’ll see the others too.

And if you are the mother, father or grandparent, do your descendants a favor and just order one for yourself!

What’s Next?

But the next question is how to preserve this information forever.

And by forever, I do mean after I’m gone, and after my children, who are not currently interested in genealogy are gone – hopefully into the indefinite future.

We used to think that Rootsweb was forever, but given that Ancestry purchased Rootsweb and has a history of suddenly obsoleting products and services, we certainly can’t depend on that anymore.

WordPress, which is the platform I used for my blog, has a free option.  Of course, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, so there will be ads on the site from time to time.  And it’s free “forever,” as long as forever is in this technoworld.  How long is that?  I don’t know.  Weebly has the same type of arrangement.  Of course, some functions and options aren’t free, like a domain name, and if you exceed a certain space limit, fees apply.  You can’t pay fees if you’re dead.

Any entrepreneur want to start a “legacy” business, pay now, die later, your information stays forever?  I think it would be a wonderful idea!!!

I have several articles on my blog that I’d really like to be archived “forever,” in particular, my 52 Week of Ancestors articles, which has now grown to over 120 (from the originally anticipated 52) and will continue to grow until I’m, well, done.  Now I don’t know what “done” actually means in a genealogists world, so I can’t tell you when that might be.

I would also like to preserve family stories, the kind I hope you’re collecting from Mom this Mother’s Day.

Let’s Have Fun!

Be sure to have fun. Tell Mom you love her.  You really never know when it might be your last opportunity.  Laugh.  Let the conversation flow, and ask Mom questions that will result in interesting conversations.  You never know what you might find out!  And she’ll be very pleased that you are interested in her and her family!

Here are some ideas of questions you might ask Mom, just for fun:

  • Tell me about your first bicycle ride.
  • What were your chores as a child?
  • Who was your first boyfriend?
  • What was your favorite candy bar as a kid?
  • What food did you hate as a child? Do you still hate it?
  • Tell me about your first day at school?
  • Did anyone ever play a trick or prank on you?
  • Did you play a trick or prank on someone else?
  • Did you know your grandparents? What are your fondest memories of them?
  • Tell me about a family vacation.
  • Did your family have picnics?  Who came?
  • Did your parents have any special family traditions surrounding the holidays, like Christmas, Easter, Hanukah or other times of the year?
  • What television programs did you watch as a child?
  • Did your parents or grandparents have a hobby?
  • What games did you play for fun?
  • What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

Avoid topics that might make Mom sad, like funerals and pets. I made the mistake of asking about Mom’s pets as a child and let’s just say I immediately wished that I hadn’t.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t think you’ll remember the answers, because, regardless of your best intentions, you won’t.  Write them down, or better yet, record them and later transcribe the recording.

Don’t you wish you had this kind of information about your great-great-grandparents? I do. This is your opportunity to provide that gift to future generations.

Now, it’s up to you to preserve these stories. If you don’t do it, no one else is going to.

Archival and Preservation

First, commit the stories to paper. You can then utilize those documents to publish the stories online, on a free “forever” site like Weebly or WordPress.  Of course, you’ll need to take into consideration any privacy issues, living people and such.  I mean, announcing uncle Joe is gay online when he hasn’t announced that publicly himself, and without his permission, is maybe not such a good idea.

In my case, by family, I’ve also combined several stories into a “book” and donated an electronic copy to the Allen County Public Library, who printed the book and added it to their collection.

The Allen County Public Library is one of the largest genealogy libraries in the US and has partnered with both FamilySearch and the Internet Archive.  They also have taken a leadership role in preserving oral history and have other suggestions at this link.

Not all libraries are interested in genealogy.  Gasp – I know – hard to believe.  Libraries that are local to your family would be most interested, although I’ve donated family books and visited the library later to find that they have “no record” of the book being donated – and it surely was not on the shelf.  While you might want to donate to local libraries, I wouldn’t depend on them for posterity.

Donating your book to the Family History Library has specific guidelines, including “if they have space.”  If your family history and stories fit this criteria, the Mormon Family History Library has as good a chance at “forever” as anyplace.  They want genealogical information, and your stories should include a pedigree chart, minimally, so that future generations have some idea of who is recanting about whom.

There’s nothing worse than an old photo of someone that you know you’re related to, with no names on the back – so you have no idea who it is. The same goes for your family stories and recollections as well.

And as for those old pictures, add those to the stories as well. People love pictures and stories.

Leave it up to one of my wonderful subscribers (thanks Karen) to identify another source for archiving books.  The Internet Archive accepts donations of one or more books at a time, digitized (hopefully) or hardcopy, and this nonprofit whose goal is to “create universal access to all knowledge” makes the books available to everyone, by key word search and by title search, forever.

Personally, I would utilize all of these options to assure the widest coverage possible.

Honoring Mothers Who Have Passed Over

Enjoy your Mother’s Day, hopefully with Mom, but if she has passed over, maybe you can memorialize her today by recording something special about her life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Her favorite or most memorable food.  Do you remember her preparing or family meals eating that dish together?
  • Her favorite scent.  Do you think of her when you get a whiff?
  • Her favorite flower.  Did you plant or tend the garden with her?
  • Something silly that she did.  Do  you have a photo to go along with this?
  • Something embarrassing that she did – maybe embarrassing to you, not her:)
  • Her favorite recipe, and your memories of her making that recipe.  I know whatever that was came immediately to mind and maybe you can even smell it now.  My Mom’s was fudge!
  • Your favorite memory of her.
  • A typical day in her life.
  • A memory of your mother with her parents.
  • Her hobby.  What did she love to do, and why.  Do you have anything she made?
  • What gave her life meaning?  What was her motivation?
  • Her most memorable moment.
  • What is her legacy?

Preserve Mom’s DNA

If your Mom is still with us, and for that matter, your Dad too, please, PLEASE test their DNA. Family Tree DNA archives the DNA for 25 years, and presuming it has not degraded during that time, you can order upgrades for new tests not yet available (and maybe not even dreamed of) today.  I ordered my mother’s Family Finder test several years after she was gone and I thank that woman every day of my life for that gift that she gave me.

For your mother, you can order the Family Finder autosomal test and the mitochondrial DNA full sequence which directly tests her mother’s mother’s maternal line. If you’re ordering for Mom, the tests are on sale for a significant savings until midnight (Central Time) on Mother’s Day night.

Your father can order both of those plus the Y DNA test. I recommend at least the 37 marker panel, and 67 if you’re feeling particularly generous.  It would make a great Father’s Day present, and you can order now while the Family Finder and mitochondrial are on sale.

If your Mom has passed over, you can still test her mitochondrial DNA, which she gave to all of her children, by testing your own mitochondrial DNA.

You can learn a lot about the legacy of your matrilineal ancestors, meaning your mother’s matrilineal line, with the mitochondrial test – things so far back in time that no oral history could possibly remember.

My mother’s mitochondrial DNA line dies in my generation, as none of my children will be passing it along, so don’t let the information in your mother’s mtDNA be lost to posterity.

You can click here to order a DNA test, on sale.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

18 thoughts on “Preserving Family Information Forever?

  1. Oh, Roberta, my one question I wish I had asked my mother:
    Where did you get the idea for my name? It is not a family name and it is not a common name.
    So silly of me, but I would like to have known.

    • From another Kentucky girl, you look lovely in your hat; and look like you are going out the door to the Kentucky Derby today. If so, have fun!

  2. Thank you. I did ask my mom many of these questions before she died. I even gave her a journal for them. My sister won’t give it back to me, she says it’s hers because she is mom’s executor.

    I don’t like her much.

    Melissa Jordan

    If you didn’t hear me say it, don’t believe it till you check in with me.Melissa Jordan 12/18/2013

    Date: Sat, 7 May 2016 11:15:04 +0000 To: melsi@hotmail.com

  3. Excellent article with so much great information.I am printing this for me Bobbi for future reference when i write a story to my boys and grandchildren. I remember when I posted a prom picture of Don and me it delighted my granddaughter Krystal. There is so much to share and so little time it seems. Get to it Kathy. haha.

  4. Roberta,  This has been a wonderful piece for Mother’s Day.  Thank you!  I want to have my genome done as a legacy for my family.  Where should I start to find a good company to perform it?  Thanks, Ms Oma L. Rose

  5. I recently made a comment on Facebook about my dad’s father having a piece of shrapnel from WWI that would show up under the skin every now and then. My cousin piped in that the only war injury he suffered that she knew about was his lung damage from being gassed and that he could not sleep long laying down because of it. I had always assumed his breathing problems and the pics of him on oxygen sleeping in a chair were cigarette related. My cousin corrected me and I had to unlearn yet another fact that was not true.

  6. The Family History Library (at least in Salt Lake, and at Roots Tech) will digitize your book even if they don’t keep the paper copy accessible, and the book will be available on line. Also, if you attach photos and stories to the genealogical entries you put on Family Search Family Tree, I really believe they will continue to digitally upgrade and make that available to anyone who searches for free as long as computers and the web lasts. They are as near to forever as you can get.

      • Roberta, yes, others CAN change your tree at FamilySearch.org’s “Family Tree” dynamic database. However, they cannot change your GEDCOM (which contains your tree) when you submit it to FamilySearch.org’s static Pedigree Resource file. Instructions are on the website or call 1-866-406-1830 (8-5 M-F MDT) and ask a volunteer how to submit.

        As a volunteer assistant zone leader/administrator on two occasions, I helped supervise groups of these volunteers. My group fielded patron’s calls and answered questions. We helped roll out new software. Although people can change your tree on “Family Tree”, the goal is toward collaboration and sourcing. Eventually those records proven by the most sources will dominate, thereby providing the most accurate tree.

        A real plus for FamilySearch is the “Memories” section (https://familysearch.org/photos/) which allows you to upload “photos, stories, documents, and audio” and preserve them forever. A link at the bottom of the page leads you to this blog post that explains it all:
        https://familysearch.org/blog/en/upload-documents-family-tree-memories-gallery/

        As the post explains, “Upload files to FamilySearch’s Memories Gallery to preserve family tree artifacts forever.” The LDS Family History Department and its parent the Utah Genealogical Society have been preserving records for over 100 years. As records are digitized, backup media are stored in the Granite Mountain Records vaults. They have a proven history that’s consistently older, more reliable, and more secure than any other organization with few exceptions.

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