We’ve all heard the expression “greeting card holiday,” sometimes even used against one of your personal favorites, no doubt. So many love-hate relationships out there with national days for everything from your dog to your sibling to tacos and doughnuts.
Then there are the months generally preserved for themes of broad societal significance, like heart health, breast cancer, black history and even … family history – October! And this is a special year for this honorary month because Senator Hatch, who sponsored Senate Resolution 160 to officially recognize family history month, passed away in April. Among the justifications for the month was “an ever-growing number in our Nation and in other nations [who] are collecting, preserving, and sharing genealogies, personal documents, and memorabilia that detail the life and times of families around the world.” Now that we understand!
This October we’re sharing a few ideas from the Artifcts Community to help even those of you who may think you have no interest in family history to find some value in a month dedicated to exactly that. Use the month as an excuse or opportunity to get to know and capture your own family history and legacy a bit better.
Hello, Family Genealogists (In the Making?)
“I’ve spent so much time and money researching all of this history, and I have the files, but I really haven’t taken that next step to share with my extended or even immediate family. Without me they’d have to start over.”
And, womp, womp, she told us that all her research is locked up behind a subscription-paywall. Hmmm. If you can relate, here are some tips:
- Purchase a second research subscription for someone who can pick up the research alongside you to carry it forward to the next generation. Guide them through the myriad of resources online and through special archives and libraries as well as in your own family collection.
- Take a class or catch a speaker! You can find a plethora of them by searching online or go local. Check your library, community center, museums, or local genealogical society for special events this month (and beyond). In Austin, Texas, for example, the Austin Genealogical Society has regular speakers and research resources covering the state. Likewise, the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center has resources available to help people get started.
- Create a family videography to highlight key moments in your family’s history, roles family members have played in historical events, and the modern-day family branches. For beautiful, professional videographies, we adore Lori and her team at Whole Story Productions.
- Self-publish a book(let) to document your research findings in black and white. Distribute during a family reunion, taking preorders (and payments) ahead of time. If you need an assist in your family history, we recommend our partner at Family History Intelligence.
- At Artifcts… you can share Artifcts publicly or privately, including with family members who are not Artifcts members. Import your contacts to Artifcts, create family invite-only circles for easy group sharing, and off you go! Plus, free members of Artifcts can contribute up to five Artifcts to the family history. We recommend using a special tag like #MayFamily52 to easily sort your collection. You can also preserve sensitive information in the 'Documentation' section of an Artifct where only you, the owner of the Artifct, can see or access it. Some of genealogists at Artifcts also use the ‘Location’ field when they create an Artifct to list a URL or folder path where additional information is stored.
Experiences Only, Please!
You’ve been away from home for months or years, you return, and as you walk in the door, dinner is on, and you get that first smell of your favorite dish. Do you have the recipe? Who came up with it? Do you know the key steps? Special or secret ingredients?
Some family favorites are born very directly out of the original farm-to-table concept, before it was so hip, and those origins become a key part of the family recipe story. You grew potatoes and found a million ways to prepare them. You had fresh citrus, wild asparagus, or vibrant rhubarb all around you, and the specialties of your youth reflect it. Capture that history!
- Start a virtual family dinner club. You could create a group online to swap recipes or go a step further and once a month someone is the virtual host. Send the recipe ahead (as an Artifct!) so everyone has the ingredients on hand. Then run your own cooking show and enjoy the spoils together after. You might even play some theme-related music from the 60s or 70s or from the German, Czech, Sri Lankan, Indian, Brazilian, Chinese or other roots of the meal!
- Road trip! Whether literally or figuratively, go to the original homestead, watch a family member perform live music at a local hotspot, visit a museum that hosts a family member’s artwork, visit each tombstone at a local plot or somewhere like Arlington National Cemetery, or maybe attend a cultural festival that ties to your origins.
- Collaborate on a special photobook. We’ve said this before, we’ll say it 100s of more times – photos cannot talk. You can morph them into sharper images or even make them move nowadays, but no photo can tell you its story. Create a photobook that builds all the family history and the stories that go with those photos. Refuse photo-only contributions. Details matter! You’d be surprised, but even one generation removed, family members will start to lose track of who is who in photos never mind recalling the relevance of the photos.
- At Artifcts… photos, recipes, and objects come alive through stories and histories, but also with supplementary video and audio snippets. Each is easily accessible and reusable from Artifcts – no digging through chats, emails, cloud folders etc. And you don’t get just one crack at it. You can edit and share through time, collecting more information, and more versions of the ‘real story,’ as you go.
Share the History
The reality is not all families have a family keeper, that person who by choice or default holds onto the heirlooms, photos, recipes, and slews of documents that represent sometimes generations of a family’s history. Or maybe you are the last keeper or recent inheritor of all this family history and are thinking, “Now what? I really don’t want this stuff.”
There’s a second reality that is then important to recognize: family history is not only family history. Sometimes family history is part of local, national, or even global history. It offers clues to key figures, ways of living, and the social, political and religious practices of a place in time in history. So, consider sharing pieces of your family history with the big wide world through donations.
- Philanthropic Donations. Consider galleries, libraries, research centers, foundations, and museums with specialties that may overlap with your items. Donations are not necessarily only in the realm of inherently valuable objects. Often, you guessed it, the story behind the object is the key. Don’t know the story either? That’s okay. Reach out to an institution, share your items, and give them the opportunity to tell you!
- Archival Donations. Transform your personal family history into elements of a shared community history by offering your items to professional archives. What types of items might fit this category? As a starter: original works of fiction or non-fiction; scrapbooks, journals, letters, and diaries; original business materials (certificates, advertising, shares, board documents, voting records); media (photographs, slides, film, even websites too). You can learn more at the Society of American Archivists.
- At Artifcts... Before you donate, Artifct to retain the family lore and history that’s relevant to you, and then share with family. Make sure no one else is interested in the item. And attach any documentation related to your donation to the Aritfct. It could add to the story about the full history of that family heirloom and where it ended up as well as support potential tax deductions. And then, rest easy. Your family’s history will be in the capable professional hands of institutions that will preserve and protect them for generations to come.
Talk Wills, From a Happy Place: Your Legacy
Yes, yes, wills are about death. But what they are really about is easing the burden on those we leave behind. What we love to ignore to our detriment is all – that - stuff. And, no, it will not literally all go into a dumpster or a local donation shop. First someone must go through it all, a family member or two, or maybe a specialist hired to help. And in the end, someone will have to make 1000s of decisions about what becomes of every single item. Do you really want to leave a burden as your legacy?
Wouldn’t you rather everyone be better prepared and informed? Not only will making a plan and creating documents make it easier for your family to pick up the pieces, but they can also help loved ones understand why you valued the items you are leaving behind. For example, wouldn’t you rather share THAT was the guitar Dad used to serenade Mom on their first date? THAT was the medal you were awarded for your last promotion in the US Navy. THAT was part of a costume you wore in your first school play (before you became an actress!).
Wouldn’t you rather reminisce together than leave friends and family to wonder and have no way to get answers later? Maybe even know each other a bit better, now, while you can still enjoy?
(Dramatically) Simplified checklist:
- Don’t have a Will? There are many wonderful estate planning attorneys in each community who can help you with this process. But this is an industry transformed by the digital revolution, and then some. If you are looking for a digital, self-guided approach, check out the results of an independent review by Investopedia here.
- Haven’t really, um, seen your Will in a while? Give it a checkup. There's no time like the present, truly. Add it to your to-do list this month!
- When editing or updating your Will and related documents, see if you can add some non-legal, advisory language to help to explain why you made the decisions or gave the gifts you did.
- Confirm: Are the major themes covered?
- Minor children
- Relatives with disabilities
- Powers of Attorney
- Living Will
- Stewardship of digital assets (profiles, accounts, photos, web pages, etc.)
- Is there a list of tangible assets referenced in your Will? Your Will may provide for a separate “Memorandum” that can be updated and changed at any time without making any changes to your Will.
- No list? Start. Just take a first cut by looking around the house (or your Artifcts collection!).
- Already listed? Are you sure it covers at least those items of greatest financial or heart (sentimental) value? Do you want to leave something to your favorite charity, neighbor, your best friend, your … you get the idea. And, if so, did each person and item get listed? Double check!
- At Artifcts… pick three or four of your most treasured items and create and share an Artifct for each with your friends and family. It could be priceless family heirlooms and jewelry or sentimental letters and cards. Anything that has meaning to you. In the description, let loved ones know what you would like to happen to this item after you are gone. Will it be passed down? Rehomed? Sold? You can even export or share the Artifct with your estate planner or attorney to list with other tangible assets referenced in your Will.
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