Involve Your Extended Family in Family History
You are not alone in doing family history. Your great-grandparents could have hundreds of direct descendants. Chances are that some, and possibly many, of their descendants have an interest in family history and are willing to help you in your efforts to identify and preserve your family’s heritage.
Identifying Your Resources
Your first efforts will be to identify family members who might be interested in family history. Some of them may not be interested in doing research, but they may be willing to help you gather stories or contact other family members to ask for information. Some might have computer skills and may be willing to develop a family Website. Others may be willing to donate money to help fund family research.
The first step is to write down the names of family members. Then identify what skills or resources they might have that could be helpful. Your list might look something like the following example:
She keeps in touch with family members. She knows everyone.
He loves to tell stories about family members.
|Brother Tom||He’s fascinated with the idea of gathering physical and medical information from his cousins and other relatives.|
Uncle Jim Larsen
|He works with computers, scanners, and other digital equipment.|
Uncle David Bowen
|He’s willing to donate generously to worthy causes.|
Cousin Pattie Jacobs
|She enjoys writing.|
Aunt Theo Bickford
She’s an expert scrapbooker.
Cousin Mary Samuels
She develops web pages for the Internet.
Cousin Peter Jacobs
|He’s a technical writer.|
Uncle Karl Simmons
|He has an interest in family history but doesn’t like to do research.|
| Expert Tip: Finding a phone number and address of someone is fairly simple. If you know the town or the state people live in, you can use the Internet to find them. Web sites can help you quickly and easily find people in many countries.|
Sharing What You Have
Share what you have with the people on your list. If they don’t already have an interest in family history, they may quickly develop an interest when they see what has already been done. Let them read stories and see pictures.
Help them see the bigger picture of the value of family history. Once they see interesting artifacts relating to their family history or hear family history stories, they will see how serious you are and may become motivated enough to help you.
Asking For Help
Don’t be shy about asking for help, but be sensitive to people’s individual circumstances. They may have a desire to do help, but present circumstances may now allow for time or financial assistance. They may respond readily to a simple request for help from you, especially if your request is specific. Help them see that there are many ways they can help and that their contributions will make a difference. Use the list you’ve created to coordinate their talents and resources. Guide them as they help you. Their success in a simple task might lead to a desire to be more involved. Be willing to trade labor. You could mow someone’s yard or tend their children while they do something that you need to have done.
Projects for Family Members
Ask Family Members to Record the Data You Find One simple thing you can do to involve family members, especially younger family members, in family history is to ask them to record the information from the records that you find. They could fill out family group records or pedigree charts or enter information into a computer (it will be important to have someone proofread the works to be sure that the information has been recorded correctly). These tasks will introduce them to the process of recording information and will help them become familiar with family history software. Furthermore, looking at old records often helps people develop an interest in the lives of ancestors. With this increased interest, they may want to help you find other records.
Coordinate Research with Several Family Members When several family members are interested in doing research and have the skills to do it. If you have several people willing to research, your job may be to coordinate research assignments. The key to coordinating research is to make sure that family members have assignments appropriate to their skills and that they fulfill their assignments. Be sure that assignments are clearly defined before you both agree.
Create a Family Newsletter Consider creating a family newsletter. Get others involved. Be creative. A well-written newsletter is a wonderful way of keeping families together. Newsletters can include stories about an ancestor or share research successes and assignments. You might have an entire issue dedicated to family history or a regular feature on family history.
The following Web sites and books can help you create a family newsletter:
- Jeanne Rundquist Nelson, Absolutely Family! Editing and Publishing Family Newsletters, Family Times Publishing (2000).
- Elaine Floyd, Creating Family Newsletters: 123 Ideas for Sharing Memorable Moments with Family and Friends (1998).
Create a Family Web site A family Web site is a wonderful way of involving family members who have computer skills. Let them design, create, and maintain the Web site, while you and others contribute the information. The Web site will bless anyone searching for information on your family, and it will give your extended family members a presence on the Internet. It might also encourage them to contribute information to the Web site. By posting interesting facts; pictures of people, places, and artifacts; and so on, you might encourage extended family members to take an interest in the family’s history.
For help creating a family Web site, refer to the following:
Organize a Family Reunion Most families love to get together. Discuss the possibility of organizing a special family reunion to discuss the history of the family. You could ask family members to research an ancestor or an ancestral family and make a presentation at the reunion. Invite family members to bring photos, artifacts, or other significant items that family members might find interesting. At the reunion, you could discuss strategies for researching specific family lines. Recordings of interviews and oral histories with family members could also be shared.
For help in organizing a family reunion, refer to the following resources:
Write a Family History Book A family history book is a major undertaking, but it might provide a wonderful opportunity to involve extended family members. You might ask them to contribute information on their own family or research information on a specific ancestral family. (Refer to lesson 5 in this series of lessons for more ideas and information on how to write a family history.)
Gather Oral Histories Recording or transcribing oral histories is an excellent assignment for someone who loves to talk with older family members or for someone who is a good typist. Not a lot of training or equipment is required to record or transcribe these histories. A good quality tape recorder or video camera, batteries, tapes and a curious mind are all that is needed. Many older family members love to talk about their lives to younger family members. These older family members are usually quite honored to have someone in the family interested in what happened to them in their earlier years. Most of these oral histories are full of wonderful family information and can be a great legacy for future generations. (Refer to lesson 2 in this series of lessons for more ideas and information on how to record an oral history.)
Start a Family Research Fund Some family members are so involved in their careers or in raising their families that they have little time to help with any aspect of family history work. Yet they do have an interest in learning about their families and in preserving their family’s heritage. These people might be happy to make a financial contribution that would help finance research projects or purchase family photographs or artifacts that have been found. Or they might be willing to help finance the publication of a family history. Do not be shy about sending a letter to the entire family, inviting all family members to contribute to this effort. You might consider asking for an annual membership fee or for a one-time contribution toward a specific project. A request for financial assistance is an excellent way to get some family members involved and to finance family history research projects.
Use Collaboration Software Many people record information about their family history in an electronic database that they store on their own computer. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be accessed only on that computer. Collaboration software allows many people to see and contribute to your information. This marvelous tool helps extended family members work together on their family lines.
Some examples of excellent collaboration software can be found at the following sites:
Help Create New Family Artifacts for Future Generations Many family members have talents and skills that can be used to create family artifacts for future generations. These new family keepsakes could include scrapbooks, quilts, photograph collections, journals, letter books, and many other things.
Begin Creating a Family Health and Genetic Database Something that has become popular with the development of medical technology is the creation of family genetic databases. More and more, doctors use family health histories to help diagnose medical problems and to determine the potential for future problems. New software programs have been developed to help genealogists gather and use family medical information. Remember, however, that a person’s medical information is extremely sensitive information. A database of this nature must be carefully managed with necessary approvals and with definite policies for handling and dispersing this information.
Below are some Web sites that will provide information about creating a family health and genetic database.
Summary and Conclusion
As you begin reaching out to family members, you may find others who share your passion to learn about deceased ancestors. You will make new friends who share with you a common interest and a common heritage.
You will enjoy sharing in your search. Most importantly, you will gather information on your precious ancestors and their families before it is lost.