How to Keep Family History Alive Once the Kids Are Grown

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Keeping Memories and Traditions Alive

Grandfather and grandsons fishing and playing with toy sailboat at lake
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Parents are sure that they will remember every special moment when their kids are growing up – but the longer they are parents, the more difficult it can be to keep memories in our minds and hearts, as new ones are made all the time. These ideas can help you and your young adults to remember, especially special days that seem like a long time ago.

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Tell the Stories

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Your grown kids may roll their eyes and grandkids may be baffled by some of the terminology (VCRs, answering machines), but the best way to keep stories alive is to retell them over and over. Just like stories from the Brothers Grimm, the Bible, and Greek mythology, oral histories become a family's storybook - both true and enhanced - to keep generations connected to each other.

Unlike journals or diaries, oral histories can be enjoyed by any age person, no matter how well they might read or write. If stories get embellished or rearranged a little as years go by, that's ok - the important thing is to keep telling them so family members can understand who they are and where they came from.

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Write the Stories Down

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For a more concrete and lasting record of memories and history, a written document is always a good idea. If you had baby books for your children when they were small, go back and add to the first few years of anecdotes with recollections of later years. Write about their first day of kindergarten, first crush, first communion, first time away from home. Ask your young adults for their memories and add those stories, too. Ideally, you will scan the older stories, along with photos, greeting cards, report cards, and other keepsakes into your computer and build on the old with the new, but digitally – this will preserve the fragile paper documents for years to come.

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Create a Family Memory Tablecloth

Mutlticolored felt-tipped pen
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You've probably seen the tablecloths some people have created that incorporate the signatures of family members. These are a lovely way to preserve the names and ages of family members through the years. Another idea is a family memory tablecloth. Have each family member at the table during a celebration (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, birthdays) write down a brief memory in their own handwriting using a permanent marker. It's best to not actually use this tablecloth for meals but to preserve it as a keepsake, though it can be used under a clear cover if preferred. Each year, have the family members add another memory that they feel is special and worth recording. Reading back over the memories is nostalgic and a great way to create conversations.

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Convert Your Videos and Photos to Digital

Video, Film, Photo - DVD Transfer
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If you had the forethought to videotape and photograph your kids doing ordinary things when they were growing up, good for you. Unfortunately, most of us focused on the big events to videotape when our kids were small. Whatever you preserved on tape or in photos, be sure to get it all transferred to digital as soon as possible. There are services that will convert video to DVDs, and services that will convert video to an online format, so that you will have the videos no matter what happens and can access it from anywhere. 

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Explore Your Family's Ancestry

Memories. Old photographs and ancestry
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There are so many great ways to research family ancestry now, and doing so is a wonderful way to keep both memories and older history alive while doing something together. Discovering distant family members or reconnecting with contemporaries who have drifted away will renew everyone's sense of being part of something unique and special. Go through old photos and, if you can find names of relatives who you may not know much about. Ask older family members to share their memories of their elders and parents, with as much detail as possible. You never know what surprises you might find in your search for your ancestors.  

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Maintain Traditions as the Family Grows

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New family members – from new spouses to new children – should be introduced to family traditions early on. Whether it's the annual family photo ​with the Thanksgiving turkey or the summer trip to the lake house, creating new memories alongside longstanding traditions is a great way to keep those older memories alive. Avoid the "you had to be there" stories with newer additions to the clan - and give them a chance to share their own family's stories as well. Everyone comes from a family of their own and listening to them tell their family tales will make them feel welcome and comfortable.