By Angela Walton-Raji
As holidays approach, many look forward to family gatherings, great meals and time spent making memories. The holidays provide a wonderful opportunity to share special moments with loved ones, and to capture photos that will be remembered for years. For many it is also a time to think about the family’s history over holiday dinners and to collect more stories from the elders who can share rich data about the family’s past.
In addition to new information, it is important not to overlook the treasures found right at home, and to pull them out to share with the younger generation in attendance. In the home one can find amazing clues that link the family to the past, and often they are buried right in the house. Holidays provide a great time to pull out the three items or collections found in many homes, that provide glimpses into the past.
From birth to death—most families have these treasure. These are baby books, yearbooks (high school and college) and funeral records. Baby books have been popular for over 70 years, a result of the baby boom right after the second world war. The plethora of babies born between 1945 and 1965 led to “new” products from baby books, to methods of making keepsake items from ordinary things—such as baby shoes.
For the genealogist—baby books capture time, and place of birth—meaning the actual site where the baby emerged into the world. For some it was a hospital, and in recent years, home births have begun to emerge again as suitable places for baby births. Baby books are useful, as they include the names of the parents, and they can also capture other data such as the person attending the birth—whether doctor, or midwife. And in some books the names of siblings are included, to present the family structure into which the child was born. And many books reflecting the first year of life, contain other events such as a christening, the names of godparents, and also items such as lock of hair from the first haircut, or photos of the child’s first tooth and much more.
At present, the recent rise in popularity of scrapbooks also provide other options for recording an infant’s data. Such books can be wonderful ways of presenting the family history at reunions, and holiday gatherings.
Another resource that assists genealogists are yearbooks. It is important to remember that the peers of an ancestor are important for they often reflect more about the life that was lived. Yearbooks reflect not only photos, but they reflect the clubs and organizations of the school and they present numerous aspects of the daily life during those school years. Also for those just getting started with oral history—pull out the yearbook to use various names and clubs as triggers for discussion with an elder.
An added value for yearbooks is that they contain one treasure that is often forgotten—and are wonderful to have—autographs. It is common for students to sign each other’s yearbook at the end of a school year. One can find who a grandparent’s friends and associates were by noting the signatures. And like the photos reflected in the yearbook, the names of the ancestor’s friends can be excellent triggers when asking questions about associates from many decades ago.
Finally although these records were created at the end of someone’s life, they are found in many homes and are part of the family’s history. These are funeral programs and funeral books. The value of obituaries and funeral programs goes without explanation, as the biography of the deceased and the list of survivors provide wonderful data. In addition, there is one overlooked treasure in the home—the book of visitors. This is the funeral book of people who came to pay their respects at the funeral home, or the funeral service. These books also provide signatures of sympathizers and they reflect again a circle of associates of the family, which provide more detail as one explores the family history.
So as the holidays approach and one plans for social gatherings, and visits from relatives near and far, take out time to share older records, with loved ones for they may serve as wonderful triggers to the memory of an elder. From such gatherings more stories may emerge and one may find that they are making new memories by pulling out older memories hidden in the collections found in the home.
May you all have a wonderful holiday season, and however you choose to celebrate events, take photos, share stories, and add to the gems already found in the family home.