10 Things I Wish I'd Understood About Family History Before I Started
We love all that Allison Kimball contributes to shedding light on family history in a perfect and doable way. She offers so many great tips, timely advice and outstanding resources on her blog. Today she is sharing with us some of the things she wished she had known before she started her family history journey.
I was recently asked to come up with a catchy title and description for a family history class I was asked to teach. "Something that will draw people in and want to come," was suggested as the conversation continued. I giggled thinking that no matter how I "rebrand" family history or try to entice people to want to come, there is often a long history of negative experiences or frustration associated with the word genealogy. I know for me, genealogy or family history became trigger words that would cause me to roll my eyes at the speaker or shut down and think about something completely different. How could I possibly make time to add one more thing into my life with all my children and activities? Or to avoid the guilt, I excel at adding to my list of deficiencies; I would always think, 'I will do this when I am older. Family history is for old people." Now, several years into my family history journey, there are things I wished I had understood.
1. IT'S ABOUT LOVE. Family history is about a love of family: those who came before us, those present today, and those who are yet to come. As I participate in family history no matter how big or small, I am binding generations through love. Because I love my children I teach them about their ancestors and search out their people, culture, and heritage.
2. A PLACE FOR EVERYONE. There is a place in family history for you, me, the young, the old, and the busy. EVERYONE. No matter who you are and what your interest is there is a place for you. Ask yourself, "What does family history look like or feel right now in my life? How can I broaden the definition of what I think family history is?" Find your part and become a gatherer of family. It will bless your life in unimaginable ways.
3. EXPERTISE NOT REQUIRED. I will probably never be a professional genealogist and there is no expectation of that from anyone. I will and have made countless mistakes. I am constantly asking friends and family members to get me out of some tight spots, I even made my own grandmother a second wife to herself in such an unusual way I had to call in some experts to fix my mistake. Everything can be fixed. I learned so much from this one mistake, the most important is that I am trying.
4. SMALL MOMENTS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. Technology today has changed the way family history is done. In a matter of minutes I can use my smartphone and find a story about an ancestor, I can use my FamilySearch Tree app to complete a recommended task or find photos and memories about my ancestors. I have found that using my waiting time in carpools or other appointments to research, record, or some other task makes a huge difference long term. Think about ways you can break up your larger family history goals into micro-tasks and get to work. Ten minutes can make a difference.
5. STORIES ARE ESSENTIAL. I am a storyteller. I have always been the record keeper and learning that is was part of family history was a key for me. My part will always be sharing the stories of our lives and those who came before us. In this process, I have learned the power of stories can change hearts, strength and offer courage, provide resiliency in times of trial. We learn that story has the power to strengthen the family in remarkable ways, providing healing and hope. Remember that your story is important. They are still being written, we are in the middle moments of our lives. We record for future generations so that they can find courage from our mistakes and triumphs.
6. NOT FORGOTTEN. Family history is about remembering. Remembering mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, that lived. Who still live. These names on a computer screen or piece of paper are people. People with heartbreaks and triumphs. People whose spirits still feel love and sorrow. Now we won't be able to know the stories and lives of each person whose name we see. We might not be able to look at a picture and wonder if some of the same physical characteristics are mirrored in our reflection. Sometimes all that is left is a name. A tiny evidence that a life was lived. But we have the power to say, "You are not forgotten. You are valued. I do not know you, but your life and stories have impacted mine and I will not forget."
7. OPEN THE BOOKS. Often family history is simply using the resources you have on hand. For example, I have books sitting on my shelf about my ancestors, files on hard drives, and stories on FamilySearch. They don't help me or my children if I don't open them. Great sacrifice was made so that I could have them.
8. HEART BEFORE THE CHART. Think about how we learn or teach our small children. Do we hand them the scriptures and say, "Here, read and understand?" No, we start with simple stories about the people whose lives are written within the pages. Then when they are old enough to open the scriptures and search for themselves, they have a foundation of love. The same is true with family history. Handing someone a fan chart rarely inspires a connection, but knowing a person through their stories makes the genealogical part of family history more meaningful.
9. BE THE RECORD KEEPER. I wish I knew more about my ancestors, simple things and meaningful things. I wish I had more photos of their everyday lives. So many things I wish I had, sometimes even about my own childhood and growing up. Thankfully my parents are still living so I can ask those questions. I can preserve my stories and those of my children through photos and words leaving a rich story of who we were and what was most important to us. I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know that we had struggles and we endured. We had joy and peace. We ate too much ice cream and loved to sing and laugh together. Most importantly I want them to know that I thought of them as I write my testimony of the Savior. I want them to know how much I love Him and will do all that I can to be faithful despite my mistakes and weaknesses.
10. CONNECTING GENERATIONS. Family history is about gathering, binding, and connecting generations. Future and past. There is no one way to do this within our families. We seek after our ancestors to learn from their stories and bind them to our family. We preserve our stories for future generations: creating bonds that bring great power. We are promised that in this process we can be healed and have protection for the adversary. We will find the power to learn and change. As our hearts turn to our fathers, we will find the power to strengthen our homes and families. What we once looked at as drudgery or sacrifice will become meaningful and sacred.
Christ binds us all back together in one great family as we take His name upon us. We are all related; you are my cousins and siblings and friends, and we are loved the most supernal and merciful Father and elder brother. This one fact fills my heart with such love that all doubt and fear vanish away. I am so thankful that someone wrote about His life and ministry. He is my all.