Families are like woven quilts that tell stories. Each patch represents a family or a specific member and the stories they add to the quilt. Once pieced together, the quilt reveals the full narrative of the family – the laughs, moments of happiness, moments of sadness and all the memories that have occurred within the years and generations.
Once a family member is gone, many people wish they had recorded stories that their family members had talked about. Once a person has passed, unless spoken or written beforehand, their experiences go with them. These stories are lost to future and current generations. However, there are ways to record your family’s history before it is gone. One example is the family keepsake journal.
A family keepsake journal can be as formal or informal as your family would like to make it, but the basics of the book are the same. It is a place to write down and memorialize your family’s past. There are many options and websites online to create, edit and purchase a professional looking journal. Write-in books are also available. This type of book gives families prompts and questions to reflect on, and pictures can be added. The online or write-in are two variations of a family keepsake journal and are more formal. A simple notebook or scrapbook works just as well and can be just as valued. Choosing what version of journal your family will be using is the first step in creating the journal.
Also, decide on how your family will be contributing information to the keepsake. This can be done either as a whole group or individually. Maybe you carve out time during holidays, birthdays or other family events to listen, ask questions and document what is being said. While it is important to have questions and prompts on hand, let the conversations roll. You never know what your grandmother may say when one story leads to the next or who may jump into the discussion. If your family chooses to create the journal as a group, always have a recorder, video camera, cellphone or other device going. It can be hard to write down everything that is said while it is happening in real-time. By having the conversations documented, you will be able to go back and catch what you may not have written before.
The other option for building the journal is completing it individually and passing it from family member to family member or family to family. Think of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants concept. First, your mom creates the journal and adds her input. Then, it is given to your aunt and so forth until the journal is filled.
Both of these choices for crafting the journal have their pros and cons. Choose the variation that works the best for your family and everyone involved. Be sure to have a discussion before starting about expectations, how much a person should write, etc. This is meant to be a fun activity; not one that is stressful and adds pressure to your family’s life. Also, encourage members to be authentic and realistic, if that is what your family decides upon. Do you want just happy, funny memories or do you want to include the ones that are bittersweet and challenging, as well? No matter the option and how your family goes about this, don’t forget to add pictures, recipes and any mementos to the journal. If you love something, your loved ones will probably love it, too!
When thinking about what people should reflect on, consider information that you want to know and remember about your family members. Start with basic information, such as:
- Where were they born?
- Where did they go to school?
- How did they meet their spouse?
- How did they come up with their children’s names?
- Favorites about their childhood and adult lives.
- Dislikes about their childhood and adult lives.
Next, dig a little deeper with questions, such as:
- What has been your favorite job? Your worst job?
- Do you have any hidden talents?
- What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?
If they are a parent, have them reflect on their own children’s lives:
- What were your first memories of your children?
- What were their favorite books growing up?
- What do you think is their biggest talent?
Also, dig deeper with more thought-provoking questions. These questions can include:
- What advice has helped you the most during your life? Who gave that advice?
- What is your favorite family tradition? What tradition have we let lapse that you would like to bring back?
- What do you think our family motto should be?
Your list of questions can be the same for every person or different, depending on who is answering them. Lastly, agree on how the family keepsake journal will be kept. Is it staying in the home of the matriarch or rotated through families? How will it be passed to the next person? A family keepsake journal is one of the most valuable mementos a family can have. When creating the journal, a family will reminisce and learn more about their loved ones. Sometimes we wished we had asked more questions about our family members. This is the perfect way to do just that before the opportunity is no longer there.