More on preserving family history
Fill in your family tree.
If the genealogy bug hasn't already bitten you, you'll soon discover that tracing your family history through the generations has never been easier, thanks to simple software programs such as Legacy, Family Tree Maker, and Ancestral Quest. Among the kinds of details your parents may know -- but never had reason to mention before -- are maiden names, long-lost cousins, and relatives who died young.
Travel to your parent's hometown.
Baby boomers' parents were the last generation to grow up in such vast numbers not in suburbs but in small towns and on farms. For a parent, a visit to a hometown can make for a memorable multigenerational vacation. For your parent, this may be a last opportunity to "go home again," while for you and your children, it's like having a tour guide to the past. There's no substitute for seeing a place through your parent's eyes and listening to her stories with friends and relatives who may still be there.
Learn the stories of things.
Photographs naturally attract the most emphasis as memory prods, but don't overlook the objects in your parent's home. Stories also abound in those things that have been around so long we've ceased to notice them. Talk to your parent about her collection of souvenir spoons, the knickknacks on a shelf or dresser, or the contents of a cedar chest. Why did she save these particular things? What was their appeal? When were they obtained and where did they come from? The object can be a springboard to anecdotes you may never have heard before.
Emphasize to your parent that you're not asking to have these objects. You're just curious about the stories behind them. If your parent is amenable, you could even jot down pertinent details about source or age on a bit of masking tape on the bottom of each object so that no one forgets.
Get "famous" family recipes down on paper.
Recipes are another type of heirloom, often overlooked until it's Thanksgiving and suddenly you and your siblings realize that nobody knows the secret ingredient in your mom's acclaimed cake or your dad's trademark barbecue sauce. The foods families share are often composed as much of tradition, religion, and travel as they are of flour or salt.
If she's still able to do so, ask your mom to make her favorite dish while you write down (or record on video) what she does step-by-step.
Take the idea a step farther and create a family cookbook including the signature dishes of all your aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings as well as your parents -- the special foods associated with reunions, birthdays, and other family gatherings.