DIY & Crafts

Genealogy: Preserving your family's history

Genealogy: Preserving your family's history

Author: Canadian Living

DIY & Crafts

Genealogy: Preserving your family's history

A family's history is always a story in progress, one that needs to be preserved and shared. If you've done your genealogy homework, put your knowledge to good use with these project ideas. If you need a jumpstart on the research go to Genealogy 101.

Compiling family photo books and scrapbooks

Photos are a powerful way to tell your family's story, so gather all the pictures you've found in your research and create a family history photo album. Don't forget the captions! You can buy albums that have space to write something about each photo, or you can simply write on small mailing labels and stick them under each picture.

While you're at it, take all the recent family snapshots you've thrown in a shoebox and put those in albums, too. Remember, history happens every day, and it's easier to keep names and places straight now than it will be years down the road, especially if it's up to someone else to fill in the blanks. Label each album on its spine with dates so you can easily find the pictures you're looking for later on.

Or you can put all your family photos in a scrapbook. This works if you have other memorabilia besides just photos that you'd like to preserve, such as tickets from the ship your ancestors took to the Canada, copies of birth certificates, maps, love letters, newspaper articles on family members, or wedding invitations. Scrapbooks are also perfect if you want a simple way to record the stories that go along with the pictures, just write them down longhand next to the photos.

Fixing up old photos yourself
Frustrated with wonderful family photos that are damaged with stains or tears? Rather than spend a lot of money to have them repaired professionally, do it yourself on your computer. While professionally restoring the original print of just one damaged photo can cost hundreds of dollars, you can buy a digital imaging program for as little as $60 that will allow you to make photos look almost as good as the first time they were developed.

First, scan in the photos you want to fix. (If you don't own a scanner yourself, you can send your pictures to digitizing services such as Seattle Film Works, or use a scanner at a computer-services shop such as Kinko's, for just a few dollars per photo.) Even before you actually scan in the picture, improve the image with your scanner by adjusting for discolouration or over- or under-exposure. After the image is scanned in, use your digital-imaging software's clone tool to repair imperfections by copying a similar undamaged area of the photo and pasting it over the tear or stain.

You can also use your computer to doctor photos for fun. For example, you could combine baby pictures of your daughter and your father to create a new image that bends time and proves she really does have Grandpa's eyes. Once you've scanned in the photos you want to combine, use your digital-imaging program's pen tool to trace around the part of the image you want to add to the other picture. Remember, you may need to resize that image to keep the sizes in your new picture consistent. You may also need to flip the image to keep shadows on the same side or improve the composition of your creation.

Once you've gotten your photos to look the way you want on the screen, you can print them out on photo-quality paper and preserve them in albums or give out copies to relatives. Alternatively, you can leave the pictures on your computer and use them in projects such as a family website, electronic family newsletter, or family saga book -- more on these projects to come.

To find out more about fixing up old photos or creating new images from old snapshots, see's article on Photo Restoration.

Creating a family history website
Creating a family homepage is another way to record family memories and easily share your discoveries with your extended family -- not to mention the rest of the world. There are a number of homepage services that will host your site for free (try Geocities, Tripod or Angelfire). With many hosting services, all you have to do is sign up and follow the step-by-step instructions. Even if you don't know HTML, you can create a basic site that anyone with internet access can enjoy. And, to make things easier, you can purchase genealogy software that enables you to create a Web version of your family.

In addition to your family tree, you may want to include scanned-in photos, maps, diary entries, military documents, or any other sentimental items. Transcripts of interviews with older relatives, timelines, and a family update section are other possibilities to consider.

Before you start on your site, decide exactly what you want to cover. Then, sketch out what each page of the site will include and figure out how you'll get to each of those pages from the site's front page. Easy navigation and simple page layout means more people will be able to enjoy your creation, instead of becoming lost or frustrated with long downloads.

Be sure to provide your e-mail address so long-lost relatives can easily contact you, and possibly help you find out even more information! If you're more advanced, you may want to add a guest book to your site to keep track of visitors. Let them respond to the content of your site and keep in touch. If you're really savvy, you can even consider adding online bulletin boards to allow relatives to post up-to-the-minute family updates on your site.

For more information on the basics of creating a Web page, see the HTML Goodies site. For more ideas on putting together a genealogy site, check out the Genealogy Home Page Tutorial.

Other ideas
1. Family newsletter
Don't forget about history that's being created today -- start a family newsletter to let everyone know about ongoing family events. You'll certainly want to cover big family events like births, weddings and moves, but don't forget about life's little details. Remember honour roll results, Little League photos, new jobs, and travel
updates can help highlighted relatives feel special and bring the entire
family closer. Lay out your newsletter with word processing or desktop
publishing software such as Adobe PageMaker or Microsoft Publisher.
Then e-mail it or snail-mail it to relatives. Or, if you prefer, you can just update your family Web page and e-mail family members a quick notice of the addition.

2. Family tree project
Mapping out relations and putting together names, dates, and places can help give your family a sense of their big picture. Create a family tree using genealogy software or forms from Ancestry, Genealogy, or Lineages Website.

Take it one step further and bring relatives to life by adding photos to the tree. You can lay out your tree on poster board and add photos of relatives under each of their names. Or, use the collage tool of a digital-imaging program to create an electronic version of your photo family tree so you can print it out, e-mail it to family members or add it to your website.

3. Family saga book
Why not put together all the research you've done and create a family history book? Ask relatives to send
you some of their favorite family stories. Then put them in chronological order and combine them with relevant family photos using a word processing or desktop publishing program. Mix in quotes from relatives and drawings from younger members of the family. And, don't forget to design your cover!

When you're happy with the layout, put everything on disk. At a computer-services shop you can have it printed on paper in the colour and quality of your choice and bound into a book to create a priceless keepsake.

4. Family reunion ideas
No matter how you've preserved your family's heritage, your next family reunion is a great time to share the product with relatives. Hang a big family tree on the wall, or leave photo albums and scrapbooks on the coffee table for people to look through. You can even put together copies of your family saga book for each branch of the family so relatives can take home their own piece of history. And best of all, you may find that seeing old pictures or hearing old stories triggers memories for family members, so you learn more every time you share what you already

Uncovering family stories and secrets is part of the excitement of doing genealogy research, but showing the rest of your family what you've learned makes it even more fun. Recording your family's unique history helps family members feel connected to their roots and each other. Your project will allow future generations to glimpse the magic of their families past.


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DIY & Crafts

Genealogy: Preserving your family's history