Plan ahead this Christmas season to take a stroll down memory lane with the older members of your family. You will not only be doing them a favor but helping yourself as well. Research on aging has revealed that reviewing life experiences, including sharing stories of and observations from past events, is an important part of the aging process.
Encourage Seniors to Reminisce, Share Pictures and Tell Stories
Whether one’s ancestors immigrated recently or came over on the Mayflower, seniors have stories to tell that younger family members can benefit from absorbing. Getting out the picture albums and family videos and having grandma identify the subjects depicted is a wonderful way to expose younger family members to their ancestry. It also helps keep the older generation engaged and feeling relevant.
I hear seniors complain that their grandchildren – and sometimes even their children – are so devoted to texting their friends when the elders are visiting that they feel ignored and disrespected. If it means having adults and children alike deposit the cell phones, pads and other devices in a basket for an hour or two so all can turn their attention to the story-telling, do it.
Preserve the Shared Memories, Photos and Tales
But it isn’t enough for children to hear parents and grandparents tell their stories. The stories need to be preserved in ways that younger family members can review them long after parents and grandparents are gone and memory of the details of the reminiscences have faded. Think about videoing the reminiscences of older family members. Have grandma give a recitation of the family tree, annotated with anecdotes which reveal personality quirks of all the ancestors mentioned.
Some photos may be so special they need to be duplicated so each family member has a replica. If the family has a set of framed, hand-tinted portraits of each member, instead of splitting them up and distributing them individually, consider having the set copied so each member possesses a complete set.
Reproduce and Distribute Photos and Documents to the Rest of the Family
Encourage the elders to produce family documents – wills, deeds, contracts of sale, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc. – they have saved from their own files and those of their ancestors. Better yet, invest in a portable scanner and take it to grandma and grandpa’s. Scan in photos and important papers. Later, copy these documents on thumb drives and present them to other family members. Preserved permanently, these records can reveal to you and your descendants the lives of your predecessors.
Consider StoryWorth or Similar Family History Preservation Services
Families might want to subscribe to one of the new companies, like StoryWorth, which focus on helping people collect their family histories. The founder of StoryWorth, a former software engineer and project manager at Google. Baum had tried unsuccessfully to get his parents to record the family history in a book which contained a series of questions designed for that purpose. Frustrated by failure, he experimented with sending weekly emails to his parents, asking them to recall their earliest childhood memories or their favorite children’s books. Baum discovered that these specific queries broke his parents’ lives into smaller, more manageable bits — and his parents eagerly responded.
For an annual fee of $49, subscribers are entitled to the services of StoryWorth. These include a list of questions for a loved one to answer. Participants report that answering the questions is easier than attempting to write a lengthy – and overly generalized – history of their earlier lives. The program gives respondents the choice of typing in their responses or using a voice feature similar to voicemail.
According to a recent New York Times article “Preserving Family History, One Memory at a Time,” subscribers to StoryWorth have created more than 10,000 stories. Users can upload audio files, photos and documents. But, StoryWorth is not the only source for help. Others, like Memloom, that allow users to upload video, audio, photos as well as their own stories.
Create A Family Tree
Encourage the eldest members of the family to provide as many vital statistics as they can about their own parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. Designate a family scribe to construct a family tree, leaving blank spaces wherever information is missing. Set a goal for the coming year to fill in the blanks. Even if genealogy isn’t a passion for family members, tracing lines back for even a few generations could reveal important health information to younger family members.
Don’t Neglect the Near Past or the Near Future
Over the holidays, don’t forget to encourage Seniors to talk about the events of their lives during the past year. These conversations reassure Seniors that their near past is important and cherished. Seniors need to be engaged with, not isolated.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain. If you have questions about this column or wish to suggest a topic of interest, Ms Reed may be contacted by phone at 254-797-0211 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.