Tracking Your Past

By Doris Green

Doris Green

Several of my maternal ancestors’ lives are recorded in a 510-page book titled “The Kvetensky, Lorence, Makovsky, Miska, Plihal, and Zahradnik Families: From Bohemia to Racine County, Wisconsin, and McLeod County, Minnesota.” The length of the title alone is enough to discourage all but the most involved family historians.

Valuable as this volume is, sometimes shorter stories can provide greater access to a family’s history. Short projects offer an easier pathway to understanding past lives. Depending on your family history materials and creativity, the possibilities for small, easy-to-share projects are endless. A few suggestions:

1. A photo album showcasing past Easter, July 4th, or Christmas celebrations.

2. A binder documenting birthday, anniversary or wedding gatherings, with announcements and invitations.

3. An album of old greeting cards or postcards.

4. A book telling the story of one ancestor or a couple’s lifetime journey with text, photos, along with images of special documents.

5. A volume focusing on an immigrant’s journey, a soldier’s battles or other specific topic.

6. A collection of family obituaries, with grave marker photos.

7. A catalog of heirlooms, with photos and explanatory captions.

8. A recipe book or box of cards recording old family favorite foods, plus gardening or household hints.

9. A quilt featuring transfers of ancestor photos.

10. An ancestor photo collage turned into a jigsaw puzzle.

11. A timeline of events in your grandparents’ lives, from births and deaths to marriages, graduations and enlistments, not to mention droughts, depressions, wars and protests.

12. A map tracing your ancestors’ travels and residences.

One small project may lead to unexpected discoveries and connections among generations. Maybe an aunt married on her parents’ wedding anniversary. Perhaps several ancestors succumbed to the same disease. Maybe separately or together they attended the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

A simple project may lead to a new, small project idea. It may also lead to a larger idea. A short tale may become a chapter in a larger book or one of a series of smaller albums. 

More importantly, a small project may open other eyes to the realities of life centuries ago in Finland or Poland or Africa or America. It may motivate another family member to undertake a different task or pursue another family history mission. A small project may expand your and your family’s understanding of ancestors’ lives. 

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Caves, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground,” co-authored with Greg Brick. Visit http://henschelhausbooks.com. To share a family history story or suggest topics for this column, email greenknightd@outlook.com