Eight Ways to Preserve Your Family Legacy

A family legacy can mean different things to different people.  Even the way you live life to the fullest can be a legacy in itself.  But,  it often takes some thought to preserve the legacy of your family to be cherished for generations to come.

Since ancient times families have passed on their heritage, family histories, and traditions by word of mouth.  Today, I wish I had recordings or video of all the stories Mom and Dad passed along so many years ago.

We lived in Rosemont on the wrong side of the tracks in a racially mixed neighborhood on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. It was a time when white people generally kept their distance from black people. It was just the way things were.

On the other side of the tracks, less than a mile off were palatial mansions owned by those in high society — the diplomats, the Secretary of State under Eisenhower, the Heinz family (of Heinz Ketchup fame).

I reminisce on how time passed slowly with hopscotch on the sidewalk or a game of Jack’s on the front porch. Franklin Street made up most of my world at that time.

I remember watching the next door neighbor sigh with admiration as he put the finishing touches on a sign he planted in the little patch of grass in his front yard. “Mortimer’s by the Railroad” it said.

I sat in the kitchen entertaining myself, watching and listening as Mom stirred the pot, putting a finger in to test the temperature, she fixed supper. I listened to the cadence of her brogue and let my mind’s eye bring to life the stories she told, the history, the legends of life far away in Scotland.

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I wondered if I would ever be so lucky as to travel to the old country across the ocean where she and my father had been born and raised. Would the highlands be as picturesque and would the heather smell as sweet as it was in the vision she portrayed?

Mom was creating a family legacy in my mind.

She was helping me to visualize and preserve a  family legacy that would carry me through my entire life.  She told me many stories about the old country and it was clear that she was very proud of her Scottish heritage.  But, she chose to remain in America and wanted to go back to the old country to be with family still there whom she loved.  I can here her voice saying:  “You need know where you’ve come from, lass.  It is only then you will understand who you are and where you are going.”  

I sit here sixty years later, considering what she would have thought of the world we live in today. Would she have marveled at the smart phone and adapt to it the way she appreciated the value of her new remote control for the TV?

“This is the best damned invention they have come up with! I can mute these stinking commercials.  So, there!” she said.

All four foot eleven inches of her pounced on the remote control button to deafen the sound. I reflect on that image of Mom smiling with satisfaction.

So Much Has Changed

So much has changed.  Now the time flies by.  It is no longer the slow passage of time that I experienced as a child.  I wonder where sixty years has gone. I wish my Mom was here again to tell me all the old stories she told so long ago. But, she has been gone now for twenty-six years.

Like a mother hen, I like to gather my chicks. I want to bring together the generations in a way that they can enjoy, remember and reflect on the good old days. Or, are these just the good old days to me? Well, either way it is part of my bucket list of things I want to do.

To Preserve a Family Legacy -Now Is Not the Time to Gather the Kids into the Kitchen

Now is not the time. They are so busy living their lives. They are scattered to the four corners of the world. They do not have the luxury of sitting in my kitchen and listening to the muses of a white-haired old lady, even if I am their mother and grandmother.

So, that gets me to the meat of the subject. What do I do about it? How can I preserve a family legacy for my children? And

What can we do to leave enough of a trail to spark interest in the memories for our children when someday then start searching – after we are gone.

It might be thirty years from now when they try to put together the history and the legacies of their lives for their own families.

I go through my recipes every now and then and see an old Scottish recipe for “Dumplin” in my mother’s handwriting.  I remember her making it as a special treat for Christmas.  It immediately takes me back to our kitchen again with the wafting aroma of currants, cinnamon and lemon.

A Scottish dumplin and took all day to make. It was actually boiled in a pillow case on the stove for several hours. So, Mom rarely had the time or the energy to make it. But, when she did, everybody knew it was special. The taste was similar to a fruit cake and it was served with hot lemon sauce poured over the top. Tea, of course, was a must.

Should I hand write out some of my recipes for the kids? Handwriting is so unique and personal. I always recognize fondly the writing of those I love.

Another Christmas tradition was made by my sister.  She prepared the most fabulous cake, froze it in Massachusetts, and then overnighted to us in Florida.

My niece, Suz and I were talking one day when I mentioned how the sheer length of her mother’s Chocolate Decadence Cake recipe was a bit intimidating to me. (It was three hand-written loose leaf pages.) “Oh, you have it in Mom’s own handwriting! Can you send me a copy of it? I would love having a copy in her own hand. It would be so special!” Suz would cherish it because it was in her mother’s own hand — she already had a typewritten copy of the actual recipe.

Can I preserve a family legacy with simple handwriting?

I wonder occasionally if handwriting will go out of fashion. Maybe they will just start by teaching kids to typewrite on handheld computers in the coming generation. Who knows?

Anyway, that is a clue. Write things down in your own hand and leave it for your kids. It is such a simple thing to do. Yet, it is a treasure for someone who loves you.

Family Traditions

One of our own family Christmas traditions involves writing a personal letter at Christmas and leaving it under the tree. At the time I did not consider that I was creating or preserving a family legacy, but in a way we were.  We often don’t recognize special moments until they have already become a memory.

My husband and I used to write one to each other. We set that occasion to express our love and reflect on the year past.

As the children grew, I would write a personal Christmas greeting to each of my children, sometimes reflecting on the past year and letting them know just how special and important they were in my life. Having this communique helped to capture the essence of what was going on in our lives at the time.

Eventually, the children learned to write something back.  They learned how to express themselves. It cost them not a penny, but they knew that it meant the world to me. And, if the tears of tenderness that we shared during those times is any indication, I would say it was the most priceless gift we each received.

Here are a few other ideas that came up in conversation and in reading on the subject that all relate to you preserving your family legacy in some form!

Preserve Your Family Legacy Eight Simple Way

 # One – Write your children a letter to be opened upon your death.

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We all walk through life as if were are immortal, so something like this can be put off. I have put it off, but it is on my “to do list” somewhere. But, it is something I know I should do. If I were subject to a stroke, I may not be able to put the words together the way I can now.

I have a letter that my mother wrote and left for us to open upon her death. It was one letter addressed to all of her four children. We all sat in Mom’s small apartment, grieving in our own way a day or two after she passed.

My sister, Mary, the oldest of the siblings, was the keeper of the letter and basically the executrix I suppose. She read the letter aloud and made copies for each of us so that we could take it home. I am so grateful that Mom had the forethought and took the time to address us in our grief.

It is a cherished keepsake and one that I hope to pass down. I want my children to know the love that their grandmother had for me. It is a very simple letter, but I love to read the words. They are important. They were my mother’s last message to us.

# Two –  Choose a Bible verse for each of your children

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and write a separate letter to each  of your offspring telling them why you chose that verse for them and how that verse reminds you of them.

Or, you could adapt the same idea to a quote from a hero you admire or someone you consider wise. Be sure to tell them how you believe it relates to them.

If you cannot write, or feel uncomfortable writing, record with family what you want them to remember — how you feel about them and some special times you recall sharing with them. It is something you could do in addition to writing, too.

# Three –  Keep a journal or diary

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and jot down things that are on your mind or seem important at the time. Put in some detail like the price of gas at the pump, or an item that was in the news — something that in years to come will trigger a connection with the memory of the time in which you lived.

Keeping a journal has become almost a lost art in the busy pace in which we live today. But, it would be good therapy for you as well as a wonderful memoir — a legacy that can be pass down in your family.

There are many times in which I wish I had written down an account of an event or a trip. I wish I wrote about feelings that I was once passionate about in my youth, even if it is just to give myself a laugh. But now the detail of the events and the feeling I attached to something as a child are long gone. Some things just need to be recorded in real time.

# Four – Write a blog — an online journal.

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You can write about your life, your travels, your work, hobbies and anything else you feel is important. Well, this is one that I am doing. I never thought of the blog as a memory book, but it does serve that purpose in many ways.

You apparently don’t even have to set up your own website, like I did, in order to have a blog. You can do it more simply without all the technical hair pulling to which I have subjected myself.

According to a post I read yesterday, the most popular free blogging platforms are: Blogger.com, WordPress.com, Yola.com, Weebly.com, and Wix.com. One caveat is that there are limitations to free blogging. The major one is that you don’t exactly own all of your blog.

If the blog provider decides for any reason that something isn’t right with your blog, they can take it down with no warning to you. They don’t even have to tell you why or give you access to your content.

I would be ready to kill if this happened to me. But, I am told that the chances of that happening are low.

# Five – Go through family photos!

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Oh, boy! That sounds like a chore for wintertime — maybe on a snowy night while you are sitting by the fire. (I think I said that I was going to work on that project last winter.)

It is so much nicer when family knows who is who in some of those old photos. You may need to identify the names of the people in the photo and what their relation or connection is to the family.

I started to scan many of my late husband’s old photos while he was still alive. We had a flood in the basement and moisture ruined many of the photos, but some of them were resurrected.

Some times, if you scan the photo, you can digitally touch up and enhance the quality of faded old photos.

# Six — Make recordings – audio or video.

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If you have an elderly member of the family, perhaps one who is not able to write well, who has failing eyesight, or a jittery hand, you might need to ask them questions and record their answers. Or, see if they will allow you to interview them or record your discussions. What a treasure this would be in the future.

Sometimes the best family stories, the legends that are passed from one generation to the next, can be fascinating. Before you or a close family member has a debilitating stroked and memories are lost, maybe you can create a keepsake now.

Memories can get twisted, details lost, details made up, or enhanced.  The accuracy of every fact is really not as important as the flavor of the memory and the love that you share by showing your family that you care.

# Seven — Preserve what you have!

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Put what you have in a fireproof box and maybe scan a copy on your computer to be preserved. My brother, Andy, introduced me to Dropbox.com to save and share old photos with the family

# Eight — Start a closed Facebook family page

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to share old photos and memories so that everyone connected to that family can participate and enjoy the treasures of the past and share what is going in each other’s lives now.

My son, Patrick reminiscences about his grandmother and the little treasures in her china cabinet. She would talk to him about the significance of each special piece on the shelf which had a story of its own.

I never knew my grandparents.

One of my grandfather’s died in a mining accident long before I was born. Supposedly, I met my other grandparents, but I was too young. Or maybe they were too old. But, had they left something of themselves for me, I would still have treasured it. It would have been a connection to the past, a past that connected the dots that resulted in my being here today.

We were having tea with dessert one night when I was about ten. I asked Mom about her Irish grandparents. I wanted to know what she could tell me about her grandfather.

Mom hesitated and sighed. As I kept pressing her, she stopped and gave me one of those serious looks and said “You know, Margaret, there are some family stories that are better left unsaid.”
“Left unsaid? What do you mean?” I asked. To this she replied: “Just leave it alone! You might find out things you don’t want to know.” Well I wonder what that meant! Now I really wanted to know!

But, more from Mom another time — I invite you to come over for a chat and pot of tea in the kitchen.  Or please subscribe to get the next post mailed to your inbox.

What do you think? Do you have a way to record the family legacy and stories of your life? Do you have a family tradition that helps to preserve memories in any way? Is it something you care about, or is it a bunch of rubbish?

Please scroll down and leave your comments in the reply box below.

5 thoughts on “Eight Ways to Preserve Your Family Legacy”

  1. Well, you hit the nail on the head soundly and squarely again ! I did, before we moved, go through boxes and boxes of old pictures and put them into files for the decade to which they belonged. I even found old tintypes, not many, but a few. My Mom and grandmother were both hoarders. Well, that is Charlie’s explanation. My explanation is my Grandmother brought up children during the great depression and managed to feed them, and raise them. My Mom learned from her, besides, if it is organized and put away neatly it ain’t hoarding. I can’t blame Charlie, he, my brother Pat and I were left to dig our way out of 60 years of collecting from three people, my brother John, and both my parents. As to the Irish thing, did you ever find out what she didn’t want to tell you then? I know personally that the Irish can be both a curse and a blessing. Ask my kids or my cousin’s kids. We have stories that you wouldn’t believe. I have a Great Great Grandfather who came to America in 1836 from Ireland. Somehow by 1847 he made it to Lafayette County and got married. Just as well, if he would have stayed in Ireland he would have got caught up in the Post Office Rebellion led by Big Jim Larkin, whom is rumored to be related to us. Temperamentally, I can see the resemblance.
    Keep them coming kid. It is good for me to read them.

    1. Jamie, what a blessing you are! Love to hear everything you have to contribute. Yes, I did find out what she didn’t want to tell me then. Stay tuned. Thanks for not only your contributions to the blog, but for your encouragement as sometimes I feel like I am just talking to myself and no one is listening or even cares. God bless!

  2. Can you believe it, I lived on Franklin street growing up as a kid, in Battle Creek, Michigan My Grandfather actually built the house.
    I have written a letter from both of us, (Mimi-Arlis, Papa-Henning), to be given to Addie Beth (Granddaughter) on her wedding day. It is in a box with all our Swedish crystal. A specific glass which was chipped was taken back to Sweden years ago for repair. We both always drank from this glass to express our love for each other. Someday AB and her love can continue this tradition.
    To her and many others I have written sonnets to express my thoughts and feelings at that specific time. Some about losses of their most beloved companion, some about my most solid ROCK-Hunter, my Sheltie; who was always with me after the loss of the love of my life, Arlis. Some just about the beauty of the fall leaves. Some about nothing, I do this often and find peace in writing sonnets. Who knows, maybe one for you someday!

    1. What a wonderful idea and what a cherished treasure Addie has in store! Bravo, Papa Henning! Be sure AB learns the history of the tradition that you and Arlis shared. But,knowing you,I am sure you have that covered. I would love to read a sonnet from you anytime. You have a gift to be able to express yourself in verse. Maybe you would like to post one on the blog here? Think about it. It might be an inspiration to my readers and to me.

  3. I lived on Franklin Street 2 doors down from Lady Rose. She was my best friend. We went to grade school and we played together all through our childhood. Great family and fond memories. Thanks for taking me back,

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