Family Notebooks

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My New Year’s resolution for 2010 will be to  work on a family research project involving my parents, and  both sets of grandparents and great-grandparents.  The experience will require me to be more of a detective than archivist, since the evidence is so incomplete, scattered, hidden or lost.  The record will be part fact and part conjecture.

I will need to collect the  various bits available–papers, photos, random treasured possessions–and see if a puzzle portrait begins to emerge. I am searching for clues to  who  they were, what touched them, and what shaped their lives. I know our relation, but who were they as people? old photo

I have thought a lot about putting photos and research online–and someday I might–but I’m going to start with a notebook for each individual.

My idea of using a notebook to record each family member’s history was sparked by looking at hundreds of old photos and tintypes at flea markets, estate sales and antique stores.   Most were anonymous. Even more than knowing their name, when I held the photo and looked at the man, woman or child I wondered what was going on in their life when the picture was taken, and what became of them?

Each page of the notebook will begin with a photo or memento.   Shortly before he died, my dad shared some memories of the Marines in China.  A have a number of photos of him on the Great Wall or in a Marine camp in the countryside.  Some of the stories he told wouldn’t have made it into a history book.   I will write down the stories he told me in the notebook.

There are also family mysteries to solve: one of the most treasured possessions of my great grand-father, a ship’s carpenter from Norway, was a picture of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show! I wonder what the story was behind that!

The notebook will be handy to tote around as I do my research and jot down memories as they occur to me. The little scraps of paper and torn-off pages I normally use to write and then convey to a computer get lost too easily.   A notebook will hold all my research in one place.

Photos, documents and mementos are important, but what I find most interesting and all too often is lost, are the little stories people tell about themselves that go in to making up their life.

Anyone have any thoughts, ideas to share, about capturing family history in scrapbooks and notebooks?

5 thoughts on “Family Notebooks

  1. I used an accordion file for all those bits of paper, and things collected while researching. Maps, brochures, copies of newspaper articles, photographs, anything found on the trips, are all in that file. The family tree itself was initially drawn on a large roll of newsprint.

    Previous research notes were kept in a ring binder, with several transparent pockets. The ring binder made it easy to compare notes when visiting archives, reading microfilm, etc.

    While on visits to new sites, such as country history records, museums, libraries, and cemeteries, etc., I kept a tiny notebook in my handbag to jot down information such as grave sites, addresses, and other contact information.

    Those well-filled notebooks are now in that accordion file.

  2. From experiencing the loss of all my family geneology after a computer failure, I am please to hear you will be working your Family History in notebooks. The best thing you can do is to keep analog records. Technology is just not as reliable as some would have us think. My personal major regret is not having writen down or recorded all the stories my grand parents and parents told about their family and their experiences. As I get older, the more those stories have faded into the database of my brain and don’t seem to be able to be retrieved. is great for some information, just not the stories. I found a copy of my grandfathers WWI “draft card” and the ship manifests from my great-grandparents arrival from Europe on the website. Call or email if you want help.

  3. Thanks for sharing in detail how you plan to use notebooks to work on your family project.

    For the stories that people tell you, would it not be easier to use a small digital recorder to tape them?

  4. what a lovely idea! i have a few notes from my maternal grandparents on photos and notes from talking to my mat gfather’s mother (born 1888) back in 1990, but they had all passed before i got seriously interested in family history. i very much wish i had written down more of their stories when i had the chance and could ask them about the cousins i’ve learned about now but never heard of growing up.

  5. Great idea, I recommend that everyone do something like this ASAP! I helped my mom create a family tree about 20 yrs ago. Lucky for us we were able get a bunch of names and dates and other information from older family members that are no longer with us.

    I wish that I had thought of a way to capture some of these stories that you describe above…the notebooks are a great idea, especially since the changes in technology often render some digital means obsolete.
    (I have some 3.5″ floppy disks – I have no idea what is on them…)

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