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  • Clémence R. Scouten

Save your sanity, and your family history!

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

[updated October 2020 - I originally wrote and posted this piece at the beginning of the pandemic. I've kept some of the language from that time though of course many people no longer feel the same sense of anxiety almost two years later.]

So, we're stuck indoors and struggling to fill time, entertain the kids, keep panic at bay, and not spend a fortune doing it. The beauty of family history is that most of it is with us and much of the rest is not far. Let's get to it...

Family history activity #1: Interviews

Everyone has special stories about their childhood or how they grew up. If your kids are sick of hearing your stories, have them call their grandparents or other older relatives and interview them. For littler kids, you may want to help them develop a list of questions.

At a time when many seniors are even more home-bound than the rest of us, this kind of activity allows a meaningful exchange on top of being a good way to kill time. In other words, call your mother!

As a bonus, phone and video calls can be recorded pretty easily. There are many free apps you can download to record calls, which then get saved in your family history archives.

Photos tell great family history stories
My mom and her cousins at their grandparents' beach house, c. 1955. They all had great stories to tell about their trips there.

And if you can't think of questions, then pull out some old family photos. Older generations get chattier when reminiscing over specific memories.

Family history activity #2: Family trees

No matter the age, family trees can be fun to assemble. For smaller children, drawing the tree, including family members and their names, can be done within the core family unit. If they are feeling a little ambitious, they can call older relatives to ask specific questions. (Don't be embarrassed: most people can't recall both their maternal grandmothers' maiden names!)

For more ambitious sleuths, set them loose on the internet. Everyone always thinks of as the resource for genealogy research, but there are some very good free websites out there. One of the biggest is You will have to create a (free) account, but other than that, it's easy to use and has a massive source of information.

By the way, if you really want to launch a genealogy project, be sure to check out my handy genealogy website comparison chart. There are a lot of options, and many of them are very good at sucking you in with monthly fees.

Family history activity #3: Organizing historical family documents

Family history is family photos

This project can sound like a drag, but it's one of the most satisfying you can do. First of all, by finally confronting those boxes of stuff in the attic (or basement, garage, etc.) you are taking a huge step to preserve your family history. What is the point of keeping these materials if they're just going to slowly deteriorate, hidden away in boxes?

The other benefit is that you will throw excess items away. Remember double and triple photo prints? Yes, you have them in there somewhere! There is no reason to keep multiple copies of photos, especially if you decide to scan the photos (which you should). You will also find scraps of paper and mementos that should never have been kept in the first place, that have deteriorated beyond repair, or that you don't care as much about as when you first saved it. These all are all candidates for the garbage!

Family history projects can be as big or small, costly or inexpensive, and complicated or easy as you want to make them. The important part is to do it!

Good luck with your project, and with your day-to-day safety and well-being in these special times. Family history projects are my passion, so if you hit any roadblocks or have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out. 215-645-7766 / clemence @

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