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Genealogy Tips in Memory of My Mother – 2011

My mother is the person who piqued my interest family and local history.  As a child I loved looking through her photo albums and memorabilia.   I can remember looking at her 4th grade report card where the teacher wrote “Needs watching” and thinking “Oh, Mama was bad in school!!!”  As a child, I got a kick out of knowing that my mother sometimes got in trouble too.

One of my favorite pictures was of Howard University’s 19th Annual May Festival from May of 1946.  My mother was an attendant in the queen’s court and to me she and the other ladies looked like princesses.

Howard University 1946 May Queen and Court

Howard University 1946 May Queen and Court - My mother is to the left of the flag on the right.

My mother would also share her memories of growing up in Washington, DC.  As we traveled around the city she would point out landmarks (or where landmarks used to be) and share tidbits of information.

When my mother passed away I wrote an article containing genealogy tips in her memory in my Woodfork Genealogy newsletter. Today is the 3rd anniversary of her death and so I am posting the newsletter to my blog in her memory.

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Genealogy Tips in Memory of My Mother

My mother, Dorothy L. Woodfork, passed away on Sunday, November 16th. She had been in a nursing home for four years and had numerous health problems.  I watched as her health continued to deteriorate with each passing day. Her passing was not a sad occasion for me because she is finally free and at peace.

With her passing, the number of elders on the maternal side of my family tree has been reduced.  My mother was 82 and one of the oldest in her family.  Fortunately, she had done an excellent job of preserving her family history.  In honor of my mother’s memory, this Woodfork Genealogy Newsletter shares some of the steps she took to preserve our family history.

Document What You Know

My mother had written down all of the family members she could remember in a notebook.  After my grandmother’s funeral, the family members had gathered at her house for the repast.  My mother passed around the notebook and asked everyone to document their family.  This notebook has been a great asset to my genealogy research and I treasure it today.

In 1997, at the age of 71, my mother wrote her memoir. She wrote it out in long-hand on notebook paper.  In it she described her life growing up in Washington, DC from the 1920’s forward.  She gave it to my daughter to type.  Everyone got busy with life and the document was put on the back burner.  In 2004, I started cleaning out her house after she was moved to the nursing home.  I remembered the document and resumed work on it again.  By this time, my mother’s memory had started to fade because she had dementia, so completing the document was a race against time.

My mother and I worked on the document together through the fall and winter. I had a hard time reading some of her handwriting (she had Parkinson’s disease which made her handwriting small and shaky) and she had a hard time remembering what she had written.  But between the two of us, we were able to figure out much of what she had written.   I supplemented the information with pictures and other memorabilia she had saved. The result was a document that not only gave great insight into my mother’s life, but also the history of Washington, DC.  I made copies of the document and gave one to each of her children and grandchildren as a Christmas present from her in 2004.  This would be her last Christmas present to them.  On Christmas Day, I brought her from the nursing home to my house for Christmas dinner.  She looked on anxiously as my daughters unwrapped their gift and whispered to me, “Do you think they like it?”  I assured her they did.  My mother’s memoir is truly a family treasure that can be passed on to future generations.

Preserve Family Memorabilia

My mother saved EVERYTHING. She believed that everything could be used again “one day”.   When I was cleaning out her out house I found all sorts of stuff.  There was a four foot tube full of plastic grocery bags.  As I pulled the bags from the tube, I kept thinking that there must be something else in this tube, but it was not.  There was a huge box of cardboard boxes of every shape and size you could imagine.  There was also a huge container of twine and string. You name it and she probably had saved it.

In addition to all these items, my mother had preserved many family treasures: her report cards from elementary and high school, as well as her college transcript; wedding and funeral programs from every event she had every attended;   obituaries that she and my grandmother had saved; birth, marriage and death certificates; every personnel action paper she had been given when she worked for the government.   She had photo albums for many, many years, including photo albums that belonged to her father. There were newspaper clippings and notes that she had written that gave insight into her thoughts. The list goes on and on. She had carefully labeled all of the documents and neatly organized them in boxes.  My mother’s house was a genealogy gold mine.

I am glad I started cleaning out her house before she passed.  The process took me over a year.  Since there was no rush, I was able to carefully go through all her belongings (and there were a lot of them) and preserve the necessary items.  A lot of family history is lost when people who are not sensitive to the importance of preserving the family history clean out an elderly person’s home. Many genealogy gems are thrown away as “junk” because the person is not mindful of the significance of the documents.

In conclusion, I suggest that you talk to your family members and urge them to preserve their memories.  This can be done in many ways, they can write a memoir; you can interview them and preserve the information on audio or video tape.  Also, go through their possessions with them and help them organize and preserve family memorabilia.  Label all photos and determine the significance of artifacts they have saved.  I urge you to take these steps today.

Take Care,

Marion Woodfork Simmons

Woodfork Genealogy LLC

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