By Pam Pacelli Cooper
My mother in law Polly died 5 years ago. Her dining room table is now ours, her bed is in our guest room, and we have kept the vow we made when we inherited some of her things to have more dinner parties and to fill our guest room with family and friends just as she had done for so many years in her home in Memphis, Tennessee. What we haven’t done so well is to document and organize the numerous plastic storage tubs of family history mementos that came with us in the car when we left Memphis. We wanted the grandchildren and great grandchildren to benefit from the richness of their heritage. We’re personal historians. We do this for others, so it should be easy…
Yet, when we looked at all that material we felt as overwhelmed as I’m sure some of our clients feel when we ask them to gather materials for a family story. So, we decided to practice what we preach and do our own family history compilation. Where to start? When I work with clients, I always ask them if they have any form of written or filmed materials from parents or grandparents, believing that a primary source is the best foundation for constructing a family history.
We were lucky and we were also just on the edge of being very unlucky. In the bottom of one tub was a compact box containing 11 audiocassettes and, we were to discover, 4 generations of family history. Inside were the reminiscences of Abbott Leonard Cohen, born in 1882. His daughter Polly, born in 1917, had interviewed him in 1974, when he was 92 years old. Len, as he was known, grew up in the Jewish community of Memphis during a very different time.
We had the cassettes transferred to digital files and then had those files transcribed. We had done it just in time – the cassettes were corroding and a couple of them broke when they were being transferred. Thanks to the expertise of the company we hired, we were able to save almost all of what was on the tapes.
In future blogs, we’ll share with you some of what we found, and also share with you the process of working on a family history. We hope you will enjoy it!
A hint for doing your own family history:
If you have family history materials on outdated forms of media: old films, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, get them moved onto digital media now. Film will turn black and break, cassette tapes will twist and curl up, and VHS will not be available to you. There are many reputable companies who will perform these services for you at a reasonable cost. The information you will save is more than worth the cost of saving it.
Serendipitously while writing this post I found a lovely, poignant article about inheriting objects and all that comes with them from the New York Times. If you’ve got a few more minutes to spare, you can read it here: http://nyti.ms/1Kcsqeg