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Preserving Your Family History

Do your children know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know your father's favorite childhood memory? Does your family hail from other parts of the world? If your children don't know the answers to these questions, October is the perfect time to celebrate Family History Month and explore your family's past. By learning more about our heritage, we learn more about ourselves. Sharing these stories with your children is a remarkable family activity that can help them better understand their roots and shape their own identities.

There are many ways to share your family history including making a family scrapbook, recording family stories, and cooking favorite family recipes together. We hope that the following ideas will help you to preserve some of your family traditions, and perhaps set some new ones in motion.

Family History Scrapbooks

One of the best ways to share your family's past together is to create a family scrapbook. By compiling photographs, documents, and letters into a hand-made album, you can create a treasured collection of family memorabilia to be passed on from generation to generation. The American Family Immigration History Center (AFHIC) ( also provides a unique opportunity to assemble your own family history in the form of an on-line scrapbook.

The AFIHC is a division of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, formed in 1982 to oversee the preservation of the two historic landmarks. Their Family History Scrapbook is a great way to create not only a personal record of your family history, but one that can be easily shared with children and friends. Membership in the AFIHC provides you with all the software you need to create a sixteen-page scrapbook. In this electronic scrapbook, you can store images, audio files, and text of your choosing. In addition to your own personal images, users are given limited access to the Center’s image archives for older, harder to find pictures.

Putting together the scrapbook is simply a matter of following step-by-step menus, though a familiarity with different image and audio file types will be a help. The scrapbook tools will automatically resize images for you, so knowledge of image editing is not required. However, access to a scanner is a must unless you already happen to have family photos in digital format. Or, for those who are able, members can actually travel to the Ellis Island Center and use their wide array of computers, scanners, and audio recording equipment.

Once your scrapbook is assembled, you can choose to leave it as a private archive, or to post it publicly for all other users to peruse. In addition, members receive one free copy of their scrapbook upon completion, either in the form of a printed copy, or in digital format on a CD. Additional pages may be purchased in sets of fifteen online, and extra copies of your scrapbook may be purchased at the AFIHC’s online store. Should you decide that you want to add more to your records at a later point, that isn’t a problem; updates can be added at any time.

For more information on starting a Family Scrapbook, visit the Ellis Island website at: And for more information on researching your family history online or offline, be sure to pick up Climbing Your Family Tree: On-Line And Off-Line Geneology for Kids, the official Ellis Island Handbook. The book teaches kids to track down important family documents, including ships' manifests, naturalization papers, and birth, marriage, and death certificates; create oral histories; make scrapbooks of photos, sayings, and legends; and compile a family tree.

Product Recommendations:

My Family TreeMy Family Tree
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Nina Laden
Chronicle Books, $10.95 (Paperback)

My Family Tree explains family connections in a fun, easy way. It includes blank record pages for family listings and photographs, and a poster that children can use to create their own family tree. This book will become a keepsake to be treasured for years to come.

My Paper Memory Quilt: A Family History Pack
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Bill Zimmerman    Illustrator: Maria Carluccio
Chronicle Books, $12.95 (Paperback)

Document special memories, family traditions, hopes and dreams, significant events, and loved ones in My Paper Memory Quilt: A Family History Pack created to record the special qualities and remembrances that make each person unique. Twenty-four paper quilt squares are provided to help get started. Book Description

The Kids’ Guide to Making Scrapbooks and Photo Albums
Ages: 7 - 14 yrs.
Author: Laura Check   Illustrator: Betsy Day
Williamson Publishing, $12.95 (Paperback)

Scrapbooking is a hot hobby, and this book will get kids started on the right foot-- with a little help from an adult. The book illustrates "tricks-of-the-trade," how to mount pictures and make pockets, how to collect and sort supplies, and other basics. It also shows different decorating and printing techniques, and includes templates for patterns used in the book.

The Ellis Island Collection: Artifacts from the Immigrant ExperienceThe Ellis Island Collection: Artifacts from the Immigrant Experience
Ages: 8 & Up
Chronicle Books, $24.95 (Paperback)

In this box collection you'll find more than 25 meticulously reproduced replicas of artifacts documenting the complicated immigration process at the "Island of Hope, Island of Tears." Includes boarding card of an immigrant, ship passenger list, passport of an immigrant, photographic portraits of families on Ellis Island, and much, much more!

Almost Instant Scrapbooks
Ages: 8 & Up
Author: Laura Check    Editor: Emily Stetson    Illustrator: Betsy Day
Williamson Publishing, $8.95 (Paperback)

Make a simple spiral with craft-foam designs, a hole-punch style (with lace-ups!), a wrap around scrapbook with decorative papers, or an easy loose-ring binder that holds chunky treasures (like shells)!

My Fabulous Life in PicturesMy Fabulous Life in Pictures
Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: Klutz, $19.95 (Hardcover)

Scrapbooking made simple! My Fabulous Life in Pictures is packed with colorful themed pages on subjects like travel and family. Templates, stickers, portfolio pockets and other special supplies make it easy for young scrapbookers to overcome blank-page anxiety and get started in this ever-popular pastime.

StoryCorps Interviews

Storytelling and interviews also provide a unique opportunity to preserve and share your family stories. If you've been to New York City's Grand Central Terminal, you may have seen the very first StoryBooth, a soundproof recording booth designed to record broadcast-quality interviews between friends and family members. Participants receive a copy of their interview on CD and a copy is also sent to the StoryCorps Archive, located in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. These archives will serve as an oral history of America for years to come.

This national project was started by StoryCorps, who plans to build several StoryBooths across the country. However, if you do not live near a StoryBooth, StoryCorps offers suggestions for putting together your own StoryKit. You will need the best quality recording device (cassette or mini-disc recorder), microphone, and headphones that you have available. For more information on selecting equipment, see their StoryKit ideas here. Once your equipment is ready, StoryCorps suggests taking some time to prepare for your interview by following these steps:

1. Pick a storyteller.
Start by figuring out whom to interview. Some people might be hesitant. "I don't have much to say," they'll claim, or maybe, "You already know everything about my life." Remind them that their experiences are unique and that the StoryCorps interview is about making a record for the future

2. Create a question list
Decide what you want to talk about. What are the important aspects of your storyteller's life? What do they know that you want to learn? Questions might include: What have you learned in life? What are you most proud of? Is there something about yourself that you think no one knows? How would you like to be remembered?

3. Practice using the equipment
Before your interview, get comfortable with your equipment. Record yourself. Find a friend and do a mock interview.

4. Choose an interview location.
Pick the quietest place possible. A carpeted living room or bedroom makes for warm, intimate recordings. Avoid large, empty rooms, and stay away from kitchens, which have a lot of reflective surfaces and appliance noise.

5. Set up and test the equipment.
Set up your equipment as early as possible and make sure you're comfortable with it. This way you'll be able to focus on the person you are interviewing and not the equipment.

6. Begin the conversation.
Begin your StoryCorps session with warm-up questions or small talk to help put your storyteller at ease. If you haven't already, let her know why you want to interview her and what, generally, you'll want to talk about in the interview. Once she is ready, you can move on to the ID.

The ID is an important part of every interview. Start by stating your name, your age, the date, and the location of the interview. For example, "Hi, my name is Christopher. I'm forty-one years old. The date is August 3, 1492, and we're sitting here on my ship called the Santa Maria in the port of Palos." Now ask your storyteller to state the same information. Repeat this procedure at the start of any new discs.

7. Get great stories.
The best interview is simply a conversation - it should feel like your storyteller is just being him or herself. However, sometimes people act differently when a microphone is present. Listen closely, be yourself, be curious and honest and keep an open heart. Great things will happen.

8. Wrap it up.
Before you turn off your recorder, do two things: Ask the storyteller if there is anything else that she wants to talk about, and thank her. Sharing a story can be difficult for some people. It's a privilege to have someone share his story with you. Express your gratitude.

For more detailed interview suggestions and information on StoryBooths, visit the StoryCorps website at:

Product Recommendations:

The Japanese American Family AlbumThe American Family Album Series: The Japanese American Family Album, The Jewish American Family Album, The German American Family Album
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Dorothy Hoobler    Author: Thomas Hoobler
Publisher: Oxford University Press, $14.95 (Paperback)

Through letters and diaries, we see and "hear" real voices tell their stories, from immigration to assimilation and contribution.

Cooking Together

Another tasty way to share family tales is to cook together. Many family recipes are passed on from one generation to next and represent both cultural and family traditions. By sharing a recipe for grandma's chicken soup or grandpa's favorite cookie, you ensure that these recipes will continue to satisfy family appetites for many years. For more ideas on cooking with kids, visit Food Network's Kids section.

Product Suggestions:

Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Isabell Monk    Illustrator: Janice Lee Porter
Lerner Publishing Group, $15.95 (Hardcover)

This quiet, warmhearted picture book is a subtle exploration of the meaning of family and the ties of love, acceptance and tradition that hold an extended family together. Hope, whose father is white and whose mother is black, brings her own special dessert treat to Aunt Poogie's potluck dinner. "Sharing food is a good way of sharing family," Aunt Poogie says, and the listener/viewer will be pleased to have taken part in this happy, multi-generational gathering chockfull of affection and good will.

Three Cheers for Catherine the Great
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Cari Best    Illustrator: Giselle Porter
Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc., $16.95 (Hardcover)

"For Grandma—who started the universe—" reads the author's tender dedication to this lovingly-told tale about a grandma who “came to America from Russia a long time ago on a big boat with a little suitcase." Now it’s the eve of Grandma's birthday, and she has dictated to family and friends alike: NO PRESENTS. How everyone manages to obey Grandma yet bring the perfect "no presents" imaginable is the substance of a charming story. A bonus for reader and listener alike is Catherine the Great's recipe for Russian Borscht that appears on the book's back cover.

Grandmother's Dreamcatcher
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Becky Ray Mcain    Illustrator: Stacey Schuett
Albert Whitman & Company, $6.95

Though Kimmy is introduced to the lovely Chippewa tradition of dreamcatchers by her grandmother, it is their shared time that truly eases Kimmy's troubled dreams. Grandma gives her quality time, surrounding craft, nature and cooking projects. Kimmy's hands and mind are kept active, as she learns more about her special grandmother.

Kids and Grandparents: An Activity BookKids and Grandparents: An Activity Book
Ages: 6 & Up
Author: Ann Love    Author: Jane Drake    Illustrator: Heather Collins
Kids Can Press, $17.95 (Hardcover)

The more than 90 classic activities, games and recipes (shadow portraits, cribbage, birdhouse building, and flower pressing, to name a few) provide grandparents and grandchildren opportunities to build relationships and create family traditions. The activities are not limited to grandparents, but will be especially appreciated by those grandparents who don't often see their grandchildren or are planning a vacation with them.

Bake the Best-Ever Cookies!
Ages: 8 & Up
Author: Sarah A. Williamson Illustrator: Tom Ernst
Williamson Publishing, $7.95 (Paperback)

Children learn about baking procedures, ingredients, kitchen supplies, and clean-up by following 26 clearly written recipes. Menu suggestions are also provided with ideas on how to enhance the presentation and what to talk about with guests. Special recipes, such as "Tea for Two," offer ideas for sharing special occasions with grandparents or other adult family members.

Tastes of Jewish Tradition
Ages: All Ages
Author: Susan L. Roth    Author: Idy Goodman    Author: Aggie Goldenholz    Author: Jody Hirsh
Illustrator: Cindy Cooper
Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee, $29.95 (Hardcover)

Enjoy this award winning Jewish Cookbook/Resource with a guide to celebrating 11 Jewish holidays. Created by parents & educators for families to share, the cookbook includes stories, kosher recipes, and craft ideas.

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