Adding Different Elements to Your Genealogy and Family History
Decorating Your Family Tree
I think most of you will agree that stories add significantly to our family history work and to our family trees.
I’d like to suggest that there are a few more things we can do as family historians to add more interest and ‘sparkle’ to our genealogy work. It might just result in more intrigue into what we do, why we do it, and perhaps hook a new member of the family into our favorite pastime.
One of the techniques I use is to ask living family members for a list of their ‘favorites’. I make up a short list and then hand them out at a family gathering and add in some others who were unable to attend via email or the regular mail.
It isn’t fancy, but it does the trick. I ask for their favorite holiday, favorite old saying, favorite game, favorite food, favorite place they have ever visited, lived, etc.
One of these ‘favorites’ that I find most fun is when I ask what their favorite childhood book was. While our memories of our favorite books that were read to us early in our lives might be forever, unfortunately my wife and I have discovered that the publishing of several of these ‘classics’ isn’t!
When our children were young, reading books together was a regular feature in our home. First with my wife and I reading to the kids, then watching and listening as they took over and began to read for themselves or to each other.
Then we had grandchildren. Quite naturally my wife and I wanted to share some of the fun stories that we and our children had enjoyed earlier in our lives. One of everyone’s favorites was “Oh, Were They Ever Happy” by Peter Spier.
Interestingly to us genealogy fans, Peter Spier was born and raised in Netherlands. During World War II he was interred in two concentration camps, one of which was the infamous Theresienstadt. The entire Spier family then immigrated to the United States in 1950 and Peter began his career as a commercial artist. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that he began to write and illustrate children’s book, but then wrote more than 30. He has won the Caldecott Medal, a National Book Award, as well as a Christopher Award.
Given the author’s accomplishments, we thought getting a copy for each of our children to have would be a breeze, but – SURPRISE – “Oh, Were They Ever Happy” is out of print!
It was then that my wife and I decided we needed to make a list of the favorite books of our youth and our children’s and try and find two copies of each to create a ‘reading treasure chest’ for each of them to have for themselves. We all had so many warm and wonderful memories of reading so many books that it was a joy (and a lot of fun) compiling this list!
Luckily many of the books were still in print, but almost as many were not. This was especially true when we started looking for some of the favorites of our youth.
For instance, I loved a book that my grandmother had and read to me over and over. It is titled simply “Mitchie the Bear”. It is oversized, full of fabulously rich illustrations, and a nice story. I’ve never been able to find any copies of this book, nor the promised sequel listed on the inside flap, “Mitchie Finds His Mother”.
My wife’s favorite childhood book was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson. Luckily Anderson’s work is far easier to find as are other more mainstream books that we chose, such as Aesop’s Fables.
Then there are those wonderful ‘series’ books as my wife and I got a bit older. She became a Nancy Drew fan and I was enthralled with the Tom Swift series! I devoured every one as they were published.
Oh, how I loved reading Tom Swift! At least I did until an early teacher of mine shamed me for reading something that ‘weren’t really books and don’t count’. I can still remember how crushed I was at that rebuke and the fact that it turned me off to reading as anything but a necessary evil until the day in college when happened across a copy of Leon Uris’ book ‘Mila 18’. Just like that I was in love with reading again. It was a long hiatus, but I am so happy to be back!
Slowly but surely my wife and I have been able to assemble pretty decent ‘reading treasure chests’ for our children and grandchildren. We have found such old favorites as ‘Good Night Moon’, the ‘Little Miss’ series, ‘Scuffy the Tugboat’, ‘Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’, ‘The Sailor Dog’, ‘Stuart Little’, ‘Clifford, The Big Red Dog’, and many more.
It has been a joyful, if challenging, effort and one you might enjoy as well in your family.
Nothing is forever and it certainly is wonderful to pass along those books that were your personal favorites – no matter what some teacher might think of any of them!
So tell me – do you pass along your favorite titles from your youth? Do you keep them notated on your family tree?
I hope so!