By Mary Ann Clements

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be disrupting everyone’s lives. With the uncertainty and anxiety many are feeling, it may be a good time to think about family history. A recent Daily Herald article referenced a research study examining the pyschological impact of adolescents’ knowledge of their family history:

Research has shown that children who know more about their families and family history are more resilient and tend to do better when facing challenges in life. This may be because seeing patterns of overcoming failures and surviving hard times can help children recognize that people can recover and triumph, despite hardships. One of the best things families can do is develop a strong family narrative.

With health experts and civic leaders asking us to remain at home, now is a perfect time to connect with relatives living and deceased. Here are a few “social distancing”-friendly ideas to work on your family history.

Ask a Question

The next time you talk to an older relative (phone, Skype, email, etc.), ask them a question about themselves or their relatives. Record or write down their responses. Each time you communicate, ask another question. There are lists of common personal history questions online, but perhaps you might want to tie them to current events. Here are some ideas:

  • Do you know if any family members recorded their experiences about the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemics? Do you have experiences with flu or other types of pandemics?
  • Have you ever had to be quarantined for a sickness (like chicken pox, measles, or polio)? What do you remember from that time? How did you keep yourself entertained?
  • Do you have experiences with food shortages or rationing? Did your parents ever make you drink powdered milk? Have you or someone you know ever run out of toilet paper?
  • Do you have any funny stories related to cleaning? (Examples: cleaning chores at home, cleaning checks in college, using the wrong cleaner/detergent, etc.)
  • What technology did you have available when you attended school? (Examples: writing slates, slide-rules, typewriters, calculators, computers, etc.) Have you ever done home-school or a correspondence/online course?

Share a Photo

Photos are a great way to share family history. Post a photo on social media or FamilySearch and give the backstory. If possible, note the individuals, date, and location. If you are communicating via video chat with a relative, have them pick out a favorite photo, show it to you on the video call, and share the details. (You can also share backstories of cherished objects, like paintings or knick-knacks.)

Don’t Forget Yourself

We are living in a historic moment. Have you stopped to consider that someone in the future may want to know how the COVID-19 pandemic affected your life? One historian has urged us to record our experiences.

I suggest that you keep a record – in one or more different forms of your own choosing, a journal, a blog, an e-portfolio, a film, a series of artworks, a short story, poems, a series of haikus – of your life in these unprecedented days. Each individual perspective is valuable, and adds to the whole….

When you read an article that you find telling, produce a link in your journal and write a few brief reflections. Include photographs, from the press and those that you take.

Many of us are writing today and producing our work on social media. It is an explosion. You can gather these voices, these experiences, all this creativity. They are all a record of our times.

What have you been doing to record your personal or family history? Please share in the comments below!

Family History in the Age of Social Distancing
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