Preserving family memories

August 17, 2000

Preserving family memories

By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Do you remember the funny little song your grandmother used to sing to you?

Almost - but not all of it?

Don't you wish you had it on tape?

Who is that handome young soldier in that old photograph? Is it your grandfather or is it his brother? Don't you wish you could know for sure?

Some of your family's stories may already have gone to the grave with relatives who have died.

What can you do to preserve the memories that are still alive?

Betty Brooks has a huge box of old family photos. The recently retired administrative secretary is arranging those pictures - parts of her life - in a scrapbook she's creating in a class at the Berkeley Senior Services center in Martinsburg, W.Va. She's included a copy of her birth certificate and has worked through her elementary school years. "I just decided I wanted to have all these pictures in one place," she said.


She likes the scrapbook format because she can rearrange pictures and journaled entries and pages. Brooks has no children, but believes that someone among her many cousins will be interested in having the part of her family story she is preserving.

Karen Snider teaches the class. She practices what she teaches. She made a "heritage book," a collection of photos with some notations of her father's life. She left room for him to add some remarks and sent pages to his sisters, asking them to write down their memories of the family's earlier days.

Snider said her dad is not a real storyteller. She compares the scrapbook format to telling a story with flashcards. The album is a way for her family to know the when, who and why of its past.

Do the older family members who are doing the remembering benefit from the process?

The need to go over one's life and have it make sense is an actual psychological phenomenon, said Dawn Gonano, wellness coordinator at Berkeley Senior Center.

Living includes going through hard things, making mistakes. She believes that it's important for people to sift through all the pieces of their lives, view them through their spiritual or religious beliefs and fit them into a whole - come to a closing.

"There is a pleasure in remembering," said Linda Shopes, a historian with Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg, Pa.

Remembering also can be deeply troubling or disturbing, Shopes cautioned. While she acknowledges that understanding one's own life and in relation to the broader world may not always be pleasant, it is always a deeply meaningful experience.

The Herald-Mail Articles