Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some final thoughts on history & your family

With the holiday break almost upon us and the threat of some pretty crummy weather to go with it, here are some final ideas on studying American history via your family’s history.

Get out a map of the United States and plot all of the places where family members have lived or live now. See how spread out they all are and then study the history of those areas. For example, if you come from the Great Plains as I do, what was going on when your family made it to Nebraska (my home state). I could easily ask, “Do you know anything about the Oregon Trail? The Plum Creek Massacre? General Stephen Kearny?”

It may take a little work, but the public library will be open the day after Christmas and the internet is always open, so explore and learn something about your country.

Have each family member make a timeline of their lives and then add in important dates from American history. This is a great project when you have the whole clan together because you will span a great deal of the last century and all of  this one. In my case, that would mean Sputnik, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, a man on the moon,…..well, you get the drift.

This activity can spark some really interesting conversations about childhoods that the kids will LOVE because it makes the adults in their lives more human. If there’s someone in the family who’s good at this, create an entire family timeline as the basis for a multi-month study in 2013.

Some families make quilts together, some create photo albums. One of my husband’s cousins-in-law is a professional photographer and after most family get togethers we receive an album in the mail of pictures Kim has taken. It’s a great way to preserve family memories, even more so this year for the Bonnen’s as it was the last Thanksgiving in the family homestead before it goes on the market.

One suggestion from the book we’ve been using for these blog posts – “My History is America’s History” – is to create a family museum. I’ll let you decide if you want to do this with “stuff” or photos (which you should take of family treasures any way), but it is a neat idea because you’ll likely be surprised at what other family members value.

Investigate genealogy resources and start working on your family tree. As we’ve said before, we’re lucky in Allen County to have our genealogy department at the downtown public library. It doesn’t get any better than that. But there are also, and to help along the way and get you started.

And if you’re hunting for a unique gift for someone, why not write down a story about that person and send it them? If you have a particular memory of an event in someone’s life such as a graduation, award they received or a special vacation, share your impressions. As you grow older, send your children photos from their childhood. They’d probably like to have some of those when they become adults.

Finally, I must put in a plug for the History Center and our programs. Even if you didn’t grow up in Allen County, Indiana, the history of this area is a microcosm of American history that is unrivaled. Visit the museum and see our new exhibition gallery “Allen County Innovation”, attend our lectures, come out to the Chief Richardville House this summer. You will be amazed at what you will learn.

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