Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Attic Archaeology

I began doing my own family history research in 1977 by asking questions of my immediate family, digging through old photo albums (and boxes), and writing Everything down.

I began teaching beginner's classes and doing professional genealogy in 1990. I've attended club meetings, conferences and seminars. I also discuss genealogy with people on a daily basis, or so it seems.

The comments I hear the most is: I wish I had asked the questions before grandma, auntie, uncle, father, mother passed away. I wish I'd paid attention to the family stories. I wonder what happened to the old family album.

I always tell those people to ask those who Are still here. To write down or record those family stories. To find the photos that haven't been destroyed. To start with whatever you have, NOW!

Even if you aren't ready or able or even want to do your whole genealogy get those things down. It's up to You.

The beginnings of any genealogy or memoir project is to do the attic archaeology. Dig through trunks, boxes, drawers wherever there might be papers, photos or keepsakes. Take pictures. Make notes. Write it all down. You don't have to have fancy equipment or journals to do this. Just start.

Talk to other family members, write letters to the oldsters, travel if you can. Don't pass up any chance to learn something about your family.

At the same time think about your own descendants. What will your grand children and great grandchildren want to know about you and your daily life? There are many workbook journals out there with questions to answer. Prompts are helpful. Make a list of major events in your life and start writing. Your memoir will someday be a part of somebody else's attic archaeology.

In 1990 my daughter and I took a trip to Kansas where I grew up and where I still have family members. We went to the town where I was born and I took photos of the lot where the old trailer we lived in and where I was born stood. We visited the town where my grandparents lived and I took pictures of the houses they lived in. We went to the town where I went through grade school and were even able to go inside parts of the school, same with the junior high.
My elementary school in Kansas. It has since been torn down.


We visited my great aunt and uncle who had a family bible which I took pictures of. I also took pictures of all the pictures they brought out. We visited the family cemetery with five or six generations of family members. Of course I took pictures of the stones and the landscape.

My grandfather's youngest brother and his wife.

A page from their family bible.

Another time we went to Redondo Beach, California and we stopped to visit a distant cousin I had found. She had an autograph album with my great grandmother's handwriting. She even had a watch fob that same great grandmother had made from her own hair. She had photos of our common ancestor that nobody on my side had never seen. Again I photographed each item.

My great great grandmother's handwriting.
A watch fob made with my great great grandmother's hair. 

So begin your own attic archaeology. Begin in your own house. Gather those photos and documents and start identifying. Photograph family heirlooms and write what you know about them. Start journaling your life.

The trip has only just begin.