Passing on Your Family’s Legacy

The holiday season is filled with family, friends, and togetherness.  Why not take the opportunity at this year’s family gatherings to begin passing on your family’s legacy?


Make traditions a part of everyday life.  Involve everyone and be sure to explain to young family members why you carry them out and the importance of each element.  Share stories about the family members who started a tradition or who brought one over as an immigrant.  Even if all of your family members do not follow the same traditions, YOU can still carry them out and younger generations can decide what traditions they would like to keep.  At the very least, they will remember you and your values.


Food is a common denominator across all generations. The smell and taste of our favorite dishes wraps us in the warmth of happy memories.

Ensure that your family’s favorite recipes are not lost over time. Involve children in cooking them when they are young. Make it fun.  Make it a privilege to put in certain ingredients or to use certain tools like a mixer or rolling pin.

Share your recipes.  Family members will appreciate it if you keep your recipe cards authentic (stains and all.) Photocopy or scan them.  Put them together in a binder and give them to your children and grandchildren. If they are difficult to read, include newly- typed versions of the recipes too.  If you are creative, make a recipe scrapbook.  Include memories and family photographs, such as pictures of the person who originated the recipe and of the dish itself.  Remember to add in those special touches that may not be on the recipe card, such as using a particular type of pan, adding more of an ingredient to taste, how long to knead the dough, etc.

Family History

Begin recording your family’s history now.  Memories can be lost in an instant, and that memory just lost may be the key to solving a family history puzzle.

Start with the most important details: names, dates, places of residence, and family relationships.  Begin with yourself and work back one generation at a time. Ask relatives what they know, especially those of an older generation.  If you are from the oldest generation, ask cousins.  Their parents may have shared different family details than yours did.  There are many free downloadable/editable/printable family trees and other genealogy forms online.  There are also websites that let you input family tree data online for free.

If you decide to dig deeper into your ancestry, come visit us in the Grosvenor Room.  The Grosvenor Room’s main genealogical focus is Erie County, but there are numerous resources for Western New York, New York State, the East Coast, and beyond.  The B&ECPL offers genealogy databases including Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online.  Both databases can be used at any B&ECPL location and HeritageQuest can be used from home with a valid B&ECPL card.  Our most important resource in the Grosvenor Room is our library staff.  They are knowledgeable about family history research and look forward to assisting you when you visit.

Capture Your Family’s Stories and Personalities 

Journals and Q&A Books

Write about your life or your memories of relatives.  Don’t worry about the need to be an exceptional writer. Just put your personality in it.  If handwriting or typing is too difficult for you, get a family member to help. Ask grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Offer them their favorite meal or a trip to get ice cream as “payment” for helping you.  This is a good way to help insure that they will hear your story and this way they will be more likely to remember it.  Do it in short spurts so as to not overwhelm them.

Start a new holiday tradition.  Buy a question and answer book and have each family member pick a question to answer.  Or buy a blank journal and have everyone write down a favorite family story.  Make it quick and casual to alleviate the pressure of making their entries perfect or taking too much time away from visiting with each other.

Video and Audio Recording

Seek out the family technology wiz and see what creative ideas they may have for capturing family interviews. Let family members talk about what they think is important.  If you need help with getting the conversation going, see what books your local library may have about interviewing and oral history techniques.  Look for question ideas online. 


Instead of forcing family members to take the staged and uncomfortable annual family photograph, ask everyone to provide you with a copy of a few of their favorite photos of themselves.  Get their input as to the most cherished photos of deceased loved ones or important places and events.  Scan them, print them on photo paper and make copies for everyone.  Be sure to label the photographs so that names and faces aren’t forgotten.

Consider DNA Testing

Though contemporary DNA tests cannot provide us with our entire family history, they are helpful in genealogy research. Today’s tests can provide a list of genetic family members as well as ethnicity predictions for the last several generations.  And, who knows what the future holds?  Plus, this time of year, there are many deep discount sales on DNA testing.

If you or a loved one decide to test, be sure that access to the DNA account is given to family members.  Provide family with login information and the right to inherit the account through a will.  DNA testing companies may not provide access  to the account if descendants cannot prove a right to it.

In the near future, some DNA testing companies may offer artifact testing, specifically letters and postcards.  At least one major company predicts that it will offer testing of stamps and envelopes that may have DNA from your ancestors’ saliva.  Keep any letters, envelopes, or postcards in a safe place for future testing.

Talk to your doctor if you are considering medical DNA testing.

Think Practically

Keep your family history materials well-labeled, organized and to a minimum.  The more manageable and accessible your materials are, the more likely family members are to keep them or pass them on to an institution that will take them.  Make a list of potential libraries and societies that may be willing to accept your materials in the case your family cannot keep them.

Keep Preservation in Mind

Archival Materials

If you can, use archival quality materials to store and record your family’s history. These materials will not easily deteriorate, fade, or discolor.  Use acid free paper, pens, adhesives, folders, photo albums, and storage boxes.

Do not laminate your documents or photos. Lamination uses heat and adhesives that will cause the item to deteriorate or speed up the deterioration process. Instead, store your original documents and make duplicates to show family members and friends.

Electronic Media

Electronic media is a great way to save space. It also allows for easy duplication and document sharing.  But, enhancements and changes to electronic media happen rapidly.  Think of how many of us can play/read a phonograph record, cassette, VHS tape, or floppy disk anymore.  Know that electronic media such as that used to read and record digital photographs, audio, video, and word processing documents, will eventually go obsolete.  Be prepared to upgrade files and formats to keep media usable.

When you scan or record, be sure to use archival standards in terms of file size, format, and storage media.

Storage Location 

Avoid areas such as attics, basements, and out buildings.  Temperature fluctuations and moisture will ruin your files, photographs, and artifacts.  They will cause curling, discoloration, deterioration, and possibly mold.

If you have an artifact that already has mold on it, consider how important it is to you.  If it is something of lesser importance, like a newspaper clipping, you may want to make a high quality reproduction of the item (photocopy/scan) and discard the original.  If it is an important, irreplaceable item, keep it separate from your other documents as mold can spread.  The Smithsonian provides good advice on dealing with moldy documents at this link.

Consider keeping your most precious heirlooms in a fireproof safe or box.


Accidents and natural disasters happen.  Give copies of the final products of your family history projects and of your most precious heirlooms to multiple family members.  This way if tragedy strikes, your hard work will be kept safe at an alternate location.

For More Information on Preservation:

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