Baby boomers witnessed and experienced a lot in their formative years, such as the Cold War, the space race, political assassinations, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights protests and Watergate.
Now they are reaching an age when many may want to pass along their experiences, memories and family stories to their children and grandchildren – and that urge couldn’t be happening at a better time.
Over the last several years, science and technology have been making game-changing strides in the world of genealogy and boomers have at their disposal the tools to verify and strengthen those family stories that weren’t available just a few decades ago.
“It’s amazing what we can learn today about ourselves and our ancestors, and the role they may have played in history,” says Ceil Lucas, a sociolinguist, amateur genealogist and author of How I Got Here: A Memoir, which chronicles her early years growing up in Guatemala and Italy.
“You can go online and find documents that at one time might have required years of research and some traveling to view.”
At the same time, memoirs seem to have gained new popularity. Some published in recent years include Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Grace Notes: My Recollections by Katey Sagal. But Lucas points out you don’t have to be famous or have a remarkable tale to tell to write a memoir. And you don’t even have to worry about it obtaining best-seller status if your primary goal is to pass on stories to your family.
For Lucas, a memoir and genealogy work hand in hand.
“The bottom line is, if you are going to write a memoir, you should research and include your genealogy,” she says. “Your genealogy is who you are.”
Some of the ways technology has changed family research for the better include:
• Genealogy websites. Numerous websites assist in the search for family histories. Some are free and others charge a fee. Perhaps the most well known of these is Ancestry.com, which advertises regularly on TV. But there are many more, including Afrigeneas.com, which provides resources for those researching African-American roots, and Archives.com, which gives family researchers access to U.S. Censuses, vital records and old newspapers.
• DNA testing. Through a DNA test, individuals can learn fascinating things about their origins and in some cases prove or disprove family lore. Perhaps it will turn out there is no Native American blood in your family history after all, despite what Grandma insisted. But you may have some Scandinavian ties you never knew about.
• Memoir publishing. If you want to pass your story on to the next generation, it’s fairly easy to create an attractive book that they can proudly place on their bookshelves. Various self-publishing websites and companies exist that can help, and you can spend as little or as much as you like.
“If you are writing a memoir, don’t be afraid to tackle difficult topics,” Lucas says. “You can find a way to do it diplomatically so your relatives won’t be offended – or at least not too offended.”