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I've always been fascinated by family stories, and my Dad loved to share his version of our combined family history. As I learned later in life, some of his family stories were slightly embellished while others were downright incorrect.

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grandparents genealogy photo for family history It's important to know the facts and anecdotes about our ancestors and family members, not only because it connect us to the past, but also for medical, inheritance and emotional reasons.

I realized when I was in my twenties that without a family record book and some family history written down, our family might never know the real and wonderful tales of their ancestors. More importantly, medical information that our children and grandchildren may need in the future should be saved for their reference.

When my children were young I gave my mother a book to record her memories from childhood, and to also try to gather facts about Dad's family members. That was more than 30 years ago, and I think that book got lost in a moving adventure during the 1980s.

Lately, though, my mother has been making scrapbooks and writing a bit of a memoir to share with her children when she's gone. She turned 80 last January and is determined to record and organize whatever information she can gather about our family so that all 6 of her children will have a record of our ancestry for at least a couple generations back.

Her cousin - who found her about 10 years ago through a story on this web site - has done an exhaustive genealogy project on Mom's side of the family, so we now have books of pictures, records and family letters from Germany dating back to the 1920s along with extensive charts that show relationships in all directions. My mother has reconnected with cousins she met as a 6-year-old child on visit to Germany with her parents. They still live near Crimmichau, and my mother traveled to visit them a few years ago along with her cousins from the USA.

Mom took care of Dad during his final days and learned a lot about keeping medical history records at that time. She's been making records of medical information to share with all of us in case we should need that information in the future. Luckily for our family there's not a lot that will impact us our our grand kids.

My mother as a toddler in the 1930sThree of my grandparents immigrated from Europe in the early 20th century; my maternal grandmother was born in the US to immigrant parents. My own parents were born in the in Massachusetts, so their information is readily available.

My father is the youngest son and next to youngest child from a family of 9 children who lived - at least one child died at birth. My nurse grandmother was a sturdy and busy woman - she had to be to work and care for a home, seafaring husband and 9 kids.

My mother's side of the family is small and many family documents were well-preserved despite the fact that they left Germany just a few years prior to Hitler's rise to power. Family records were preserved both here and in Europe and my grandparents were camera buffs so we have many photos from the time of their marriage until my grandfather's untimely death in his mid-forties.

Gathering and documenting basic facts about my father's family is a monumental chore, but my aunt (his sister, the baby of the family) compiled quite a bit of Hansen family information. She even visited Norway and checked out my grandfather's birth records, discovering he had changed his name and birthplace when he left Scandinavia as a teenage deckhand aboard his uncle's merchant ship.

When I was born, at least one of my paternal uncles was old enough to be my grandfather. On the other hand, my mother is an only child and her aunt (my grandmother's sister) had no children, so Mom's side of the family is much smaller than Dads.

Even so, I only have sketchy details to share with my children, so I'm determined to build a written family history for my daughters so they will have facts and details for reference when I'm gone, and to pass along to my grandchildren. I've made a good start, and here are some of my tips for creating a family history archive.

Organize your family information and share it with family members. Medical, immigration, marriage, birth and death documents are important for future generations. Stories and photos are so interesting for younger family members - I even laugh at old photos of myself when my children were babies. I gave my daughters their baby books, immunization records and many photos from when they were children as they started their own families. I hope they're continuing the family history process for their own children.

Cousins in the 1950sDon't let life get in the way of sharing your family story - make your ongoing family history book a part of every gathering, then document each family event with journaling, photographs and keepsakes for future generations to enjoy. You're creating a living history, much like a personal museum of your family's life. Organize your memories as you go - you'll be amazed at how much you know about your family at the end of every year. and

©copyright Lee Hansen 2011 all rights reserved

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