The time is now to document family history

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Tom Merton/ OJO Images

By Bob Roth

The gold charm, fashioned in the likeness of a book, had my mother’s initials engraved on it and the date: 10/21/57. Polishing the tarnish off a charm bracelet with mysterious names and dates stirred something within me that was indescribable. I was longing for my mother, of blessed memory, to ask her about these important events that preceded her life with my father.


Have you experienced the frustration of finding a box of photos with unrecognizable people and places?

There is this belief about family history that it will always be there. There is this non- urgency. The moment that we are in has highlighted the fact that we do not have infinite time. All you need is a smartphone and thought-provoking questions to preserve your family history for posterity.

Think about your photo library that is currently on your smartphone or computer. Personally, I probably have about 5,000 photos of my dogs. My kids live out of town and are featured prominently during our visits. But why don’t I have more videos of my dad?

He is a character, and he is funny. Anyone lucky enough to meet my dad, affectionately known as Noodles, can attest to that. He was also a respected leader in the foodservice industry, and the communities he lived in, in both Baltimore and now Scottsdale, Ariz., and has important reflections and observations that must be documented.

What about those family recipes? Make a video of your mom, dad or grandparents making the dish. It is a treasure and a gift beyond compare for future generations. Ask your family to talk about their memories of their family. My father-in-law of blessed memory had so many quirky “Harold-isms” that defined his essence and love of family.

Our family history can profoundly influence the trajectory of future generations. Learning about relatives who were accomplished artists or musicians can spark the desire for connection through the family craft. I know my wife, Susie, was inspired by her grandfather to learn to chant Haftorah for High Holiday services. We have video of Grandpa Lorber reciting the 7th blessing at our wedding that must be added to the official family archive.

Have I sparked your curiosity to research and document what your parents or grandparents were like when they were young? In times of stress, it is especially beneficial to focus less on ourselves and more on others. It is a selfless and noble pursuit to learn as much as we can about our families and preserve these memories to inspire the next generation. Lastly, who doesn’t love telling a good story better than an older adult talking about their past. We just need to take the time to do this, and the time is now.

Here are some of those thought-provoking questions:

  1. What important life lessons did you learn from your parents?
  2. What family stories or memories were passed down to you from your parents or grandparents?
  3. What about special holiday traditions or recipes passed on to you?
  4. Are there any special family heirlooms that were handed down to you?
  5. What is your first childhood memory?
  6. What were you doing at my age?
  7. Do you remember the first day of your first job?
  8. What do you remember about the house you grew up in?
  9. Who was your favorite teacher and why?
  10. Did you have any pets? What were their names?
  11. How did you celebrate the holidays?
  12. How old were you when you got married?
  13. Where did you get married and how did you meet?

Remember, these questions are meant to evoke stories and images of your loved one’s life — you may have more that you want to add. This exercise is limitless, and there is no particular format or order. Remember, you want to figure out how to best preserve these memories so that they can be passed on to future generations.

All you need is your smartphone and I recommend you do this over multiple visits. Start planning today; the time is now.

Bob Roth is managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions in Phoenix, Ariz.

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