Memories and family history

George Scurlock (son of George Scurlock the photographer) with his siblings in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.
George Scurlock (son of George Scurlock, the photographer) with his siblings in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. 

A couple of years ago, my coworkers and I were discussing our most memorable Christmas gifts over lunch. Most of the memories were of beloved or most-wished-for things, but when it came to my turn to share, what came to mind were stories.

I thought about the year that a heavy snow knocked out the power at my grandparents' house on Christmas Eve. My family and I sang carols and told stories of past Christmases by candlelight. I thought about the year that I had come home midway through a year abroad and decided to record my family singing "Let it Snow" together to take back with me, and how grateful I am to have that recording now that we can no longer gather for the holidays. Those times to be together, to use traditions as an entrée into conversations about family history, were what made Christmas special to me.

As much as museums are about objects, they are just as much about the stories that exist behind those objects. If your family is gathering, it may be a time that you're able to talk, especially with children, about family stories. If you do, our History Explorer website has a few resources that may help you expand on and record the conversation. Our oral history kit, while focused on documenting stories of immigration and migration, provides some useful guidance in preparing to record your family's history.

 

A 1957 Scurlock Studio photo of "Miss Margo Brown's Children's Party"
A 1957 Scurlock Studio photo of "Miss Margo Brown's Children's Party"

For younger children, our Design a Family Flag activity encourages children and their caregivers to work together to think of symbols and colors that represent their family to them. Both of these activities can help children to understand their family history, while the experience of interviewing a relative or creating a family flag together may become the memory they share at some future lunch table conversation.

While my coworkers talked about objects and I talked about an experience when thinking of memorable Christmas gifts, the essence was the same. Their objects were perhaps gone, but the joy preserved in their memories remained. For all of us, those memories were the greatest gifts of all.

Naomi Coquillon is an education specialist at the National Museum of American History. She has shared other museum resources in this blog post.

Posted at 6:18 pm EST in Musings,Teaching & Learning