Remembering Grandma: Sharing Stories of Your Female Ancestors

by Stephanie Pitcher Fishman | Dec 4, 2012

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman

As genealogists and family historians, we want to share our family's stories. We learn about amazing individuals through our research, yet so many times our immediate family may not want to listen to the details of a census record or a county history we just discovered. You can connect with the non-genealogist in the family by sharing the story of a female ancestor. Stories of Mom and Grandma evoke childhood memories in an instant. Heritage crafts are a wonderful way to accomplish this. By highlighting the story of Mom, Grandma Wilson, and Aunt Beatrice, you are connecting your family in the present to relatives from the past. Let's look at some ways that will make even the non-genealogist interested in their stories!

Photo-based Remembrances

Nothing seems to evoke memories more than a photograph. By seeing our loved one again we can immediately hear their voice, smell their baked goods, and feel their hugs. Photographs are treasured pieces of family history - especially to those who do not possess many of them.

When working on a photo-based project, always remember to use copies of your photos rather than the originals. You want to protect your heirloom items such as historical photographs from constant exposure to light.

photo the author's grandmother

Perfect for a gift or home décor item, a photo timeline is a simple and inexpensive way to share a personalized heirloom. Choose a theme, purchase a segmented collage frame, and have fun choosing photographs of your ladies! Approach it as a traditional timeline showing several generations of women from the same family tree. Or, create one with a special theme like holiday traditions. Does your family snap the same types of scenes each year, such as Grandmother presenting the Thanksgiving turkey or decorating a Christmas tree? A photo collage of similar scenes throughout the years creates a touching gift.

Photo story books are a more complex project, but worth the effort. Many websites offer easy-to-use services to create these books. Companies such as Shutterfly and Snapfish allow you to customize your book from cover to color, text to technique. With these books also come options: a coffee table photo book; a scrapbook containing family stories; or a walk through your family tree generation by generation. Many companies have affordable options, which is good since you'll want to have one for yourself!

Story-based Tributes

All of my grandmothers have lived interesting lives. One paternal great-grandmother wanted to design hats and even made it to Chicago's design scene. My maternal grandmother traveled throughout the country experiencing life as she raised her family with a "company man" who moved where he was needed next. Their experiences are not only entertaining to hear, but they teach me valuable lessons about the strength and courage that was passed down throughout the women in my family. What stories do you have to share about the women in your family tree?

Some things to consider for a story-based project: What are some areas of daily life that make you think of your female ancestors? How can you use these as the center of a project? Reach out to relatives that would be a wealth of information. Brainstorm through ideas such as holiday traditions, memories of her parenting style, or ways in which she challenged the established rules for women of her day. Sites that focus on sharing family stories, such as The Armchair Genealogist, can give you more ideas. Lisa Alzo's Expert Series article "Break That Writer's Block: Ten Tips to Tap into Your Creative Muse" will be sure to get the creative juices flowing.

A story-based project can be as easy as a compilation of family stories. Typed or handwritten, these stories make an incredibly personal gift. Your presentation can be as simple as a collection of handwritten stories on hand-made paper tied with a pretty ribbon. Take it one step further by reaching out to other relatives. Collect stories from different descendants about the same ancestor, or compile stories about all of the women within one nuclear family unit. However you approach it, by sharing their stories you are not only creating a gift with an extremely personal touch, but you are also documenting the lives of an individual.

If you are looking for a more detailed project, try creating a shadowbox based on a central theme. For example, my grandmother was a bowler from the time my mother was a little girl to the time I was a little girl. We can highlight the significance this sport held in my grandmother's social life through a shadowbox featuring a bowling trophy, one of her scorecards, and team photos. Though it requires more preparation, this project highlights the amazing accomplishments and unique interests your female ancestor held. Include a note explaining the significance of each item so that everyone can appreciate its meaning.

Handicraft-based Gifts

Like many women of the 1950s and 60s, my grandmother loved to crochet. Nothing makes me think of Granny more quickly than seeing a crocheted afghan. Many of us have similar reactions. Whether the women in your life loved sewing, knitting, or tatting, these handicrafts sometimes define memories of our childhood as their finished pieces surrounded our naptimes and dinner tables. You can create a unique spin on a heritage gift by incorporating their craft into your project.

If you aren't nimble with a thimble but hold pieces of grandmother's quilt collection, share them with others. In my home, we have passed down my great-grandmother's crocheted hot pads along with the story of how she collected bottle tops to crochet around. Living on a farm with a large family during the Depression, she used everything she could locate to create what she needed. A powerful gift can be created by simply framing one of these hot pads for display in a kitchen.

Are you crafty yourself? Accept the challenge and create your own handicraft piece using patterns or materials like your ancestor used in her projects. Craft stores are filled with pattern books teaching the historical techniques used in period quilts. Vintage patterns for both knit and crochet are available free through websites such as The Crafty Tipster or Ravelry.

I am fortunate to have copies of crochet and sewing patterns used by my grandmother. If you are blessed in the same way, combine your talent and her collection by using her patterns to create a heirloom piece that not only highlights your ancestor but actually brings the generations together. A project using vintage patterns or materials is more complex due to unfamiliar terms or the need to find modern options for obsolete items. However, you are not only creating something that highlights your abilities, but also creating a tangible record of their interest.

Include information identifying the individual, era, or style this piece references. Add an extra special touch by including a bit of the history of the craft or a family story that references it. Tell why you chose this piece or pattern. If you are creating something that will be used, don't forget to include care instructions so that your gift lasts through generations.

For All of Your Projects

  • Include your name and the date you created your gift.
    Though many of us don't look forward to the day that we are the elder generation, one day we may very well be the Grandma that is being remembered. Include your information so that future generations can learn about you, too. Consider including the story of why you chose this particular ancestor for this particular project. The more information you include about yourself, the more real that you will become to future generations.
  • Include identifying information for your featured your ancestor(s).
    Although your gift may spark an interest in family history that could lead to a future hobby for the receiver, it is all too possible that this gift is the only connection to your research that your family member may hold. Include identifying information on your ancestor. If you used a photograph in your project, include as much information as you can about the date or location in which it was taken. If you think it would be of interest, consider including a small pedigree chart or a narrative explaining the relationship between the two individuals.
  • Enjoy the process.
    Many times we become so focused on the result that we don't enjoy the process. This project is a way to share your interests and your hard work in both research and creativity! Have fun creating your gift and your receiver is sure to enjoy it as well.

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