Preserving Family History through the Arts

Staff Blogger: Ellen Venema, Rhein Center Assistant Coordinator


Preserving Family History (1)Lakeside prides itself on embracing history and tradition in each of the Chautauqua pillars of Religion, Education, Cultural Arts and Recreation.

As we move through Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on and recognize all of the contributions and accomplishments of women throughout our history and lives, consider setting aside some time to celebrate the women around you and those who came before.

Sit down with friends and family and share stories of the amazing, comical, harrowing, peculiar, courageous and everyday happenings in your history.

Preserving Family History (2)Perhaps your great-grandparents met while your great-grandmother was traveling Europe as a nurse in World War II, or your aunt shattered glass ceilings as she reached new heights in the world of engineering. Maybe your cousin spent 10 years as a missionary to South America, or your grandmother raised six children on her own after her husband died young. It could be that your mother was once arrested at a protest rally for animal rights, or your great-aunt was the inspiration for a famous rock song.

You may even learn that your great-great-great-great grandmother was born on the boat carrying her family from Germany, that she single-handedly kept the family farm running during the Civil War, and that she went on to be one of people who helped establish Lakeside!

My beautiful pictureOne of the intentions behind Women’s History Month is to shine light on parts of our history that are too often passed over in history books. In the same way, family history is so commonly relegated to an oral tradition that fades with time. If the stories are not passed down and shared over and over again, they are all too soon lost and forgotten.

This spring, take steps to spend time with the women in your family and community. Wander through conversation and memories, and record them for future generations to learn, understand and enjoy.

You can impress upon your children the importance of remembering what came before.

In summers past, the C. Kirk Rhein, Jr., Center for the Living Arts has offered a class on writing family memoirs, and the historical preservation possibilities don’t stop there. So many creative projects can be drawn from these conversations, creating lasting impressions for future generations and ensuring that these deeds and experiences will not soon be forgotten.

Here are a few creative ways to celebrate and honor the women in your family’s life, past and present.

  • Paper Crafts – Endless variations on scrapbook pages and photo collages, whether prominently displayed on walls or filed away in albums, can bring new life to beloved or nearly-forgotten ancestors and their tales.
  • Fabrics – You can scan old family photos to your computer and then print them onto fabric transfer paper to create a photo collage or a family tree design on blankets or quilts. What a great resource for bedtime stories!
  • Theater – Do your children have a flair for the dramatic? Try scripting a short living room drama where they can act out some of your favorite family stories, portraying their ancestors. Great for holiday get-togethers.
  • Writing & Drawing– Pen your family’s own collection of children’s books detailing cherished family anecdotes and have the kids create or color-in the illustrations.
  • Technology – Take treasured home movies into the world of documentaries, and film (or simply audio-record) interviews and story-telling sessions with the elder members of your family. Allow them to guide future viewers through their lives. Also, encourage them to share all the stories they remember of the previous generations, ensuring their continuing presence in family narratives.

What other ideas do you have for using the arts to celebrate and preserve your family history?

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