Family History and Literacy

By Readingintheborderlands

Earlier this summer I spent a week with my mother at her home in Indiana. My time there–while relaxing and very enjoyable–also inspired some literacy-related reflection.

Mom has organized all our old family documents and photographs into boxes, one box for each direct relative in the previous two generations. During this vacation I went through each box and pulled out whatever appealed to me. I scanned these items so that we have more permanent and  more easily shared copies.

I was struck by the large amounts of literacy activity documented in these boxes. I found deeds, wills, and other legal papers; business related correspondence and financial records; letters and postcards to family members; newspaper articles; funeral service records; birth certificates; diplomas; personal journals; and many photographs (that’s my father in the photo, probably from 1953). The  most heartbreaking item was my Uncle Donald’s baby book, which documented his 18 months of life and ended with a page of death notices cut out of the local papers.

I found the personal letters particularly interesting, not only because they provided insight into who my relatives were as people, but because it reminded me of how much communication has changed in the last two generations. For example, my great-grandmother lived about an hour away from her son. They visited back and forth regularly, but these visits were arranged by letter, not phone (and certainly not by facebook messages or email, which is how I arrange family visits today!).

I haven’t written a personal letter in years. I rarely even write emails to friends anymore, preferring to text or send facebook messages. I’m a big technology advocate, but it makes me a little sad that future generations won’t have boxes of letters to go through as they learn about the personalities, relationships, and occasional scandals of their ancestors.

How about some children’s books related to family history and genealogy?

Who’s Who in My Family? by Loreen Leedy provides a basic overview of family trees and family relationships for young children.




We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson describes the gathering of a large family one Sunday afternoon.




A little girl dreads spending the day with her grandfather, but ends up learning about her family and culture in Abuelito Eats with His Fingers by Janice Levy.




In The Ancestor Tree by T. Obinkaram Echewa a group of village children challenge the traditional definition of family and honor a beloved elder even though he is not their blood relative.

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