Preserving your family heritage

Perry Sprawls
Special to Black Mountain News
Perry Sprawls

Our personal heritage, and that of our families, includes the many elements of our lives that can be passed on to future generations. It consists of various records and representations of our life events that are preserved and shared.  

This can be in many forms. 

Some do not require actions on our part but they have significant limitations, not representing all of the many significant and good things relating to our lives.

The most common and available records that are created are the Federal Census tabulations of residency and Social Security death records, state and county death certificates and estate settlements, and the typical obituaries. 

While these are valuable resources for genealogical research, most of the emphasis is on death, not the lives we lived.

The lives of you and your family will be forgotten to future generations unless families now collect, organize, and preserve records, remembrances and the many representations of the lives lived. 

Our generation and family today is a critical link between the past and the future. If we do not collect and preserve all of the family information that we can, it might be lost forever.

This is the first of a series of monthly articles to both encourage and help families in the appreciation and preservation of their family heritages. We will be working together for the next several months with each article addressing a specific resource or activity that will serve as a building block in developing and preserving your Family Heritage. 

This will be done by collecting and preserving the many elements of the lives of individuals as shown in the illustration, beginning with the more senior generations.

We are entering what is traditionally family reunion season. Any gathering of family members, large or small, is a special opportunity to begin the process with discussions about “our family.” 

What are our roots and history? Where did our names come from? And especially, what is it about our family and family members that we want to preserve for others to know…what is our Family Heritage?

Family gatherings afford the opportunity to involve the different generations, where the parents, aunts and uncles can pass on to the younger generation much about the family and family members, especially about those who are no longer living. This can be interesting and valuable for the younger generation to interview elders and make notes or recordings for later use.   

The important thing now is to identify and select specific family members who have a special interest and will be excited by the opportunity. They will be the facilitators and coordinators as we move through each step of the process over the next few months.  

The first step is to get the family talking and sharing stories, and making notes that will be used later.

For each activity, beginning now, additional information and resources are available on the website:

Perry Sprawls, Ph.D. is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Emory University School of Medicine and now lives in Black Mountain. He works with families, communities, institutions, and several national and international organizations in the preservation and promotion of their histories and heritage.