“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
~ Joseph Campbell
I saw this, and laughed how I thought it applied to my ancestor cards. "How did you do it? What gave you the idea?" Well. The fuzzy lint in my brain just wanted to. I wanted to have the equivalent to ancestor baseball cards: something with all of their "stats" so I would be able to put a face to a name, and know a little bit about each of my ancestors. The stories I'd grown up with kinda blended, and as I found out later, were sometimes connected with the wrong person. And I wanted my kids to know their histories as well. Without even one of them, there would be no us. My own children carry half of my husbands genes, and I couldn't tell them hardly anything about my husbands ancestors. But I didn't always have a clear cut idea of how to fix that. How the cards started out, and how they ended up are quite the process, but I'll try and outline it here just in case you want to make some of your own.
I got to see these at the equivalent of a "Tupperware Party" my Cousin Faye put on, and it got me thinking about how great it would be to make trading cards, or baseball cards for our ancestors; something with all their "stats" in a nice compact place. I'd never seen it done before, but *pshhht* how hard could it be? Right? I'm a 4th 5th or 6 th generation Mormon, it should be easy to pull up all this stuff.
The only known publisher that *I* know of for a (nice!) deck of cards is "Heritage Makers." If you start an account, and then go under "Photo gifts", you can find the printable deck of cards.
For $24.99 + s/h, you can get 52 cards and the option to add as many cards as you want for $0.50 each. They offer a monthly charge for their "Premiere" package, but I had SO MUCH to put on each card, I didn't need any special do-dads or papers. You can see that there is less than a 1/4" of the basic color around each card. The rest is all my photos, downloaded icons, and my own info. The program insists that everything be in .jpg format, so, word to the wise.
I ordered two decks "at a special price" ($20 each if you order RIGHT NOW!), one for his family, and one for mine. Now - if you think about it - if you are doing 4 generations for you and your spouse, there is exactly ONE family that will want a full deck. Your very own family. My parents and their family are not terribly interested in half of the deck of cards, and the same goes for my hubby's family. But if you buy two decks, you can split a full deck, and send half of one to his family, and the other half to your family. Two full decks take care of 3 families. :D
The first thing I had to decide was how to split up the 52 cards. That ends in a weird number of generations, so we did the math and realized that if we each did four generations back (starting with our parents), we would need 30 cards each. That means we would just have to add 8 cards ($4 - not bad). I printed off a pedigree chart and then made some digital folders on my computer and started to organize.
STEP ONE: Just like the pedigree chart above, it is the best way to organize your files. I am number 1. My Dad is #2, my mom is #3 and so on. You should have 30 files for you and your four generations, and also 30 for your spouse. Keeping the numerical order as well as the names of each ancestor in number order will SERIOUSLY help you to keep things straight as the project goes along.
STEP TWO: If you have computer files, you can start making relevant copies of pictures and documents into each ancestor file. If there's a wedding photo with grandparents and great- grandparents, copy that pic 4 times. Drop one in each file. When you run out of information on your computer, contact the genealogy nut in the family, or people you know who have the biggest amount of pictures and information. Tell them what you want, and hold on. Its about to get fun.
STEP THREE: Back to the cards: I opened up the program, added 8 cards and picked out a basic (free) color for each of four lines, and began to copy/paste. My dad's ancestor line has a red background, my mom is yellow. Matthew's dad has a blue background, and his mom's is green. Should the cards ever get shuffled, you at least have a snowball's chance in hell of putting all 60 cards back in order. I toyed with the idea of giving each couple a unique color to help keep the couples straight, but ran up against a deadline, and... a fear that they would start looking junky. I also toyed with the idea of doing my own extended family. All of my siblings would be orange (red + yellow = orange, get it!?), and all of Matthew's would be a blue/green teal kinda color, but... that hasn't happened yet. Project #2 perhaps. For this project, we just went BACK in time.
STEP FOUR: Grab your pedigree charts. After the color background was copied, I put two plain boxes on each card; one on the top and bottom of each card. Consistency is nice, so it was super easy to pick a nameplate size, and then do copy/paste for the 60 cards. That'll take you a little bit. For the box on the top of the card, I picked a nice legible font (this is not the time for frou frou fonts - the cards are small, and you need to be able to read them!). For ease and history's sake I put their name AND nickname. For women, we left their maiden name for spacing sake, "Marion Naomi Crofts Worthen," went just a tad over my space limit (and I had to keep reducing the font to make it fit), so we just left the maiden name. If the person went by a nick-name, we put that below their "official" name. "Daddy Bish" or "Cuddles."
My own mother, whose offical name is "Margaret," has gone by "Midge" her whole entire life, and I always referred to her mother as, "Grandma Grace." We also put a baby buggy icon to indicate how many children each woman had, and a + (name) if they helped to raise someone. I had quite a few relatives that became primary care-givers to grandchildren or nieces/nephews. Also, an angel Moroni icon to indicate the first ancestor to join the Mormon church, and a wagon icon to indicate a pioneer that crossed the plains. I made an icon for Polygamous families, but didn't have anyone to use it on. :/ Oh well.
On the bottom box we included the following information:
Birth date and place. I also put the flag of their birth place up in the top right hand corner under their name so you could easily see the different countries that their ancestors came from. For ancestors with no photo, and no information, we used this information to put up a map to show where they came from. ----> Matthew moved his to the left top, but since it was getting done, I wasn't going to complain.
Mission - if they served one - including name of the mission, the years that they served, and if it is a vague area, like "The Southern States Mission" I try to include the areas where they served primarily. (KY) for Kentucky.
Marriage date and place, AND ( in parenthesis) a few bits of information. After "Marriage" I put the total times the person was married in their lifetime. This... can be surprising. Also, I put how old my relative was when they got married to my other ancestor. On another line, to help keep everyone straight, I put their spouses name and how old THEY were when they got married. "Hey dad! Did you know that your mom was only 19 when she got married, and your dad was only 20?" He didn't. You find some interesting pairings, like this one ---; who knew there were cougars in Mississippi!
Emigration information. I wanted to put where they came to the USA, when, and the name of the ship, where possible. If they did emigrate, we also put an icon of a ship up on their name plate.
Death date, and place.
STEP FIVE: Photos - We wanted our primary photo to be a picture of each ancestor taken in about their twenties. Its easier to trace family resemblances, and see certain defining characteristics on a young adult face. Where possible, we also tried to post a baby picture, and a picture of them as they aged. Very few have all three, but it was fun to search.
We also took pictures of any heirlooms associated with that person. These are SO much easier to have now that photo-phones are available. For example, on the card for Marion Swan below, there is a picture of an heirloom ring that is passed down to the youngest daughter of the youngest daughter. I had my mother snap a picture of the ring with her cell phone and send it so it could be included with the card.
If known, I also added:
Something to indicate their profession,
Whether they were a Boy Scout, and what rank they attained,
Military service, if any. Hobbies when there was space (gardening, photography, baking specialties, and trashy magazines like "True Story" they loved to read *nods*. Oh yes!)
Anything connected to a defining story involving them or other items of peculiar interest.
If a photo wasn't available, then a picture of their headstone, and map associated with that person.
Photos of things that they made, like quilts, or loved to use - like my great grandmother's favorite tea cup. On one, I have my great-grandmother's wedding invitation, and her calling card from her missionary days. My grandpa has his business sign.
And, to me, the "piece de resistance" were the signatures. Matthew and I searched through marriage certificates, old letters, death certificates, books, and just about everywhere you can think of to get as many signatures as we could. Of all things, it is the only thing that is truly representative of your ancestor. I think only a thumbprint could be more personal.
We found that there were many, many sources of information about our ancestors. We started off with pictures and other information that had already been collected by our parents. From there, we started looking on the Internet and found websites and blogs where unknown cousins were sharing pictures, documents and other treasures we didn't know existed. For our Utah ancestors, we hit the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers who preserve life histories and rare photos. We also used free trial memberships to sites such as Ancestry.com to explore records such as census, war records, pictures and many other resources we didn't know existed. For example, we knew that one ancestor has traveled frequently out of the country. Ancestry had copies of passport applications from nearly a hundred years ago that contained family portraits and pictures that we never dreamed of finding. We also found that the BYU library has a special collection of photographs, diaries and histories (the L. Tom Perry Special Collection) and we were surprised to find several of our ancestors in their collection. There many other free online resources such as the Utah digital newspapers archive, death certificate index (great for finding signatures), and FamilySearch.org with information and historical documents that can be had for free. Finally, when we had noting else, we researched cemetery records and snapped a photo of the grave stone to that no ancestor's card was completely empty.
It has been a labor of love. I have been shocked, and amazed at what I have discovered throughout this process. I am grateful beyond words for what we HAVE been able to find. I gave up on many an ancestor as a "hopeless cause" for ever finding a photograph or a signature, and have been delighted BEYOND WORDS, to have found it in a passport photo, or a signature in a book, or a letter that someone had in a bottom drawer somewhere. Matthew will tell you too, that the things we were able to find are far greater than we had even hoped for after our initial start with this project. Just keep digging, just keep digging...
Now that its done, I have put the cards in a baseball card keeper, and I just sit and flip through them. Nearly in tears for the amount of work it took, and how WONDERFUL it is now to know so much about each one. As a little prompt, I put a little quote on each of my cards, either about the person, or something that they said - so that you could immediately know something about each one. So that they could be real and wonderful. Perhaps you don't think you can relate to that old guy in a stiff colar, but wait til you find out that he had a star tattoo on each hand the size of a silver dollar, a danish flag tattoo on his forearm, and an entire ship across his chest that he could flex to make the flag "wave". Yes. I think you will love him!
Grandma Grace's sister wrote, "Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; we also are capable of bringing people back to life, merely by writing about them." Though these cards have been printed, the work is not yet done. We are still receiving documents, signatures, and life histories from the descendants of these people. There is more to be had, and once you start scratching the surface, you just want to dig more and more and more. That talent for quilting that you thought was your own ambition, can actually be traced back to your great great grandmother. That wit, and humor that you thought was the only one in the family crops up with your bald great-grandpa wearing a black wig in a convertible to scare his wife and give her a laugh in his bright colored tie. Its odd to describe how you find yourself as you go looking in your past. They are part of you, and you are part of them. Its a beautiful thing - and totally worth working for.
So, good luck on your own journey. I wish you the best as you forge your own trail and discovery! Just remember - this is a great project for the young. Even though you have kids all around your ankles, and it seems like its crazy, you are in the best position to remember, to ask, and to record. It took me until the last, ultimate deadline, 2 years after I started, but I did it. Just a box, color, and photo at a time. Once you see what you have, you will know what you're looking for. Happy Hunting!