A few key principals have emerged in my mind, with regard to Family Archives since my project (archive, book, blog) began. As I ponder these principals myself and discuss them with friends they continue to be illuminated and reinforced. Here are the ones I think about on a daily basis that might lead people, as they did for me, toward the desire to know more about their family identities, where they came from, and how this information can be useful. In short, looking at and understanding your past in order to see further and clearer in your future.
* We all have interesting family stories buried somewhere in our past.
How do we find them? Where do we look? What if they were destroyed? In the past few weeks I've heard some incredible family stories from friends. Each story is unique and was passed down very differently.
* People's lives are finite but stories and properly cared for information can endure.
I never had the opportunity to meet my father's parents. My mother told me (I later confirmed from his obituary) that my Grandfather died a few days before my parents found out that I'd been conceived. The archive I recently discovered gave me the next best thing to meeting him. If possible take the time to sit down and talk to family members while you've got the chance. Many people regret it when they don't. Take notes.
* It takes an appropriate combination of time and life experience, different for everybody, for the significance of what you can learn from a family archive to resonate.
None of this really mattered much at all to me until I had my own family which provided a context for me to understand my own mortality. A few years earlier I could have tripped and fallen over a box of this type of materials and never given it a second look.
* Opening that box takes courage and commitment.
Not everything you discover is going to be pleasing to you. How can unpleasant or sad information enhance the experience? How can you justify the unpleasant things you might learn?
* Whenever possible do your own detective work.
Stories and hearsay can be subjective. To get to the real core examine and read whatever archival materials you can find for yourself. Once you've done that then you have the benefit of being able to draw your own conclusions from what you hear when you talk to family members. Also remember, the details can be as interesting as the big picture. Why was this item stored here? Who is this person I've never seen before? Where was this photo taken?
* Trust your instincts when you are talking to relatives or working with a Family Archive. They didn't become your instincts by accident.