Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Attic Archaeology

I began doing my own family history research in 1977 by asking questions of my immediate family, digging through old photo albums (and boxes), and writing Everything down.

I began teaching beginner's classes and doing professional genealogy in 1990. I've attended club meetings, conferences and seminars. I also discuss genealogy with people on a daily basis, or so it seems.

The comments I hear the most is: I wish I had asked the questions before grandma, auntie, uncle, father, mother passed away. I wish I'd paid attention to the family stories. I wonder what happened to the old family album.

I always tell those people to ask those who Are still here. To write down or record those family stories. To find the photos that haven't been destroyed. To start with whatever you have, NOW!

Even if you aren't ready or able or even want to do your whole genealogy get those things down. It's up to You.

The beginnings of any genealogy or memoir project is to do the attic archaeology. Dig through trunks, boxes, drawers wherever there might be papers, photos or keepsakes. Take pictures. Make notes. Write it all down. You don't have to have fancy equipment or journals to do this. Just start.

Talk to other family members, write letters to the oldsters, travel if you can. Don't pass up any chance to learn something about your family.

At the same time think about your own descendants. What will your grand children and great grandchildren want to know about you and your daily life? There are many workbook journals out there with questions to answer. Prompts are helpful. Make a list of major events in your life and start writing. Your memoir will someday be a part of somebody else's attic archaeology.

In 1990 my daughter and I took a trip to Kansas where I grew up and where I still have family members. We went to the town where I was born and I took photos of the lot where the old trailer we lived in and where I was born stood. We visited the town where my grandparents lived and I took pictures of the houses they lived in. We went to the town where I went through grade school and were even able to go inside parts of the school, same with the junior high.
My elementary school in Kansas. It has since been torn down.

We visited my great aunt and uncle who had a family bible which I took pictures of. I also took pictures of all the pictures they brought out. We visited the family cemetery with five or six generations of family members. Of course I took pictures of the stones and the landscape.

My grandfather's youngest brother and his wife.

A page from their family bible.

Another time we went to Redondo Beach, California and we stopped to visit a distant cousin I had found. She had an autograph album with my great grandmother's handwriting. She even had a watch fob that same great grandmother had made from her own hair. She had photos of our common ancestor that nobody on my side had never seen. Again I photographed each item.

My great great grandmother's handwriting.
A watch fob made with my great great grandmother's hair. 

So begin your own attic archaeology. Begin in your own house. Gather those photos and documents and start identifying. Photograph family heirlooms and write what you know about them. Start journaling your life.

The trip has only just begin.


  1. This is such an interesting blog. I too wished I knew my family history. If I can't find out that information, I'll be sure to start recording history for my kids.

    1. We all have a duty to preserve the past and present which all too soon will be the past. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. Good work - diving into the past is such a fabulous thing to do! See you around the water cooler.

  3. Rita, I love the A-Z challenge since I get to meet new bloggers and their ideas. A very interesting post. I, too, am in the Phoenix area. I'll be back visiting your posts. Thanks for an entertaining read.

    1. Yeah Phoenix. Thanks for stopping by. Keep in touch.

  4. This is definitely good advice, I often see things like ancestry.com and think I might do it.

    1. Hope you do. There are free places to find information and more all the time. You don't have to subscribe to sites like Ancestry.com. Of course at least talk to your family. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. Love the idea of attic archaeology! And you have some wonderful pictures and memories.

    Enjoy the A-Z Challenge!

    1. Thank you, and thank you for stopping by. Already enjoying meeting new people.

  6. Thank you for the assurance, Rita (that) I'm not alone in my laments ... wishing I'd asked more questions ... and mostly, listened more carefully.
    Fortunately for my son and grands, my parents (and their before them) left many identifiable photos and notes. All the same, I've been frustrated by a few gaps - which seem to intensify as I grow older.

    Anyway, I appreciate the encouragement you convey today. It's really never too late, is it?

  7. I do like your title - Attic Archaeology. I know what you mean about asking the right question at the right time, as I missed out on this to the detriment of my family history. Fortunatley my mother's family had a great attic archive - but not my father's.


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