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History, Heritage, and Family Fun

Traditional and new ways to build—and preserve—family memories.

The project was started, but who knows when it will ever end. It took on a life of its own, Sherman says. “Every year, we add new questions and we take turns keeping the game.”

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Family Cookbook
What better way to pass down memories of family get-togethers than by sharing your favorite recipes? 

In Creating an Heirloom: Writing Your Family’s Cookbook, author Wendy A. Boughner Whipple says that the first step in producing your own cookbook is to decide which part of your family to focus on: your mother’s side or your father’s; yours or your spouse’s or partner’s?

Next, Whipple advises choosing a theme. Popular ideas include special occasions, Christmas, or treasured memories. Now you’re ready to start asking your relatives for recipes. It’s good to send a sample recipe so everyone knows the format to use. Also, think about incorporating a history of the recipes, photos of family members enjoying the dish, and special cooking instructions.

If anyone has a copy of recipes handwritten by grandparents or great-grandparents, consider scanning the image and including it alongside a transcription and, if necessary, a translation of the recipe. A glossary of fruits and vegetables not known in the United States, or cooking tools not in use today, might also be helpful to younger generations.

Create your own cookbook:

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Family Tree
“Building a family tree takes organization and persistence,” says San Antonio genealogist Mimi Lozano, 74. Even so, with time, everyone can do it, says the founder and editor of Somos Primos, an online publication dedicated to events and information concerning Hispanic heritage, with a historic, multiethnic global perspective.

Documents such as government census records, wills, naturalization paperwork, baptism records, and marriage certificates are the keys to learning about your family’s past, Lozano says. This paperwork, some of it dating back to the 16th century, can be found in the United States, as well as in your family’s country of origin, churches, libraries, through genealogical and historical societies and on genealogical websites. 

But how do you start? By going backwards, says Lozano, whose family is originally from Mexico. First find out about your parents; then keep going backwards, to the marriages of grandparents, great-grandparents, as far as possible. Lozano points out that Spanish-heritage researchers have an easier task because women keep their maiden names throughout their marriage.

To make sure you’re tracing your ancestry accurately, compare information on different documents. “If a García married into the Rodríguez family,” says Lozano, “look at the birth certificates for their children and see if the dates match up in comparison to when they had their wedding.” Especially helpful: “Look for primary documents that your relatives might have,” she says, referring to papers produced at the time certain events (for example, marriages and baptisms) took place that are signed by an official agent and/or witnessed on that occasion.

“To start your search, network with family. If your family is from Peru, see if family members still live there and get in contact with them,” Lozano says. “Start with what you know and have in the form of records, documents, letters, photos, oral histories, family legends. All provide clues, going from the known to the unknown.

Another option is finding a historian from your city of origin or a professional genealogist who can help you find the documents you need or provide information on relatives. Independent genealogists charge anywhere from $20 to $70 per hour.

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