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History, Heritage, and Family Fun

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

En español | Quiet afternoons spent cooking with Mom. Late Friday nights in your pitch-black bedroom listening to Dad’s scary stories. Tía Aurora’s special iced tea with the fresh yerba buena you’d pick from her garden. Memories and traditions, shared with your children and grandchildren, can become the keys to a family history treasure trove. They establish our history and identity, but with families’ nonstop schedules and far-flung relatives, it’s often hard to hang on to them.

Family history projects once focused on creating family trees, filling photo albums, and preserving cards and letters, but new trends include recording oral histories and putting together trivia games, websites, and cookbooks that make the fun intergenerational.

Pass down your family memories this Hispanic Heritage Month. Here are some ideas that will let loose your creativity. 

Family Website

Family Trivia Game

Family Cookbook 

Family Tree

 Family Website
Judy Lizarraga, busy mother of four, wanted a way to keep her extended family in Mexico, New Jersey, and Florida up-to-date on news and pictures of the kids. Her solution? Build a family website that features monthly newsletters. 

“My family and friends enjoy receiving our family newsletter,” says Lizarraga, 35, cofounder of JDMIT Services, a web design company in Houston, Texas. “Although calling is important, a family website is also a good way to maintain a close relationship with your family. My friends and family never feel neglected or forgotten because every couple of weeks, or at least once a month, they'll get news, updates, and pictures from us. We have silly profiles of each immediate [family] member, news about us as well as our extended relatives, and photo galleries,” says Lizarraga, who’s of Spanish and Cuban descent.

This project has gotten her entire family involved, she says, with everyone from kids to adults sitting down to select images and design the layout for the photo albums. Now that the website is set up, Lizarraga spends about an hour a month maintaining it—and the older kids have moved on and created their own personal sites. 

You don’t need to be a professional web designer to create a family site: The less technically savvy can click on one of many websites that offer templates that you customize with designs and photos.

Build your own website:

In English:

Personalized websites:

Pre-made websites:
The Family Post

En español:

Crea tu propia Web

Family Trivia Game
Around the time Susana Sherman, 51, retired two years ago, the entire family was planning a cruise to celebrate her niece’s quinceañera . It was the first time she and her sisters would be together with all their children, says the Cuban American from Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

To make the trip and family reunion even more special, she used some of her post-retirement free time to create a family trivia game to play beforehand. “The board itself looks like Monopoly, and the questions are in the form of Trivial Pursuit,” Sherman says. “These are games we all grew up playing.” The game initially focused on the three sisters, “but then we included the extended family,” she says.

Want to build a game for your family? Blank boards, playing pieces, and directions for getting started can be found and bought online. The information and questions you put on the board can be as hard or as easy as you want, and can include trivia going back as many generations as you wish. Sherman made and decorated the pieces herself using materials from an arts and crafts store.

Besides being a fun way for immediate families to spend time together, games also help maintain contact with far-flung members, Sherman says. “My daughter and I got in contact with all of our family members, so they could add trivia questions. Everyone loved the idea, especially the younger kids, and we came up with our own rules. I even learned things about my family I didn’t know.”

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.”

Buy a blank board and accessories:

In English:

Bare Books

En español:

Juegos de mesa para todos

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:

In English:

The Cookbook Company

En español:

Libros de receta Lulu

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.

And with an ever-growing amount of information online, don’t overlook the Internet. “If you research your last name online, you may come up with groups or long-lost relatives that are also looking for a link to their past,” Lozano says. “Type in your surname of interest, and expect a wonderful surprise, because your search will have begun.”

Websites that can get you started:

In English:

Association of Professional Genealogists

Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research

Somos Primos

Family Search

Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet

En español:

Directorio de Genealogía Hispana

These links are provided for informational purposes only. AARP does not endorse, and has no control over, or responsibility for, the linked sites or the content, advertisements, materials, products, or services available on or throughout these sites.

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