A Guide To Preserving Family History

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A note from Jayne and Jinx: Tim Ehrhardt is fairly new to the Rim Country, but he has already done a lot to help preserve its history. His family owns part of the old Boles Ranch under the Rim where Zane Grey lived in the 1920s. Tim has an intense interest in our history, especially of the area "Under the Tonto Rim." He has done a lot of research and has compiled data on many of the old homesteads. He is in the process of writing a book about Zane Grey and his connection to the Boles family and others. We are happy to have him write a column for us so you can meet him and see how he thinks. Tim serves on several historical committees and is always willing to help. He doesn't just talk, he produces results. In our opinion, he will serve Payson well. Also, if your organization is looking for a speaker, call Tim. He spoke to the Daughters of the Gila County Pioneers and did a great job. Here's Tim:

While visiting relatives recently in Wisconsin, I received a reminder of how challenging preserving family history can be. Both sides of my family have numerous historic items that have more value to some family members than others and all of which would be of interest to the local historical society. Yet sure enough, the information that the local archivists have on my families is limited at best.

I asked myself the question, "How can families best preserve their history for future generations?" Here are some steps that I would recommend:

  • Label, Label, Label! -- The worst thing is to come across old photos and not know who is in them. I've seen many great photos of people (inside and outside of family) whose identities are unknown. The biggest problem is that this keeps other families from acquiring a photo of an ancestor that they do not have. Think about it, we all acquire photos of friends, classmates, etc. over the years. But later on, our descendants are probably not going to care too much about those other people. Yet the families of our friends may want those photos because they may not have them. So this is a very important point. Make sure you label your photos because in this world, you never know what's going to happen.
  • Create pedigree charts -- Everyone should have their family genealogy written down. Remember that just because you aren't that interested in it doesn't mean that your grandchildren will feel the same way. And you never know when you might receive a letter from someone asking to talk to you because they're researching your great-great-grandma for a book. It all starts with pedigree charts which you can get help with from the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society.
  • Write down stories -- Again, this seems trivial but it's really important. Write down everything you know about your family members. This is key for future generations! You never know when a future family member will share an interest with one of your ancestors. I'll give you a personal example.

I've played trumpet since I was 10 years old. While researching my family history in high school I was ecstatic to find out that my Great-Grandfather Daniel Ehrhardt played cornet, an instrument similar to the trumpet. Thanks to relatives who preserved the information 30 years ago I was able to have a picture of him holding his cornet. Recently I came across a large photo of the brass band that he and his brother, Martin, played in. I would never have had this strong feeling of family pride if someone hadn't written this stuff down! It may take time; it may seem pointless when you're doing it, but believe me -- it will mean a lot to someone down the road when they realize they're following family tradition. And don't forget about even more seemingly trivial things like height. As someone who is significantly taller than both of my parents, knowing about the height of my other relatives is more important. Now, if I could just find a story about what my Great-Grandfather Daniel liked best about playing cornet ...

  • Scan!! -- Now that you know who the people are in the pictures, or at least the best that you can, it's time to preserve the photos for future generations. Scanning is the best way to do this for a couple of reasons -- computer files don't fade like photos, thereby preserving the photos (though be careful not to just store your photos on CDs -- most run-of-the-mill CDs only last a couple years -- a hard drive is always best); copies of scans are much easier to make, thereby allowing better access to the photos by all relatives, whether they live right next door or halfway around the world.
  • Take care of the family -- Now that the photos are scanned, pass copies around to your various relatives. Reach outside of your immediate family and relatives that you know and seek out others. Turn it into a time to reconnect and consider planning a family reunion to share photos and memories. As my mom reminds me, she learned a great deal in just 10 minutes from a distant relative during a chance meeting in a store. Connect!
  • Take care of others -- Figure out who else might be interested in your family photos and histories. Local historical societies and genealogy societies where your relatives have lived are a good place to start. You may just encounter someone who's been thirsting to learn more about your great aunt and your information may make a huge difference. They may also be able to connect you to someone else from a different branch of your family who has written to them for information.

Don't forget about churches. For example, one of the history pieces written by a great, great uncle of mine concerned the Methodist church in Wisconsin and camp meetings that were held prior to and during the early part of the 20th century. The area Methodist church needs to have a copy of information like that as well as any photos that accompany it. In Rim Country we are blessed to have some historic churches such as the Presbyterian Church on Main Street. The LDS Church also has a Family History Center in Payson where records from around the world can be easily accessed. These groups are always looking to do more with their history and you may just have a piece that breaks things wide open for them. Keep them in the loop and you may be surprised what you learn in return.

The Internet should also be kept in mind. There are numerous websites that allow you to put your family tree on them for free. By doing that you may connect with a long-lost family member who shares a great-great grandparent with you.

By taking steps such as these you can maximize the information that gets passed along to future generations.

The Northern Gila County Historical Society is actively pursuing historical photographs. These historical photographs will be used in future exhibits, including rotating exhibits on pioneer families of Rim Country. They also will be used to help answer the large quantities of unanswered questions about various people and events from Rim Country's glorious history.

We have a special offer. If you will allow us to have a copy of your family photographs of historic importance, we will scan them and provide you with a copy of those scans on CD for free -- that's how interested we are in getting more information.

You might wonder what I mean by "historic" photos. Well, it's different things to different people, but generally I would say it's really old photos, circa 1960s and earlier or a notable event. For example, photos of the Dude Fire and other smaller fires would be useful for our archives. Also, notable school events are important. Maybe you have some photos of the first state champions from Payson High, Arizona State University scrimmages in Payson from the 1970s, or the rodeos gone by. There are a lot of noteworthy events that need documentation. And it goes beyond photos. Any pre-Payson Roundup newspapers are always highly desirable, as few exist.

The next step is to set up a meeting with our town historians, Jinx and Jayne Pyle, or myself, to go through the historical items that you have. In the process you will probably get to hear some good stories, and if we find the items desirable for our archives, we will scan them for free and give you a copy of them on CD. And who knows, maybe your family will become the focal point of someone's book in the near future.

Books by Jayne Peace-Pyle and Jinx Pyle include "Looking Through the Smoke," "Mountain Cowboys," "History of Gisela," "Rodeo 101- the History of the Payson Rodeo," "Blue Fox," "Calf Fries and Cow Pies," and "Muanami -- Sister of the Moon." The books can be purchased at Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral in Payson and from Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.

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