Memorial Day often involves a three day weekend. Families get together to remember loved ones who served their country. Later, it is common for families to hold a backyard barbecue where everyone can relax, eat, and have conversations. Memorial Day is also an excellent time for genealogists and family historians to “jumpstart” their collection of family history.
Memorial Day was originally observed in the United States on the last Monday in the month of May. It was adapted from a holiday called Decoration Day that originated in the years following the Civil War. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to enable families to have a day off that they can spend honoring deceased relatives who served in the United States military. The traditional way to spend Memorial Day is to visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of relatives and ancestors who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. A small American flag is placed near their headstones. It is also acceptable to place flowers in addition to the flag.
Another traditional way to spend Memorial Day is to participate in, or attend, a Memorial Day parade. People also take the time to visit memorials that list the names of, and honor, fallen soldiers. Unofficially, Memorial Day also marks the beginning of summer. It is common for families to gather together, often in someone’s backyard, and have a barbecue.
There are many ways that genealogists and family historians can jumpstart their collection of family history during the Memorial Day three-day weekend. Be prepared to take notes (either by writing things down on paper, typing them into a smartphone, or making an audio recording). It is a good idea to make sure that you have a camera and that all batteries are charged.
Visiting the graves of ancestors and relatives who served their country is a great place to start. Take a photo of the gravestone. Make notes about the people who are buried with, or near, that person. This gives you a starting point for finding out more about those ancestors and tracking down their vital records.
While you are at the family barbecue, ask relatives questions about the ancestors and deceased relatives who served in the military. What branch did he serve in? Why did he chose that one over the others? What inspired that person to join the military? Was the person married before he or she enlisted? Was the person drafted? What honors and awards did that relative earn? The answer to these questions can give you a wealth of family stories to collect and preserve.
Do you have a box of family photos that are unidentified? Bring it to the family gathering. Someone might be able to tell you who these “mystery people” are and how you are related to them. Take the time to record the information you are given right away. Ask questions that will lead people to share some family history about the people who are in the photos.
Image by Denise Krebs on Flickr.
Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:< Return To Blog