It's National Grandparents Day on Sept. 9, why not celebrate by visiting a grandparent and capturing some life history and wisdom for future generations?
Avon-Avon Lake Editor Lori E. Switaj and her sister, Terri Kannenberg, have been working on their family tree for the past 18 months. While some records are easy to locate, such as this Ellis Island record from her paternal grandfather Giovanni Ebanietti, locating a history from her mother’s Hispanic side has been tricky, and their mother, now suffering from Alzheimers, can only provide scattered memories.
“If there’s one family regret I have, it’s that our family history lacks formal and informal records or memories passed down from grandparents,” Kannenberg said. “I would have loved to have learned what it was like growing up in their cultures, and the challenges they faced to acclimating to America.”
Counselor Paul Zohav, of Bellevue, WA, served as the former chaplain in the Philadelphia Geriatric Center and the community chaplain for Jewish Family Services of Greater Harrisburg. Through his experience, Zohav learned grandparents are the bridge between the generations that came before them and those to follow.
“They often have answers from wisdom acquired from a lifetime of learning that can help someone not yet born,” says Zohav.
But capturing this information to preserve it for future generations is often a challenge. Some families try to preserve family history by interviewing a grandparent on camera. Others give blank journals or “memory books” to grandparents.
Inspired by years serving elderly patients and watching families struggle to capture memories and remain deeply connected through several generations, Zohav created The Life Book. The book is a binder system of pages designed to prompt and capture memories and wisdom that grandparents can work on by themselves or with their children and grandchildren. The book also holds photos, important documents and even helps grandparents with the daunting task of downsizing to a smaller home or an assisted living facility.
Zohav says that too often grandparents also have challenges connecting with the younger generation. The book offers intergenerational conversation starters, such as, “What do you wish you knew then that you know now?”
Zohav says the task of sharing a life story can be overwhelming, but with some support from family and friends, a grandparent's legacy can be passed down to generations to come.
“You don’t have to do it all at once, just get started before it is too late,” said Zohav.
"It's a great suggestion," Kannenerg added. "I'm starting to put down thoughts so I have something to pass along to my grandchildren, when they come along."
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